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Personal Essay: I Started Transitioning at the Beginning of the Pandemic. Here’s What It Was Like

Two years ago, just when the world was shutting down, I opened up – to my true self. Having discovered that I was a transgender man, I set out to medically transition at the onset of the pandemic.

In early March of 2020, I could count on one hand the people who knew I was trans. Though more than ready to take the plunge, I was still scared of how my loved ones and co-workers would react to my body’s changes. So I kept it low-key. I hoped others would eventually catch on to the fact that I was trans without me having to spell it out. As a first step, I made an appointment to start testosterone hormone replacement therapy – in Iowa City, over 100 miles of physical and emotional distance from my home and friends in Des Moines.

The day was fast approaching and my bag was packed when, in what felt like an instant, daily life as I knew it practically ground to a halt. My office job went remote. The cafes, shops, gym, and church on my normal circuit closed their doors. At that moment, fear of the coronavirus trumped my eagerness to start T treatments. I canceled the appointment without rescheduling.

For many people, social distancing was at best an inconvenience and at worst a trigger for high anxiety. For me, at least initially, it was a source of solace. With hormone therapy on hold and no top surgery on the horizon, I was glad to be shielded from the acute self-consciousness I felt about being seen in my body.

As a Black trans man, I was deeply moved by the serendipitous timing of my medical transition when it finally did begin after a 3-month delay. By then, telehealth had become the norm, and I was able to consult with a doctor from the comfort of my home. Although still apprehensive about other people’s reactions, I never doubted that I had made the right decision. And, coincidentally, my first T dosage landed on June 19 – Juneteenth, which commemorates the effective end of slavery and represents liberation for Black Americans. Taking my first step toward self-actualization on Juneteenth made the day especially poignant.

For the most part, I spent my first 5 months on T alone in my apartment, where I could transition without worrying about how I would out myself to others. As my voice dropped and my features became more masculine, I grew more comfortable in my own body. Work meetings took place via webcam, most of the time with my camera and microphone turned off. I never had to choose which office bathroom to use.

Even so, I stressed about the prospect of going public. I prefer to avoid contentious topics at work and feared that, to some, my very existence as a trans person would be a point of contention. Rather than making a big announcement, I quietly updated my name and pronouns on my various digital communication channels, hoping others would notice. Still, I was shy about correcting people when they used my former name and pronouns in emails. I didn’t voice my discomfort, and no one could pick up on my body language in a thumbnail Zoom window. The sense of distance that had empowered me now felt overwhelming.

So I quit.

In retrospect, I wonder if things would have been easier if I had been more forthcoming, if I had mustered up the courage to share my truth instead of silently carrying around a burden of dread. But who knows? Maybe coming out before I was ready would have only made it worse.

Today I view myself in the earlier stages of my transition with a sense of grace. I don’t beat myself up over the fact that I was so terrified of finding myself in a vulnerable position that I chose unemployment instead. Working through a pandemic at a business-as-usual pace against a backdrop of sickness and death is exhausting. Discovering and exploring your gender identity – and inviting others in to watch – presents no less of a challenge. Put the two together and you have a perfect storm of life disruption.

But now I’ve come into my own, and I recognize the strength it took me to get here. My transition having overlapped with a global pandemic is at once beautiful and chaotic – and worth it.

By June 19, 2021, my first anniversary of being on T and the first Juneteenth to be celebrated as a federal holiday, I felt at ease in my own body and ready to engage with the outside world. I’d just about finished the arduous process of updating my birth certificate, driver’s license, and Social Security card. I was starting anew, heading into a future that was nebulous for both the world and me. Naturally, I still had anxiety – I understood the potential violence and discrimination that can come when you’re visibly trans – but it was tempered by a growing sense of confidence.

While I was job hunting, many companies eased their remote work policies, which meant high-tech distancing wasn’t necessarily an option. But I no longer felt I needed it. By now, I was consistently “read” as a man, and my legal documents confirmed it. Although not exactly serene, I was ready, when I landed a new job, to show up as my full self.

When I started my new job, I breathed a sigh of relief because my co-workers addressed me by my name. They didn’t have to remember to use the name that’s now on my driver’s license, since it’s the only name they’ve ever known me by.

Almost 2 years have passed since I started testosterone, and I feel comfortable in my skin – and in everyday interactions with other people – in a way that I never did before. It’s tempting to declare that my medical transition is essentially over.

Meanwhile, mask mandates are being lifted, and restaurants and gyms have reopened. It’s as though we’ve all decided that the pandemic is over as well. And that, too, is tempting – the notion that one of the biggest challenges of our collective lives is finally in the rearview mirror.

Of course, that’s wishful thinking. I don’t know when I’ll feel comfortable saying that I’m living in a post-pandemic world, but I’m certainly not there yet. As for my transition, I’m getting used to the idea that it’s an ongoing process. As much as I’ve grown and opened up over the past 2 years, there will always be more for me to discover. At least for now, amid sea changes both personal and global, I see my transition not so much as a journey, with a fixed beginning and end, as a shift in direction – toward a stronger sense of my true self.

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