It starts when you’re about twelve.
You haven’t thought about it much until then; people call you things, but you’re just a kid, and that doesn’t matter yet. You ask for the toys you like, and you don’t think about whether they’re “boy” or “girl” toys. You have the friends you have, and maybe a few people make jokes about you having a “girlfriend”, but that’s all.
You heard your parents tell a story once about how your mother thought she was having a girl, and she got you all girl’s baby clothes, and she couldn’t stand to see them on you. People laugh. You don’t get it.
You go to the doctor every year for a checkup. They look up your nose, tell you to breathe in and breath out, have you stand up and sit down, put a cold stethoscope on your chest. It’s boring, but the doctor is funny, and sometimes you get a candy.
This time, something’s different. The doctor pulls your parents aside, and they talk about something you can’t quite hear. They all look very serious, like the time you spilled something on your dad’s laptop and he got really quiet and asked you to step out of his study. But they’re not mad at you. You get a lollipop and a sticker, and the doctor leaves.
On the drive home, they tell you things are going to change. You’re going to start seeing differences in your body. You ask if you’re going to get taller and they say yes, and that makes them smile. You ask what else, and they say, “We’ll talk about it later.”
You don’t talk about it later.
When you’re thirteen, you start seeing the first hairs on your arms. It’s freaky. Some of the other kids are happy about it; they talk about how it means they’re becoming men. One of them flexes and shows how big his bicep muscles are. You think it’s all kind of stupid, but you show off your one hair anyway and everyone marvels at it. Your parents tell you that it’s normal.
You’re in health class. The teacher talks about how boys and girls are different - how boys have more body hair, and their voices are deeper, and they’re taller and stronger and smell worse. You think about how you have to wear deodorant now, and it makes you feel strange.
You start having nightmares. You see people in masks, people with knives. You want to move, to scream, to run, but you can’t. Your body feels wrong.
At night, when you wake in a cold sweat, it’s almost like you can feel the hairs pushing out of your skin. You stop riding you bicycle for fun because hate the feeling of the wind across your skin. It just reminds you of the hairs. You buy a razor, but your parents say it’ll just grow back darker. That makes you cry, and your mother gives you a strange look. Confusion - maybe disgust.
You’re fifteen. Your voice starts to crack and deepen. It’s embarrassing for your friends, too, but you don’t get the sense that they feel the same way you do. They don’t get the pit in their stomach when it happens. It doesn’t make them feel like their body is betraying them. You start talking less. Your report card calls you “withdrawn”.
Eventually, you mention it to a friend. You say you don’t like how hairy you are, or how you smell, or how your voice sounds. He calls you a faggot, as a joke, and tells you that’s just what being a man is like. You don’t laugh.
On the way back from the store one day, your mom asks if you have a girlfriend. You don’t. A boyfriend? No. She tells you that you can asked her anything, if you want to talk about sex. You definitely don’t want to talk about sex.
You start skipping class, hanging out with a bunch of girls in the cafeteria. You get sent to the guidance counselor and you tell her you feel gross, and dirty, and ashamed. She tells you to it’s normal, that it’s all just part of growing up. It doesn’t help. You think that maybe you are a faggot.
The nightmares get worse. Nightmares about doctors and knives. Nightmares about the hospital. Nightmares about other kids holding you down and hurting you. The kids turn into your parents. You decide to start taking diphenhydramine to sleep without dreaming.
You quit school and go online. The courses are only middling, and you spend most of your time playing video games, but at least you don’t have to be around the other kids every day. You can live in your own little world and feel, if not okay, at least less like a monster.
You get into a middling college, with a good scholarship. People wonder why, with your grades, you didn’t go to a bigger, better, fancier school. Your family could afford it. You tell them there was a mixup with your transcript. It’s true, but you could have fixed it. In reality, you just didn’t want to be around those people - people you respected. You knew they’d see right through you, know you for a monster.
It finally gets so bad that you confront your parents. “What’s happening to me? I don’t want to be a boy. I don’t like this.”
You mother tells you that she can’t understand why you’d want to be a woman. Don’t you know how bad women have it? To her, womanhood is pain, and fear, and oppression. You tell her you think it’s beautiful to be a woman, that it’s meaningful. You can’t get what you mean across to her, or she doesn’t want to listen. Either way, it feels like a slap in the face.
The worst part is, you know it doesn’t matter. You’ve been doing research. You’ve read that the effects of testosterone are permanent. They can’t be reversed. There’s surgery for your voice, but that might make you unable to speak. There’s laser hair removal, but it’s expensive, and painful, and anyway you don’t want to “mitigate” the body hair, you want it gone.
It’s over. You’ve lost a war against your body that nobody even told you could be won. This is the horror.
This is the Horror
This is not a story about a forced transition, though it might read like one. Were those parents giving you testosterone injections, or gel, or pills against your will? Almost certainly not; this simply doesn’t happen, except for instances of intersex children being forcibly transitioned into a binary gender presentation their parents or doctors are more comfortable with.1
No, this is a story about my life. This is very similar to what happened to me, with a few slight inventions and omissions so as not to immediately give away my assigned gender at birth. From the ages of 13 to 20, I was incredibly uncomfortable with what was happening to my body because of my endogenous testosterone, and nobody told me there was an alternative. I almost killed myself twice because of it.
I cannot describe to you the level of horror that comes from seeing your body twist into shapes and forms you do not want, do not feel are even your own. Had I had access to puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy at 13, I would not have a voice I am uncomfortable using to this day. I would not have spent thousands on laser hair removal to feel safe walking down the street. I would be fitter, happier, and more accomplished, because I wouldn’t have been wallowing in dysphoria and depression for a third of my life.
Fight the Horror
We fight the horror with acceptance, with access to gender-affirming care, with telling people that it’s okay to be trans, it’s okay to be gay, and it’s okay to need to figure it out.
We fight the horror with education, and legislation, and by tearing down the transphobic edifice of a society that expects everyone to have a binary, immutable gender.
When people talk about reducing access to transition for children, this is what they are inflicting. A small fraction of patients may go through something similar because of opting into gender affirming care that isn’t right for them, but those people can end the horror at any time - they can simply stop taking hormones and be better off than I was.
100% of trans people who seek access to gender affirming care as children and are denied go through the horror. 100% of trans children who never know that gender affirming care exists go through the horror. And for what?
When you vote for bills that reduce access to puberty blockers, you are condemning another generation of trans kids to live in the horror for their entire adolescence. When you vote to ban books about transgender people from school libraries, you are spreading the horror. When you go on the Internet and talk about how you’re not transphobic, you’re just worried about detransitioners and the “transgender trend”, you’re spreading the horror. When you advocate for “correcting” the genitals or hormones of intersex children without their consent, you’re spreading the horror.
It’s your responsibility to fight the horror. The horror is my enemy, and it should be yours.