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Puberty for Trans Folks

2nd puberty

Any 14 year old kid can tell you that puberty pretty much sucks. Awkward voice changes, faces full of acne, surprise periods, and newly activated anatomy that decides to come to life just as the bell signaling the end of algebra is about to ring. All this while having to endure the brutality of quadratic equations and yawn fests like ‘Pride and Prejudice’ before it was retconed with zombies. For all the soul crushing humiliation that makes for great teen movies, puberty is generally regarded as a good thing because those who are experiencing it are excited at the prospect of being real men and women. You see why the experience for trans kids is not so nifty keen.

Aside from clothing, and genitalia, the pre-pubescent physical experience is pretty androgynous. Physical – not social; that is a whole different conversation that involves dolls, wanting to be Batgirl, and lusting after an Easy Bake Oven. Before hormonal Armageddon kicked in, it was easy enough to just put on a dress and at least look female without going through a whole lot of trouble. In my day long hair wasn’t much of an option once we kicked into the 80’s. There was the ‘rocker’ look, which in my community was associated with ‘the bad kids’, and the mullet, which even back then I found to be fairly ridiculous. Besides, monthly haircuts were mandatory, even after I graduated from my dad with a pair of kitchen scissors and a bowl (I’m not kidding either) to the posh environment of the local Fantastic Sam’s. Once that first crack in the voice comes, so does a lot of unpleasantness. It was not a good time. I pretty much checked out.

I think all trans kids who understand they are different have to find some way of coping with the catastrophic changes overcoming them. Far too many turn to suicide, and just as many turn to addictions to numb their reality that their once smooth cheeks are now bristling with coarse hair that comes back every fricking morning. For me it was nearly complete dissociation and I have to wonder how many others went down this path. Now I wouldn’t characterize this as the pathological dissociation experienced by trauma survivors, but more of a somewhat chosen means of taking the mind off of what is really going on.

In my case I invented an incredibly complex fantasy world that I lived in almost full time between the ages of 12 and 16. I’m not even going to give describing it a shot because it spanned a multiverse of disparate parallel worlds, an infinitum of characters, events, histories, disasters, victories, etc where my role was pretty much a featureless omnipresent observer. The beauty of it was that every single thing in my life translated into this seamlessly, which aside from my frequently zoning out, made it pretty much undetectable to everyone. Besides, as the weird kid I had a lot of latitude there, so no one really questioned the purposes behind the complex structures and ecosystems I created in the backyard or basement. I probably would have stayed there happily for much longer, but I was eventually pulled out once I needed my mental energy for attempting to understand and navigate sexual politics and failing spectacularly.

Now here I am again, a forty-ish trans woman going through puberty a second time. I can hear all you non-trans people shuddering at the thought. Really though, not the same at all! So far no acne, no chance of a hormonally triggered embarrassment below the waist, and not a single quadratic equation in sight, although I did read ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, but felt they failed to excise enough of Jane Austen’s influence from the work. Oh, and no teenage bullshit whatsoever. This time I have no need to dissociate because I’m happy with the way my body is changing, even though I’m riddled with impatience for it to happen faster already.

I would love to hear some of the more creative ways others managed to cope with first go, actual teenage puberty, especially if you have something other than suicide or getting shitfaced every day. Both of these are critically important discussions of course, but deserve to be treated on their own. I’m curious about the off beat stuff like obsessively trying to recreate the perfect Peanut Buster Parfait, or writing Star Trek fan fiction. However you managed to get through it and made it here today clearly worked, and I couldn’t be happier.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

23 responses »

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  4. I tried to bind once, ended up with a scarf falling out of my shirt in the middle of a health food store, blocked out the memory for nearly five years, and somehow managed to convince myself that all cis women with any kind of boobs hated their boobs and wanted them to go away. I’m still not entirely sure how I believed that.

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  6. I completely understand what you mean by creating a place to escape too, though mine is not multi-verse, except for the ways in which it intersects with this one and the way that my characters also exist alongside me in my life. I too created my imaginary world during puberty, although I am not trans and so did not experience the physical changes of puberty as a shock or horror.

    But even for cis people puberty can be a difficult experience, and it is definitely more difficult for a queer in a small town, as I was. I was excited about my changing body, but I was very confused about the way that all my friends were suddenly obsessed with boys. I was different and that was very isolating. (And honestly, even without being queer, I might not have fit in as a nerd/poet/birdwatcher.) Having a place to escape to, and imaginary friends who understood me, was a blessing. They were characters from games that I played as a kid, as well as characters from different fantasy stories that I wrote, who started interacting with me in my mind when I was a teen. In tough social situations they would keep me company, and concentrating on them, and the internal commentary they gave me about the people and situations around me kept me sane. When I needed a place for quiet and meditation, I would enter their world–a beautiful natural landscape of mountains and meadows. I still go there for meditation and stress-release in my life today–even as an adult!

    I am so thankful for these imaginative strategies that helped me survive. And I’m very glad to have figured out who I am, to have a wonderful relationship with a woman that I love, and to be surrounded by queer people from all parts of the rainbow spectrum cis/trans/gay/lesbian/bi/poly/pan/etc. I am so glad that we all survived and are here today!

  7. oh lordy…. can’t remember escaping into a fantasy world, but after seeing those first “shocking” tabloid stories about janna steele and tula and christine jorgenson in the 60’s, i knew exactly what i was. … unfortunately, it wasn’t a misidentified female, it was a misdirected little boy who was sure to become one of those strange sick queer boys who perform as girls at the sleazy niteclubs downtown (only god knew what they did to make money!). there didn’t seem to be any other option. … and it wasn’t anything good that kept me alive and undetected, it was that overwhelming altar boy catholic guilt that kept me from telling anyone or even thinking about self-destruction. both roads led to hell without even a quick stop in purgatory to cleanse my perverted soul.
    but somehow, and i haven’t a clue how or why, the guilt faded as i grew up … to be replaced only by the much more easily ignored fear of embarrassment and an unending scouring of libraries and bookstores for more information about the “mental problem” that i had. And slowly, little by little, mixed in with the plethora of psycho-sexual bullshit i read through, there came little glimmers of light and understanding … understanding that i wasn’t doomed to gehenna, that there were thousands like me… and that many, probably most, were just regular, moral folks like me … and they were facing their “issue” and understanding themselves … and that it was possible to actually feel empowered and enjoy the wide spectrum of knowledge that an expanded view of gender could bring.
    the goddess knows i cried myself to sleep a million times as a kid and young adult, but the crying time is done … replaced by the joy of self acceptance and a deeper understanding and respect for myself and every other of the
    ” … searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
    For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale…”

    respect and love,

    • So well said, Deja! I’m glad you had the courage to research what was inside you instead of taking my road of staunch denial punctuated by periods of sheer terror when I couldn’t keep it down below the surface. This is a wonderful comment and thank you!

  8. Wow. I too created a character and plot-filled multiverse of which I was the “featureless omnipresent observer.” I love your description of that. Thanks!

    My multiverse sometimes took the form of writing stories (I went on to study Screen/Playwriting), but primarily – from age 6 til well into puberty – I created my world… with Beanie Babies.

    Yes, these beanie babies:

    I thought they were so much better than action figures or dolls, since they were floppy; soft, cute and free, like I wanted to be.

  9. I got through it by writing and art. I would not go through the first puberty again for anything, but am like you with the second one–eager for the changes to happen more quickly.

  10. Jessica McIntosh

    I never fit in, and embraced it. I purposefully became the weird kid. I didn’t figure out I was trans till about 8 months ago. I did spend plenty of time in the months before playing a woman online in Rift. That is partly how I came to realize I was trans. Lots of Erotic Role Play lead me to love sex as a woman (Vanilla, Sub and Dom roles). This primed me to question my gender later when I was high and came across a transition time line. In literally one week I went from thinking I was a guy, to questioning, to acknowledging and embracing I was trans, to coming out to my wife and starting my transition.

    Growing up I knew I was not a typical “guy”. I didn’t even feel like a guy. For the most part I embraced it. But since I didn’t fit in with men, and women would not engage me as one of their own, I was left pretty much alone. Rejected by all but the nerds and druggies who tended to be much more accepting of others. Even in my 13 years of marriage in many was I was more the woman in the relationship.

    • Hi Jessica! Wow, that really hit home, “in many ways I was more the woman in the relationship”. My ex had been jokingly referring to me as ‘her wife’ for a while before I was out to her. Probably all the cooking, cleaning, various chore, prissy neatness, lecturing her about the dishwasher. Oh dear lord, did I just 50’s style stereotype all women, myself included. Ugh. She still goes on about the time though that I had a hissy fit about the kitchen and dramatically declared that “little fairies don’t come in and clean up your messes”. Yeah… really shot myself in the foot with that one. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  12. a quiet observer

    i retreated into lying to people online about my identity and roleplaying online.
    i realized when i logged into gaia online that nobody had pants and went fulltime male on the internet without looking back.

  13. Video game addiction. And when I wasn’t living life as Michelle online, it was dissociation in real life.

    • Hey Michelle the Younger! I haven’t heard from you in a while. Welcome back sweetie! Yeah, I probably would have done the video game thing, but we had a TI 99-4A, which probably sounds like gibberish to you. Basically a “computer” with 8K of RAM, no hard drive, a floppy drive the size of a small suitcase, and a a cartridge plug in slot that allowed us to play cheap Atari knock offs …. Oh dear lord, I have not just become that woman who starts every fricking story with, “Heavens to Betsy, back in my day…” Ugh, kill me now. Glad to have you living the real life and well associated (I’m assuming that is the opposite of dissociated). 🙂

  14. Kristine Hollander

    For me it was sports, and dating as many or any girl I could get my arm around. Only looking back in recent years, I can see that I was compensating for the feelings of just not fitting my round self into that square hole. Somehow I made it to this point and I am thankful to be here! Oh and of course I had a little trian city in my bedroom tht guised my female participation in the fantasy world of anytown USA.


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