In late November 2014, I discovered that I am a transgender woman. In March 2015, I began speaking to a therapist in pursuit of hormone replacement therapy. In September 2015, I received my spironolactone prescription. In October 2015, that was joined by estrogen, and in May 2016 by progesterone.
It has been 17 months of being Alyssa, in place after place, until the only pretending left was for government files. There are steps in my journey I am stalled from taking, trapped in bureaucratic hell and financial purgatory. But when I look back on where I was then, and what I look like now, they don’t feel quite so urgent.
I see the camouflage Van Dyke, hiding what was even then a softer chin and upper lip than could have been. I see other views of clean-shaven me, my jawline hard and defined, my cheeks less full, my lips pre-ordained for greatness. Buried in my old Hawaiian shirts and draped-over windbreaker, I can see myself hiding a frame I dreaded to view and making room for imaginations to substitute one closer to my current shape. In the tighter shirts I would wear later, I can see the early steps toward my current style.
But even past all of that, I see my body language. I took many years to grow into anything resembling confidence, but what I see in photos from 2007 is specifically feminine confidence. The poses I reflexively struck, waistline askew with evocative hands, would come to make more sense on this body than the one I wore then.
It is a fact of our lives that we collect relentless information on how to be women, what it means and what it looks like, and even as we suppress it to try to be the men we are constantly told we need to be, it leaks out. And it feels good and right when it leaks out, and we look for ways to let it show a little more while avoiding opprobrium, and a little more, and a little more, until we finally learn why and the floodgates open.
And when I finally started…I finally start seeing me. I remember the gradual process by which my depersonalization ended, and the person in the mirror finally stopped being a stranger. I see the photos from the very beginning of growing out my hair, and from the months after I started disclosing to my friends. I found the first of many “fashion shows” in which I learned more about feminine clothing and my own style by meticulously trying on every piece my generous friends gave me and having Ania photograph me in it.
I remember the first photograph of myself that I felt really good about, right here. I was still two months away from starting therapy and another six away from pharmaceutical feminization, still in a body that looked as cis-male as it ever would, yet here I was. My hair was growing out, and at this angle, it could not seem any less masculine. I don’t remember if I was wearing makeup, but the tint of my eyes at least looks like I was, complete with the darkness of my full lashes. My top, overlaid on a stuffed bra, played a dainty game with the button of my shorts, threatening to start exposing my lower midriff with every move. All of the visible clothing and jewelry was from the same donation, the heap given to me by a friend leaving the country, and this is one of the first instances of me trying on feminine clothing after learning that this would be my new default. I can see moments ahead, to old-Alyssa vibrating with excitement, those half-closed hands ready to give a joyous little flap. I can see the glow I felt, of the very beginning of a long and ongoing stretch of finally feeling like me.
I remember the following months, trying on more clothes, getting more adept. I remember a starting spironolactone and having breast growth almost immediately. I remember gaining a cup size in November in 24 sore hours. I remember when my bras became too crowded with real breast to hold my inserts, and when they seemingly stabilized at a different size than the bras I had selected earlier, and when they grew again a few weeks later. I remember the event in June where I took this photo, and realized how different I looked from the December 2012 pre-photo, after eight months of estrogen.
I’m still seeing changes even today, as my face and body continue to take their estrogenated shapes. I’m looking at my bust’s current hint that it may grow again with bated breath. Yet from here, I could freeze where I am today and be content with it. I have come so very far, in a year that I also spent dealing with a stalker who has yet to fade totally from my life, earning my doctoral degree, cobbling together a permanent residency application, and dealing with a torrent of parental abuse. I’ve come…into me, a happier, healthier, sexier, friendlier, more exuberant me, whose life has only begun making sense.
Now, I look forward to what the next year will bring.