Transition and the Thirty-Year-Old Teenager
As a transgender man, I am both older and younger than my age. I’m thirty-one years old, but I often feel like I’ve lived two lifetimes in the space of one. I don’t feel dissociated from my childhood in the way that some trans* people do, but when I look at photos from as little as five years ago I see a drastically different person. Go back ten years, and I hardly recognize myself.
I’ve been through puberty twice, which is 100% more puberty than most people have to deal with in their lifetimes. I have radically reinvented myself – not just in terms of gender expression, but in personality and ambitions. Before I figured out my gender identity, I felt like a bomb caught in a space-time fracture. I struggled on the edge of disaster, but even when I crossed the line, there was no relief. I swung back like a pendulum; the supernova shrank back in on itself, and there I was again, ready to explode. I was angry, desperate, and hopeless, mostly because I had no idea what I was angry about.
When I realized my gender identity and began transition, that anger vanished. It didn’t happen overnight, but the shift was profound. Now I’m a calm and rational person, which would have shocked my twenty-year-old self. I feel like an old man when I think about that time in my life. Was I really so volatile?
Yet in other ways, I feel much younger than thirty. Trans* men usually look younger than cisgender men, which doesn’t help – I’ve had students, for example, who thought I was a classmate until I stood up to call the roll. Growing a beard has allowed me to shrug off that visible aura of youth, but internally I often feel like a teenager. There are so many things that I skipped over during my adolescence in the wrong gender, things that are old hat to my peers, but that I’m experiencing for the first time. I never had acne before I turned thirty. I didn’t know how to buy or use a beard trimmer. I still haven’t learned my new vocal range, and when I try to sing along with my old college CDs, my voice cracks or gives out altogether. These are things that my friends have dealt with, yes, but they figured them out years ago. I, on the other hand, got ice crystals in my beard for the first time last winter, and took selfies with childish delight.
A lot of the time, I feel like I’m still catching up. I’ve lived only four years as my full, authentic self. I recall these recent years with a clarity and immediacy that my pre-transition life just can’t match. Sure, part of that is because memories fade with time, but not all. Transition has made me more courageous, more certain, and more free – when I made this choice, I realized quite suddenly that I could define myself, rather than trying to fit into the mold that had been handed to me. Now I’m trying to cram as much me as I can into every moment, to make up for the time I lost when I was trying to be something I’m not.
I don’t feel like I’m thirty, but like my gender, my age is complicated. And I’m proud of that.