The Continual Existential Crisis of my Childhood
There’s going to be a lot of diversions from the actual topic, but I think it’s all relevant to how coming out really felt. I think what I’m going to talk about first is my continual existential crisis throughout my childhood and adolescence. I can’t say I ever felt wrong, because I didn’t feel wrong. What I felt was that I was missing something so completely innate—and maybe even obvious—about myself that I didn’t know myself at all. It felt like I really didn’t know who I was. I don’t mean descriptors like cosmetologist, attorney, or student. I mean something so basic and simple that it’s this huge underlying way that I interact with the world around me. To have a feeling like that is nearly impossible to explain, and terrifying to comprehend as a child.
Sexuality: The Missing Link?
I am a bisexual. There was always a part of me that was completely aware that I’m attracted to women. The issue is that I knew I wasn’t a lesbian, and I didn’t know there was an option for anything except for homosexual or heterosexual. I knew I liked men, and so I thought that didn’t actually have feelings for girls. Maybe I just wanted to be “super best friends” with them or something. I learned what bisexual was in the 7th grade. I was 12 years old, and we were in the girl’s locker room after PE. Sexuality came up somehow, I don’t remember how, and my friend told us she was bisexual. I asked her what that meant, and she said that it meant she liked boys and girls. I thought about bisexuality for the rest of the day.
That night it took me hours to get to sleep. I laid in my bed and I fantasied about what it would be like to kiss a girl, all the cute little things I could do if I had a girlfriend, and imagined how it would feel to hold a girl’s hand. I realized by the time I was falling asleep that I’m bisexual and had made the decision that I would never tell a living soul, no matter the circumstance.
Obviously, that didn’t go as planned. But I digress. I thought that being bisexual was it. That was the thing I was missing about myself. Realistically, I knew there were still some parts missing, but I was only 12 years old and no one knows themselves completely at that age.
I still felt this underlying weight of unfamiliarity with myself, but I brushed it off as the need to come out as bisexual. Considering I had already decided that was never happening, I ignored that feeling as much as I possibly could. I did everything I could to distract myself. I started writing again, I made up stories in my head constantly, and I had my fair share of issues that brought me to therapy in the 8th grade.
My emotions were so overdrawn and bold that I couldn’t control them. Every single time I went shopping for bras I would have a full-blown breakdown in the dressing room. My therapist thought I was being dramatic when I told her that I fantasized about cutting my chest off with a knife. I was 13 with a 34DD. I was so desperate to get rid of my chest, I spent nearly all my spare time researching breast reductions. I found pills online that were supposed to make breast tissue shrink, but I couldn’t access them.
As adolescence continued, my hips expanded and I began to look more like an adult woman than a 13-year-old girl. I did everything I could to lose weight so that my hips and chest would shrink. I very quickly found myself starving myself obsessively, only to be encouraged to continue down that self-destructive path every time my bra size dropped. At some point, I figured out how to get diet pills while still underage. Eventually, I started the process of recovering from my eating disorder. Every time my bra size went back up, I panicked and relapsed.
Coming Out: The 1st Time
When I was 17, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to come out as bisexual. I thought if I came out that I would feel the dread of not knowing who I am disappear. I told my best friend at the time, and we actually ended up coming out to each other. I wrote a long speech to tell my Mom, I rehearsed it in my head over and over for days, and I found the perfect time. She was going to be home, my stepdad wouldn’t be home to distract her, and we had hours to talk about it.
We sat down at the kitchen table and I told her something along the lines of “Mom, I have something very important to tell you. I feel like I need to get it off my chest and tell you what’s going on. I’m bisexual”. Her response was to let out a relieved sigh and say “Oh thank goodness! I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant!” and then she stood up and started walking towards the fridge.
I didn’t expect her to have issues with me being bisexual, but I still expected some sort of reaction. I stopped her and she said “Oh. That’s not all of it? Okay,” and sat back down on her chair, obviously confused, “Is there something else you have to say?”. I was absolutely astonished. I stuttered out “No.” and she said that she was hungry, so she was going to make herself some food. Then she walked away and started talking about other things as if we were having a normal conversation.
I felt exactly the same after I told her. I told my Dad a few months later, and it took him some time to understand but he eventually did. Nothing had changed, including my existential dread. This led me to further question my sexuality. “Am I a lesbian?” was nearly a daily thought.
Finding my Chosen Family
My best friend had heard of this group called HATCH. Her friend had been going there and had said that it was amazing. HATCH is an LGBT+ youth group at the Montrose Center, ages 13-20. When you turn 21, you’ve aged out of HATCH. We decided to go there together, but she ended up unable to go. I was already on the way when she told me, and so I decided to go anyways.
I highly recommend HATCH to anyone queer who is between the ages of 13-20. HATCH and the people I have met through HATCH have saved my life several times that aren’t mentioned in this article. If you need information about HATCH, you can find it here.
I was really nervous. Even now, I don’t typically go places to socialize if I’m not going with someone I know. I walked in, very timid, and someone immediately came over to me and asked if it was my first time. I said yes, and they showed me how to sign in, where the bathrooms were, got me supplies to make a nametag that would include my name and pronouns, introduced me to the facilitators (one of which nearly brought me to tears by saying “Welcome Home” to me), and introduced me to a few of the other HATCH kids so that I had people to talk to. My friend’s friend was there, and she also introduced me to a few people. Everyone there was warm and welcoming. That night I met some of my closest friends to date. I also met people who were trans for the first time.
My thoughts of “Am I a lesbian?” changed to “Am I homoflexible*?” as I developed feelings for a boy at HATCH. We started dating, and it was the first relationship I really felt comfortable in. I became a part of his friend group, really before we started to date. His brother is a trans man, and I asked my boyfriend questions about trans stuff since he was more educated about it than I was. I also asked his brother some stuff and learned more from people at HATCH, including from someone who is now like a little brother to me.
I very quickly became obsessed with female to male transitions. I read about testosterone, binders, packers, top surgery, bottom surgery, etc. I watched coming out videos, videos about testosterone, videos about anything FTM (female to male). I had no explanation for why I was so obsessed, so I kept it a secret.
After that relationship ended, the next one was, to say the least, a hot mess. During that time my then-boyfriend required me to be very feminine. A lot happened with him, enough to write a whole series about. The aftermath was, to say the least, not pretty. I stopped trying to take care of myself and part of that resulted in a shift in my clothing. I wasn’t really looking at the clothes I was putting on when I was getting dressed for very long. I just grabbed whatever I felt the best in and left. The outfit that I ended up wearing almost daily was a graphic tee, jeans, Doc Martins, and a military jacket. I had started to contemplate whether I was a lesbian again, but then my thought process on that changed pretty abruptly. I realized that I definitely am attracted to men, women, and every other gender.
In the definitiveness of understanding my sexuality, it had occurred to me that I may not be a woman. However, I thought that because I am still sort of feminine I was just overthinking it. I pushed it aside and decided I would do nothing with those feelings. Life continued, and after about 6 months of constantly pushing those thoughts away, I couldn’t fight them off anymore.
At this point, I was looking at any resource I could about how being non-binary* felt. There were a couple of conversations I had with people at HATCH in which I was nearly begging them to just tell me what I am. I always got the same answer “No one can tell you what you are. You have to figure out what feels right to really know.”
*Non-binary is a term under the transgender umbrella that can be used to describe someone who does not identify within the gender binary (male or female). It is arguably considered an umbrella term for all genders that do not fall into the gender binary (some examples include agender, bigender, or gender fluid). However, there are people that identify as simply non-binary and not specifically one of the terms under the umbrella term non-binary.
This always created a dark picture in my mind, I just wanted my uncertainty to go away. I didn’t want to admit what was going on to myself, and I really didn’t want to speculate anymore. There is no other feeling I’ve had like the feeling of being uncertain about something so innate about yourself as your gender. For me, even questioning my sexuality never gave me the same anxiety I was feeling.
I thought, maybe I’m genderfluid. I like things that are feminine, and I like to look cute and feel like a queen. But a lot of the time I felt this pit in the center of my soul that made me feel like I was strangling myself with my dresses. I told my friends this, and they suggested that if I think that I might be gender fluid that I could get up and think about what makes me feel like myself when I’m choosing my outfit. Months later, and all I had worn was masculine clothing. I had started layering on sports bras in a way that flattened my chest only weeks into it. At HATCH, I asked to try They/Them pronouns* to see how it felt. They didn’t work for me, so I asked to try He/Him pronouns to see how that worked.
*They/Them pronouns are commonly used as gender-neutral pronouns for those who are non-binary. They are also used daily by people who are unaware of doing so when they are unsure of someone’s gender. Ex: “Mary said the barista was really nice. They gave her a free cookie! Isn’t that nice of them?”
Finally, I felt like I was starting to understand who I really am. If I’m being really honest, I was terrified. I know that at this point in the story I’m supposed to say that I finally knew what was going on and that I was happy that I was finally starting to really be myself. But that’s just not how I felt.
I felt like the more I figured out what was wrong with me, the more alone I was in my experience. Yes, I had friend’s that had experienced the same thing I was going through. And yes, that definitely helped. I can’t begin to imagine how alone I would have felt if I didn’t have people around me actually understood what I was going through.
Something that I think is important to understand about me in order to understand how this is even possible, I’m really good at being in denial. I can fool myself into believing the sky is red if I put my mind to it. I told myself that it wasn’t real, and so I just continued my life pretending like nothing was happening. Simultaneously, I had checked out Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community (Laura Erickson-Schroth) and couldn’t put it down. I read Chapter 7: Coming Out probably hundreds of times.
Having friends that were trans, I knew what binders* were, but buying one felt too committed. However, after months of struggling with layers and layers of sports bras, I asked someone where to buy a binder. He simply sent me the link https://www.gc2b.co/, which is one of the most common and safest binders you can buy on the market.
A *binder is an undergarment used to compress the breast tissue in an effort to have the appearance of having a completely flat chest.
Binding can be extremely unsafe. If you do not take the proper precautions it can break ribs, and even when binding properly you can have your ribs shift. Keeping this in mind, binding can be lifesaving. It provides relief from dysphoria that can keep someone going a little bit longer.
Even so, I still hadn’t fully admitted to myself that I was a man. When I finally did, it was soul crushing. I was in the shower, and I was thinking about life (as you do when you take long showers), and I had the thought “Oh my god. I’m a boy. I’m not a girl. I’m not non-binary. I’m just a boy” and I sat on the shower floor and sobbed. Anxiety-driven thoughts ran through my mind constantly for the next few weeks.
How am I going to explain to my professors that I’m trans? How will I explain this to my Mom? She’s always thought that I’m so girly, even though it’s all just societal ideas of what “girly” is and I’ve been in crew-neck tees and skinnies since I was 12. She probably won’t even believe me. She’ll never take me seriously. My Dad will just ignore it, there’s no way he’ll actually try to get this. Maybe I can ignore it. Maybe it will go away. But I tried that, and it didn’t work. Does this mean I won’t outgrow hating my chest? Is that why I’ve always wanted them gone? Oh my god, I’m so stupid. Of course, that’s why I’ve always wanted them gone! How did I not see this sooner? How can I be so unable to self-evaluate that I didn’t notice I’m literally a boy? How expensive is testosterone? I know how to start it and what it does, but can I even afford it? What bathroom do I use in public? I look like a lesbian. Is there any way to make it so this isn’t my life? Why does this have to be my life?
I brought all my anxiety-ridden thoughts to my therapist and he reminded me that anxiety is fear that doesn’t fit the facts. I had every right to be scared of the struggles ahead of me, but to remember that my Mom has always been there for me. That for something this big, she will be there for me. He reminded me that the facts are when trans people come out their mental health increases tenfold. This was something I had been struggling with for a long time, and finding the solution was a good thing.
Coming Out: Officially
Still, admitting it wholly was hard. It took work that I hadn’t had to do before, and at 19 I didn’t feel well enough equipped to deal with the intense emotionality around it. I decided that I needed to reach outside of my chosen family at HATCH, and talk to the person who I usually confided everything in. It was time to come out to my Mom.
Except, I wasn’t really coming out. I decided that I would tell her that I might be trans, not that I am actually a trans man. I wanted to give her time to adjust to the idea of me being a boy and not the girly girl she always thought that I was.
We went to dinner, I think we went to the pizza place across from my school that I spent so much time at during college. I was parked on campus and walked over to meet her, so when it was time to go our separate ways, she decided to drive me to my car. It was in the parking garage, in a spot on the ramp between the 2nd and 3rd floor. I don’t know how I brought the conversation to gender, but somehow, we ended up there. I told her that I needed to give her a heads up about something, that I may be coming out as trans in the near future. This was very non-committal, I know.
Her initial reaction was exactly what I was expecting it to be. “But you’ve always been so girly!” I told her that no I really haven’t, not that that determines your gender anyways. Yes, I like hair and makeup, but I’ve worn almost exclusively men’s clothing for years. She argued with me about how being a woman was more fun, that women get more passes than men in certain situations. She was really trying to convince me that being a woman was in my best interest. While I expected this, it was extremely frustrating. She was acting as if I was just choosing to be a man, and not that I actually am one.
Eventually, I got frustrated enough that I told her that this is who I am. I am a man, nothing that anyone says or thinks is going to change that. That’s when I think she really got that this was happening, and that I needed her to be there for me.
She called HATCH and spoke to one of the facilitators. She told them that her child had just come out, and that she had no idea where to go to get information about this sort of thing. They referred her to two people, a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist who is also an endocrinologist. These two professionals are experts on the transgender experience, and one of them is a trans man himself.
Within two weeks, she had seen both of them. After she had seen them both, she called me and she told me that she supports me no matter what. She called me her son, told me that she will always be there for me, and that she loves me for who I really am.
A couple of months later, I came out to my Dad, who was resistant for the first couple of years. A few months ago, he finally realized this isn’t going away and has begun to use the correct name and pronouns. Slowly, I came out to everyone. It wasn’t hard once I came out to my parents because pretty much everyone, but my family, already knew.
I started testosterone on January 11, 2017. When I told my Mom that I wanted to start testosterone, she was surprised. She thought that I was moving way too fast, but she didn’t realize that I had been thinking about testosterone long before I came to terms with being trans.
On August 30, 2018 I had top surgery. My Mom and I went to Plano, TX and stayed in an Airbnb. I had been binding long before I came out, or even knew what transgender was. When I was in middle school I would wear 4 sports bras, and sometimes use ace bandages, to try to flatten my chest. Using ace bandages and binding unsafely can kill, and I am very lucky that I survived the years of doing that. As I grew older, I only became more desperate to obtain a flat chest, which is one of the reasons I developed an eating disorder. I didn’t bind through most of high school, and only began binding once again when I began to question my gender at 19.
You’re not supposed to bind for longer than 8 hours a day. However, this is extremely unrealistic. I would wake up in the morning and put my binder on when I for dressed, and I would go to classes and work. I would sometimes be out of the house for 12+ hours. Currently, I leave for work at 7:30 AM and leave school at 10 PM. If I was binding right now I would be binding for a minimum of 15 hours. Sure, I would take breaks, but my ribs would still shift. Being a man with 34DDs A) could have outed me to people who were unsafe to be out to and B) gave me extreme dysphoria, to the point of being willing to put my body in danger in order to relieve that. Top surgery is lifesaving, and I really mean that.
May 31, 2019 I legally had my name and gender marker changed, and it’s relieved so much of my anxiety. When I go to the store and hand my card to the cashier, I don’t suddenly start getting called “Miss” and “Ma’am” when I was originally “Sir”. Bouncers don’t look at me confused. I don’t have to worry about the wrong name being called out at school in front of everyone because of a clerical error, which has happened multiple times. Last night I checked my mail and my new Voter’s Registration came in, and I’m so excited to vote for the first time with the correct name. The next time I go to the doctor’s office, I won’t sit there with my heart pounding while I wait for my name to be called. Did they read the note next to my name “Call me Alexander”?.
I do not exaggerate when I say that my quality of life improved insanely since I’ve come out. Now that I’m navigating the world as myself, I feel like I really understand who I am. I’m me. I’m Zander.