I Woke Up Like This

For Anyone Who Doesn't Love Who They Are

Trans Day of Visibility: Everyday Life with Trans People

Most of you might know, but if you don’t, I am trans. I don’t yet know what type of trans person I am but for now the best category that fits my feelings and dysphoria is trans masculine non-binary. A long and complicated term. Meaning I wish to transition physically into a masculine body, but I do not believe I am male or female. My gender is how I feel inside. It’s how touching my chest feels like I’m falling into the sea from a great height. It’s the clothing I wear, my presentation. But most importantly…it’s how I’ve always felt about myself. Absent of gender, preferring masculine characteristics and goals yet not feeling like the right puzzle peice for a male body.

Today is Trans Day of Visibility. For this, I took to my Facebook in search of three trans people to tell their stories. All in different parts of their transition. All identifying in their own ways. Living their truth and being 100% genuinely them. There is a certain perseverance in transitioning, or choosing not to, or de-transitioning. No matter how little someone passes, they still have this dream of getting there or have developed their own world of validation for the body they’re in currently. Each taking endless patience, time, and dedication. I admire each of these people a lot for being open about their story and helping to educate others about everyday trans life.

Underneath it all, we just want to be seen as who we are in a society that aims to squash us. Be a part of the solution and share this with anyone who isn’t familiar with trans people.

Be Kind to Yourself,

Ez
(they/them)

PART I

How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?
Somewhere between a four and a six depending on the day.

What goes into that number?
A lot of it is anxiety. I have chronic anxiety and depression. Those play into it. There are also other elements where everything is wrong and nobody is seeing me correctly. It’s a whole mixture of things.

So visibility has this correlation between anxiety and feel accepted for you?
Yeah it’s definitely kind of one of those things where I’ll go into public and get misgendered very easily. The worst is I’ll go to a store and they’ll go “Here you go ma’am” and now I am dying. And the worst part is my anxiety prevents me from correcting people.

How do you identify?
I am at the point where I’m just like, its easier for me to call myself a guy because I align myself with more male and masculinity. I do think that there is an element of non-binary to my identity. I do feel more comfortable in between genders, or a mixture of genders. But the way I see my psychical body is male. I’m on testosterone now and I definitely want top surgery.

What are your pronouns?
He/him, they/them

What is one of the biggest problems you face today as a trans person?
I think its probably feeling afraid to be visibly trans. I’m at the point where if I correct the wrong person in public, they’ll be like, “OH that’s a TRANS person” and then I’m just stuck not feeling not masculine enough.

I can see how that response triggers a feeling of inadequacy.
Yes.

What other struggles do you face?
I’m definitely very fortunate where I’m at. My partner is supportive, my family is too. I’m definitely very fortunate. So it comes to me as guilt that I have it so lucky. I have this violent need to support other trans people. I look at my place and think, I’m very lucky, so I have to be there twice as much as other people going through it.

Then theres chest dysphoria, and dysphoria around reproductive organs.

How do you cope with your dysphoria?
I haven’t been able to cope that well. I can’t bind my just because now I can’t breath right. Theres literally nothing I can do about the fact that I have a uterus. I guess its just a lot of distraction.

Do you ever feel forced into conversations about reproductive health?
It’s more so just the pregnancy thing. I’m at a point around me where people are having babies. That’s more so whats been triggering my uterus dysphoria. I feel the pressure to be very polite, “Oh congratulations on your child thing!” I literally have no idea how to respond to it because I’m just thinking, “Oh god, oh god this thing could happen to me”.

That being said, what is your stance on abortion?
It definitely is good. It definitely should be free or at least accessible to everyone. I’ve gotten more prochoice as I’ve gotten older. At first I just thought it is fine if they were assaulted but I think of it happening to myself and I would either have to get an abortion or do something very bad to myself.

Just another example of what banning abortions could do to someone.
Yes. Oh yeah.

How has being trans impacted your political ideologies?
I’m pretty much just getting farther and farther left as the years go on. I had considered myself a Democrat at the 2016 election but now I’m significantly farther left than that.

What do you mean by left?
Basically I’ve gotten to the point where I feel, in light of my trans identity, that Democrats aren’t going to do enough. It takes socialism, at the very least, to make society work better. Like for example for my trans medications, I’m on six medications. I’m always worried about healthcare, because if I ever want top surgery itll be so much. Like I’ve seen the class privilege of being able to afford these surgeries and so I know that farther left than democrats and even to an extent, farther than socialists, have solutions to these problems. At the base, rather than fixing the symptoms to the problem as we come up.

How do you feel about our healthcare system?
It’s very broken. Basically, it’s definitely privileges…the rich…and punishing people for getting sick. Recently with insulin, the costs have skyrocketed. This says, “I’m sorry your body isn’t working but maybe if you were richer you’d be healthy” Sick ones are the ones who need the medical care.

What do you do to cope with life?
Lately I’ve been playing video games more. Those are fun. Like, playing Pokemon. And Mario Odyssey. Nintendo is good. Playing wholesome games. I’m trying to make things better. A lot of my comics focus on representation and writing mostly queer people in genres they’d not be in. Like trans lesbians in space. I have a horror comic that’s really about dealing with small town pressure as a trans person. The main character is just a self insert, lol, it’s bad. I’m trying to find a way with my art to make things less garbage.

What are you majoring in?
I do comics and zines. Books. I like to make books, posters. I have one project that is about being mentally ill and unhealthy coping. About a character dealing with mental illness and how he learns to cope with it on his own and by not relying on other people to make him better. The zine I’m working on now is called, “So This Is The Apocalypse” and its about climate change, and all this warning. People figuring out this is how it ends, not with zombies or post apocalyptic endings but by the planet dying and people not taking care of it.

What was middle school like?
Middle school was very bad. That’s kind of when my mental health got really garbage. I started having my anxiety and depression. I didn’t realize I was trans yet but I did realize I was bisexual at the time. I’ve not been good at initiating friendships and telling when people didn’t like me. I was with a group of people who didn’t want to be my friend for a  while and just had a lot of bad interactions that made me feel very self conscious and made me feel very….I just did not like myself.

How did this impact you growing up?
I definitely have that sense of clinging onto friendships and second guessing them. I always felt like this kind of mentality where its like, if they didn’t outright say they enjoy being my friend or spending time with me, than clearly they hate me. I still see myself second guessing that now.

Do you have better friends?
Yeah. My partner and I, this is the only healthy dating relationship I’ve ever had. I have friends who invite me to stuff. That helps. And my friends I have from high school, we’ll stop talking for a minute and the minute we start talking again it’s like we hadn’t stopped talking.

When did you first experience transphobia?
I had cut my hair short in sixth grade and another kid who was a fifth grader called me a transvestite. Which, I mean, in hindsight I am a trans person but at the time I wasn’t aware. I was also a very dumb naïve middle schoolers so I didn’t even know what he meant when he called me it.

What advice do you have for others like yourself?
Basically, what I’ve learned is that you always have a chance to get to a place where you can be yourself. Even if its just a couple of people. There are ways to be yourself. Safely. Just take your time and do whats best for you in the moment. Because being out might not be safe, maybe experimenting is where you should be. Just take your time.

PART II

How would you rate your self-esteem from 1-10?
Probably like an eight, I would say. It kind of fluctuates honestly. Some days maybe I feel like a one because like, I get really hard on myself. But at other points I’ll be pretty overly cocky. But sometimes I’m not even fully aware of it. It’s either I’m super depressed, or feeling super good about myself.

So, it ties into your mental health quite a bit?
It seems likely. I haven’t been to a psychiatrist before but I’ve been to a therapist.

What made you want to participate?
I saw your thing on Facebook and I feel like it’s still an important thing to tell my story. That going back on a transition is a completely okay and valid. 

What are your most nervous about right now?
This interview.

How do you identify?
I’m trying to see myself as a guy. I’m trying to accept the fact that I was born male, so I’m trying to present myself as male. Even though gender doesn’t make sense to me. That’s why I started transitioning. Because I’m in a gray zone. In that way I felt the need to present super feminine. Even though that’s also not how I feel. I’m just trying to become comfortable with who I am from a base person.

So how do you feel right now?
I feel pretty comfortable. That’s how I would say it. I’m enjoying this muffin bro.

What was it like to model nude for the firs time?
It kind of felt natural, to be honest. I’ve always been sort of an exhibitionist in a way. I’ve never really cared about wearing clothes or not. To me a body is just a body.

How do you feel about censorship of the body?
It just doesn’t make much sense to me. Everyone has every single body part we have. People think the nude body is inherently pornographic when it’s just a natural thing. We were initially creatures of the forest, its not like we had censorship or clothing back then.

How have you faced censorship?
It happens a lot. For a lot of different sites. On Instagram, I posted a picture of me topless and within thirty minutes they sent me a notice to have it taken down for showing FEMALE nipples. First of all, a nipple is a nipple. But at the same time, I’m a boy, so that’s another level of reconciling that. It means I can’t go out in public without being seen as indecent.

What has been your biggest life struggle?
Probably depression more than anything. Struggling to just get up and be a human.  Sometimes it feels like I’m not even a person. I wake up feeling like this is all a dream.

That’s called depersonalization!
Yes! That. Sometimes I also black out from time to time. My friends kind of all ganged up on me about it from time to time.

What are these blackouts like?
I kind of get all up in my feelings an then from there I just feel angry and then from there I don’t know what happens. I should probably see a psychiatrist at some point. I feel like I should be able to deal with my own problems but I’ like to see if there is anything that can be done about it.

Tell me a bit more about your sense of identity?
I feel like I’ve always sort of been going through an identity crisis.  I’ve never really felt like I belonged in a way. Like everyone just seems to know who and what they are but honestly I have no freaking clue.

When did you start to notice this about yourself?
Probably from when I started school. Kindergarten. When I had to start dealing with people. I had this sense that people knew what they were and I was some sort of outsider coming into these circles.

Do you still feel that way?
Pretty much. It makes me feel bad. It makes it hard to get into things. I want to have my interests but I feel like I’m invading. Even just trying something makes me feel like I’m not as invested as these other people so I don’t belong in this sort of space.

How have relationships been for you?
I was still with the person I was dating at age 16.

Tell me more about that relationship.
I have a soft spot for artists and they drew a bunch of pictures of me and them. It led up to me moving in with them in Michigan. They were still seeing this other guy and keeping me a secret. I just felt awful the whole fucking time. I’d known they’d been seeing this person the entire five years and I was finally sick of it when I was a few days from twenty one. I realized I don’t want to be with someone else who doesn’t care about my feelings and somewhat.

How have things changed for you since then?
I was in a huge depressive state when I was with them because I was jut like, going through life not doing anything. That’s when I really started building up my life and doing things for myself. When I got a car, got an apartment, got a full time job to support my living.

I’d say that’s pretty heckin good.
It’s pretty nice.

What was the big takeaway from that relationship?
Don’t settle for someone who doesn’t actually care about you as a person. Just because someone is pretty or smart doesn’t mean their a good person.

Do you believe in gender equality?
Absolutely.

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Do you believe in the gender binary?
No, not at all. That’s something that’s never made sense to me. What is a guy? What is a girl? All these attributes can be applied to any person at all. So what is the difference?

What has been circulating your mind since de-transitioning?
I’ve been trying to accept the masculinity in me. It’s okay to be kind, quiet, and sweet man. The typical view of an aggressive angry man isn’t necessarily all that there is. There is a loud version but that’s not the only one. I think in a way I wanna be a teacher and protector of people that need it. It’s a manly as fuck thing. But it can also go both way, it’s also feminine in itself. I have feminine and masculine assets and I want to accept it. Before I saw the aggressive male and said I don’t want to be that therefore nothing in me wants to be that.

Have you ever had body or gender dysphoria?
As far as body, with the onset of puberty, growing hair all over my body freaked me out. And my voice deepening wasn’t okay. I wanted to be cute but this wasn’t cute at all. Why was there hair growing out of every surface. Male body odor is bad too. That’s a thing I forgot until I started de-transitioning. I still have to wear clinical deodorants.

What was HRT like for you?
From the start, something I first noticed was sexual function is not good on it if you don’t use it often. There was a thing on the form that said Use it or Lose it and I didn’t use it so I lost it. It’s a very real thing. That was a huge shock to me. It got to the point where I couldn’t be intimate with other people in the way I wanted and beyond that….mood cycles really got to me. The straw that broke the camels back was getting pregnancy gingivitis. So I just thought, well I guess as a base I was born male so I can accept that. Another thing that changed as well was I started seeing guys as attractive. I ended sleeping with one guy and it changed the ways I view guys. I just wanted to rest my head on his shoulder. I was able to start appreciating my own body because this guy looked great. When I stopped being attracted to girls on hormones but now I was staring at dudes a lot more.

So overall it started to change everything about you?
Pretty much! I felt like I was completely crazy.


What sort of pushback have you faced since de-transitioning?
None really, everyone’s kind of been really accepting of it. Everyones like,  “We love you for you” but the only aspects I’ve been facing it trying to represent myself as a guy but I still seem feminine. So some people don’t recognize that.

I had two main influences that made me feel being a guy was okay. Newt Salamander for being a sweet, charming, quiet and shy man, taking care of his beasts. But still manly as fuck in his own way. Secondly, this one guy in TicToc. Everyone thinks he’s a chick, but he’s like, “I am a guy, I’m just really good at makeup” He’s just gotta slightly higher voice and is really into makeup. That makes total sense to me. You can present yourself anyway and identify any which way.

I think people play up presentation so much in the binary.
People present in either hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine. There isn’t much of an in between. People just can’t make much sense of a shift. I just want to be seen as me, a person.

What message do you have for any others de-transitioning?
It’s completely okay and valid to first of all, go back on whatever progress has been made. And another thing, it’s okay to have a mixture of masculinity and femininity in you. It’s okay to play up either concept. You can express it anyway you want. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having whatever it is within in you, even if society says its not okay to be that way, it is okay to be that way.

PART III

How old are you?
31

What are your pronouns?
He/him

How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?
Today it's a seven but I have a range. Between like 4 and 8.

What goes into this number?
Since I'm trans, there’s dysphoria issues. Sort of, sometimes, I feel like things might not fit right so I might not pass as cis well enough. Passibility. I have body dysmorphia from eating disorder issues. The way I see myself is vastly different than how others see me. Someone might compliment me and that'll be the biggest shock of my day.

Have you ever modeled nude before?
Yes, when I presented more feminine I did boudoir, and sometimes it was naked or partially. Usually topless. I think it worked because I didn't feel like it was me. I felt like it was dissociation, like a disconnect from myself.

So like trying on a new identity?
Yes. That's a good way to put actually. I did theatre, so, that's actually perfect.

What do you think you'll learn from this session?
We had a connection, so that's cool! I think confidence though, nudity or partial nudity in photography takes a lot of self acceptance. I think also, with transness in general, it’s a process of self acceptance because even if you don’t look how you want to yet…you have to look like you do for a while to become your ideal. Being nude on camera, for anyone, is an act of confidence and bravery.

How was the shoot?
It was comfortable. I really didn't feel like someone was taking my pictures so much as it was me naturally walking around my apartment. And that's cool. It was very natural.

Tell me a little about your journey as a trans person...
I've known sort of, I've known my gender stuff wasn’t like everyone else...it’s minimal. I've never had a relationship with gender that the people around me did when I was growing up. I always knew, for a long time, but I didn't have the language to describe it until fairly recently thanks to being around more trans people. Mostly in the cosplay community. That was then when I started learning about dysphoria and gender identity and different terms. Gender neutral, and just learning that it was a thing. For a while I thought I was non-binary.

It took a very unsafe boudoir photoshoot to make me realize very rapidly that I am a man. Not an enby as I thought. It was a really difficult series of months before i did anything about it and then I began the process. I very quickly got onto testosterone. And very quickly got approved for the surgery. I've been on testosterone a year now. I've never felt more confident in my body even though it's not ideal yet. It's been nice, it's been affirming. I have my surgery consultation next month. April 29th.

Congrats.
Thank you! It was so fast! I was surprised.

Why?
I was thinking there would be more pushback than there was. Because I struggle with physical and mental illness. I thought they were going to find some way to say,  "You're too sick to transition".

What physical illnesses do you struggle with?
The hyper-mobility is a result of my autoimmune conditions. Which are…Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren's Disease (he named it after himself because a dude would), Hashimotos. Unrelated to that, I'm newly diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis. Which was caused by the medications used to treat my other conditions.

How long did it take for you get all your diagnosis?
Fourteen years. If we don't include the time before seeing a specialist.

How do your health conditions impact your self esteem?
Because of the pain and the fatigue and the brain fog and all of that....everyday I wonder what i’ll be able to do and how much i’ll have to hide my pain while I’m at work. Any day I might have plans, or leading up to any event I've been waiting for, I always wonder what will come up this time. How much pain will I be in later? A lot of people use the spoon theory to talk about energy levels but someone else suggested another way to look at it. Like rolling a d20 (Dungeons and dragons die). Like every morning I roll for initiative. So, it impacts my confidence a lot. I fear losing friends due to my diminished energy.

How have your friendships and relationships changed since coming out?
Well, my relationship with my spouse got way better. It wasn't a bad relationship ever. But we got closer because I was more true to myself, meaning I could be more true to my spouse. Other relationships, I think my relationship with my parents both suffered and got better at the same time. It's awkward but more honest. Just today my Dad texted me asking how to tell my half brother about me being trans. Which is big because there was a time where they'd hide that "I'm sick", not that trans is an illness, but they'd hide the truth a lot of the time. Either way, it’s a good change he’s asking me this. Like, "How do you want me to tell your brother you're trans?" Thats respectful considering how our relationship has been for a while. As for friendships, I've gotten close to a lot of people but I've lost a lot of friendships too because a lot of people were around me for ulterior motives that I don't want to know. As in, they were thirsty.

Tell me about your experiences as a mixed person?
It's been special. Since I'm lighter skinned, it hasn't always been the most violent racism. But I grew up being exoticisized by mostly white people but there have been other POC that exoticisized light skinned mixed people. I'm also Jewish. I was stalked by a Nazi for half my life and he wanted me dead. He had a lot of power, locally, so he would rally other local Nazis to come after me. This guy knew where I lived and everything. I'm normally never glad someone isn’t doing well mentally but this man is dying now. So, he’s finally left me alone after so long.

Why didnt you report him? (I know why but other may ask this question)
I did. The police laughed. They didn't care. They didn't take it seriously. They didn't understand just how dangerous he was. They never did find me but it was a scary time. It was almost half my life. Just always looking over my shoulder. Because that’s what you do as a mixed Jewish person.

There are also good sides, though, about being mixed. I celebrated a lot with food. I am a cook, I like to cook my heritage, basically. I'm also celebrating it artistically. I'm also trying to incorporate looks from where my family is from to relate to my culture. It's a process of researching looks to see what is right to me and to not step on any toes. Even though it is part of my heritage, I also struggled a lot with feeling worthy enough to claim my heritage and the associated things to be proud of.

Almost exclusively, its always in the positive in terms of skin color. But there is still guilt anyway. I think theres the joke, Jewish guilt. A lot of people say Catholic Guilt. Maybe thats what I struggle with too. Because a lot of people expect Jews to be white. They don't accept that what a jew is its ethnicity but it's also that jews are global. You can have jews from anywhere. It's not by conversion or marriage or anything, it could be roots in that country as a family. So theres a lot of things to overcome.

Tell me about your schizophrenia.
I have had it since I was around eight years old. That's rare. I didn't really understand what was going on so I never really told any adult. And I did see therapists as a child because I had behavioral issues and a lot of paranoia. But nobody put the two and two together. I didn't have the vocabulary to express what was happening to me. It took a car accident when I was twenty two to get me diagnosed. Because the car accident caused this chain reaction of suffering. I had hit rock bottom. I wasn't hospitalized, I should have been, but I also wasn't honest with the doctors. I said I was less of a danger to myself than I was. I managed to get out.

It took a couple of years of seeing a team of therapists before I finally got the diagnosis. Once I got the diagnosis a lot of things in my life made sense. I was able to accept what was going on in my life and I had a chance to change things because I had an understanding now. I was briefly medicated but I didn't like how I felt. My brain felt slow and my creativity was gone. So I was taken off of my medication with the aggreement that I would use coping mechanisms and that I would be upfront and honest. Basically, that I would communicate. I've been off medication since then, its been a couple of years. I've made so much more art than I used to. Yes, I have bad days and weeks and months. But I always manage to stay grounded.

What is it like to live with schizophrenia daily?
Most of my hallucinations are visual so I see a lot of shadow creatures. They follow me around while I'm driving to work. While I'm at work, there….or there. Observing. It's been a while since I've had any violent hallucinations where I'm being attacked or seeing a lot of gore. I actually use them as artistic inspiration. One of my therapists said to do it as a coping mechanism to separate myself from the delusion. It reminds me that this is not real. I can use it as inspiration and self expression without feeling ashamed.

How is your struggle with the paranoia?
I do struggle with paranoia. Which, is never fun. It's really dumb honestly. It's just so dumb. You can get caught up in some of the dumbest shit that people say. Someone says something in a certain way and my brain will flip into overdrive and go, "There going to leave you. They hate you." It's easy to misunderstand people ANYWAYS, regardless of mental illness, then add paranoia to that and it's like...

Does it ever cause any arguments or fights?
I never let it start arguments. But if I find my brain going off about something silly, I take a step back to rationalize. But it hurts too, if I can't shake the paranoia. Because sometimes I have bad days….and it hurts. It hurts to think someone hates me. Or they're going to tell them the one thing you did once. It can get especially bad when I'm having bad pain days. Or coming out to a lot of people recently. With how people talk in messenger sometimes...as an example, my brain can get really carried away with interpreting these things. It's both a dumb struggle, but a really painful struggle.

What types of delusions did you struggle with?
I used have worse delusions where I thought the government was after me. That was when I was a lot younger and it was way ,more disruptive than it is now. Whereas I'm more able to react to these thoughts than getting carried away.

What does it look like when you get carried away?
I'll talk really rapidly because my brain will be going 100 miles per min. I might isolate myself from socialization. I can get combative and say pretty hurtful things. UGH. It does get better though. Once you learn what sets you off. And you have that awareness. It's also important to include people in discussions about how your schizophrenia might manifest because then people understand when you have a meltdown...it’s not an excuse. And they at least know what’s going on.

What advice do you have given your experiences?
When it's safe, be honest. Doesn't matter who. Therapist, teacher, friend, coworkers, partner. Just be honest. Because honesty can save you just as much as being able to tell a really good lie. And if you bottle too much inside, it can really hurt you. It can kill you. I've suffered more by being dishonest and hiding things than I have just being honest and owning my true self. And that's about transness. Being chronically ill. And mentally ill. And mixed. Since who you are is made up of everything you go through everyday.