On the Fifth Anniversary of My First Shot of Testosterone

by Silas Hansen

That was a Tuesday, too, and so I had office hours and taught my
winter quarter creative writing class that evening. My appointment
wasn’t until 2 p.m., but I still woke up at 8 a.m.—at least two hours
earlier than usual—and panicked.

I’d been living openly as a man for almost a year, since I’d come
out to what felt like Ohio State’s entire graduate program via e-mail
the day after I finished the first year of my MFA. I’d told my parents
that September, five months earlier, when I was sure that it was
the right decision, and I’d been talking about whether or not to start
hormones—with friends, with my therapist, with my doctor—for
months. I wanted this—didn’t I?—but my stomach was in knots that
morning: What if I was wrong? What if I didn’t realize I was wrong
until it was too late to go back?

The story you typically hear goes like this: “I knew I was a _______
when I was a little kid. I spent my entire childhood knowing that I
was in the wrong body.” I’d heard this story for years and was used to
people assuming mine was identical.

I didn’t have this story. Looking back, there are things I thought
and felt as a child that make more sense, in context, but there was
never a moment when I thought, “I feel like a boy.” I was never particularly
comfortable with my body, especially once I hit puberty in
middle school, but I never connected it to gender. I had been athletic
as a small child but had struggled with my weight since third or
fourth grade; by middle school, I was fat, and I thought that’s why I
hated the way I looked when I saw myself in the mirror.

I had always been friends with mostly boys as a kid, but that was
partially because most of the kids on my street were boys, except for
the three girls two houses down whose father owned a car dealerNonfiction
ship and whom I couldn’t actually stand. My parents, though they’d
never have called themselves feminists at the time, raised me to believe
there was nothing my brother could do that I couldn’t also do.
I didn’t think there was anything weird about my friendships with
boys, about my interest in climbing trees and playing in the woods
and riding bikes with Justin and Mark and Kyle and Mitch instead of
playing with makeup or dolls or other things girls my age supposedly
liked to do.

I had never realized things about myself the way most people do.
I denied things I knew about myself for so long, so vehemently, that
I started to believe my own deceptions, until, years later, I’d finally
admit it to myself. In elementary school, before I had a language
for it, I knew deep down there was something strange, something
wrong, about the way I felt toward my friend Erin, who sat next to
me in fourth grade until she moved to North Carolina that February.
Instead, though, I pretended I had a crush on Ryan, the art teacher’s
son—and was so convincing that I even convinced myself. In high
school, I thought I was in love with my best friend’s boyfriend; it
wasn’t until a few years later, when I’d finally admitted that I just
wasn’t into boys, no matter how hard I tried, that I realized I’d actually
had feelings for my best friend that whole time.

My story goes more like this: I never felt like there was anything
that strange about me until I was in middle school, but even then I
didn’t know what it was that I was feeling. I didn’t have the language
to explain it to myself, let alone to anyone else, and so I pretended
that everything was fine until even I believed that it was. And then,
my sophomore year of college, I heard the word “transgender” for the
first time in a women’s studies class and suddenly everything clicked.
Because of this story, because it was so unlike the stories I’d heard,
I worried for years that I was wrong—like when I read about someone
with a rare medical condition and then convince myself I have it,
too—that I had made it all up, that it wasn’t real.

***

At the doctor’s office that afternoon, my hands shook as I waited for
the nurse to call me back. The doctor talked me through the things
we’d already discussed—what changes in my body I could expect and
when, the risks, my dosage. She wrote me a prescription and told me
to drive up the road to CVS, fill it, and then bring it back so a nurse
could give me my first shot.

I was so nervous that I ended up locking my keys in my car at the
pharmacy. I called my mom—I can’t remember if it was while I was
still in the car (which might be why I left my keys in the ignition)
or if it was while I was inside, waiting for the prescription, before I
realized what I’d done—and I remember she cried on the phone and
asked me if I was sure. “Yes,” I said.

My voice was firm, because I needed to be; I was afraid that if I told
her about my anxiety she’d try to talk me into waiting. And the only
thing that scared me more than getting my first shot was not getting
it. I had decided that the only way I was ever going to know for sure
was to go through with it—to try it. My body wouldn’t change overnight,
I told myself, and if I started to feel weird about the changes
I was seeing, I’d stop. I wasn’t doing anything irreversible yet, especially
if I only stuck with it for a few months. I’d know, I reasoned,
when I started to grow facial hair or when my voice started to lower,
whether or not it felt right. I had decided to use the same argument
for moving into manhood that I’d used for moving seven hours away
to Ohio for graduate school: if I went and it sucked, I could come
back; if I didn’t go, I’d spend the rest of my life wondering if I’d made
the right choice.

Back at the doctor’s office, once the locksmith came to get my keys
out and charged me forty dollars, the nurse led me back into an exam
room and told me to drop my pants. She told me to kneel with my
right knee on a chair, wiped my right butt cheek with alcohol, and
then stuck in the needle. I felt a sharp sting, just for a split second,
and then I felt the strangest sensation of warmth spreading through
my body, making my scalp tingle the way it does when the warm
shower hits my skin when I get ready for work on cold mornings.
Maybe it’s psychosomatic, maybe it’s real, but I’ve always felt this
when I inject, every single one of the 130 times I’ve done it since that
first afternoon.

That Friday, my friends threw me a “Man Party” to celebrate. People
wore fake mustaches, made countless appetizers with bacon (a
nod to Ron Swanson), and late that night, after we’d been drinking
for hours, they sang me “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast. I felt like
my friends saw me—the real me, the me I’d always wanted to see in
the mirror. Even though I still worried about what might happen,
was still anxious about what was to come, I started to relax.

Within weeks, my voice started to change. I noticed it first when I
went to karaoke at the dive bar across the street from my apartment,
as I did nearly every week for four years. When I sang “Friends in
Low Places,” my voice hit the low notes more easily. My body was
starting to change shape, too—slowly, hardly perceptible as I looked
in the mirror in the mornings, but undeniable now when I look at
old pictures of myself side by side. My face had always been mostly a
circle, but without losing weight, it had suddenly become more of an
oval. I lost fat around my cheeks; my nose and chin became more pronounced.
That July, five months after I started testosterone, I went
to visit family and friends in western New York. Looking back at photos
from that trip, I realize this was the last time my face looked decidedly
feminine. By September, I looked male, albeit much younger
than I actually was; by March, I had actual facial hair, a light dusting
of whiskers that, in the right light, could be mistaken for a beard.

Before I started testosterone, the thought of these changes freaked
me out. I was simultaneously thrilled at the prospect and terrified of
how things might change. But when they happened, when my body
actually began to change, I was far less ambivalent. Once my family
saw me with a beard for the first time and I realized everything would
be okay, I stopped worrying completely. I’d been right.

These days, five years in, my body has stopped changing with any
regularity due to the testosterone. The only changes I notice are
things that would happen to any man barreling toward thirty: my
body weight fluctuates, and I go up or down a pant size. Genetics
have started to kick in and, like my father and brother before me, I’ve
started to lose my hair; I finally gave in last summer, after denying it
for a while, and buzzed it all off. Last year, at twenty-eight, I noticed
my first gray hair sticking out of my beard; now, when I go too long
without trimming it, I’ll notice three or four. My voice is higher than
I’d like—high enough that I sometimes still get called “ma’am” on the
telephone or in the drive-thru—but low enough that it doesn’t catch
anyone’s attention. I’m still fatter than I’d like, still wouldn’t mind
getting top surgery for a binder-free flat chest, still don’t feel completely
comfortable—even fully clothed—in the gym locker room,
but I understand, now, what it’s like to look in the mirror and see
myself reflected back. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I stopped
doubting myself, when I stopped worrying that I was wrong about
my gender; all I can say with certainty is that I did.

***

It’s been five years today and that feels huge. It feels like I should
mark the occasion—with a before and after photo on Facebook or
Instagram, with a drink with friends, maybe with a cake. It feels
like I should celebrate, as I celebrated my first shot in Gabe’s living
room—fake mustaches and bacon-wrapped appetizers and all. But
it’s a Tuesday, and the vast majority of people I spend time with on
Tuesdays don’t know I’m trans and I have no idea how to tell them,
or if I even want to tell them.

This is a new problem for me, something that only just came up
when I moved to Muncie, Indiana, two and a half years ago. Before
that, I still lived in Columbus, where I’d first started my transition
and so everyone, even the baristas at Cup o Joe and the bartender at
our karaoke bar, knew that I was trans because they saw it happen in
front of them. I’d never had the choice to keep it private.

When I started testosterone, I thought it would be the end of these
kinds of choices. I told myself that, once my body started to change,
once I was called “he” and “sir” and “Silas” without having to correct
anyone, without having to make a special request, things would be
easier. I didn’t think about the other side of it, the choices I’d have to
make later: who needs the whole story and who can just know what
they see; how important it is for my friends to know about who I was
before they met me; is it irrelevant, or is it as important to who I am
now as telling them about my hometown and my family?

Today, when I woke up and realized it was the fifth anniversary of
my first shot of testosterone, I wrote a post on Facebook, then deleted
it because I didn’t want the people in my life who don’t already
know—my current and former students, my friends from the bar—
to know this thing about me. Then I rewrote it and spent fifteen minutes
making a new privacy filter that would keep all of them from
seeing it. I deleted that one, too, because it felt dishonest, unfair, to
leave these people who mean so much to me—people I’ve come to
love as family—out of the conversation.

Eventually, I ran out of time. It’s a Tuesday, and I have to teach,
and so I’ll celebrate the fifth anniversary of my first shot of testosterone
as I mark any other Tuesday in my new life: I’ll take a shower
and eat breakfast. I’ll feed my cat on my way out the door. I’ll teach
my classes. Tonight, after work, I’ll walk downtown and stop at one
of my favorite bars for dinner. I’ll get the BLT and fries. I’ll eat it
while drinking a beer and talking to the bartenders about their kids
or what books they’re reading or whatever’s on TV. I’ll walk the rest
of the way to my other favorite bar for trivia. I’ll stand at the bar and
talk to my friend Jeff about college basketball. I’ll talk to my friend
Randy about work. I’ll sit at my table and pull at my beard, as I always
do when I’m deep in thought, as I try to answer questions about current
events. And I’ll think, but just a little bit, about what it means
to have been living this life for five years, about that first shot of
testosterone and the 130 that have come since.