A River, Flipped
One year on HRT
Like the underside of a river, flipped, a vein on my forearm stands out. One year on testosterone, four shattered months’ worth of days at the gym, and three liters of water daily have given me this, this slight ridge on my forearm in a gentle blue. Dark hair trails up my belly in a thin line--moss tracing a cracked boulder--and acne dots my back and drips down my shoulders like the mark of fresh rain on a dirt road. Purple patter on the dust of my skin.
It’s been a full year since I smeared the first dose of testosterone gel onto my body (switching to injections three months in), and I’ve changed. All bodies change in the course of a year. But I like these changes, even the acne that’s stained my sheets and tee shirts with blood. I like these changes because my body feels like a familiar land now, one safe to move through and in.
Some of these changes are perceptible to others--the voice cascading a near octave, the sharper jawline, the weight shifting to gut from hips. Most, though, is internal: it’s my reflection recognizing me.
In the last year, a friend has given me three tattoos. I've pierced my belly button. My curls have grown longer. --I’ve begun making a homeplace of my body. Those changes aren’t hormonal, but they’re part of my transition, too, alongside the angst, the joy in watching BL dramas, the faintest of mustaches when I forget to shave.
HRT has given me the opportunity to relearn my body and reform my relationship within it. It’s shaped other relationships, too.
Last week I started a new job. I’m the Teanaway Community Forest Engagement Coordinator for the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. For the first time in my life, I’m in an environment where everyone has only ever known me as Vincent.
On my first day, I showed up in blue jeans and a tee shirt I’d embroidered. The tan V-neck says “Wood Them” and has a portrait of the Wood Man from Hilda in the center. This year’s resolution, 2021, was to be more like the Wood Man. To read more nonfiction, drink more tea, sit in front of more fires; to spend more time in the woods and to enter every odd space with the Wood Man’s same assured manner. Thus my shirt: “Wood Them.”
A month ago, while still in the interview process with the job I have now, I removed all pronouns from my resume and bios, starting to worry that my summer-long string of rejected job applications might be related. Yet there on my first day with the Greenway Trust, I got to be myself, to wear a shirt that marks me as genderqueer (and a bit of a dork).
I’m in the habit of speaking in the upper register of my voice in public, but on Zoom and phone calls for work, I can let it pool at its natural depth. The same voice that startled my dentist doesn’t seem to phase my colleagues. My in-between-and-beyond-ness is simply who I am to them. Their frame of reference doesn't include the closet, only the forest I am now.
I'm someone who takes resolutions very seriously, so in resolve to be more like the Wood Man, I did my research. After watching all three seasons of the Hilda cartoon, I read the graphic novels. I read them in front of my Flagstaff fireplace,--with chocolate, mud-looking tea in hand. Zooming in for my January classes, I sat in front of the fireplace, too.
One peer told me that I left a strong first impression, and it wasn’t just the cozy tendrils of flame behind me or the cross-legged position on the floor--it was my introduction. “I’m Vince. I use all pronouns in conversation and ze/zir in writing,” I said.
He said there was no trace of hesitation or apology in my voice. It was my third month on T, and I’m surprised my voice didn’t crack. I’m more surprised that my ease stood out to him, and that I felt it. A full year into introducing myself as Vince, that was my first time doing so without fear.
Like the Wood Man, I entered the (virtual) room and occupied space unabashedly. Maybe it was the confidence I felt along with the first changes in my body. Maybe it was my channeling of a cartoon character. Maybe it was the warm lull of the fire at my back. Regardless of why, I made an impression.
Not long after, things began to crumble. My doctor wasn’t responding to my phone calls, and my testosterone prescription expired. I began using Plume for my trans healthcare but still slid into a worsening depressive episode.
For months I was going through second puberty in conjunction with a mental health crisis, all while in graduate school. It sucked even more than you’re imagining. I’ve switched medications multiple times this year. My MCL and MPFL tore, my ACL sprained, my kneecap dislocated multiple times, and later it ripped in half. I had two knee surgeries. People died. My dog died. I couldn’t work, and then I couldn’t find a job. I didn’t feel like the Wood Man; I felt like a disaster. A disaster in the cosmic sense, as if my blunders--and even best attempts--left constellations wrecked in their wake.
Like larches waiting in secret among the pines, though, bits of my confidence this fall have flared back in golden patchwork. My manner is slowly becoming more assured. Slowly, I'm noticing the muscle definition return, the smiles linger, the trust in my own capability take tentative steps through the snow.
The Teanaway Community Forest has larches. I brought a friend to see them, explaining that I work for this place now, for the people of this place. That I'm one of the people of the place. I explained that larches blend in with other trees the rest of the year, but each autumn they glimmer the mountains.
As I explain, I begin to see myself as a larch, as a watershed basin of veins, a mossy granite crag, a dirt road in the rain. For so long, I've felt disconnected from my body, as if it belonged to others' expectations of me rather than being both part of me and the place where I live. But now I feel as myself. I pause while typing to run my fingers over the raised vein on my forearm. Despite my shit year, that's what HRT has given me. A river, flipped, but flowing still toward the heart.