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.