I can remember exactly when I first got the urge to draw something, because it was only three years ago. I’d started hormones a few weeks earlier, and in addition to noticing the almost-instant changes my body began making, I felt my mind making adjustments, too.
Every doctor, mentor, and internet guide tells you not to expect hormone medication to perform miracles. If you’re unfortunate enough to have gone through natural puberty (something that is becoming less common with the greater use of hormone blockers, but which is still the typical experience for most transgender people), you’ll have aspects to your physicality that are going to be difficult to remove. Transgender women typically have to deal with their wide shoulders, deep voices, Adam’s apples, and facial hair. Transgender men usually struggle with binding their chests, dressing to hide their hips, and a lack of height.
It’s a good general rule that if your old hormones gave you something, new ones won’t take it away. But, during your second puberty, those new chemicals can add to your body, pile on to the myriad changes that marked your transition from child to adult. Transmen can grow stubble, their voices can deepen, and musculature can make itself more obvious. Transwomen often get softer skin, a decrease in libido, and breasts.
But again, this is all a crapshoot, and the kindest thing you can do for yourself is lower your expectation of change. So when I noticed swelling on my chest only a few weeks into my daily 2 mg estrogen doses, I figured I had to be imagining things or kidding myself. But my girlfriend confirmed it — I was growing tits. And that was only the beginning.
I’m lucky in that even before the hormone therapy I did a decent job of “passing” for female. I’ve always been thin, fair of skin, and feminine. It wasn’t unusual for me to get called a girl by a customer during my after-school job at a local supermarket, and I’d been bullied throughout my entire childhood for not fitting in with the boys.
So after my little blue pills did their thing, I became — look, this is going to sound arrogant, but I’m assured that I’m not delusional — I became a pretty hot chick. My boobs are small, but perfect for my frame, the discrete amounts of fat that migrated to my face added a softness to my already-defined features, and my British accent (although not a result of my medication) can’t help but get a lot of people’s engines running (I left England for Toronto a couple of years ago, and I attribute a lot of my success hiding my male voice to the alien nature of my patois).
Like I mentioned, though, physical alterations weren’t the only things I experienced. And so, three years ago, I felt that urge to draw, and I picked up a pencil. I stared at a stapler on my desk and made lines on the paper. I got lost in the process. I felt a calm and focus I usually only experienced when reading a book. Half an hour later I had a pretty good sketch of the stapler before me.
I’d never been artistic. I remember being jealous, in my childhood, of my friend Linda and her natural gift with a sketchbook and pencil. You know those annoying people who are so used to their ability to make art that they say, “It’s easy, everybody can do it”? I was always frustrated by how effortlessly her particular talent came to her.
I’m not a scientist. Nothing I’m claiming about the differences between my brain pre- and post-hormones has been checked or verified with any kind of scientific rigor. I’ve never heard of this kind of thing happening to anybody else, and I have nothing even close to medical proof for what I’m describing.
In the weeks and months following that day with the stapler, I saw the world differently. I watched movies with new eyes, noticing the composition of the shots and lighting. I paid attention to pictures and images, taking apart the perspective, the angles. I drew more and more. I went out and bought clay and sculpted videogame characters, animals, and people I knew. All this, from the same person who cried in elementary school when asked to make a crocodile mask while studying Egypt.
My theory as to why these changes were even possible borders on quackery at best, and self-indulgent fantasy at worst. My theory is that I was born one of those annoying art people. I would have been one throughout my whole life if only my brain had access to the right hormones. Now I finally have the correct body chemistry, I’m getting stuff from my brain that I never did before If this hypothesis sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. You should take this as seriously as my friend Damian took my fourth-grade claim that I was a mutant like the X-Men.
But I really don’t care. Because what I know for certain is that not only did my body slowly become something I could live with, it also became a tool I could use to create things in a way I’d never been able to before. I won’t pretend that I’m 100% happy with how my transition has turned out, that I never feel disheartened by my height, or my skeletal structure, or my voice, or a thousand other tiny things. But in those dark moments I can be comforted by the thought that I’m finally able to do the things I always should have. That I’m shaping my body, my life, into what it’s meant to be.
Illustration by Elizabeth Simins