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  • Writer's pictureHarley Preston

My Journey with Gender-Affirming Care

In celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility, I will be raising funds for Point of Pride, a non-profit organization that helps get gender-affirming care to trans people in need. I hope you can find it in your heart to donate HERE to something that is very near and dear to me as I embark on my own journey with gender-affirming care.

By the time you’ve gotten to this post you’ve probably put two and two together and figured out that I’ve decided to start my transition and embark on my own journey with gender-affirming care, also known as hormone replacement therapy (HRT). So yes, I am introducing estrogen to my body to achieve a level of physical changes. My first dose of estrogen was taken on January 4th, 2021 and I have never been happier in my entire life.

It might come as a shock to you, or it might not. Either way, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don’t really care.

And while I don’t believe that my reasoning behind my transition is at all required, I do want to talk openly about what motivated me because I have this strong feeling that someone, even just one person, might benefit from my story. I know when I was first struggling with the decision to begin HRT I felt that there was hardly anything out there that spoke to what I was personally feeling, and I’ll explain what I mean in this piece.

I’ll start by prefacing I came out as a gay man when I was 17. I came out as non-binary when I was 24. And now I’m also coming out as trans at 28. It is very important to mention that there isn’t just one way to be trans, something that I even had a hard time understanding at the beginning. Our identities are forever changing, growing, and expanding and this is simply the next chapter of my journey of the exploration of my gender. I want this to be super clear; this is where I am at presently with my identity and this may change and that’s okay! It’s my journey, my own experience, and it is, by no means, meant to be representative of all trans experiences. I hope you will afford me the same leniency and space to explore my identity that I had to learn to afford myself.

My intention with this piece is to encourage people to take a deeper look into the meaning of identity, our self imposed limitations, and ultimately expand our understanding of what it means to be trans or to transition.

Today, I’m standing in front of you to tell you that I identify as queer, non-binary, trans, trans feminine, and transgender. I no longer identify as gay. And, transparently, I’m having a hard time identifying as a trans woman at the moment because I believe the term “woman” is indicative of wishing to achieve yet another level of the gender binary. Although, like anything mentioned in this essay, my feelings towards this may change in the future. I learned from past mistakes to never speak to my identity in finite terms again and rather I embrace my continuous growth and evolution. For the sake of this piece I will be using the term trans when referencing to myself, my experience, and the transgender, GNC, and non-binary community.

In our society, regardless of how much I wish it wasn’t the case, there are two genders recognized; man and woman. And while there have been strides made to be inclusive of trans individuals, I feel that a lot of peoples’ understanding of what it means to be trans is, simply put, a man trying to be a woman, or a woman trying to be a man. It is easy for people to understand that because it's just a matter of checking the “F” box instead of the “M,” or vice versa. But it’s so much more than that! What I’d like to pose is what if there were more options? What happens when the “M” and “F” boxes feel like they do not apply to you?

If you’ll bear with me, I want to recount what I’ve experienced and the moments that ultimately have led me to start gender affirming care.

I think we can all agree that 2020 was a HARD year and, truthfully, I wasn’t prepared for it. Like for many of us, the solitude led to a lot of thinking. Fundamental questions about my life and the life I wanted would arise and, this time, I was forced to address them head on, unable to mute them with busy work, or even harder, no alcohol.

I’ve questioned my gender hundreds of times throughout my life and since I was a child, this is nothing new. The question of whether I was trans or not has come up for years and I would often satiate it’s persistence with “I don’t think so,” or “I don’t have a hatred for my penis so I must not be.” These answers would suffice until a few months or years would pass and that question would bore its way back into my mind. 2020 forced me to look at it and address it. For the first time I couldn’t distract myself from that line of questioning. My heart knew that it needed answers and it absolutely petrified me.

I’ll mention, and something that I haven’t told a lot of people, is how growing up I used to spend my time after school in the shower crying, praying, and begging God not to be gay. Growing up Catholic, I thought that would work. I remember promising myself that I would never be gay, as if it was a decision that I could just turn on and off. I was so afraid of not being “perfect” in the eyes of others that I promised myself, think about how crazy that is.

Let's just say as I started to look back on my past I began to see a pattern of denial happening here.

It wasn’t until one morning that I decided to give myself the permission to explore this side of myself that I woke up and said “maybe I am gay and so what.” In that moment everything changed and I came out to my Mom that morning. Like, I’m not kidding. I literally woke up from a sex dream of a guy I had a crush on in high school and when I woke up there was no denying it anymore honey - I loved men! It was like eureka to me even though my queerness was probably very obvious to everyone else except myself. I just hadn’t come to accept it.

My journey with my gender identity has felt similar to this. And this time, as the questions around my transness would arise, my denial would slowly erode.

I’ve always been someone who was different in both the straight world and even the gay world. I’ve never really felt connected to gay male culture and even in that world I’m not the “standard.” It was like I came out of the womb just looking for somewhere to belong. But as I’ve gotten older I care less and less about belonging and instead I care about being happy.

I’ve spoken openly in the past about my bad habit of seeking perfection, and this was something I had a really hard time getting over before deciding to start my gender-affirming journey. Oftentimes my desire to appear perfect to other people has led me to catering to what I believe other people want instead of actually listening to what I want. The fear of no longer seeming perfect or no longer being desirable to others was enough to dictate my identity, and ultimately, have ramifications on my mental health. In short, I was deathly afraid of being considered unlovable.

The sad truth is I really did not believe that trans people were considered lovable to other people. It is the reality that I, until recently, hadn’t seen a trans person on TV, in movies, or in real life that I felt experienced that type of love that all other people are free to experience. It was the irrational belief that if I was to transition, no one would love me, and I would just need to be okay living a lonely existence. In reality, I was in such denial of who I was that I believed I would be happier being what I thought someone else wanted just to be considered worthy of their love.

This is the farthest thing from true! Trans people are lovable.

It took knowing that real trans people of all experiences have fulfilling, healthy, and loving relationships that I was able to finally address this fake belief. It took reprogramming my own mind and deconstructing this fallacy that more than likely came from the often sad and tragic narratives that we are force fed about trans people in the media. It’s the fact that trans characters in mainstream entertainment are shed in such a negative light. Is it just me or does it seem like most trans characters get murdered, they get an addiction and die, or they get a disease and die? When this is one of the only narratives offered, how is someone supposed to believe they are worthy of things as simple as of a loving relationship? This very lack of inclusion and variation in trans narratives is the very reason I knew I needed to share this vulnerable part of myself with you.

Which leads me to another false belief that would stop me from beginning any gender affirming care. It was the belief that an aversion or hatred for the sex I was biologically born with was a prerequisite to being transgender, or rather, a hatred for my body was required in order to qualify for the right to transition. To really drive this home and make it as simple as possible for you; I do not hate my penis. Confused? Here’s the deal.

Most of us trans and non-binary people have complicated relationships with our bodies to begin with, and most people often assume we just detest them - that we simply view ourselves in the mirror with disgust, loath our genitals, and regard our bodies as something we can never accept. And furthermore, the idea that we might happily use these parts for sexual pleasure is often shocking and hard for some to compute. And while my genitalia is not a source of gender dysphoria for me personally, it can be for many trans individuals, but it is not the default and it is not a qualification to determine whether you are trans enough.

Now, just because I did not experience gender dysphoria in that way doesn’t mean I didn’t experience dysphoria when it came to other parts and aspects of my male-body. Before I go forward, I do recognize where I am lucky here because from the beginning I was born in a body that was “non-traditionally male.” Meaning, I’m not tall, I don’t have big muscles, and I don’t have a lot of body hair. My body innately started at a more feminine baseline which is not the case for many trans feminine people. And while I never developed that hatred for my male-parts in a similar way to what common trans narratives portray, I still experience gender dysphoria.

For those who don’t know, the textbook definition of gender dysphoria is;

“Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”

Now it will be nearly impossible for me to explain how it feels to experience this, it’s impossible unless you’ve lived life as a trans person. But I will do my best.

I’ve spoken very openly about how the on-set of secondary male sex characteristics, like hair loss and thicker body, has affected me. I think it’s often been used as a joke in my family because my level of anxiety when it comes to these things has always been extreme and can appear comical to someone on the outside I’m sure. And, please, before your mind confuses this as an issue of mere vanity, let me explain.

Now I’ll start by saying these particular secondary sex characteristics aren’t the only thing that has prompted gender dysphoria for me throughout the years, but the impact of these particular traits have left ramifications on my mental health and has left me to venture into the dark spaces of my mind that I would rather not go.

So, as these secondary sex characteristics became more prevalent in myself over the years, I was continuously being faced with the reality that I was ultimately going to have to age like a man, and that no matter what I did, I was destined for a course towards an inevitable end I knew that I did not want for myself. Suddenly the feminine disposition I was born with, and that comes naturally with being young, didn’t matter. In-fact, it was slipping away from me with each passing day and there was nothing I could do to hold onto what femininity I did have. The amount of anxiety I would feel upon waking up would grow in intensity with each buzz of my morning alarm until it became debilitating, and I’m not talking about having a bad morning, I’m talking about bed ridden, weeks long, depression. I felt trapped and prescribed to a future I did not want.

The hardest part of all of this has been coming to fully accept this part of myself for myself. It took months of fighting, trying to convince myself that this isn’t who I am, and doing my best to justify why I am not trans. Looking back, I think I would’ve inevitably gotten to this point in my life and possibly would have gotten here early had I had the understanding that I have now. And I’m very sure that no one chooses this life for themselves, quite honestly it’s not easy. This is truly and purely just who I am.

And as I continue to embark on this journey, I have begun to love my transness. Once ashamed, I now see my transness as my super power. I believe that I am neither man, nor woman, but simply me. I believe trans people transcend our understanding of tradition western society and experience life beyond the limitations of most people. I feel as though I have achieved a Preston that is completely uninhibited and untethered from society's expectations and I believe I am capable of anything, endlessly. While my path and journey is a hard one, I feel so blessed to be transgender.

I believe through my vulnerability and sharing my story I may possibly help someone, possibly even save someone. And I fully intend of committing my life to the visibility and inclusion of transgender people of all backgrounds. I realize where I am privileged, and I intend to use my privilege to uplift my community. I will share my story, loud and proud, for all of us to hear and to remind people, we are here and we come in all different forms, one never being more valued than the other.

And for those people who have struggled with their identity like I have or identify as anything other than cis-gendered, I want to let you know that I see you. And it doesn't matter if no one else does, because I do. And I promise that I will continue to educate myself and use my life and everything in it to educate others. I will advocate for you and I will not stop, and that I promise.

In celebration of Transgender Day of Visibility, my 2nd or 3rd coming out (I’ve lost track), and my 28th birthday, I want to use my platform and my story as an opportunity to raise funds for the transgender community.

With 2021 being an already a record breaking year with anti-transgender legislation in states across the country, and with Arkansas passing a bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, I will be raising funds for Point of Pride. Point of Pride works to benefit trans people in need through gender-affirming support programs that empower them to live more authentically, as well as advocate for health care reform and the national adoption of inclusive health care policies that protect and serve my community. 100% of donations made will be going directly to Point of Pride.

So I ask you, please find it in your heart to donate to this very important organization HERE. And, at the very least, please share this. Help me to raise awareness and to help raise funds for transgender people in need.

And for those of you who wish to follow my journey, I will continue to be vulnerable as I embark on my journey and I hope you will join me.


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