I was talking to Wren about our landlord yesterday when I had the sudden sensation that his name was familiar to me. Wracking my brains, I recalled that it was the name of someone I went to high school with. And then, judging from the date on his email address, I realised he was very likely the same person. I’d met him once in person when he bought the house and he seemed nice enough, but he didn’t seem particularly familiar… Tentatively I sent him a text message and just asked… “I don’t suppose you went to Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?” (Except in my case, Xavier’s school was all-boys. Euch.) He replied saying he did. “I graduated with you!” I nervously sputtered. “My name was [redacted] back then. Rough times, wasn’t a fan, glad to have moved on. How times have changed hey!” “Ah I remember you! Small world! Can’t believe that was so many years ago,” he answered several hours later.
I felt really, really scared as I waited for that last reply. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I panicked because someone from my past resurfaced, someone who had only ever known me by my birth name. As I frantically messaged Wren and Garnet to tell them what had happened, I referred to him as someone from BC – Before Celeste. But my panic was needless, and it was such a huge relief that he didn’t even mention my gender in his response.
And it got me thinking. I’ve previously said that I’m not a fan of the word “deadname”; I don’t like the idea that who I used to be is dead. But recently I’ve been finding it harder to recall life when I thought I was a boy. It’s so hard remembering what I looked like with short hair, or wearing a suit. Which is strange because facebook regularly shows me pictures from past memories, and I recognise the person in the photo as [Eclore], but not as me, if that makes sense. Those memories feel very literally like they happened to a different person, in a different life. That they were never part of my story, and they had very little to do with me except they passed the time until I could emerge.
It’s the stuff of next-level trans clichés.
I don’t think that person died so I can live – they just wandered through life, doing their best, and then their story stopped and mine began. Maybe it’s my brain’s way of simplifying the enormous complexity of life into digestable chunks: BC and AC. But whatever the reason, there’s a clear delineation between those two stages of my life, and they feel entirely disconnected from each other.
Some part of me tells me that maybe it would be healthier if I were whole, synergistic, embracing my yin and my yang. But right now, I don’t mind the separation.
I’ve always been an angry feminist. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always believed that the pendulum has been stuck over at the patriarchy, and for equity it needs to swing way into the matriarchy and stay there for a couple of thousand years before maybe one day settling in the middle. In uni I was the only male-identifying person to join the feminist club (I got some strange looks, but I argued that I also had the right to stand passionately for women’s rights). But what I want to talk about today is my experience of feminism in high school.
When I was about 15, I came across the idea of spelling the word “women” with an x, as in “womxn” (or womyn, or wimmin). The same applied to “humxn”, “humxnkind” et cetera, to take the “men” out of the experience. I found this idea captivating, and I used the x variation as much as possible (which may be obvious to those of you who know me well). My English teacher once wrote “Why are you doing this?” in red pen on the front of one of my essays. I went up to him to explain, but he wasn’t really interested in listening, he just wanted to vent his exasperation at my strangeness.
I stopped after about half a year for reasons I can’t remember. I probably thought that the negatives outweighed the positives in terms of the impact I was making vs the bullying I was receiving. But I hadn’t really thought about it until this week.
My social media has showed lots of conversations centred around this tweet which seems to be circulating twitter.
There’s a lot here to unpack, and I don’t know if I have the energy to do it in my own words. I was very sad to learn that language has evolved since my high school days, and the term “womyn” has been claimed by TERFS. But I came across this post by Cassie Brighter via Empowered Trans Woman and I wholeheartedly agree with it. Cassie argues that the term “womxn” includes all women, cis and trans, and takes an extra step to acknowledge those who are not cis. It’s the same reason I’ve started using “folx” instead of “folks” as an intentional nod to people who are gender diverse or non-conforming. It is one change to a keystroke that says “I recognise that you exist, and I wanted to go slightly out of my way to show that you’re important to me.”
But reading through the comments of social media, I did not come across a single person who agreed with me. Lots of vocal, angry trans folx talked about feeling erased and excluded, being put in a new category that wasn’t actually a woman.
Hmmm… This is not good blogging, but I think I’ve changed my mind halfway through the post. I just did a thought experiment where I wondered how I’d feel if someone referred to me as a womxn. I thought I’d feel honoured that they were making an effort to include me, and while that was a little true, mostly I felt annoyed that they didn’t consider me “a real woman”.
Welp, I’ve done a 180. I’m not a fan of the term “womxn” when applied to myself, but I still celebrate and honour anyone else who uses it in an inclusive way. This post has been a bit of a mess XD
Content warning: Mentions of abuse, discussions of distress, suicidal thoughts, body image, and dysphoria.
Things have been pretty wild lately. Buying those bras last week have been so utterly euphoric for me. I’m still distracted by the reduction in my peripheral vision, and I bump them against something almost every day, but they’ve done wonders for me confidence and self-esteem. Somehow ticking that “second box” has made me feel so at ease in my skin, so utterly sure of my knowledge of self, and it feels like no one can take that away from me.
But I’ve had some hard moments too these past few weeks. There’s been so much going on for me, and the many challenges that I normally carry with ease weighed heavily on me. The dysphoria with my voice. Thinking about my abuser, and the many kinds of complex, long-term abuse I experienced as a kid. Being rounder and heavier than ever before, and feeling uncomfortable about how tight my clothes were becoming and how ugly and boyish I looked. Digging deep to unlearn my own racism, and then being scolded for not doing better at it by people in a group I trusted. Feeling like a failure for not being able to provide Wren with the life they deserve. Numerous people reaching out to me for help while they were in distress, and putting my stuff aside so I could support them. The (fortunately declining) threat of vomiting every day and feeling sick for hours. Not trusting food even when my body said it was hungry, because it so often lied to me and threw up whatever it asked for. Feeling overwhelmed by the newness of the job, and struggling to be seen as “good enough” when I don’t know what I’m doing, and there’s not much to do. That heightened sense of danger I had after being leered at by a stranger. The ongoing sense of emergency from smelling smoke in the air, friends evacuating, and threat of community transmission of COVID in this state for the first time in nearly a year.
I teetered pretty close to self-destruction more than once. I don’t think I would have actually killed myself without first trying other protective measures, but it was on my mind a lot. All of my problems seemed equally overwhelming, and I really struggled to find anything that brought me joy or comfort. But I used my crisis plan (recognising that I was definitely in the yellow, and had some parts of the red creeping in), I contacted my people, and I survived. (To be honest I didn’t really feel like reaching out, but I figured it was worth trying. And then I found that I didn’t actually want to change how I was feeling, I just wanted to tell others what I was going through and then be left alone. My friends were perfect in their support, securing promises of safety, and then checking back in with me later when I was feeling more myself again.) It was rough, but the storm passed as it always does.
Honestly, one of the things that helped most was painting my nails again. Last year when I broke two nails in two days, I decided to cut all my nails short because I was done with long nails. About a week later I got my ears pierced and I stopped going to karate, and I had the sudden joyful thought that it was a good time to grow my nails out again. Well we’re back baby. Inspired by Mei’s Lunar New Year skin, I decided to paint my nails red this time. And I was surprised to find that this bold colour that once overwhelmed me is now my favourite shade by far. How I’ve changed.
The other big thing that helped me was talking to Hylia, my psychologist. Well, kind of. The first appointment that we had, I got so upset that I had to put down the phone to vomit halfway through it. I didn’t feel like talking after that. The second appointment that we had was great. I was feeling grounded again. I looked cute, I didn’t mind my voice, I felt happy and stable. So I was in a place where I could unpack my beliefs and put some of them down (especially those pressures to be a perfect employee, and to be an unfailing provider to Wren). That’s freed up a lot of resources for other things, and I’m reminded to tune in, not out. I’m trying to avoid gaming as a distraction, and instead be very deliberate about choosing it as a soothing method.
It’s been really, really nice taking a break from karate. Now that I’ve had a little time and distance, I realise that I hated being pushed so hard. I hated having to be so tough just to get through a lesson. I’m still teaching my private student though, and I’ve learned that I still enjoy pushing myself, but it has to be exactly as much as I want to be pushed and no more. Being the teacher gives me that luxury where I set the pace, but I don’t plan on opening my own school so I’m not really sure what to do about it. Brill gave me the all-clear to return to training last week, but I haven’t wanted to, and I’m still not sure what I’ll do about it. I guess eventually I’ll message Sensei K, and maybe that will help me understand my choices better.
I had a realisation recently when talking to my friend Mama. I mentioned how wearing certain clothes highlighted how much weight I’d gained and how unattractive it made me feel (still unlearning that internalised fatphobia), and she casually said: “So the problem is your clothes.” It blew my fucking mind. And then I thought back to a recent time when I’d been trying on new work outfits, and how cute I looked in everything. And the fact that it was possible for me to look good suddenly made me realise she was right: I look fucking fantastic, and I’m much happier when I wear clothes that fit me. I’m not the problem, it’s the clothes that no longer serve me. Juvenile thoughts, but exciting ones.
It’s strange though, I’m starting to lose my sense of my own aesthetic. It’s hard to explain what I mean, but maybe this example will help. I was recently saw some cute cat-ear headphones posted by someone in a trans gaming group I’m in, and my initial thought was that I wanted them too. But upon closer inspection, what I liked about them was not necessarily their colour or design, but the fact they were valued by that particular community. And if I bought that same headset, I’d be valued too. And that was very tempting.
I was talking to my colleague Ursus about it today, how I was willing to sacrifice some needs of personal expression in order to meet some needs of community and belonging. To identify with a particular community with shared ideals, and to align my sense of self with them… Was that so bad? So many people define themselves by their fandoms, their sport teams, their occupations, whatever. Did I want to lean into being “the Trans Gamer Girl”?
I hear a lot that it’s good to be true to onesself, to not diminish myself for anyone else’s comfort. And I think there’s a lot of merit to that, but I’m not sure if that’s true in all circumstances at all times. Maybe there’s room for some yin as well as yang.
Speaking of yin and yang, as I’ve mentioned previously I have lots of feelings about my voice. But recently I had a new client at my private practice, which was special because I was introduced to her as Celeste (she/her). She had never known me under any other name, or with any other pronouns, and I think it’s quite possible that she thought I was cis. And I found that thought tremendously encouraging. I became increasingly comfortably with my voice in the week following.
And then today I called a new client, and it went terribly. They asked for my name, and I gave it to them, and they asked for it again and again until I spelled it out. “Oh Celeste!” they said. “That’s a girl’s name!” “Yup, sure is! I am a girl!” I said, maybe a little too cheerfully. Then I reconsidered: this person was literally so old school they refused to have a mobile, an email address, or a car: they probably weren’t well versed in modern gender theory. So I made an effort to help them understand. “Actually I’m transgender,” I told them. “I was assigned male at birth, and-“ “Oh that makes sense, because you sound like a man!” they said excitedly. “It’s most unfortunate,” I said without hesitation. I was astonished at myself for the calm delight I was taking in the face of these insults. “Well that’s fine with me!” they told me proudly. “I’m glad you think so,” I answered, wondering if they heard the subtext that I didn’t particularly need their approval.
Afterwards I laughed about it until I was wiping tears from my eyes. I still don’t know why I found it so funny. It was something about the incongruity of being treated so bluntly by someone so well-meaning.
I guess I’m still experiencing some of those pubertal mood swings my doctors warned me about, but as long as I continue putting one foot in front of the other, I trust it’ll just keep getting better.
I had the thought yesterday that there are two primary characteristics that make me think “female” when I’m glancing at someone: long hair, and noticable breasts. And I know that you can’t tell someone’s gender just by looking at them, but I also acknowledge that this is how my brain is currently conditioned. And as I was walking through the shopping centre yesterday, it was an immense relief to feel that I had finally ticked both boxes. Let me fill you in (hee hee. That’ll make sense later).
I bought my first bra when I was about twenty, off a site whose lingerie was specifically designed for men. I wanted something discreet, but that was also cute and would fit someone of my proportions. It was more of a bralette than a bra, silky and white with this cute little bow on the front that somehow never showed through a t-shirt. I loved it so much, and wore it when I wanted to feel more confident or sexy. When I was first opening up to Lovely about trans stuff, I called it “my secret hug”, because the gentle pressure of it really was tremendously soothing to me.
After that, I didn’t buy another until I realised I was trans in 2019. Apart from a few sports bras with removable cups, I bought bralettes because they seemed harder to get wrong, and maybe more appropriate for someone with smaller boobs. Frankly I was intimidated by lingerie stores, and the hundreds of different styles and sizes that I’d have to sort through in order to even get a sense of what fit me or what I wanted. I relegated those thoughts to the “too hard basket”… right up until Sunday.
I’d been talking to friends about bras lately, but the thoughts were a little scary for me to confront head-on. Yet when I visited my Mum for Chinese New Year (we made dumplings! Well, she made dumplings with delicate, perfect crimping; I made an edible mess), she had a good hard look at my chest and insisted that I really did need to find a supportive bra. She told me that she’d never worn good bras until about five years ago to help lift her boobs as her body changed, and it made such a big difference. And then she was saying “Sayang! If only you could wear Size 16…” “I wear Size 14-16,” I cut in. “I have a bra that’s too big for me now! You want to try?” I felt pretty weird about wearing my Mum’s intimates, especially since it was a cute, lacy, black number, but I wanted to get more experience trying on a range of sizes and styles. It ended up being a little tight through the band and large in the (B) cups, so I declined to take it but was grateful for the experience.
As I was driving home, I had the sudden thought that maybe I could use Mum’s ang pao (which she gave me even though I’ve been married for four years) on a proper fitting. In an act of extraordinary generosity, Wren felt okay about spending their limited health and energy on going with me, so we went to our local department store to ask for help.
I was pretty nervous. My only exposure to fittings was from crappy TV, where old ladies threw open curtains while people were getting dressed, saying “Don’t worry dear, I’ve seen plenty of lovely breasts in my time.” I had this horrible fear that I’d need to be groped and squeezed so that the personal shopper could correctly ascertain my size and shape. But if that was what I needed to do in order to get a good fit, I was willing to do it.
I was wrong. Thank God. I’ve altered every name I’ve ever written on this blog, but today I will make an exception because it’s too good to change: The person who assisted me was named Deborah… As in de bra. I couldn’t have thought of a name that clever even if I’d wanted to.
There were no worries about privacy – Deb left the room (which was big enough for Wren to sit comfortably in), and would return when I pressed a chime on the wall, knocking first and waiting to see if I wanted to open the door, otherwise passing the items over it. Deb wasn’t the best at consent as they adjusted my straps, and even reached a finger into my bra to smooth out the inside of a cup briefly, but they only ever touched the garment and never my person. It was done as professionally and efficiently as possible, and I really didn’t mind. Rather, I was so delighted to be in the hands of someone who knew exactly what they were looking for, where each line should sit, how far back the cups should reach, how to adjust the straps to the perfect height, as well as having an intimate (forgive me) knowledge of the sizes, colours and designs in stock.
Deb first asked me about what I wanted, then got me to try on a bra just to see how it fit. I hated it, but it gave them a better idea of what they were looking for. When they came back with a push-up bra (Size 16, C-cup with an “ultra boost”), I was dubious that I could fill such a space. But they showed me how to physically reach in and grab a handful of breast tissue and pull it over, and holy shit why had I never thought of that? There was still some space, especially when I hunched my shoulders forward or bent over, but Deb showed me the exact same thing happened with their bra. (I fricking loved how naturally they would just pull their top down to show me their lingerie.) “Shoulders back, chest forward proudly,” said Deb, modeling good posture. “So I can never slouch again?” I asked, half joking. “Never,” Deb told me, half seriously.
Deb suggested I try my top back on so I could see my profile. I didn’t really see the point, but I thought there was no harm in it so I obliged. When I saw my reflection in the side mirror, I immediately turned away from it and buried my face in my hands, trying not to cry. I had boobs. Like, huge boobs (for me). And they were mine, just a bra and flesh working to create a beautiful silhouette. Deb told me to stop otherwise they’d start crying too, and we laughed as I kept my tears at bay, transfixed by my reflection. That bra went in the “keepers” pile.
Deb brought out perhaps a dozen more for me to try. I selected two more bras – one C-cup, and one D-cup. This was very confusing because Doc said I’d likely never get past an A-cup, and Mum’s B-cup seemed too big for me earlier that day. Neither of them were push-up bras either, but somehow they both fit well and looked great? Bra-sizing is weird.
As I took off that last bra, I felt a terrible sadness looking back at my humble bralette that I’d have to put back on. Sheepishly I donned the bra again and pushed the bell, and Deb was happy to cut the tags off so I could wear it out. And fam I looked fucking amazing. There was a little stretched out space at the front of my t-shirt between my boobs! And when I slung my bag across my shoulders, the strap highlighted how gracious my curves were!
When I was paying for them, Deb wished me all the best on my journey. And it was only as I was walking away that I realised I might have faced discrimination as a trans woman, but I didn’t. Even though my oestrogen patch was showing on my abdomen. Even though my voice sounds the way it does. Much like the lingerie they sold, the staff were so supportive, and I felt respected and celebrated.
I’ve been wearing my new bras for a few days now, and they make me profoundly happy. When Deb’s colleague was talking about how bra’s suck and the first thing they do when they get home is take them off, I just couldn’t relate. All of the bras I bought have underwires, but I don’t understand why they get such a bad rap? They’re very comfortable, and even after wearing them all day they still feel like extra firm hugs. I never want to take these wonder garments off.
Even now, I keep getting surprised when I glance down and notice them in my periphery. That first day I went to work, especially with my laptop strap between them, I felt like they were so obvious and amazing that I couldn’t wait for my colleagues to say something, but darn it they were all too polite to bring them up. That’s okay. I’ve shared my joy with other people, and it’s nice to contain so much I feel I might burst.
But I have to admit, I’m holding some distress amidst the euphoria. Before HRT, I couldn’t bear the thought of wearing bras and stuffing them because it felt horribly fake. I tried it precisely once with Wren’s wardrobe, and I felt terribly misproportioned and ugly. For the same reasons I didn’t wear a wig while my hair was growing longer, I didn’t want to put on “fake boobs” because I couldn’t bear the thought of someone exposing me as being “not a real woman”. (To be clear, I am speaking only of my experience, and I celebrate and support anyone who wears wigs or stuffs bras because they want to.) (And I know gender is personally identified and no one can tell me what I am or am not, but the shame really did feel like it might kill me.)
Knowing that these are actually my boobs, and the bras are just changing the shape of them (and in the case of one of them, boosting them) helps a lot. Like my hair, I grew these boobs myself, and they are 100% authentically me. And that makes my heart sing.
Yesterday was a bit of a hard day. With our state rushing into lockdown after the first community transmission in many months, everyone seems to be scrambling to work from home, myself included. So I booted up Zoom for the first time in a while, and tested to make sure the audio and video worked. When the camera loaded, I grinned at myself as usual. (After all this time I’m still not used to seeing my reflection. I am obsessed with how long my hair is, and how thin it’s become. I keep stroking it, just to feel the change in texture.) Then I tested the microphone, and I heard my voice playing back to me through my headphones, and I felt disgusted. The thoughts that flashed through my head went something along the lines of “How could anyone possibly mistake you for a girl with a voice like this?” I wanted to curl up and hide. But I pushed the discomfort aside, put it in a neat little box to ignore, and got on with calling my first client.
Throughout the call, I was conscious of how low and gravelly my voice sounded. I did my best to raise the pitch a little, but mornings aren’t great for these vocal cords of mine, so I wasn’t particularly successful. But my client was respectful, and I am very grateful to them for treating me like normal while my insecurities were surfacing.
Things got worse when I got a call from my doctor’s office. “Hello?” “Can I please speak to Celeste please?” “Yes, I’m Celeste,” I said, a little hurt, but able to shrug it off. The receptionist knew I was trans. Probably. I’d spoken to many people at the clinic about it already.
Then my counsellor’s office rang. “Hello?” “Is Celeste there?” “Yes, speaking.” All right, Carol you know I’m trans, I’ve been seeing Hylia for years and this is not new information to you.
Then I got a call from a rando recruiting agency. “Hello?” “Hi, is this Celeste’s phone?” “Yes, this is she,” I said, now definitely angry but trying to be polite.
Three in one day. My phone hasn’t rung for weeks, but I got three in one day. (I know, it’s due to the exceptional response to the pandemic, but still.) Every single blow drove that nail deeper into my heart before I had time to recover.
I posted about it on facebook, and one of my friends gave the valid point that it might be standard protocol to call someone and confirm who they are before discussing sensitive information. But “Am I speaking to Celeste?” is quite a different question from what all three of those callers asked me. And even if they had asked that, it annoys me anyway.
Another friend suggested I answer the phone with “Hello, Celeste speaking,” from now on. It was good advice, and I think I’ll probably take it. But I hate that I live in a world where I have to anticipate people will hear my voice and just immediately assume they’re speaking to the wrong person.
An unexpected gift that came from my post was that three friends who were assigned female at birth said they sometimes get mistaken for men on the phone. That felt so good to hear. Once again, it means so much that this issue isn’t exclusive to me as a trans woman.
I’m approaching a place of readiness for speech therapy. Unfortunately, Doc wasn’t available for my last appointment so I saw one of her colleagues. I asked if there was any word from Speech Pathology, and she told me I’d hear from them when they were ready and that all I could do was wait. My referral was classed as “non-urgent”, which I totally get because there are plenty of people who are struggling to speak and swallow following strokes etc., but… My heart felt so heavy. I think she could tell, because she offered to re-refer me. I wasn’t sure if that would reset my progress in the queue or not, but she seemed to think it wouldn’t hurt, so I consented.
I’ve watched a video or two or YouTube in terms of vocal training and voice feminisation, but I haven’t practiced any of the exercises. Mainly I’m terrified of really paying attention to how gross my voice sounds, and of trying to change it and failing. But I’m also worried that if I practice incorrectly, without expert tuition, I’ll learn bad habits or strengthen the wrong parts of my throat which will make progress harder later. The subreddit on trans voices is full of horror stories of people who have damaged their vocal cords with self-taught methods, and I don’t want to make things worse for myself.
Before any of this rubbish even happened yesterday, I googled a clinic my friend told me about that does free speech path for trans folx. I haven’t been able to open the link yet, but I know it’s there, and I guess I’m building up my courage. I’m not sure what I’m so scared of, but I’m approaching a place where I’m willing to find out.
In order to get to work for my new job, I’ve started catching buses into the city. It’s been a pretty strange adjustment for me, because my standard approach to travel is “Get there as efficiently as possible so you can get on with the thing”. I usually pop on a podcast or audiobook and just tune out for the whole drive until I find myself at my destination and I tune back in. (I acknowledge that driving is the most dangerous thing I do as a human, and it would serve me and those around me to be more actively aware of my surroundings.)
Yet when I catch the bus, something strange happens. It’s the passivity: once I’ve boarded, there’s nothing I can do to speed the bus up, no responsibilities except to get off at the right stop. I don’t need to make any decisions, to choose which lane is most efficient or react to anything around me, I can just be still and enjoy the ride. Even if it takes me twice as long to get somewhere, I’ve found that I really enjoy the experience. I like listening to podcasts, or sitting in silence and watching my thoughts wander. I like daydreaming about the cute cafe or that fancy restaurant that I might want to visit some day. I like people watching, admiring the other passengers and imagining the compliments I wish I could give them if it weren’t creepy coming from a stranger (especially with a masc voice).
One of the great joys that came out of my busride this week was encountering a gorgeous person that seemed totally at ease with their gender expression. If I had to guess, I would say they had been assigned male at birth, and they had beautiful windswept short-hair, perfect blush, and the most amazing eyelashes. Although I normally hesitate to gender anyone, it struck me that this might have been the first trans woman I’d seen “in the wild” so to speak, not at an event or a space specifically for queer folx. And it meant so much to me to bump into a fellow trans person in the community, just doing their thing, living their life. It made me feel less alone.
That was contrasted strongly with an experience I had the day after. I was sitting at the bus stop scrolling on my phone when someone squeezed into the space beside me. They were masc, looked dishevelled, and reeked of alcohol (especially when they breathed towards me). I ignored them, but they kept glancing at me, apparently as interested in my social media as I was. Eventually the bus arrived and I breathed a sigh of relief as they got on. Then I glanced at my Maps, realised I was supposed to get on too, and rushed after them.
It was about ten seconds after I sat down that I realised it was not my bus after all. Sheepishly I rang the bell, alighted at the next stop, and walked all the way back. (I was wearing heels and my feet hurt so much! I can’t believe I used to think they were comfortable, but I have seen the error of my ways after buying some incredibly soft flats for work.)
When I made it back to the original bus stop, I was greeted by the only person who had stayed behind. “Wrong bus?” they asked jovially. “Yeah,” I smiled back, hoping my voice didn’t scare them. “You got on after that awful person!” they said, dropping their voice conspiratorially. “Oh I don’t know if they were awful…” I said, striving not to be racist. “The only reason I say awful is because he was really looking at you while you were on your phone, you know?” A bolt of fear flashed through me. I wrestled with it, because I didn’t want to think badly of someone just for wanting to sit down when they were probably feeling pretty unsteady. I was tempted to defend them, but that was all too complex so I smiled and said “Thank you for looking out for me.” “You’re welcome,” they smiled back.
On the busride home, I couldn’t help but play through all the ways it could have gone differently. If that commuter had said something drunkenly, or grabbed me and wouldn’t let me disengage, how I might fend them off, what techniques I could have used to subdue them without hurting them too badly or using excessive force by legal standards. How I couldn’t risk doing any kicks in my heels, so the fancy and intimidating half of my repertoire was out and I’d have to just hit hard and fast. They were scary and uncomfortable thoughts to hold, even as I recognise how privileged I am to have a lifetime of martial training to increase my sense of safety.
I hesitate to admit this, but even though it was scary, it felt just a little bit exciting too. That drunk person had probably thought of me as an attractive cis woman worth leering at, and that felt validating as hell. I’ve only experienced that one other time (to my knowledge) when a car slowed down a few weeks ago so the driver could stare at me for a bit and then drive off. I don’t know how to feel about it, but I hate that a part of me enjoyed it.
So, yeah, a mixed bag. Having encountered a moment of unsafety, I think I will be a little more on guard the next time I get on a bus. But I hope it continues to remain enjoyable to me, a meandering and mindful start to the day. I guess we’ll see.
“Hey do you like my boobs?” I called out to my Mum as I sat in my car. “Yes, they’re nice!” she called back without missing a beat. “You need a good bra!” “Thanks!” I said, laughing to myself as I dimly remembered that neighbours were a thing. I wasn’t sure if she meant “Your current bra isn’t very good”, or “Make sure your bras are good quality”, but I was delighted by the support either way. I started the engine and headed home, chuckling.
Things with my parents have been so, so well lately. Over the last few visits I’d been increasingly hoping my Mum would mention my growing chest, but she’s been tactfully avoiding the subject. So I got a little impatient, and it turned out way better than I hoped for!
It’s hard to think that it’s only been four months since I told them. The last time I visited, she genuinely gushed over my piercings. Not only did she want to trade them for some of hers (I was flattered, but I’ll never part with these pearly disks I’ve come to love), she thought it was money well spent because they did such a good job. She described her own piercings by some local grandmother when she was 5-years-old, and how uneven the result was now that she’s older. She complained that earrings highlighted how asymmetrical her lobes were, and when I gently protested, she agreed to put some on to show me. Then she wondered if maybe I’d like to have some of her earrings that she didn’t wear anymore, and when I showed interest she literally ran to her room to retrieve her collection. Dad laughed, saying that she’d never talked to him about jewellery before, and he’d never seen her like this. It made me think that maybe Mum always wanted a daughter (even though she’s always insisted she was happy with whatever gender her child was), and I was so happy to bond with her as a woman.
When she put on her earrings it’s true they were different heights, but I insisted that they still served to elevate her beauty and she got the cutest smile in that moment. “I know you don’t believe me, but someday I hope you do,” I told her. “I believe you,” she said, glowing. In the end, I took about half of her collection home, and convinced her that the other half suited her more than it did me. She seemed very excited to wear them again, pieces she hadn’t touched in years. It was so great helping her find a little bit of self-worth and self-love.
In another recent visit, she looked thoughtfully at me for a few moments in silence. I was starting to worry that something was wrong when she declared that I looked really pretty, in a natural sort of way. That some people had to put on lots of makeup and completely transform themselves to look nice, but that it was effortless for me. And I’d been thinking the same thoughts for ages, but it was so nice to hear them from her mouth!
A little over a year ago, as I sat on my second-favourite rock at my first-favourite waterfall with my dear friend Lovely, I confided in her that I didn’t know if I wanted to transition because I was so worried I’d be an ugly girl. I choked on the words and started crying, because I had held that secret fear so tightly for so many months and it was so hard to voice them out loud. Lovely assured me that I was already pretty, and that I’d make an even prettier girl, and although I didn’t fully believe it, that helped so much.
As it turns out, I didn’t really have anything to worry about. I really do think I look good, and it’s such a relief reaching a place where I’m confident that most people read me as female from the way I look. Well, mostly. Before I enter a women’s space I let my hair down so people are less likely to see me as a man. I didn’t think anything of it until I told Wren and they let out a soft “Oh…” of sadness.
Last night when I went into a public bathroom (unfurling my ponytail as I did so), I was faced with one of my nightmare scenarios: a queue of people lined up in front of the cubicles. I was so worried about being engaged in smalltalk, revealing my masculine voice and then experiencing harassment, but no one paid any attention to me and everything went fine. I even paused after washing my hands to tie up my hair and adjust my clothes, even though there were other people around. It felt a little like touching up my makeup, a sacred ritual that I’d never experienced when I was trying to live as a man. I loved caring about my appearance, and no one thinking of me as vain for it.
Although I did a lot of work to accept that “passing” was not the goal for me, I have to say it’s a weight of my chest finding myself in this place anyway.
And speaking of weighty chests, I think my boobs have doubled in size this past month? I started a full dose of oestrogen two weeks ago, and they’ve been hurting a lot again since then so I guess they’re back in a growing phase. No cleavage to speak of, but they are bigger than I’m used to, and I keep accidentally bumping them. Truth be told they’re kind of pointy at the moment, like little pyramids on my chest, and while I do hope they round out over time I know I’ll love them no matter what size or shape they are. There are so many wonderful kinds of boobs (and bodies!) in the world, and I really do believe that all of them are beautiful.
I started a new job last week, an extra two days a week to supplement my floundering private practice work. I’m still deep in overwhelm, stressing out about the newness of it all and trying to fit in, but there have been lots of moments of euphoria for me. No one has batted an eyelid at my voice, or talking about being trans in my intro-post to their social media. (The question was What would you tell your teenaged self? My answer was “You’re a girl, you should probably talk to a doctor ASAP to avoid going through puberty as a boy, and I love you and you’ll turn out great.”) Everyone has pronouns in their email signature, and when I made a point of asking for people’s pronouns as I was being introduced to everyone, I got an approving smile from a colleague who uses they/them. And when I corrected a senior that sex, gender, pronouns, and presentation are all different and not necessarily related, she was apologetic and embarrassed, but listened without reacting defensively. The toilets all have “IDENTIFYING” next to the gender they specify, which is great for people who fit into the binary but I wish they were all unisex. (They’re also all accessible which is super inclusive architecture!) And lastly, many colleagues have pride pins on their lanyards, which are available for super cheap because they were donated by a queer charity that actively works with trans folx. I excitedly bought some pins, and have blinged out my own lanyard with my pronouns and a trans/rainbow infinity pin that my dear friend Gaia got me.
So although there’s a lot of newness, I’ve never felt safer and more loved at work. They really do live by their values of being fiercely inclusive.
I wish I could go back in time and sit with Past Celeste on that rock, and let her know that it would all work out. I wish I could have saved her from that pain and worry that she would go through, and to show her how good things get (and how hot I am now XD). But I know that even though the outcome was uncertain, she had the strength and courage to choose to transition anyway. I’m proud of her for the choices she made that lead me to this moment. I’m grateful I exist because of the struggles she endured. Gosh, what a ride these past few years have been.
For the past month, most of my life has been focussed on preparing for two big tea ceremonies that happened this week. The Ochaji were five-hour ceremonies comprised of eleven different events. Some of them were simple, like ritualistically washing your hands at the water feature outside. Some of them were complex, like the 236-step meal called kaiseki, where you eat special dishes in a specific order, observing a complex etiquette of polite conversation in archaic language. My teacher, Snow Sensei, asked me to be a host for the first Ochaji and to be a guest at the second.
There were so many things I was worried about. I had nightmares that I forgot the basics of where to put the tea bowl, or how to rotate it when passing it to an assistant. I dreamed that the name I came up with for the tea scoop was juvenile and inappropriate. I feared that I wouldn’t have the stamina to go from kneeling-standing and vice versa hundreds of times as I brought tray after tray of food, and that maybe (like during the practice run) I’d start staggering with exhaustion by the end of the meal. But mostly I was worried about what to wear.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a severe (and not unreasonable) fear of kimono splitting open at the front and showing my thighs while I’m performing. But I wanted to be brave again and try wearing it for this formal event. Once again I went to P-san’s house for a dress rehearsal, and we went through her enormous collection. She helped dress me (no jeans this time, I was feeling more confident about my body so I stripped down to my t-shirt and underwear) and tried on the summer-kimono I had picked out. Distressingly, it was just a tiny bit on the small side, and when I wasn’t careful it definitely opened at the front when I was kneeling. It also turned out to be a little transcluscent so you could see my underclothes through it. P-san suggested it might be better if I wear beige underwear on the day, but I didn’t have any so… that sucked.
It didn’t take long for me to reach overwhelm so I went home and spent two days stressing about what to wear. During that time I bought the beige panties and white singlet she recommended (by the way, what’s up with women’s clothing being transcluscent so you have to wear multiple layers to reach opacity? I never encountered that when I bought boy-clothes. It’s so bullshit that women’s fashion requires you to spend more money buying more clothes, both to add layers and because those thin fabrics wear through so much faster). On the morning of the ceremony, once I’d gotten past the worst of my anxious nausea and stomach problems, I hurried to P-san’s house to get dressed. It would take P-san about 45 minutes to dress me, so we would only have one shot. In the end, I went with my second preference kimono on the off-chance it might be bigger or more opaque.
And I think it was! Barely. But I was committed, so I went with it. We had a little extra time, so P-san braided my hair and used some spray to keep it in place. That was such a special experience, having someone gently tucking and twisting and folding my hair. It made me think of the primary school sleepovers I never got to have.
We went and picked up K-san, our kimono-dressing teacher, and she was so happy to see what I was wearing. She doesn’t speak much English, but she chatted amiably the whole car ride. At one point, quite out of nowhere, she told me about a make-up artist and kimono model named Ikko-san, and said that would suit me if I ever wanted to go down that path. She showed me some pictures, and I had a feeling she might be transgender, so I googled it when I got home and found that I was right. It was deeply flattering that K-san compared me to her (even though I felt complexly about thinking someone might be trans just from the way they looked).
When we got out of the car though, K-san took a good look at my kimono and began to frown more and more as she noticed various mistakes. She resolved to re-tie my obi (belt), and then she was like “Well I may as well. Are you okay if I strip you and start over?”, and I just laughed and let her. A couple of the other students stepped in to help as I stood there in my underwear, finally achieving my dream of being fussed-over on the kimono tarp.
While I was still half-dressed, we heard the dreaded sound of Snow Sensei calling us to start the ceremony. K-san looked at me in a panic, and then started furiously tucking and folding and twisting and tying. She did a remarkable job in such a short time, but ultimately her effort was for naught. As I shuffled back and forth during the ceremony, eventually Snow Sensei interrupted over Zoom and politely asked K-san to fix my kimono, because I was starting to trod on the underlayer.
I was dressed for the third time that day, and this time K-san was very careful to tuck everything in well. But even then, every time I sat in seiza the darn thing would split open. It just could not contain my mighty thighs, even when I tugged the material and pinned it down with my knee. Everyone politely ignored the scandal of it, and in the end Snow Sensei just asked that no one share photos of me on social media. I assume it’s mostly because it’s embarrassing for me to have my under-kimono/legs showing, but I worry it would also draw shame onto her as my teacher.
One of the kindnesses that emerged from the event was that one of the ladies realised that she had a yukata she didn’t wear anymore, and was wondering what to do with it until she thought of me. She assured me that we were the same size so it would fit no problem, and I gratefully accepted it, intending to wear it to the second Ochaji.
To be honest, I was relieved at the thought of not having to wear kimono again, partially because I felt so ill after that first day that I vomited during the car trip back to P-san’s house. It was probably more anxiety and car sickness than anything else, but the second time we pulled over so I could be sick, K-san said “Right, that’s enough,” and just reached around from the back seat and started untying everything, pulling my clothes open. I was embarrassed but too weak to protest, and I spent ages recovering at P-san’s house until I felt well enough to drive home. By comparison, yukata are casual garments that take half the time to put on compared to kimono. They’re looser, lighter, more breathable, and a perfect compromise between comfort and presentation. So before the second ceremony, I ironed it, prepared Wren’s old yukata accessories, and then drove to P-san’s house early so she could help me wear it.
It was only when I’d stripped back down to my underwear and was wrapping it around me that I realised it was way too small. I pulled this way and that, but it was clear that it just wouldn’t fit so I started laughing. We glanced at the other kimono options I could try, but in the 20 minutes we had left to get changed there was no way it could be done. I hurriedly drove back home, put on my cute-ass Dangerfield top and skirt, and drove to the Ochaji.
The moment I got there, everyone asked if I was going to get changed. First off how dare you, I looked amazing. Secondly, I actually planned to wear yukata but it was too small… Oh, A-san had a yukata I could wear? No, really, it was okay, it was too stressful to get changed all of a sudden…
And then pretty much everyone was urging me to go with it, so I went and got changed for the third time that morning. (Must be something about threes.) P-san helped me get dressed, and it was so easy compared to kimono, and it fit soooooo much better. I was comfortable the whole day, and it almost always covered my legs even though I was lounging and kneeling awkwardly for five hours. It had massive sleeves to carry all my stuff, and it looked pretty! A little too bright for me, but I was so grateful to be able to wear it.
After the ceremony was over, we all hung out in the kitchen eating leftover sweets and drinking hojicha. We started talking about kimono, and several different people said they had yukata that might fit me that I could borrow. I was so grateful to suddenly find myself in a community of people who were rushing to help me get established with the basics of being a woman in Japanese society (so to speak).
And then the conversation took a delightfully unexpected turn to boobs, as one of the ladies was patting down her kimono looking for her glasses. People shared their frustrations that their boobs were so small, the problems with having big ones (including finding lingerie that fit in Japan), stories of surgeries for adductions and reductions gone wrong… I didn’t talk about my own experience because the conversation was pretty serious and I didn’t want to butt in, but maybe I could have and it would have been all right. I made a comment or two that it was okay to feel unhappy with the way you looked, but all bodies were beautiful.
In another delightful moment of inclusivity in women’s spaces, as P-san was helping me get undressed (I probably could have done it myself, but it was way easier having someone help me with the bow at my back), there was a knock on the door and one of the other ladies wanted to get changed too. I took a little risk and asked if she wanted help untying her obi and straps too, but she was fine doing it herself. It was a wonderful moment where she seemed totally at ease stripping down and putting jeans on, and I was honoured by her trust and sense of safety with me.
It seems a lifetime ago that I was stressing about how to tell my tea school that I’m transgender. And to be fair, one of the new students did turn to K-san and quietly ask if I was a girl, to which K-san emphatically responded that I was 100% a girl, and that was the end of the discussion. (For the record I’m totally fine with people knowing that I was assigned male at birth, so long as they respect that I am absolutely not a boy.) Snow Sensei has been so good with my name and pronouns, and everyone has shown me so much kindness. Even before I told anyone, I thought it was a big deal when I started wearing my ofukusa over my obi rather than under it (like boys are supposed to), but no one said anything. They all just accepted me for who I was, and I love them so much for that.
I am so, so blessed to have found not only an art I love, but a community of good people to love it with. I am a very lucky duck.
When I first started thinking about permanent hair removal, I started googling the various options. There seemed to be three main types, in order of efficacy (and price): electrolysis, laser, and Intense Pulsed Light (IPL). The first two seemed well and truly out of my price range, but I was willing to save up and try it if needed. But the third one piqued my interest because at-home sets cost only a few hundred dollars from local retailers.
So I started googling whether IPL machines really worked, and most of my research said “No, absolutely not, don’t waste your money, leave this stuff to the professionals.” That really spooked me until I realised that all of the websites I was looking at were biased (e.g. professionals trying to get more business, or journalists offered free treatments in exchange for an honest review). I even asked Doc, and although she wasn’t very knowledgable in this particular area, she printed off some stuff from a trans healthcare website which basically said “IPL doesn’t really work, maybe go with another option.” But I just couldn’t stomach the thought of spending thousands of dollars on treatment, so I kept looking. In the end I only found one or two reviews that I genuinely believed that gave me enough information to make a decision. So I guess this is my contribution to the literature.
IPL essentially uses a bright flash of light to burn the hair follicle so that it stops producing hair. It works best on people with light skin and dark hair. I’ve been using the Braun Silk-expert Pro 3 now for nearly four months on a weekly basis. The main reasons I got it were that: a) it was half price at a local retailer, and b) it had a money-back guarantee if it didn’t prove to be effective. I also liked that this particular model has a sensor for adjusting how much light to use based on the darkness of the user’s skin so that it minimises the chance of burning. The bulb was also reputed to last 300 000 flashes (about 16-years worth of use), and it seemed pretty like a pretty low-risk, cost-effective experience.
When I first took the machine home, I was too nervous to even look at it so it stayed in a drawer for a few weeks. This wasn’t such a bad thing, because I had recently waxed and I needed to let the hair regrow in the follicle before it would work. When I felt like there was finally enough hair to get started, I psyched myself up to get zapping, only to have to cool my jets for another day. It turns out that I needed to shave and then wait a day or two before I could get started. (My guess is that there needs to be a tiny amount of hair to transfer heat to the follicle, but not so much it blocks the light or causes burns.)
When I’d waited the extra day, I washed and dried my legs, set myself up in a bright room (the flash seems way brighter if you’re operating in the dark), put my sunnies on, and got to it.
I’d watched some video reviews and found it strongly relatable when someone described the sensation as “being flicked by a rubber band”. There was a small sting with every zap, and eventually my room smelled like burning hair. That was vaguely alarming, but I trusted it was part of the process (and in hindsight, it definitely was). The pain wasn’t more than a mild irritation on my armpits, thighs and calves, but when I got to my ankles it stung quite badly.
It hurt even worse to do it directly to my upper lip. And to be fair, Braun did warn me not to. (Apparently this product is not for the facial hair of people AMAB, but I was willing to risk it.) Initially I used the Gentle setting, but I wasn’t really getting the results I wanted so eventually I let it auto-adjust and use however much light it wanted. It sucked placing the machine against my face and willing myself to press the button, only to jerk it away in pain as soon as I’d done so, and then have to work up the courage to do it again on the next bit of skin.
Also against Braun’s advice, I used it on my pubic region (but not directly on my genitals). The instructions said it was fine to use on the bikini line, but anywhere else in that region would have darker skin, increasing the chance of burning. And this turned out to be true: for a few minutes afterwards my skin would feel sore and sensitive, but I just wore loose underwear and avoided tucking for the rest of the day and it was fine.
The more I did it, the less it hurt (I guess there was less hair to burn.) Maybe one in fifty zaps on my legs sting now, but it still hurts on the face and groin. Even though I’ve gotten really efficient, the whole process takes about half an hour for me. Sometimes the heads get hot so I switch between them to let them cool: I use the big head on my calves, thighs, armpits and groin, and the precision head for my ankles, knees, and face. I also recently noticed the mirrored surfaces inside were a little spotty so (once again ignoring the instructions) I cleaned them with white vinegar and cotton swabs and they seem to be working fine. (With the mirrors clean, the light can reflect more effectively.)
I was disheartened when I hadn’t noticed much change in the first two weeks, but I figured that even if I didn’t get the results I wanted I had that sweet money-back guarantee so there was no harm in continuing. After the first month I noticed there seemed to be less hair overall, and definitely some patches where there was no regrowth whatsoever. After two months, I was really feeling great about the process and could see a noticeable difference. By the third month, I’d say 90% of my leg/arm hair was gone, and about 70% of my facial/pubic hair.
I only thought to take progress photos when I was about six weeks in, but looking at them now I’m not comfortable sharing them because they show so much skin ^^
Overall I am super, duper happy with this product. The Pro 5 seems even better in every way than the Pro 3, so I can only imagine that it’s a more premium experience than the one I had. Ultimately, I would highly recommend this product to anyone who is tired of shaving or waxing. If you have any questions, let me know!
Content warning: Body image, discussions of weight and health
Over the past few months, my body has undergone a wonderful metamorphosis. My private karate student observed that I’m curvier, rounder, fatter. I was delighted with the changing shape of my body, away from the hard angles towards soft edges. There’s my modest boobs of course, but for the first time I think I’ve also started to like the way my butt looks too. That oshiri certainly has some puri puri to it, and I’m starting to believe the people who have complimented me on it.
But I feel complexly about my body shape, too. My fat hasn’t just been shifted around my body, I seem to have gained a bunch. And that brings up a whole lot of internalised fatphobia that I’ve never needed to confront before.
For most of my life I could hold my beliefs about weight with relative comfort, because I fit into a certain weight range myself so I didn’t feel bad about my body. During high school I obsessively measured and recorded my weight, and my BMI was almost always towards the “light, but just barely in the healthy range”, and I was very proud of that. But after doing this every day for three years, I realised it was just making me miserable when the number went up, and pleased (but not satisfied) when the number went down. So I quit cold turkey, recalling that the measurements were based on an average white man from decades ago, that Arnold Schwarzenegger would be considered obese if you looked at his BMI, and that weight was not a good indicator of health.
So what indicators of health did I want to use? How far I could run. How many times I could lift or lower my body. Whether I could help someone move that heavy bit of furniture. These were my metrics, and I found that I was much happier.
But then I went one step further. I realised that “being healthy” or “athletic” or “strong” were desirable, but not my ultimate goal. Now, I’m mostly interested in moving in whatever way feels good, pushing myself as much as I want to be pushed, and then stopping when I’ve had enough. This is radically different from most of my martial arts training over the past nine years, and I am here for it. (Incidentally, after an emotionally charged counselling session and several weeks of building up the courage, I messaged Sensei K and told him I would not be returning to karate until my ears had healed. I was so braced for guilt and manipulation, but he just thanked me for all my hard work and wished me a good 2021. Huh.)
And even though I’m often surrounded by super fit people at the gym, I rarely compare myself to them. They’re on their own journeys, with their own bodies, doing things I can’t do yet (and probably don’t want to). I’m just there for me, to do whatever feels good in the moment.
And I love the ways in which I’m healthy and strong. I love that I can do 10+ crunches against a 70kg weight, that I can climb 1000 steps in half an hour, that I can do at least 10 one-handed pushups with both hands. I mean, sure I still can’t do a single chin-up, and I wouldn’t dare bench-press anything above 30kg right now, but I don’t really mind.
I also feel that it’s important to say that we as a society tend to put a lot of stock in the idea that “health is what matters most”, but that’s bullshit. It’s nice to be healthy, to live long and well and free from pain, but not everyone has that option. This is a shoutout to all those spoonies out there who will never be healthy by those traditional measures. You do not need to be well to be valued, and your lives are important and make the world a brighter place.
But coming back to my own experience, I have to admit that the first time I stepped onto the scales at the gym, seeing the numbers 8-0 really shocked me. Honestly I thought it was broken the first few times I used it. I mean, I’d noticed some of my clothes had become uncomfortably tight, and my belly seemed to be bigger than it used to be… But it was tough realising it was the heaviest I’d ever been.
And yet… I didn’t hate the way I looked, which was kind of new and scary too? I had three decades of conditioning screaming at me that I should have hated myself, that I should have starved or sweated myself to change. But I just… didn’t want to? (I’m talking about it in the past tense, but really it’s an ongoing conversation.)
I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, I’m very open to my body changing right now. I read that more body fat increases the likelihood of bigger boobs, and although my odds aren’t great, I don’t mind the extra fuel if some of it might end up on my chest. But more than that, I just like being curvier. Most of my clothes look great on me, and I’m really feel myself most days, enjoying my reflection whenever I see it.
Mostly though, I have Wren to thank. They started getting into Body Positivity (BoPo) a few years ago, and started saying things like “I love my little belly!” and meaning it. It was the first time I’d encountered such a view, and although I found it really uncomfortable at first, eventually it became normal to hear them talk about fiercely loving their body (and not having time for anyone who didn’t). And when my tummy started growing, I started hearing that they loved my little belly too, and eventually that sunk in. I am so, so lucky to have someone I live with who tells me I’m beautiful every day, who compliments my outfits, who constantly fills me up with love and appreciation for myself. Being immersed in that kind of message is just… so good for me, you know? I wish everyone had a Wren in their lives. I think the world would be a much better place.
I still really appreciate athletic body-types. But I think I’m coming to peace with the idea that I might not ever have one. Regardless of how I look, I’m so prepared to love myself. And I’m surprised at how loud this voice is within me after decades of hearing the opposite. I wouldn’t say my self-loathing is silenced, but maybe the ratio of self-love to self-criticism is 80:20 now, and that’s really new and wondrous.
I’m working hard on loving every part of my body and how it looks. It’s radical and beautiful work, and although it’s hard sometimes, I think it’s worth the effort.