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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.

14 Going on 40… Or Is It the Other Way?

Yes, I’ve gone on about this before in a cutesy little list and all, but you have to bear with me, as in some regards, I’m still really a teenager. Don’t worry, still got my driver’s license, any propensity to scream about things unreasonably was never really there to begin with, and the chances of my music disturbing the neighborhood is nil, unless someone is hypersensitive to Simon and Garfunkel gently wafting from my tiny speakers. I am, however, going through puberty again and I think it shows. I’m just waiting for the acne to show up again, which would royally suck.

The average woman my age has been there, done that, is considering going for the easily maintainable lunch lady haircut, and has secret, or not so secret worries about becoming a pre-mature grandma. Yeah, I’m not quite there yet. Not even close. The reality of middle age transition is that you remember very vividly all the stuff you sat on the sidelines for and never got to do, or were even willing to admit to yourself that you wanted to do. Once we start living as ourselves and mentally free, all those old desires come roaring back. Frankly, it’s downright ridiculous, or even ludicrous, but oh, it’s there. Jenny Boylan even admitted to this, and if an esteemed Colby professor can cop to it, the rest of us sure as hell can.

I realized all this about a year ago when watching TV. I’m slow with the Tivo remote. Real slow. In fact, if my spouse isn’t there to fast forward, I’ll often do the unthinkable and sit there slack jawed and watch commercials. I saw one for Sparkle Sketchers and immediately I wanted them. I mean, shit, who wouldn’t? They were the bomb! All pink and sparkly; I mean seriously, how great is that? Reality sunk in when my 4 year old urged me to fast forward. I was watching Dora the Explorer with him and it suddenly dawned on me who the target audience really was. Crap. I bet they didn’t even make them in my size. How unfair is that?

I wish I could say it was an isolated incident, but no. Not even close. In the lifetime leading up to full time transition I managed to accumulate way too much stuff that is in no way age appropriate. I have enough makeup with glitter embedded into it to supply the Bunny Ranch for a solid year. I have clothing that qualifies me as the wardrobe specialist for Rachel on ‘Glee’, not to mention a permanent bookmark on my computer for the sale page at Forever 21. I came close, real close, to filling out the subscription card in an issue of 17 Magazine I was reading at the doctor’s office. Thankfully I was called in before the temptation overwhelmed me. And yes, I’m horribly embarrassed by all of this.

At the same time, it all stands to reason. I was jealous when my sister got to take dance and synchronized swimming. Sure, my parents would have let me if I asked, but I was also under the impression I was doing life without parole in guy land and wasn’t super excited to mark myself the equivalent of a snitch so early on. Instead I quietly read in my rabbit cage and lived inside my own head where such things were possible. When people like to say “the heart wants what the heart wants”, they never think to add on “and the heart still wants 30 years later, dammit”, mainly because it just sounds stupid. It’s true though and yes, I do still want to take ballet.

The bummer in all this is that I can’t go walking around in Sparkle Sketchers without looking like a jackass. If I were to stroll into a beginners ballet class in a tutu, you can bet money that enrollment would plummet like a rock. Being asked to prom and slumber parties are right out. On top of it, my only child is a boy, so my chances of vicarious wish fulfillment by making him live out my dreams are just shot. It’s OK, I would have made the worst pageant mom anyway. “Oh for cripes sake, think up a talent on the drive over there, it’s all a load of malarkey if you ask me. You pick your nose well, how about that?”

The good news is that I’m pretty much over that phase. My wardrobe and makeup are all geared for work, or geared towards running into people from work when I’m not there. I’m probably not going to crash cheerleader tryouts at Amherst High, or have the mailman look at me any weirder than he already does on account of my subscription profile. When Halloween comes, I’ll bypass all the costumes geared toward tweens that infuriate protective fathers and are considered too risque for the dancers at Rick’s Tally-Ho. Inside I doubt I’ll ever feel old, and part of me will always want Sparkle Sketchers, but I’m good being 40, and more than happy just being myself.

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