’m 29 years old and going through puberty. My goatee is humble but hopeful. A few days ago, I got carded trying to buy a lighter (which means they thought I was younger than 18). But I’m also an heir to genetics that had my parents completely silver-haired by age 40. So, while I have a pubescent mustache, I also have half-gray, long wavy locks that make me look like a late-20s Poseidon. If this feels like a riddle, apologies. A lot of my life has felt that way, so you can deal for a little bit.
I am sitting in the doctor’s office on the exam chair with my feet dangling freely. This obviously makes me think that it doesn’t matter how big or grown or serious a person might be: If they sit in a place where their feet don’t touch the floor, they look absolutely adorable. There are no exceptions to this rule: Football players, supermodels, soldiers, reverends, rappers, I don’t care. Adorable.
I sit up straight when I see the nurse approaching and the big piece of parchment paper on the exam chair crunches underneath me. Her scrubs are eggplant purple. There are tiny daisies on her shirt. A small silver cross dangles from her neck when she leans forward. I list these small, uncomplicated facts in my own head. They calm me somehow.
For the last two months, a nurse has stuck a needle in my thigh every two weeks to inject an amber syrup that soaks into my muscle then spreads. This little liquid dose of testosterone is teaching my body a new language so that it can finally tell my story. A less poetic breakdown: I am a trans-man, a FTM (female-to-male) transgender guy, at the very beginning of my physical transition.
On this particular day, two months after starting on hormones, I am supposed to give myself the shot for the first time. My nurses know that I do not want to stick a needle in my thigh because when they told me I should, I said, “Hell no I am not going to do that.” I am not stressed because of the pain. I don’t care about that. But I am incredibly squeamish: I don’t like the concept of flesh when I really think about it so piercing a huge chunk of it with a sharp metal tool makes the back of my throat itch. But I can’t go to the doctor every two weeks for the rest of my life. So from this day forward, I will do this for myself and by myself. I have to be my own nurse now.
At my last appointment, the nurse told me to practice the injection on an orange. This made me uncomfortable, picturing the amount of force sticking a needle in an orange would take. I told my friend this story and he said, “No offense, I don’t think your quads are as tough as an orange.” I was indeed slightly offended, which confused me.
Today, my nurse finishes laying out the syringes and says “Okay! It’s time! Let’s do this!” When someone is chipper while you’re distressed, it can really go either way. I decide to let this go toward the “finding comfort and inspiration in your optimism” direction. I pull down my pants, proud of my underwear selection (purple with gold triangles), and the nurse uses two index fingers to demonstrate the motion of cleaning the surface: concentric circles out and away.
The nurse asks me questions to keep my mind occupied, but I am in one of those places where a simple question from a low-investment audience still sends me into an existential spinout. I know it is just social protocol, simple space-filler fluff, but “How are you doing?” is actually a really intense question to me right now. I just say to her, “I am excited and impatient and emotionally it feels like I have to pee all the time.” She smiles but I don’t think she gets it.
The nurse hands me the syringe and she gives me a half-supportive, half-“get over it,” half-smile with a half-raised eyebrow. Everything about sticking this inch-long needle into my own thigh is counter-intuitive. Everything about what it will do for me is essential. I shake my head no, but my hand is in cahoots with my heart and stabs my leg gently. (Update: It does not feel like an orange, more like a pear.) I pull back the handle of the syringe, then push the liquid in. I pull the needle out. I feel no different.
Today I told my doctor: Let’s up the ante, rev the engine, get this show on the road! I’m talking more milligrams, baby. Hit me! She blinked slowly at me and said, “You can’t rush this. Flooding your system with testosterone will not make your body instantly match how you feel. Puberty isn’t a two-month process. Neither is this.”
I try to stop myself but still, I have to ask: “Okay I hear you, but how long are we talking until I have a full beard?”
She half smiles and says, “Think about it this way. High school boys have the most testosterone of anyone on the planet and it still takes years for most to grow a full beard.”
I feel more of a pinch from these words than the needle in my thigh. No matter what dose, I never get to be a high school boy. No matter how quickly I physically transition and move forward into myself, I can’t go back in time. I don’t get to re-do my first puberty. And while the pubescent experience is a weird thing to long for, and being jealous of the 15-year old boys I see on the train is a strange thing to feel as an adult, it’s all real. These things just remind me of what I don’t get to be.
I won’t get to be a young boy, a dumb boy, a heartthrob boy, a varsity running back boy, an artsy boy, a mysterious boy, or the rabbi’s hot son, boy. I will have to make do with my real puberty now, at age almost 30, bracing for acne, proudly sporting a goatee that looks drawn on with a pencil, and already so horny I spent my subway ride home the other day picturing making love to the (quite stunning) 60-year old woman across from me on the 3 train.
My doctor told me to settle in for a long road. I said, “Fine, whatever.” Because it’s true: What change can be so instant? (Except the terrific and tectonic shift from alive to dead, capable of being catastrophically quick. Besides that, what transformation can we really rush?) We’re not fucking muffins. We cannot use the heat to make the leap from batter that can be poured and molded to something solid, of substance, that teeth can sink into, all within minutes.
This is magic, but it is not a trick. I am the rabbit and the hat.
I call my mother to tell her I gave myself the shot today. She genuinely celebrates my accomplishment, but she has a kidney stone so I don’t know which pain her voice is wearing.
A few weeks ago, she told me she doesn’t know if she will be able to call me her son. I said, “Okay, I don’t care, just don’t call me your daughter.”
She said, “So what do I call you?”
I asked her why we are so concerned with what we are called. I guess the thinking is: If we are not called something, then how do we know we exist? If the idea of us does not find itself in the bed of another’s brain, to later rise and get dressed in that name, how do we know who we are?
I am practicing dressing myself in my own name.
My mother said she feels every single thing I feel. I told her that sounds exhausting and insane and she sighed. “So, what do I call you? Not my child, because you are grown. Not my baby, even though you are my baby. How about my bunny? Or just, my T.”
I told her, “Yeah, just tell people, ‘this is my T Bunny,’ that will really clear things up for them.”
I tell my mother she has to call me “he” even if it takes work. I tell my mother I will call her and I don’t. I tell my mother they call me a monster and she roars. I tell her they call me a freak and she cries. I tell my mother I am here, no matter what sounds we wrap around me, no matter what body I hang out in. I am here, now more than ever.
T. Wise is a writer, comedian, and lyricist. Follow him @thatlittleboyblue and visit thatboyblue.com for upcoming shows.
Illustration by Meredith Jensen.