I started writing this article with the intent of answering a simple question: "What was the most difficult thing to deal with during my transgender transition from female to male?" I've discussed the tough parts of my transition with many people since I began my transition over seven years ago, and I thought this question would be easy to answer.
But it wasn't.
Why? Well, I realized there’s been a slew of "really difficult things" about transitioning from female to male and all of them are worth writing about — and worth sharing.
Without further ado, here are the five things I found to be the most difficult about transitioning from female to male:
1. I Looked Like A 13-Year-Old Boy (Or An Androgynous Woman) At The Beginning Of My Transition
I was warned this could happen before I started taking testosterone at age 18, and it did — I looked like a young teenage boy for at least a year and a half. Some people also told me I resembled an androgynous woman during this timeframe. And before that, I went through at least eight to 10 months of the most awkward second puberty ever, where I:
- Started to lose the femininity of my facial features...but was definitely starting to look more "barely pubescent boy" than "studly."
- Experienced voice changes that made my voice crack and sound depressingly weird.
- Started getting more acne than I'd seen on my face since I really was 13.
- Started growing facial hair, which came in very slowly…like a 12 or 13-year-old boy's. It was nothing impressive.
It wasn't all challenges, though. My period tried to start several days after I had my first injection of testosterone, and there was less mess and less pain than I was used to. It was barely recognizable — and the "bloody part" of my period faded away within three days. Then my menstrual cycle stayed gone as long as I had a normal amount of testosterone in my body for my age range.
That was great.
Hey, at least some changes were happening. It's been said Rome wasn't built in a day — and changing your appearance from an 18-year-old woman's to that of an adult man doesn't happen in one day, either.
2. I Was Temporarily Scared I Might Never Be Perceived As An Adult Male In Everyday Life
I've never been a large (or even average-sized) person, and I definitely looked like a girl before I transitioned. I had hips and what some might call a "feminine" waist, and my facial features were feminine enough to never be mistaken for a man's. All of this meant I had to consider the possibility testosterone might not "do enough" to change my face and body.
Luckily, I was incorrect about that — but the fear of not being able to look your own age when all is said and done is a valid one. There is no real way to predict how you'll turn out after two, five, or even ten years on "T."
I got even more convinced I might never change enough to look like an adult man when I spent a year and a half being sometimes perceived as a woman and sometimes as a 12 or 13-year-old boy. That wasn't the best of times (to put it mildly).
3. The Realization That I Might Never Change As Much As I Want To Physically (Even Though I Changed A Lot)
I've been called handsome by some women and men, as well as cute and other flattering descriptions. Some photographers — heck, more photographers than I ever expected — have also wanted to use me as a model for their creative projects. Yet:
1. I was told by the doctor who prescribed me testosterone that I should gain a significant amount of body weight. Many trans men apparently do — either in muscle or otherwise. I didn't. My metabolism was so fast to begin with that testosterone sped it up and I lost weight.
Now, this wouldn't have been so bad if I'd had more body weight to lose. But I was about 104 pounds before I ever injected testosterone. The reality was, I couldn't afford to lose much weight...but I did. And then I got diabetes when I was 20, which worsened the problem.
Some people find it harder to lose weight once they've got diabetes, but my body definitely decided to go in the opposite direction. I thought I might finally gain some weight on testosterone, but nope. I often marvel at how little I weigh now in a slightly disturbed way and I haven't felt "in control" of my weight in years — and I honestly never expected either of those things.
2. The way I look is more "boyish, slender young man" than "tall, dark, and handsome"...by a long shot. I'm 5'3' and my build can be accurately described as a cross between "coat hanger with hips" and "pre-pubescent boy."
The good news is, some bisexual and gay men find a slight build and a youthful look attractive. The bad news? My small size and boyish appearance seems less sexually interesting to some of the male personality types I find attractive. These men tend to like larger, more conventionally handsome men who read as heterosexual. I'm perceived as heterosexual by some people because of the way I talk and act, but I just don't have the size and more masculine look some men prefer.
3. It's possible for me to gain muscle definition but maintaining it requires regular workouts and eating as much as I can. My rapid metabolism also means I can lose muscle definition just as quickly as I can gain it.
4. Not Having A Penis (Also, Having A Vagina)
You may have guessed the penis/vagina issue was coming, and well, here it is. Now, I've got to say there are some silver linings to having a vagina. Some bisexual guys may consider it convenient that I have a vagina but don't menstruate. I also learned to find vaginal sex enjoyable even though I spent a lot of years feeling as if "vaginal sex wasn't for me" and "didn't fit who I was inside." Even so, there have been some cons to having a vagina as a transgender man:
- I'd rather penetrate than be penetrated. Getting to a point where I felt able to have vaginal sex really did involve some expanding of my perspective and adapting to the equipment I have. And I'd still trade my vagina in for a fully functional penis if I could.
- I've met some gay men who will categorize FTMs as "suitable sex partners for bisexual men only" based on the presence of a vagina on our bodies. Fortunately, I've also definitely heard of men who consider themselves gay dating FTMs, despite what some folks might assume about our vaginas scaring gay guys off.
- Some gay and bisexual men I've encountered have presumed that I prefer vaginal sex or always want to have vaginal sex in any sexual relationship I have. When this has happened, it has usually seemed related to me having a vagina rather than me saying "I prefer vaginal sex." But the truth is, I've only had vaginal sex when it seemed safer and potentially less painful to have sex vaginally than anally with a particular partner. I could go an entire relationship without having vaginal sex if anal sex seemed like a good option for that relationship.
- I need to be very aroused for vaginal sex to be even possible. I've theorized this may be because it doesn't feel completely natural to me and I tense up. On the few occasions I've had vaginal sex, I got around this problem by using a sex toy to "dilate," or stretch, the vagina before sex. This helped relax the muscles in the vagina enough for penetration to be possible and more comfortable.
5. I Realized That Some Respectful People May Still See An FTM As Either Gender-Neutral, Or Neither A Woman Nor A Genuine Man
I’ve known several people – close friends, even – who either let it slip in conversation or said directly that they consider me to be in a separate category from a man. These are people who always call me by the right name, refer to me with male pronouns, and respect the heck out of me, but simply see me as either gender-neutral or something other than what they consider a man.
On one level, seeing me as “something else” is understandable to me because I’m transgender and have had experiences that only people born with biologically female bodies can have. That’s a reality I live with. But knowing this doesn’t make it any less disappointing when, for example, I realize that a gay guy I find attractive sees me as a wonderful person but “something other than a real guy.”
Overall, there can be many difficulties to transitioning from female to male, and the above points are simply what I’ve found the most difficult on my journey. Each transgender person is different and every guy who transitions from female to male will have his own unique experiences and challenges in life.
Images: Photographer: Grant Philipo of Grant Philipo's Las Vegas Showgirl Museum/Ezra Solomon; Photographer: Adam Bickel Photography/Ezra Solomon; Photographer: April Metternich/Ezra Solomon.