Update: Post Top Surgery!

It’s been a long time since I last wrote here! This year has been pretty packed. In January, I worked on an advert for Bulb at Blinkink. In late January to February, I was at The Line on their Unilever ad campaign, and from February to early August of this year, I was working as an animation assistant at Lupus Films, on The Tiger who Came to Tea, which will air on Christmas day…

… And then immediately after that Tiger contract ended, I had a week off and then top surgery on August 10th!

Thanks to what I could save up on my jobs, the GoFundMe campaign, the donations from ko-fi, and the help of my brother, I was able to cover the cost of getting top surgery privately with Christopher Inglefield. I can’t thank everybody who donated enough!

(For anybody reading this who is contemplating top surgery privately, I’d highly recommend Mr Inglefield and his team! They were amazing throughout. You will need a referral from the London Transgender Clinic in order to do so, and you can find out more about that here: https://www.thelondontransgenderclinic.uk/)

I’m now three months post op, and I’m really happy with the results. In time I will definitely post more photos (I still have residual reserves about posting a photo of my chest, thanks to the double standards enforced on AFAB bodies!), and am thinking about creating a comic about the experience, as well as detailing advice for those contemplating surgery. I had some unexpected issues recently involving the post op tape, which irritated the scars, so I’d love to help people avoid that hiccup.

Speaking of scars, I think mine are really badass. Initially I was fixated on them being as unnoticeable as possible, and granted the incisions are not huge… But I had a real anxiety about them being visible.

I’ve had more time to think about the true reason why that is, now that I actually have had surgery. They’re one of my marks of being visibly trans, which I thought would make me feel really dysphoric. But due to the shape of my chest being so masculine now, I can see the scars don’t really detract from how I needed my chest to be flat, for my dysphoria. The scars, if anything, just draw more attention to my now flat chest. That, and they make me visibly trans.

This is something I had mixed feelings about. As a transgender man, being misgendered deeply bothered and still bothers me. But I have no qualms about being identified as a transgender man specifically. I’m proud of who I am. It’s been so hard to get to a point where I’m comfortable with my body, and while it’s still a work in progress, I’m so much happier with it then I have ever been.

There will always be those who try to deny my identity based on my body, which admittedly makes me want to hide it, in order to protect myself. But really, the idea of hiding the fact I’m transgender feels awful. Granted, there are situations in which it is a matter of safety. But overall, in spaces where it is safe, I want to be seen and recognised as a man, but specifically as a transgender man.

Overall, I feel it’s really important to be visibly trans – for the sake of fighting for the rights of my community, for the sake of showing other trans people seeking top surgery how much it has alleviated my dysphoria, and even just for myself, to be at peace with my identity.

Speaking of… I have a graphic novel proposal in development, which has is a fantasy/romance comic with a trans MC! I’m hoping I’ll be able to have some good news  about how that’s going in 2020…

That’s all for now! I’m vowing to myself to post here more often!!!

Take care,


Let’s Ramble: My First Xmas as Openly Trans

The first time I was gendered correctly by my mum was only last Christmas.

For context, I had come out as trans to my mother, and the rest of the family the year before. Since then, a grand total of none of them had ever referred to me by my new name or male pronouns. My gender identity was never talked about or discussed in any detail – it felt to me as if the intention was, ‘if we ignore this topic, maybe it will just go away quietly’.  As depressing as it made visiting home, I had quietly resigned to the idea that maybe they’d never come to terms with my identity, and in order to not cause a rift between us, decided not to bring it up. I was already so afraid to come out in the first place, and it felt as if I asserted myself or made one wrong move, everything would fall apart between me and my family.

In the months leading up to Christmas, I’d been so sick with nerves about the idea of being around my dad’s extended family – my uncle, and my grandma especially. At that point, neither of them knew I was trans, and I think the expectation of my father was that I would do him the courtesy of not mentioning it at all, just to make things easier on him. My dad has always gotten stressed really easily, and so was never good at handling having more than one thing to worry about.

So it felt as though the burden fell on me to pretend that nothing had changed since I had last saw them, despite the fact I had finally embraced my identity as a transgender man the year before, and by Christmas, would have been on testosterone for two months. I dreaded hearing my family use my old name, and female pronouns, since finally coming out had lifted such a heavy weight on me, but since I was going to have to pretend nothing had changed, it was like taking that crippling weight on my shoulders back on again.

As well as that, having my father treat my identity as something to be ashamed of, something to hide – it felt awful, and I knew this awful feeling would engulf the entirety of the winter holidays if the situation didn’t change.

In the final weeks leading up to Christmas, I told my mum I wouldn’t be able to come home on Christmas day, because I wouldn’t be able to cope with having to essentially step back into the closet and pretend to be someone I wasn’t. And so, my mum stepped up and said she would try and convince my dad to tell my grandma and uncle about my transgender identity.

Now, I expected her to have this talk quietly with my father, without me in the room, so that my father and her true grievances over my identity could be fully expressed. After all, since it seemed as though she had avoided discussing the topic with me so many months, I gad concluded that she must harbour a lot of deep negative feelings about the topic.

However… On the same day that I’d told my mum I didn’t want to come home for Christmas, she and I were watching one of the many veterinary programmes she’d recorded for me on TV. I don’t have the heart to tell her that although yes, I do love animals, I don’t particularly love seeing them give birth, or be cut open, or have a pus popped open, especially in the hours leading up to a meal, so I kind of watch from behind my hands while assuring her that ‘Yes! It’s amazing how high definition cameras are these days, so that they can capture the true beauty of nature and all its abscesses’.

Anyway, not long after a horse had its pus dissected in glorious HD, my father walks in the room, absolutely stressed out of his mind (a standard occurrence). He rambled about how the car needed something or other fixed and discussed the situation with my mother. When the topic seemed well and truly discussed, my mother suddenly said:

“I think you need to tell your mother about Ash being trans, because he doesn’t want to have to hide his identity. And if you don’t do it, I will.”

I was stunned, and honestly, I think my father was too. Our family had always tip-toed around my father in these moments, given his explosive temper. Granted, it had simmered down in the last few years, but it was still in many ways, the most daring time for my mother to assert that.

More than that, I can’t express how deeply moving it was to have my mum finally refer to me by my new name, and by male pronouns.

And although my dad’s initial reaction was to dismiss her comments by saying, “I can’t think about that right now I have too much to worry about”, a week or so later, he told me that he had spoken to my grandma about being trans.

To my relief and, perhaps somewhat anticlimactically enough, she took it incredibly well. I think the fear with my dad had always been that it would given my grandma a heart attack or a mental breakdown from which she’d been unable to recover – that she would be unable to process it.

But I always had this small hope that, because my grandma has always watched so many melodramatic soap operas on daytime TV, that the news would be nothing more than a drop in the ocean of her long life.

And so it was as simple as that.

So to conclude, last Christmas I was only misgendered a few times by my father, but otherwise it was amazing. (It’s also the first Christmas I’ve spent with my partner of 6 years!)

Thanks for reading!

Until Next time!

– AJ

First post of 2019 / DRM speech!

It’s been a hot minute since I last updated, so thought I’d do so in the fleeting moment of spare time I have right now…

As part of a training session for Diversity Role Models – a charity organisation who give workshops in school and businesses to tackle LGBT bullying, I wrote a 5 minute preparatory speech.

Funnily enough, on the actual night, what I ended up speaking about was almost utterly different to what I wrote down! But it still went down well with everyone. I also received great feedback and critique that has given me a lot to think about when I rework this talk.

I also can’t express how amazing it was to hear the other volunteer’s stories – in particular, that of my close friend who was bi and in the closet for so many years (during which time we knew eachother but had no idea we were both LGBT!) which made me pretty emotional.

The idea that we will be speaking to kids with the goal of hopefully making these topics feel less taboo to talk about fills me with a lot of hope. Tackling away at the unnecessary stigma and stereotypes will mean LGBT kids will grow up with a lot less fear and hopefully bullying at the hands of others.

You can find out more about DRM and the amazing work they do here:


Anyway, with that being said, here’s the preparatory speech that I ended up writing.

“Hi everyone, my name is Ash, but you can call me AJ.

I’m 24 years old, I work in animation production, and I’m a transgender man.

First off, I can’t express enough how happy and grateful I am to have this opportunity to listen to all of you speak and tell your stories.

To be completely honest, I’m grateful to even be in this room at all. If you’d asked me, 2 years ago, where I’d imagine I’d be 2 years later?

I think that here, standing in front of a group of strangers, speaking openly about being transgender, would have been one of the last places on earth I could’ve imagined.

Allow me to explain. I was in denial about my identity for over 10 years. The idea of expressing that I was trans to even just one close friend terrified me for so long.

For the most part, trans people have always been depicted in popular media as weird and otherly. If there was a trans character in a TV show, you can bet they were just there to be made fun of by the rest of the cast.

And as I’m sure everyone in this room knows, most journalists haven’t written too favourably of the transgender community. The tabloid press is particularly demonising of trans people, portraying us as threats to everyone around us. Fear-mongering makes for eye-catching headlines, I suppose.

As a result, a lot of people grew up with internalised transphobia – myself included. I saw trans people, and the transgender community at large as being sort of isolated, or separated from society.

Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I outright hated trans people, but certainly, without a doubt, I hated myself for being trans. The fact that I was in the closet for over a decade is certainly a testament to that fact.

So when I was younger, because I was so desperate to not be trans, I tried to convince myself a number of terrible things about trans people.

Mostly, that trans people were just convincing themselves that they were trans, and that their identities weren’t truly valid. I thought trans people just needed to step back and realize, hey, being trans isn’t something I can be. Being trans isn’t a valid identity – people choose to be trans, therefore I should be able to choose to not be trans.

It goes without saying that these ideas are incredibly damaging for anybody to hold, let alone a closeted trans kid. And, looking back on it, it’s pretty wild that I could be trying to convince myself of these things, while at the same time dealing with really crippling dysphoria. I think one of the most extreme memories I have was when I contemplated taking a hammer to my hips because I hated their width, and felt like because of them I could never pass as a cisgender man.

And because I didn’t know anyone personally who was trans, there was no one around to challenge these ideas. I had no real examples of trans role models, so the idea of being able to both be openly trans and comfortable with my identity, felt like an impossible reality.

So in a way, it was inevitable that for a long time, I was terrified of being trans. I thought that coming out would result in me being alienated by society to the point where I’d be completely alone, aside from this scattered community of other trans people who were all alien to me at the time.

So, I repressed my identity. I told myself, if I try and be the most feminine cis woman possible, THAT will cure my transliness. I focused on that goal for many years.

Now… as I became an adult, there was a turning point. An old friend of mine, came out as a transgender man. Sadly, by the time he came out, we had drifted apart.

But, from a distance (so, through stalking on social media) I watched as he started T, as he had surgery, as he transitioned… All of these things I had been dreaming about for years but never had the courage to pursue.

And I watched as people still supported him… As he continued through life… He got a degree – went into animation production as well, in fact… He got a job. He… just sort of… got on with his life.

And… it might sound anticlimactic, but that’s sort of the reason why I’m here today. If I hadn’t have known anyone on a personal level who was trans, and could prove all the awful preconceived ideas I had wrong, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today.

I want to help teach today’s kids who will be tomorrow’s adults to realize that everyone is deserving of respect and love and that people from the LGBT community are… really just ordinary everyday people who just want to get on with their lives. In spite of what bullies, both in school, or in the media might say.

Thank you for listening.”

/Thank you for reading!

I’m almost 3 months on T (I think?!) so I’ll definitely give an update about that soon.

Until next time!

AJ x

Let’s Ramble: Navigating the ‘In-between’

I’m in a weird place right now, that I can only describe as feeling in-between.

So I’m out as trans to my friends, my immediate family, and former colleagues. However, my extended family has no idea (due to the demands of my parents, they are never to know), as well as some former colleagues, and obviously most strangers I interact with on a daily basis.

Out of those who know about my gender identity, only my friends and former colleagues use my current name and pronouns. My parents continue to use my former name and pronouns.

I’m about halfway through the paperwork necessary to change my name and gender marker on various legal documents (there’s so much damn paperwork involved, which to me is the ultimate proof that no one would choose to be trans). I can’t complete it until various sources send necessary documents my way.

I’ve been on testosterone for one month, which has been long enough for me to experience significant changes, but not long enough that I am gendered correctly in public 100% of the time.

(For those who don’t know, before I came out as trans, I briefly identified as trans-masculine non-binary. If anything, my experiences have confirmed to me that I am most certainly a binary trans guy, though that doesn’t mean I believe in following strict social gender roles or societal expectations – for example, love me some make up. But it does mean I want my body to be as masculine as possible, and I want to be socially treated as male.)

Furthermore, I feel like a part of the trans community since I am trans, but I’ve also seen a lot of divisiveness and name calling within the community, and am not involved deeply enough in the community to really feel as if I’m not just looking in from the outside.

Let me tell you about the in-between… which at this point shouldn’t come as a surprise… It kind of sucks!

BUT I would absolutely choose the in-between over being in the closet any day. And the experience, as the name suggests, sucks only half of the time.

There’s a great deal about the in-between that I know for sure will change. Over the next year or so, testosterone will take effect enough so that I’m gendered correctly, ideally 100% of the time. I have already begun to experience changes, the highlight of which has been the increase in my lower vocal range and my lower speaking voice.

The paperwork will… eventually… get done.

My parents will in time, I hope, use my current name and pronouns.

Perhaps the only part of the in-between that will not be subject to change, will be the fact my grandparents and extended family may never know I’m trans at all. As sad as that seems, my grandparents are approaching their 90s, are extremely conservative Christians, and live on the other side of the world in Hong Kong. I adore them but I don’t think they’d ever be able to come to terms with and be at peace with my identity.

Likewise, their son – the only uncle of mine who knows I am trans – has never come out to them about his sexuality nor his male partner of around 20 years, for the same reasons as me. So while still having to be in the closet in some sense is a hard reality to come to terms with, at least I am not alone.

As for the trans community, I’m really not sure where to begin, or whether I even need to get more deeply involved. That, like many other things, is something I feel like will only become clearer in time.

So for now, I have to stay as patient and positive as possible. Though I tend to lose sight of this fact, in many ways, my journey has only really just begun.

Let’s Ramble: Dealing With Transphobia in Journalism and Beyond

I guess I should start at the beginning.

Last Tuesday, I got an A4, slightly battered envelope in the post. I immediately recognised that the name and address were written in my mum’s handwriting.

Interestingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen my mum write my current name, ‘Ash Wu’.  She  had recently been trying to avoid using my birth name, and would correct herself when she slipped up. I knew me transitioning would be hardest on her and my dad, and I deeply appreciate her effort.

So, with that being said, even though I had no idea what the envelope contained, I assumed that whatever was inside would be a definitive, clear cut show of support. But the reality was, as it often is… a lot more complicated than that.

Inside the envelope was a magazine, which had a couple of luminous tabs within it. At a first glance, I saw that the magazine was The Economist, which my mum is subscribed to.

And then, upon closer inspection, I saw the subheading on the front cover: ‘the case against gender self-ID’.

My blood ran cold. In a complete state of shock,  I was physically frozen, while my brain flooded with questions.

Was this an anti-trans article?

My mum had sent this envelope in the post first class – did she desperately want me to see it and change my mind about transitioning?

Was she trying to tell me that she thought me being trans was not a legitimate reality?

Needless to say, I was terrified to read it. The tiny luminous paper tabs no longer brought to mind the adorable display of effort by my mum, but instead made me think of the similar vivid colours of poisonous frogs.

Shaking, I carefully opened to the first bookmark, and started to read the first article, ‘Who Decides Your Gender?’

Once I finished that, I read the second, titled ‘The Body of Law’.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, both articles contained an impressive swath of unsubstantiated fear-mongering. It’s not anything I haven’t seen before.

After all, during my intense attempt to put myself through my own conversion therapy, I would seek out transphobic rhetoric not unlike that in this article, and try and use it to convince myself that it would be impossible for me to live with myself if I was trans.

But since those days, for my own well-being, I do what I can to avoid transphobia on a daily basis. However, this time was impossible, since I literally had an envelope full of it posted first class to my front door. And by my mum, of all people.

After I finished reading it, I sent a text to her.

ma screenshot 1

This left me even more confused. If this was meant to be a show of support, then why send me something that was full of so much fear-mongering and anti trans rhetoric? Had she even read the article?!

I asked my dad what he thought, regarding whether my mum was trying to express her disapproval by sending the magazine.


ba screenshot 1

… And it turns out, like the principle of Ockham’s razor… that the simplest explanation is often the correct one. They had literally both just skimmed through the article and not picked up on the sheer amount of transphobia in it at all.

My mum had seen that the article was about gender ID, thought, “Oh! This is about transgender stuff, I should send it to Ash!” Then she maybe said to my dad, “I’m going to send this to Ash with a first class stamp as a show of support! What do you think?”

And then my dad, probably while distracted by some highly intense engaging thriller on TV after a long day of work, skimmed through the article and said: “Yeah sounds good.”

Look… … … …

Firstly, in defense of my parents, they are both extremely busy people. They spend most of their time working, as they have done for all my lives. They’re both extremely talented musicians, and want nothing but the best for their kids.

But… … … …

Sending me that article in the post was honestly one of the most well-meaning but ill-thought out parenting decisions they have ever made in their entire lives. I think in a month or two, I’m going to be able to laugh about how terrible it was, but right now I am still so stressed out by the whole experience…

Once again, in their defense, I think it just goes to show how little they are aware of the amount of transphobia in the media, and the real effect that it can have on the wellbeing of trans people like me.

Paris Lees, a prominent trans journalist, is usually the first on the scene when it comes to debunking these kinds of transphobic pieces in the UK press. However, even she had to take a break from Twitter recently. Repeatedly reading articles written by people who seem intent on spreading fear regarding your identity takes a huge toll on your well being.

Like I mentioned, I felt confident that I could largely debunk a lot of the more ignorant claims of that article. I don’t want to delve into them too much, because I think other people have written more in depth articles on the matter, so I’ll include some links at the end of this journal entry.

But before I do so, here’s the core issue.

As a trans guy, I do feel a huge amount of responsibility when it comes to educating people on trans issues.

It can feel like a burden at times because it’s such an uphill and never-ending struggle. There are so many people out there who are full of fear and hatred and ignorance regarding trans people, the fact that we exist, and want the same rights as everyone else.

I hope that pointing people in the direction of facts and truth is a good start. But I know that sometimes, facts and statistics can make no difference to people’s opinions, because of how much fear they have.

It’s such a primal instinct in us human beings, to fear the unknown. People can get caught up in that fear, to the point where they are literally incapable of accepting the reality of things.

So while I obviously think truth is the best remedy to ignorance, what use is the truth if people can’t even see past their own fear?

I don’t think trying to confront the writers of such articles, or others who spout transphobic abuse is necessarily the answer. People don’t react well to criticism, or being told they’re wrong, especially in a public forum like the internet. I think it’s good to call out their words, but not them as individuals.

As tempting as it can be, this level of personal confrontation often makes opinionated people hold onto their views more rigidly, out of wounded pride.  This makes them more likely to antagonize those who try to change their minds.

And I don’t think all people perpetuating transphobia necessarily have ill-intent towards trans people, even journalists who write these problematic articles. Given we live in such a politically divided time and digital age, where generating controversy and more clicks on an article seems to be a priority at times, perhaps they just forgot they were writing about actual human beings, and not just a popular buzzword.

But here’s where I think an actual solution could lie. What is the remedy to fear, or indifference?

The truth is as obvious as it sounds…  It’s compassion.

I think people with transphobic opinions don’t view trans people as actual living individuals, but as some collective, intangible, amorphous mass of hypothetical dangers.  They don’t actually know any trans people on a real and personal level, and are therefore indifferent to, or ignorant of, the very real damage of false claims. They don’t realize that trans people are just like them, and aren’t predators after their kids. After all, there are many trans parents out there. There are also trans journalists, and musicians, and artists, and actors, and politicians, and you name it. We’re just… people. It’s such a weird thing to feel like I have to assert.

Though it’s not really a huge shock that not many cis people, especially transphobic ones, really know any trans people. After all, I can probably count the number of trans people I have interacted with on a personal level on one hand. And of course, this has come out of a result of seeking trans-friendly spaces.

Likewise, I think I’m one of the only trans people that a lot of my cis friends know. And again, I am public about my identity. There are many trans people out there who are private and wish to only been seen as cis, which I don’t blame them for, given the hurdles you can face for being openly trans.

So what can really be done about cis people who have no compassion for trans people? Who hold transphobic opinions, and aren’t likely to ever really (knowingly) meet a trans person in their day-to-day lives?

The answer is positive trans representation in media. The reason I am able to say this with such confidence is due to the major shift in attitudes towards homosexuality in the West, and subsequently the progress of gay rights, thanks to the positive media representation in the last 20 or so years. That isn’t to say at all that the fight for gay rights is over in the slightest, or at all that media alone was wholly responsible. After all, homophobic articles are unfortunately still being published in the UK. But some major steps forward have been made, in part, thanks to more media representation.

In ways, I think people let their guard down with fictional characters more than they do real people. They’re more likely to empathise with characters who, if well written, you feel like you know on a personal level, and understand to a greater degree than even those around you. Characters also can’t challenge you on their opinions, or really threaten you on any real level. That’s why I think they have the potential to really open people’s minds, and change damaging attitudes about minorities. 

As a writer, I feel like this is one of the most positive things I can do for my trans brothers, sisters and enbies. Creating trans characters who simply exist in the universe, and not having their transitioning define them or be the crux of their complexity as individuals, is really important to me. I want trans people, or anyone questioning their identity, to read these stories and see these characters and see that they have a right to exist, a right to be happy, a right to love and be loved.

It’s also a proactive and healthy way for me to deal with what can at times, be an overwhelmingly transphobic world. 

Fear-based claims by that article and corresponding facts.

1) Claim: ‘Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria’.

What is it? The idea that many teens come out as transgender during puberty as a result of interaction with trans friends, and that trans-themed social media portrays being trans as ‘trendy’, making more young people incorrectly believe they themselves are transgender.

The truth? This isn’t a thing. Many people come out as trans at puberty because puberty is when you gain secondary sex characteristics, resulting in dysphoria. Notably, a lot of the research ‘supporting’ this ‘phenomena’ involved interviews with parents who claimed that their children had experienced ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’, rather from the experiences of those struggling with dysphoria themselves. In other words, the expression of gender dysphoria had seemed sudden to parents, rather than literally being a sudden experience.

What a big surprise it would be if it only seemed sudden because the children involved in the study had been hiding it from their parents? Like maybe… teenagers don’t share everything that they are going through with their parents, at the exact time they are going through it?

Here is a great article on ‘rapid onset gender dysphoria’.

2)  Claim: ‘Letting trans women use female bathrooms is dangerous for women and children’.

The truth? Again, this isn’t a thing.  Numerous studies have debunked this claim.

Here’s one study.

And another.

And a third.

A fourth.

And hey would you look at that a fifth one too.

3) Claim: ‘Letting trans kids transition could result in detransitioning.’

Truth: From an NHS study: ‘And here’s the error in centering parents in detransition media stories. According to the NHS, 0.99% of trans kids of 303 surveyed detransitioned. One later retransed [retransitioned] again later, the other two detransed [detransitioned] before reaching NHS service. All cited like of family support.’

Here’s that study.

And two articles about detransitioning myths, which can be found here.

And here.

Further links:

How positive LGBTQ+ representation in the media affects non-LGBTQ+ outlooks.

Why LGBTQ visibility matters in the media.

An article about the character Nomi Marks, a trans woman portrayed in Sense 8.

An article about homophobia in UK journalism.

To anyone who has read this far… Wow, thanks! Very appreciated. It’s especially always very appreciated when non-trans allies educate themselves on these topics. To quote Paris Lees:

Part of the problem is that it almost always falls on trans people (who already have their own problems to deal with) to feel pressured into correcting misinformation and defend themselves. It’s so tiring. So we appreciate when allies show up for us like this and share the load.

This was a very, very, very exhausting entry to write. Even just contemplating writing this over the last few days has affected my ability to sleep. It’s extremely draining to feel like the burden of educating people, and defending yourself rests so heavily on your shoulders.

Now that it’s written, I do feel a lot better, but I probably won’t be writing anything else about transphobia anytime soon.

And if I didn’t make it clear, to my dear family and friends… … please don’t post transphobic articles directly to my home address because this was one emotional rollercoaster ride I did NOT sign up for

Until next time!


Let’s Ramble: ‘the closet’

Just the other week, I was catching up with a couple of old university friends at a burger joint in Islington.

Though I had spoken to one of those girls previously about my transgender identity, the topic had never come up with the other. When it did, somewhere amidst the cheerful discussion, she said:

“I never would have guessed you were trans!”

I’m not sure if my smile faltered in the moment the words left her mouth, but time itself felt like it slowed down as I processed that information.

For context, I’ve known both of these girls for around six years now. For three of those years, we were at university together. We lived together for two of those three years. Our rooms were a few steps away from each other.

Yet in all those years, she didn’t have the faintest idea about my gender identity.

But I did.

Though I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it, I’ve known about the fact I was trans since I was around 8 years old.

And I’ve been in the closet for nearly just as long.

Though just before uni, when I was 17, I had come out as trans to a handful of close friends, as well as my parents. So on a small scale I had actually come out of the closet, but out of fear of rejection from my extended family and society as a whole, forced myself back in.

During my time at university, and for a couple years after graduating, I put myself through my own personal conversion therapy. In other words, I hoped that if I presented and tried to embrace the idea I was cis, then eventually my brain and my body would feel aligned. Spoiler alert, this didn’t work. And it never does.

So in a way, there was nothing at all shocking about her words. Of course she had no idea. She met me at the start of university where, in a way, I was more deep in the closet then I had ever been.

But the reason why her words got to me was that, for less than a second, I felt as if I should be proud.

I felt as if I should be proud that I had hidden my identity so successfully during the majority of the years that I had known her.

Because after all, for so many years, it had been my goal to remain hidden from people, to not let them know anything about this secret I was so deeply ashamed of.

I kept my distance from so many of my friends as result of this. I was so scared of the truth coming out, of people knowing. I was scared of being persecuted, being humiliated, being rejected by people I cared about, and even cared deeply about the opinions of those I wasn’t even close to in the slightest!

I am so lucky to be able to say, for the vast majority of those I have come out to, that hasn’t been the case. And the few who have taken issue with it, their opinions have either changed over time, or they’ve made me realise that they never truly respected me as an individual, and thus I’m relieved to have them out of my life!

But what I deeply regret is how closed off I was from not only myself, but other people, for so many years. I still admittedly struggle with trust and intimacy in platonic relationships, as there is definitely still a significant part of me that feels as if I need to hide away, and protect myself from being hurt.

I was so afraid of being hurt by people who found out I was trans. Instead, the person who hurt me the most was myself. I hurt myself with my own fear and obsessing over what people thought of me.

At the end of the day, coming out as trans has revealed who the truly important and valuable people in my life are.

I’m so grateful that I can now finally be myself around them. That I can let them into my life, and give them the trust that they deserved for so many years.

Let’s Ramble: Navigating Gender Identity in a Relationship

One of the many hurdles for me when it came to exploring my gender identity was the fact that I was in a relationship with a guy who was, as far as we both understood, undoubtedly straight.

Within the first week of us dating I confessed to him (and I use the word ‘confessed’ because I really had so much cripplingly guilt over it) the fact that I had almost decided to transition a few years prior. He was incredibly accepting of the fact.

However, I knew he had perceived me as a cis girl, and we were in a loving relationship, so I thought him to be unquestioningly heterosexual. He also pretty much exclusively commented on the conventionally and classically attractive female actresses when we watched movies and TV shows.

Very rarely he’d note the attractiveness of some male actors too, but things like the disgust he showed when I once joked about me gaining a hairy chest (not at all in the context of me transitioning), solidified the idea in my mind: he is straight, so if I choose to transition or express any level of masculinity, he will no longer find me attractive.

This idea formed within the first year of our relationship. Combined with the fact I was struggling with anxiety, depression, and grief over the death of one of my closest friends, this idea became incredibly destructive to my wellbeing.

The internalised pressure to be as conventionally attractive as a woman as possible ate away at my self-esteem. I felt like I could never be ‘good enough’, or even just ‘enough’ as a woman. No amount of outside approval and compliments could get this belief out of my head.

And so, along with a whole range of other anxieties, I was incredibly convinced at different points during our time at university, that my partner was secretly in love with every girl he interacted with. I would feel so anxious until I could ask him about it and put my mind at ease, until the next thought of him being in love with someone else came along.

(Interestingly, I spoke to a doctor about this obsessive period of my life a few years later and was referred to an OCD specialist waiting list, but by the time I was offered an appointment, I had started Citalopram and those thoughts had vanished.)

Looking back, there were so many reasons why it became so easy to convince myself no-one would love me. I could see the positive and negative qualities in others and deem them worthy of love, but I was so obsessed with what I perceived as my own shortcomings, that I couldn’t recognise my own worth. I also believe it was impossible for me to love or even just be content with myself, given that I wouldn’t give myself permission to explore my own identity.

My gender identity of course made this an incredibly complicated internal struggle: viewing my body at once with a desire for it to be more feminine to gain the approval of others, but the more I tried to view and mould my body in this feminine image, the more I resented myself.

My partner really was my rock throughout university, the only person around me that I felt like I could articulate my suffering to. The idea of losing him, and with him my main confidant and sense of stability, would feel like the final blow during that incredibly difficult period of my life.

Thankfully, as time moved on, I became more proactive about managing my constant anxiety and depressive episodes. This journey, like that of embracing my gender identity, is still ongoing.

As previously mentioned, once I started on Citalopram, my anxiety was no longer cripplingly me on a daily basis. The fears that had been plaguing me around my self-worth began to dissipate into near nothingness. I no longer fixated on suicide on a daily basis either.

But though all these other thoughts disappeared, my gender dysphoria and the question remained: was I trans? And if so, did I want to pursue transition and risk losing my loved ones, or did I want to stay in the closet but grapple with dysphoria for the rest of my life?

At this point, in 2017, I had been with my partner for 4 years. I no longer was doubtful that he loved me, but I was still afraid that if I were trans, I would lose him. Since I was far more on top of my mental health at this point, I knew that although I would be devastated if I had to break up with him, I also knew that it was incredibly important that if he could not love me for who I truly was, then we weren’t meant to stay together. Furthermore given the nature of our relationship and how comfortable we were with each other at this point, even if we did break up, we would have remained close friends.

I decided to tackle the questions around my gender identity at a time, by starting with non permanent decisions. I bought a binder to lessen my dysphoria and I dressed to appear as much like a cis man as I could. By the time I was able to book an appointment to cut my hair short at the trans friendly barbers, Open Barbers, I was about 90% sure I was trans. The euphoria and huge sense of relief I felt after taking all these steps had pretty much convinced me that I wanted to live as a man.

Nonetheless, because I wanted to hear from a professional, I also booked a private appointment with a renown gender specialist who gave me a diagnosis of gender dysphoria in mid 2018. On that day I made the decision that later in the year, I would start T, and I haven’t looked back since.

So what happened between me and my partner?

I’m now a week on T, and we’re still together. Around a year ago, when I made the decision to explore my gender identity, he said he wanted to stay with me throughout my transition and hopefully beyond, and take it each day at a time. He couldn’t definitively say whether he would still be attracted to me during my transition, since he’d never been with a man before.

However one year on, he says he is more attracted to me now more than ever, citing my increased cheer, confidence, and how in command I am of my self expression. Staying with me while I transitioned has allowed him to explore his own sexuality more, and he now identifies as pansexual. He realised that for him, the attractiveness of a person has nothing to do with their genitalia, sexual characteristics, or even their gender identity. He is attracted to personality, and physically attracted to varying levels of masculine and feminine expression within an individual, which in turn leads him to find their other features attractive (e.g. sexual characteristics). He is less attracted to hypermasculinity and high femininity, and prefers a balance of the two.

Looking back on his behaviour, he can see the influence of heteronormative values imprinted on him by society and media. He describes those beliefs, such as those that resulted in the chest hair comment, as “honestly, pretty stupid”. There are a lot of other behaviours he regrets and wishes he had acted more out of consideration for his partner.

However, I count myself incredibly lucky that my partner is an extremely accepting and open-minded individual. I am also extremely glad that, despite the uncertainties about how those closest to me would handle it, I gave myself permission to explore my gender identity. I’ve never been happier, more confident, and more excited for what the future holds, and I look forward to experiencing it with my best friend by my side.