When I began graduate school, I thought it also a good time to start pursuing a physical transition. This was due to my finally concluding that physically altering my body to align with my gender identity was necessary for my mental well-being. It also seemed a moment of poetic proportions, given I was to be undergoing the transition from undergraduate to graduate student, moving across state lines and going from my young adulthood to regular adulthood. Forces aligned and I was ready.
So I sought out the required shrink who had the ability to author the required documents that would allow me to getting the first thing I desired: testosterone. I was frustrated by the need to be “diagnosed’ with a “disorder” to get this. I knew that my gender dysphoria wasn’t statistically “normal,” but then I thought gender a very convoluted thing to begin with. I was as confused by other’s certainty of their genders as they might be by my ambiguity.
But I had already grown accustomed to mental dis-order. It was my normal. My mother has suffered with depression, openly, my entire life. I was brought to a shrink at the tender age of seven to discuss my apparent anxiety about being moved across state lines. Later, in my teens, I would see an ad for Zoloft and think the answer to my teenage angst could be found in a pill. My mother was only too happy to abide: she gladly delivered me to a psychiatrist, perhaps hoping it would rid me of my growing expression of a deviant sexuality and/or gender identity.
So when I needed to be deemed mentally afflicted in order to pursue my physical transition, I didn’t think of it as a step towards being unwell. I was ideologically opposed to the very notion of “gender identity disorder,” but in truth already believed myself to be mentally or emotionally unwell. I had never known myself any other way.
Yet I had always thought myself in good physical health and so didn’t think myself otherwise when I started to pursue a physical transition. I knew many thought (and sometimes I worried) that my weight meant this wasn’t true, but my physicals had always turned out well—perhaps a minor concern, but never more. I had always taken being physically healthy for-granted, as many people do.
Then I started to pursue testosterone. Being in my mid-20’s without any compelling reason, it had been a while since I’d seen a medical doctor. I had actually had one horrible experience as an undergrad where a chauvinist M.D. blamed panic attacks I was having on my being fat. It made me reluctant to ever go back for help again. But the sway of testosterone and its masculinizing effects I desired were too great. It was enough to push through my reluctance and get me to seek medical help.
Usually, when a transman decides he’d like to start taking T, it’s a process that takes weeks, maybe months, before the shot accoutrement is in his hands. For me, it would take years.
This is because the necessary blood work-up that is done to ensure the doctor it is safe to introduce testosterone into someone’s system did not turn out fine for me. Having only ever read about transmen for whom this step was no problem, I was surprised. How could this be? I was young! I should not be facing any medical issues serious enough to warrant putting off my “hormone replacement therapy”!
But, sadly, I was. And more frustrating than leaving the doctor’s office without my coveted ‘script was the proliferation of diagnostic testing and doctor’s appointments that followed. I encountered many incompetent medical professionals and it seemed that questions followed from each inquiry rather than answers. When one doctor would suggest one diagnosis, another would contradict them. It was beyond frustrating.
After a year of navigating doctors and their offices, starting medications, hearing a swath of maybe diagnoses, and a surgery(!), I was sure that my attempt to pursue testosterone had failed. Coupled with my dissatisfaction in grad school, I fell into a deep depression. I had maneuvered my way through the labyrinth of medicine not to start my transition from female-to-male, but rather to discover myself changed physically otherwise: I had transitioned from “well” to “chronically ill.”
BUT! I struggled along and, adapting to this new element of who I was, I persevered. I slogged through my last year of graduate school and went to no more doctor appointments. My parents’ insurance no longer covered me and I was all too happy for the excuse not to see any medical professionals. I started to learn how to take care of myself. (Something I am still learning.)
As devastating as the year was, I can now look back and realize it was a blessing. Without those blood tests, and so without my pursuit of T, I would not have been keyed into the silent afflictions that were affecting me for a lot longer. Being able to address these conditions—especially as they were brought into better understanding—has likely slowed their progression and extended my life expectancy. Being trans may not have saved my life, but (for once!) it does seem to have proven a benefit!
And, two and a half years after I started my attempts, I did get my coveted ‘script.