Thirty-One and a Half Years and Six Months a Woman

As I’m starting to write this, it’s become known that Rush Limbaugh has passed away, and let me take a moment to say good riddance to bad trash, and if you have a problem with me saying that, you can stop reading and go on and do something else. Save us both a lot of time.

Content Warnings: Adult language, dysphoria, transphobia, transphobic portrayals of trans people in media, 4chan, homophobia, pornography, suicide , talk of sexuality and anatomy

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Back in August I made quite a big announcement about a part of myself that had always been there, at least as far back as I can piece together from the fragmented shards of my memories. On facebook and twitter I came out as a trans woman, beginning a new era in my life that has brought with it drastic changes. Changes I am sure that some, if not most of you are interested in at least hearing a bit more about.

Hi! I’m Niamh. I’m a trans woman who lives outside of Detroit, Michigan.

This is going to be a very frank discussion, so if that bothers you, you might want to move on. I will discuss, among other things, my anatomy, my sexuality and libido, and pornography. There’s a lot of LGBT terminology throughout, including “cis”, which I wanted to define for all you cis folk out there. Subtracted from nuance, if you’re not trans, you’re cis. Cis- and trans- come from Latin and are opposites meaning “this side of [X]” and “that side of [X]” respectively.

I plan to make this a growing series, with updates at six months (this one), one year, two years, four years, and eight years, if I can even remember that long. After that I’ll put it to bed. This post has to set the scene, and thus is very long. There’s more than thirty years to cover to get where I am now.

For those of you who might be catching up, or new, and I have picked up a large number of followers since coming out, becoming, unwittingly, the first generation of people who know me only as a woman, only as Niamh – Hi! I’m Niamh. I’m a trans woman who lives outside of Detroit, Michigan. I work in the automotive industry, and I am a huge soccer person. I watch soccer. Support soccer. I even run a small co-ed team, which shares this website with me.

Come with me, on a journey.

Setting a scene…

On August 28th of 2020, I publicly came out as a trans woman after it being a known secret to those closest to me for about two months before that. Four days before, though, was my rebirth – my first dosage of HRT, where I, personally, mark the beginning of of my transition. It is on that day that my personal calendar first uses “Niamh” and not “Nick”. And thus, the 24th of February marks six months.

But six months of what?

Being a woman? Being trans? Being out?

If nothing, the heart of the trans experience for me is existential, reflective, and deeply, deeply personal. This might not be very profound or new to print, but it is to me. A lot of things taken for granted, institutions and whole constructs once assumed monolithic and immutable, crumble away, revealing the sawdust and glue concoction that it was the whole time.

It is easy, and almost necessary, to then scour your life for the little breadcrumbs of trans-ness. As if that would be enough to make it okay under the immense pressure of cis-heteronormative expectations. We are almost expected by cis folks to say “I always knew,” when, at least in my case, is it’s more “it makes sense in retrospect” and that’s half true.

I think I really came to understand I was trans when I was nineteen. I remember one summer getting involved in what could’ve been a fling, if I wasn’t such a fuck head, and someone remarked that they thought the target of my crush was either bi and only interested in women at the time, or a lesbian. And I distinctly, even twelve years later, remember the pang of thinking “I’d transition for her.” After that it was a rough twelve years, internally. I thought about transitioning a lot.

And when you live in a cis-heteronormative society, getting information, real, honest information can be extremely difficult. Even just learning that trans people were a thing, was a long, arduous journey. Movies like Dressed to Kill or Silence of the Lambs painted a picture of the never-passing psychopathic trans woman, while Ace Ventura: Pet Detective only really gets transphobic in the end, but at least the psychopathic trans woman passed, so progress? A movie that I’ve not seen, only read about and heard jokes and comments about is The Crying Game, which at least from the synopsis seems to be more sympathetic to trans women. I mean she only gets smacked and the protagonist pukes, but they make up and become close? Woo?

The list for trans men is significantly shorter, and if I could venture a guess it’s because trans women are considered significantly more dangerous to society by the cis majority. If you are interested, a more complete list of such films can be found here, but those mentioned above where, for a long time, the “truth” about trans people to me.

You’re not broken. You can’t be trans.

A second wind of “truth” came with my access to the internet and through that, access to pornography. And thus, truly, I start to take an active role in my own journey. Where before I absorbed through osmosis, now I could seek out, explore, and consume on my own.

Pornography is a place fraught with the male gaze. A cis hetero male gaze to be exact, and in 2003 the portrayal of trans women rarely worth exploring. At best she is an oddity, a strange woman-shaped object with a penis who exists to fuck as a man would. At the worst, a projection of a failure of masculinity. A man reduced to a woman. To be fucked, taken, as a woman should.

The exception, of course, is Japanese futanari, which for those of you so uncultured to not consider hentai art, are anime(?) women with penises. And while I shall spare the normies the debate on whether she must have testicles, or must have a vagina, the critical understanding is futanari are almost universally attractive women who have a little bit more. And isn’t that weird? Attractive women with penises? Isn’t it, for lack of a better word, transgressive? Isn’t it disgusting that these women with penises feel attractive? Are taken as attractive? Are sexual and enjoy themselves?

Well, that was the opinion of sites like 4chan, and it was clear that there were two sorts of folks who enjoyed trans pornography – trans people (and eggs) and people who openly hated trans people and mocked the eggs relentlessly.

(Aside: A egg, for the unaware, is someone who is questioning their gender, or is otherwise a trans person who hasn’t come out to themselves.)

Once there was an active thread at the top of which was an image of two trans people: a trans woman and a trans man. Both were shining examples of their chosen expression – the woman curvy and beautiful, with long flowing hair and a large bosom; the man stout and strong, hairy with a thick beard and biker tattoos. The “catch” was that neither had undergone GRS, that is colloquially “bottom” surgery. The image urged users to pick which one you’d have sex with and then defend why it wasn’t gay.

You’re already dealing with internalized misogyny.

Here, I’ll even pause so the trans folks can vent for a second and you cis-hets will probably take a moment to consider the question yourself.

Obviously for OP in a place like 4chan, there was no right answer. You were broken regardless. Whether you were a faggot defending having sex with a dude with tits and a dick, or a faggot defending having sex with a dude with a hairy chest and a beard – you were broken. And you should kill yourself.

The suggestion or the push to kill one’s self is one that pops up a lot, when you are trans. If you have ever seen 41% mentioned around trans folk, especially aggressively, that is the percentage of trans people who attempt suicide when not in the presence of a supporting family. Being tortured literally to death is a statistic that is thrown into our faces as a joke. A snide comment that perhaps we should just end it all. It’d be so much easier. And… it’s not like you’ll ever pass, right?

When I was nineteen, going on twenty, and staring up into the ceiling of my sister’s old room, repurposed to be a guest room while I had been away at Purdue, I really thought about it. The idea of transitioning was tempting, and with it brought great worry and doubt. But also excitement? But no. You’re not broken. You can’t be trans. And yet these thoughts persisted. I mean, something so innocent put it in there. The idea of being a woman and being thought of as attractive by other women was exhilarating. If only I could reach out and pluck it.

“If only” is a phrase trans people say to themselves a lot, I fear. If only I had known sooner. If only I had started sooner. If only I had supportive friends and family. If only I had more money. If only I had better insurance. If only I had known what it was. If only I had known it was even possible.

I was on my journey.

It took a long time to draw the line between knowing what trans people were, and what I was feeling. The first problem, of course, is that being trans is an deeply personal and subjective journey. While some thought patterns are shared or more common than others, there’s really no way to just say “yes, you’re trans” after a brief discussion or a night of reading. It takes a certain level of internalization. And I’m sure, even as I write this, that this is where a divide begins. A divide between those who grew up before the 2010s and those who grew up afterwards.

The difference is that younger folk have grown up not just with the internet, but a mature internet – that is “mature” as in a fully-realized and developed tool. Queer spaces have not just been carved out, but they flourish, and in them you can quickly find many others sharing the same strange feelings of incongruity as you. Even if they don’t match 100%, after reading ten, twenty, a hundred stories, the sum total of overlap begins to build a picture of a new you.

Of a happy you.

And so after over a decade of toying with it, of thinking and hemming and hawing I was really running out of room and increasingly I felt like I was running out of time.

My egg finally and utterly shattered one night while reading a comic on a subreddit for eggs, a place where people coming to terms with being trans would share silly memes, trying to bring a bit of light to a rather stressful and confusing part of our shared struggle. The comic said something along the lines of “If you’re putting off transitioning because you’re afraid of not being a pretty girl – you’ve already accepted that you’re a girl. You’re already dealing with internalized misogyny.”

It was almost instant. Reading the words and it just clicked.

And I realized there was no going back. The boulder was rolling down the hill. I had been pushing it up and over the hump for twelve years. I stood from atop that awful hill and watched as it got away from me, and then after a few seconds, realized that I was expected to follow it and so clumsily at first began running down the hill after it, struggling to catch up.

COVID and the resulting stay-at-home orders have brought discord and pain to so, so many but I sat there, watching the She-Ra on netflix with Brigid, and I could feel it welling up. This amazing chance had dropped onto my lap. I could have like four or five months to transition completely in private while maintaining my job and income. And it kept getting pushed back! Further and further! I might even have a whole year.

It took me multiple weeks to come out to Brigid.

I had told Brigid multiple times of my feelings of genderqueerness, my concerns with transitioning, but I told her that I had thought about it and did not want to do it. She’s always been supportive of my decisions and made nothing of it, though once she did ask if I was interested in dressing more femme and at the time I was screaming “yes!” in my head, but declined, citing what now I recognize as gender dysphoria as why I couldn’t.

But there were multiple times, as we were sitting in bed before going to sleep, that I could feel the urge and drive building to just tell her, and then… I couldn’t.

And it happened over and over.

Then, finally, one morning in late June we were making coffee before catching a few episodes of She-Ra and I barely managed to squeak out the words “I want to transition.”

I honestly don’t remember much from the rest of that conversation, other than Brigid saying “Okay.” After that it’s really all just a blur.

On facebook and twitter I came out as a trans woman, beginning a new era in my life that has brought with it drastic changes.

Not even just that day, rather the next few months went by very quickly as I prepared to come out, start HRT, and at least try speaking with a therapist. After so long of just thinking about it meant that when the time came, I was running, sprinting through whatever popped up. After meeting with a GP and some bloodwork, and some day-of mix-ups at the pharmacy, on August 24th at roughly five o’ clock on a Monday evening, I had my first dosage of HRT. 4mg of Estradiol and 100mg of Spironolactone. I took all three pills at once and regretted that by the end of the night, as it was a bit much for my stomach to process.

The next morning I took one of the estrogen pills and the spironolactone. Nausea came and went through the day and again at night, it spiked, but it was fading. Whether it was the pills or anxiety, I will never really know. It doesn’t even really matter at this point. I was on my journey. And four days later I came out to the world.

Six Months Later…

Niamh. That’s my name. Sometimes I need to remind myself. You refer to yourself as one thing for so long it’s not easy to get over. Same with pronouns. I’ve exclusively used she/her/hers since coming out, but still in my head, my ego, uses the wrong name, the wrong designations because it had for thirty-one years. I correct myself every time. I owe myself that much.

When I first came out to Brigid, one of her first questions was what did I want to do about my name and my initial reaction was to keep at least “Nick”, arguing at the time that it was unisexual for both Nicholas and Nichole.

But the more I thought about it the more that rang as false. I already desperately wanted to change my middle name, which I had grown over the years to loathe, despite using it in a professional sense for quite a while. This is, after all, N H Kendall dot com. There is another Nick Kendall, a professional violinist, who hogs all that precious, precious SEO.

It didn’t take long, but I quickly came to the conclusion I really did want to change my name. I wanted to keep my initials, I knew that much. I wanted to have feminine names. I wanted to celebrate my Irish and German heritages if I could. Niamh is a very traditional Irish name meaning “brilliant” or “radiant”, pronounced like NEE-uhv or NEEV; I prefer the first. Golden-haired Niamh was also one of the Queens of Tír na nÓg, the Land of the Young, a name for the Celtic otherworld. For my middle name I chose another older, more traditional name Henriette, and as of writing, have chosen to pronounce it in French. Is it a shout out to my home – Detroit? Is it a stab at the H I carry, marking bound to my father and his fathers and fathers back to the 1800s? To leave it unpronounced? You tell me. It’s a little and a lot of both. It’s also just pretty.

Briefly I considered ditching my last name, a name that I’ve actually used as a first name for quite a while as it is, a woman’s name. That, however, was a step too far in the end.

The sudden shift is a common feeling now, as my transition progresses. Nothing is sacred anymore. Any feeling or nudge, any deeply held conviction is up for reconsideration. And really, isn’t that how it’s supposed to be? Aren’t we supposed to be reflective on ourselves? Reimagine and rebuild ourselves from time to time?

For me, one thing I was immediately interested in confronting was my sexuality. For a lot of trans people there is a period of “Am I sexually attracted to this person? Or do I want to be them?” And once you start on the road to being the gender of your choosing, what really were you feeling? It’s complex and difficult, but I think in a way it’s both necessary and inevitable.

Coming to terms with being a woman also involved unloading a lot of toxic masculinity, which had been smothering me for so long. Simultaneously, coming to terms with being a trans woman who as of writing is still interested in keeping and maintaining the functionality of her penis forced myself to ask some pretty critical questions and confront my internalized transphobia. The process would go like:

If I consider myself a woman, why don’t I necessarily consider other trans women women?

I do! And there’s a lot of hot trans women out there! I’d totally hook up with one (marriage aside)!

Even if she had a penis?

Well yeah.

Then what about men?

Well… I’m not sexually attracted to men.

What if they were non-binary?

I guess that depends?

Depends on what?

The “catch” was that neither had undergone GRS, that is colloquially “bottom” surgery. The image urged users to pick which one you’d have sex with and then defend why it wasn’t gay.

I began to appreciate that my sexuality was not a monolith. It wasn’t a single facet of who I found attractive or even who I was. And once I was able to understand that, I was better able to relate to the people around me and understand my own feelings much better. The way I came to think of it was what I had been assuming was “sexuality” was actually three scales that I could use independently of each other, sort of like a character stat diagram. The three arms were: aesthetic attraction, romantic attraction, and sexual attraction.

Aesthetics are how people look. Who do I find “pretty” to look at? Who do I aesthetically appreciate. Luckily we were watching Bridgerton at the time, and what I discovered was that I found men, women, and non-binary folks as potentially aesthetically pleasing. Thus, at least on this one axis, I was pan.

Romantic attraction, though, is a bit harder to define. For me, it’s who would I stay up with all night discussion life while nude and drinking wine. Who would I, in the absence of sexual intimacy, be willing to hang my arms around and get kisses and fervent glances from. And it’s as wishy-washy as it sounds. There’s a lot of “depends”, but in the end it’s more of a femme thing – women, and femme-presenting non-binary. I’d be willing to call this “pan with preferences” or “pan lesbian”.

Sexual attraction is who do I want to do the dirty with. I think this is the one that most folks will get immediately and it is here that I remain the most steadfast. I’m solely attracted to women and femme-presenting non-binary folks at a purely sexual level. Over-all, I think this puts me in the “pan lesbian” category, but generally I just use the label “lesbian” because if I’m honest, most of the gents falling into that first category are like celebrities at their peaks. I am almost certainly going to continue to reëvaluate this over the next six months.

Finally, I think I’m ready to reach the part that I’m sure brought you all here. The T&A. My six months on HRT. I hope if nothing else, what my cis readers take away is there is so much more to transness and transitioning than the medical side of things. It is a deeply emotional beast. And while it is easiest to measure the time I have been taking some pills and now the injections, my timeline is more about the firsts that come with wearing dresses, presenting feminine in public, being ma’amd, my ever growing, ever changing relationship to the LGBT community, the trans community in specific, and my growing confidence in myself.

HRT is prescribed as a cure to gender dysphoria. That’s what the paperwork says. So let’s start there.

The idea of being a woman and being thought of as attractive by other women was exhilarating. If only I could reach out and pluck it.

Gender dysphoria is a vicious monster. For some trans people it’s extremely visceral, a sort of gender-based panic attack that can leave them unable to function. For me it was very different, almost more insidious, I felt nothing.

And the problem with feeling nothing is that it’s harder to realize that you’ve been carrying it around for years and then decades. When it did actually manifest, it was often in the small things. Like being uncomfortable when my wife ran her hands through my chest hair. It was hard to pin down, easy to ignore, and thus it was more successful in evading treatment.

Explaining gender dysphoria to cis people is difficult, to say the least. More than feeling ugly, or mismatched, more than the awkwardness and the emptiness. It is much worse than the sum of its parts. Draining you physically and spiritually. And at the emptiness, you flail powerless to beat it back. You try to grow buff. You wear a beard for seventeen years. You hope and you pray that you’ll get better, that one day you’ll feel right.

And pray I did. One of the only times I prayed to a higher power ever was in early puberty when I effectively grew very small, but clearly unmasculine breasts. I prayed for puberty to carry me to the other side, or at least take them away. But no dice. I was forced to undergo a very awkward puberty, left without words or definitions to express my horror to those charged with caring for me.

Since starting HRT and presenting female, though, I have felt a strange and intoxicating rush that I can only assume is self-esteem and body confidence. I have found it so much easier to be happy. And I love standing in front of the mirror.

I love the physical changes to my body. Losing the beard and lasering it off bit by bit. I love my little titties and I love that HRT has sucked all the fat from my neck and collar and stuffed it all into my ass and thighs. I’ve lost about 12# or so, mostly to muscle loss in my arms, which are slimming. My fingers too are slimming down, as my jewelry held in place with little plastic forms make me aware. I love makeup. I love getting dressed up and putting together outfits. I love presenting a more honest me. I would even risk saying that I love my voice.

The confidence that has come with embracing my femininity has been utterly infectious. I revel in every cry, every glance of my curves, knowing that all the hair on my back and chest is thinning away. And the hair on my head is so much longer, I can twirl it in my fingers and Brigid can comb it for me at night. The confidence is so powerful, in fact that even with spironolactone essentially completely suppressing my libido, I feel much more sexual in a way. I also feel so much more in control.

For decades I suffered from a libido that was completely out of control, to the point of negatively effecting my life and my ability to even just interact with people. I’ve described the problem as fueling your Ford Fusion with nitro-methane for thirty years before someone finally comes up to you and says, “You can just fill the tank with unleaded gas.”

And there’s the crux.

Testosterone was clearly, clearly not the fuel I was meant to be running on. Physically and mentally, it was killing me. Estrogen is right, though. Everything just works better.

For the first time in over thirty years I feel good.

And so, the end for now…

There is a chance this was not an easy read for you. And that’s how it should be, honestly. It was not necessarily easy to write, but it was, all things told, cathartic. Transitioning has also been very hard and also very easy, and very cathartic all the same. I don’t think there are words I could ever string together to completely convey how right all of this has felt.

I can only keep insisting that you listen. That you read. That you internalize in yourself the words that trans people put out for you. And that you, more than anything, believe us.

In six months I shall return to this and perhaps go deeper into the physical and mental changes I’ve been seeing as well as comment on my experiences as a trans person out and about, if being out and about is something we can do by August. But I felt it necessary to set the stage, to dig to the root of my own transness which even still might be enigmatic to you all.

Hopefully you continue with me on this journey. I look forward to sharing my HRT-versary with you all. If we are diligent, it could even be in person!