I came out as a gay woman seven years ago and it was the most freeing and empowering experience. I got to live authentically as me because of the support I have each and every day in both my personal and professional life.
When my sexual orientation was recognized and accepted by my family and closest friends, I learned to be more comfortable with my identity. I shaved my head, and really liked how it looked on me. I started purchasing looser clothing and shopping in the men’s section of department stores and online. I looked in the mirror and saw more of who I always knew I was. However, there was something always in the back of my mind. A weight that I couldn’t shake, no matter how I tried.
I wore sports bras that were a size too small because when I wore clothing, I didn’t want my chest to show. Looking in the mirror in the morning, I used my hands to cover my chest and when I would close my eyes, I would often think of what it would be like to just not have a chest at all.
I started following trans men on social media and would get butterflies in my stomach when I saw trans-men recovering from top-surgery, with a toned, muscular physique. I wasn’t attracted to the men, I simply wanted to look like that.
(Leo Shang, Personal Instagram Page)
2020 came, with it, a pandemic that wreaked havoc on society as we knew it at the time. That year, my coping mechanism was exercise. I wanted to push the boundaries and see how far I could go. It included 6- 8 mile ruck marches with a 35-pound backpack. It was breaking personal records in running, whether it be time for a 5K or distance. I set goals and worked intently on reaching them. By September of 2020, I was 126 pounds. I felt strong. I felt fit. But I still looked in the mirror and absolutely hated my body.
Turns out my body hated me too, because in October 2020, I underwent an emergency surgery to remedy a severe E.coli infection that had been brewing for a decent amount of time. It had stemmed from a previous surgery to remove a mass from my stomach. Unbeknownst to me, the previous surgical wound hadn’t healed completely and hence, got infected.
Long story short, I woke up without a belly button after surgery. True story! I have no belly button. Anyway, it set my journey to improving my fitness back quite a few steps. Then comes some weight gain, some mental health struggles, and a whole lot more self-hatred as my chest got larger and my clothes got too tight.
Why am I airing this all out there in the open? Because it was not until I met an incredible mental health professional (and the lovely Simone) and dedicated time every week for sessions, that I realized my discomfort, mental health concerns, and my self-hatred was a result of gender dysphoria.
The Mayo Clinic defines gender dysphoria as: “The feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”
The Mayo Clinic further states that many transgender, non-binary, and gender-diverse persons experience this discomfort and distress at some point in their lifetimes. The thing was, when I sat down and spoke with my therapist, I was embarrassed to admit that I had these feelings. That I hated my body. That I was so uncomfortable literally all the time. And with a smile, my therapist looked at me and said, “This all makes sense to me, if it makes sense to you.” She was the first human to know about my “secret”. And when I spoke my truth for the first time, it did make sense to me and my therapist’s support was empowering and euphoric.
It took me a couple months to tell anyone else or to even take steps in my journey. It wasn’t until early Spring of 2022 that I Google searched healthcare facilities that offer gender affirming care. It wasn’t until June that I got my first binder. And it wasn’t until November that I started hormone replacement therapy in the form of injectable testosterone. But today, today marks only three weeks and three days until my gender-affirming top surgery takes place.
When listening to a podcast that my wonderful therapist recommended, called “We Can Do Hard Things” by Glennon Doyle, a special guest, Cameron Esposito, made numerous references to their gender identity that made me feel so much more comfortable with my truth. This society cultures gender which means I was cultured as a woman. That is totally okay. The problem lies in the indoctrination that occurs when we are children that teaches us how we are expected to look, feel, and act as we grow up in male or female gender roles. Esposito said confidently, “My gender will always confuse people.” That stuck with me. As a masculine presenting, gay woman, who also happens to be in a very male-dominated profession and who enjoys hobbies and a wardrobe that are masculine in nature, my gender may always confuse people. And I am okay with that.
In the grand scheme of things, and something I am still coming to terms with, is that on 02/21/2023, which is day one of recovery of my top-surgery, there will be thoughts, comments, confusion, and concern from my family, friends, co-workers, even strangers. And that is okay.
But for the first day in my 27 years, I will be completely me. And I will be happier and more comfortable than I have ever been in this lifetime.
As Maddie Zahm would say (and I belt in my car when driving to and from work alone):
“Someday, you'll think you disappoint your parents
But they'll love you not despite, but regardless
And you'll learn to let people have shitty opinions
And talk about your traumas
And like the body you live in
Someday, you'll learn to keep your own secrets
Say you're doing okay and really mean it
You'll lose your faith a bit and question if she's you
And for a while you might not like her, but I do”
And for a while you might not like you, but I love you, my friends. Happy Friday!
*Check out Glennon Doyle’s Podcast here: http://wecandohardthingspodcast.com/
*Check out the incredible Maddie Zahm and her song “You Might Not Like Here” here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=c5Ije5Rdp9g&si=EnSIkaIECMiOmarE