In late july, at the age of 33, I became a trans woman. This is the story of how I got here.

Content warnings: Childhood sexual discovery (none interpersonal), childhood trauma (primarily verbal)

I didn’t grow up with the belief that I should be, wanted to be, or most certainly ever could be a girl. Instead I had gender envy. As soon as I was aware of the differences between boys and girls, I felt it was unfair that girls got to just have their bodies, and I’d have to grow up and get a girlfriend to get close to one. Very early in puberty I could get aroused just imagining an anatomically different body.

I had the habit of reading the ads that come with the Sunday paper. I was a kid with no money, a love of tech, and a wild imagination, so I fantasized about getting all the cool hardware I wanted. Then one day I found a Sears ad with a page of women wearing bras. Of the four images, a blonde in a pink bra was burned into my brain. I knew I wanted to wear a bra and panties. I discovered sexuality that day. I learned what my penis could do, and the euphoric and shameful mess that resulted when I kept doing it. All of this was born secret to me. I had the idea of trying mom’s clothes, like any transfem egg without a sister, I considered mom’s clothes, but that was dangerous. To get my own clothes would have been unthinkable.

I now suspect I’m autistic, I definitely have ADHD, and I’m trans. I wouldn’t encounter this information until much later in adulthood. Some authors say trans implies complex PTSD, and I definitely have that either way. At the time, my teachers knew that I was very smart, but didn’t pay attention in class. I struggled to submit to authority. Peers sensed that it was easy to push my buttons, and they did, so I’d lose my temper, get in trouble, then get sent home with a call to my mom.

When I got home, I went to my room. I’m pretty sure this was required, but I would have done it anyway. I needed to dissociate, and hard, and now. Because the minute dad got home, mom was going to tell dad, and then I’d hear angry exclamations and pounding feet up the stairs. In a flash the door slams open and in he bursts.

All of the episodes, dozens or hundreds, collapse in my mind into a pile of images. A red face over me literally spitting with fury, and so close it lands. I can’t remember most of what it said, but until I was maybe 28 the word ‘bullshit’ would summon a flashback of this face spewing it. Crying made it angry, but it wasn’t long before I cried so hard I was struggling to fill my lungs at all. He would wear himself out and storm out of the room, but we were far from done. His rage would simmer and flash again, and he’d burst in again, a reciprocating engine of fury. Until I was 27, I thought this was a normal way to treat a child, at least one as bad as me.

So any thought of exploring or expressing my sexuality was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t just need to do what he told me, I needed to consider what might set him off. As I reached my teenage years, the church reinforced the sense that anything that turned me on was evil. My first identified turn-on was knee-high socks, which perhaps were just close enough to clothes I was allowed to wear. When I started a relationship at 18, I’d sometimes joke about or actually try on my girlfriend’s clothes. She was vocally opposed.

When that relationship ended, she left some of her clothes behind, and lo and behold one evening I’m there in a maid outfit and the panties that came with it. Something awakens in me, and it feels better than anything has ever felt, but the shame comes swiftly after, and I toss all the clothes down the trash chute. In a vulnerable moment, I reveal this to my therapist, whose reply was simply aww. I had never shared this part of myself and felt accepted and seen before. I was 24.

This was the first year of what became a seven-year intensive psychoanalysis. I stared deep inside myself, and slowly formed a picture of who I really am and want to be. Now I had panties I bought for myself, though I cringed at the Amazon warehouse worker who knew a man was buying them. At first I wore them in private, and eventually every day. At 27 I was wearing sweatpants to work and dresses at home. I feared people would remember me as that weird dude who wears dresses, until I decided that’s who I was going to be. This was the period where I first relived my childhood trauma, in its full intensity, with my analyst as a compassionate witness.

She wasn’t great on gender. My early moves were unconscious, so I’d show up and admit I was wearing panties rather than, I guess, ask in advance. Over the whole time we worked, I’d sometimes show up in an outfit and get told it was inappropriate. She experienced some intense countertransference from the way I dressed, that resonated with some undisclosed trauma, and it hampered an otherwise extremely productive investigation. I told her one time I thought I had autogynephilia (though I knew it was not what trans people are), and she simply told me this was not a thing. At 29 I came out as gender nonconforming at work, and though I vigorously denied being trans I felt happier and more comfortable as a truer version of myself. I was still pretty miserable in general, but this important part of myself no longer needed the closet.

The pandemic sent me home weeks before my 30th birthday. I never returned from meeting with her remotely, and we reached an impasse. In early 2021 she would frequently open session by noting my appearance and refusing to elaborate. I knew and she knew she was trying to get me to see that I was trans, but I insisted on a compromise identity: I was a man who rejected everything about being a man, who could dress however he wanted. The Friday before Labor Day, she cut me very deeply telling me I wasn’t “doing the work.” The day after, she fired me in a ten-minute session. It was worth it a hundred times over, but the ending was brutal.

I bounced through various kinds of help from various people over the next few months, and settled with an old gay male therapist who doesn’t know anything about gender but is happy to learn. He heard my stories about my reactive therapist, and reassured me that it’s really not a big deal if my clothes aren’t perfectly modest. I let go yet more of my ideas of gender over the next year, and early in 2023 was trying out “femboy” (waaay too old), “genderqueer,” and possibly others. I was increasingly explicit in conversation that a lot of people passed through a period like mine and turned out to be trans.

In July matters reached a crisis, as I absorbed more information from trans women about their experience and considered whether I’d been going about this all wrong. On July 22 I took a small amount of mushrooms and browsed the gender dysphoria bible, turn-me-into-a-girl, and a host of other sites that looked a lot like my experience. To this point I had become more skilled at surviving in life, but I was still very unhappy. Here, for the first time, I could imagine what happy would feel like. On July 23, I decided to just see how it felt to admit to myself I was trans. A lot of things happened immediately.

The first change was an immediate onset of pure, unbridled joy, which sustained for three weeks, a personal record. In days I had a name, came out to close people and online groups, and scheduled a doctor visit. A week later I started HRT. The following week I applied my first patch, came out at work, filed for a name change, and started lasering my face. I doggedly pursued the many steps to erase my deadname.

After that I became rather sad and listless, and by the time my three-month followup came around, I was certain my levels were way out of range. They were surprisingly close, but I switched to injections and probably went up in effective dose. It’s hard to say until I measure, but 4 weeks after the switch everything clicked. Now not only am I regularly experiencing joy, but I am free of brain fog for the first time. I feel capable of challenging and ambitious work. I feel confident and self-assured, and able to take risks.

This brings us to now. I am filled with many things. Love. Creative energy. Strident purpose. Estrogen. I got tiny little boobs and a big heart, and I’m ready to go find my people. I feel capable of finding a loving partner for the first time ever. I am ready to reach more of my potential at work. You bitches better watch out, I’m coming for you.