A couple of years ago my mum asked, “So when are you going to change your name? Next time when you’re a man, are you still going to use the same one? It would be funny if you went around with such a feminine name!”
You see, I was given a very feminine-sounding Chinese name at birth. I had only just told my mother that I was starting my transition to become a man, and she was concerned that I should have a name that would reflect my gender more accurately. She laughed as she talked about this. I knew this was a sign that there was a change in her attitude and that she was gradually coming to terms with it. She was finally accepting me.
She even added, “You know, now I have to remember to tell people that I have two sons, instead of a daughter and a son.”
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Even now, many of my friends still refer to me using the feminine pronouns – “she” or “her” – even though I’ve had my sex-change surgeries. I don’t really mind, and I don’t blame them either, since most of them have known me for more than 10 years, when I was still female. It’s a habit that’s hard for them to change, and I’m fine with it as long as they remember not to use it in the presence of strangers, which could be embarrassing for me. I now live with my girlfriend, whom I’ve known for 2 years. We met through a common friend, and she’s always known that I’m a trans-man. She’s fine with it.
When I was 22 or 23, I knew I had to make a choice. I was brought up to believe that you were either male or female, not something in-between. I believed that it would be difficult if you were to live your life any other way. I started searching online for information about transitioning and sex change, and learnt about terms like FTM, which referred to female-to-male transsexuals. I also found a lot of blogs, mostly American, by people who talked about their childhood and personal experiences. Most felt similar to what I went through. I eventually spent a whole year reading up about things like taking hormones and going for surgeries, before finally deciding that it was what I really wanted for myself, when I had the means to do it.
During that year I thought about many issues and had many questions. What would it be like if I went ahead with my decision? What if I changed my mind? What if the results were not what I expected? What if I was actually more comfortable being a woman instead? There were no easy answers to these questions, as there was nobody who could tell me for sure what was really going to happen. I knew there might be the possibility that even after taking male hormones, my voice might not deepen as much as it should; or that the hormones might cause side effects like acne, hair loss and even aggressive behaviour. Of course I had to consider surgery and the fact that, however small the risk, I might lose my life in the process.
I also had to think about my family. How were they going to take it? My mum would definitely be very upset; would she disown me? What about my friends? Would they see me as a freak? Or would they distance themselves from me? Those were all very real possibilities. I considered the reality that I might never find love, as it was hard for others to understand what people like me were going through. Because I loved kids, I wondered if I would be able to accept the fact that I would never have my own children. I might end up old and alone with no spouse or children. I went through all these considerations – social, emotional, family, financial – all by myself, and was beginning to fear for my own unknown future. Many of the blogs I had read talked about what a brave thing it was for them to go through the transition, and how wonderful the physical changes felt. But not many talked about life afterwards. What happens? Were they happy fitting in? Did everything just go back to normal? I’ve even come across some articles about people who made the full transition but regretted it, and had to go through the painful process of reversing it. Above all, I also asked myself: what would my life be like after the transition?
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I went on to have my first “top surgery” – the bilateral mastectomy to remove my breasts – in 2008 in Bangkok. By then I had already been on hormones for two years, and my mum had plenty of time to get used to the idea. Her main concern was my welfare, and whether it would be a safe and reliable procedure. She however did not even attempt to stop me from going, as she already knew it was a matter of time anyway. With the hormones, I was already beginning to look more like a man than a woman. My second surgery – the “bottom surgery” – was performed in 2009, after about a year’s break.
The reason I’m sharing my story is because I’ve been fortunate to have been accepted by most of my heterosexual and non-transgender friends. When I came out to them they could have easily rejected me or cast me aside as a freak, refusing to have anything to do with me. But they did not. Instead they accepted me, because they knew me as a person first. The more they knew the less they feared. They accepted me.
Personally I think everything happens for a reason. I’m a happy-go-lucky person in general. I knew that worrying too much about what others thought of me would only put me into further misery. Despite everything I’ve gone through, I still have people I know, like my mother, brother, girlfriend and other friends, who love and accept me the way I am, which is far more important. As I grew older, my confidence increased. That was probably how I survived those most difficult times alone.
When it comes to transgender discrimination, I believe in education instead of depending on legislation alone. The first thing that I want people to know is we do not choose to become transgender. We don’t wake up one day and decide that it’s cool to be a trans-man. We all know that we don’t have a choice. Sometimes we are just made this way. That’s the thing that I hope people will understand, because with understanding comes acceptance.
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