New name: Gwen.

New pronouns: She/her.

Gift cards to Sephora, Anthropologie, and Long Tall Sally accepted in lieu of flowers. 💐

If you’re feeling disappointed or mad or just confused about this, please, please take a second to look at these frequently asked questions and see if you have any of those same questions. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff specifically for the many people for whom I’m going to be the one of first people they know and aware has transitioned.

Q: Why are you trans?

A: Scientists have published research suggesting that trans people are created between the second and third trimester of pregnancy, when the genes responsible for encoding the parts of the brain that interface with the body encode the interface for a different sex from the body that’s already growing.

The ancient Greeks believed that sometimes the gods got drunk and put a woman’s soul in a man’s body, or vice-versa.

In many cultures, past and present, trans people aren’t seen as having a body/brain/soul mismatch at all; these cultures have more than two genders, and trans people have specific, named gender roles and functions.

I don’t have an answer I really like myself yet, but, one thing all these explanations have in common is an understanding that trans people are born this way.

Q: How do you (or how did you) know you are trans?

A: I figured out that was the word in my mid-twenties. I don’t even remember what finally clued me in, I just remember being like “ah-hah, that’s what’s so fundamentally weird about me!” At the time, I didn’t think it bothered me much.  

Another big piece of the puzzle came from a ‘zine in 2014-ish. It contained a visceral description of gender dysphoria. And that’s when I realized being trans actually bothered me a lot.

Until that moment, I just thought everyone felt that kind of terrible all the time. Nope… just me and other trans people, it turned out.

Q: Gender dysphoria? Dys-for-what?

A: “Gender dysphoria describes a sense of unease or dissatisfaction due to a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity. It leads to anxiety and depression.”

It’s the classic “woman trapped in a man’s body” (or vice-versa) feeling. The big problem there is that having a painful divide between “you” and “your body” makes you want to separate the two. This is part of why 32% of American trans women and 50% of American trans men attempt suicide; it’s the most immediate and logical-seeming conclusion to gender dysphoria.

The only known treatment is transitioning. When transition is socially successful—that is, when people treat you as the gender you think of yourself as being—it can give you “gender euphoria,” a sense of joy and relief at finally having you and your body recognized as the same person. This is part of why “passing” trans people—that is, no-one can tell that they’re trans—attempt suicide at half the rate of “non-passing” trans people.

The deal with transition for non-passing trans people is, as far as I can tell, that the human brain relies hugely on signals from other humans to determine what reality is, to the point where those signals can override physical perceptions. So, my brain has some scrambled signals about sex and gender, but getting the right signals from other humans can de-scramble it.

So, when other people look at me and signal they see a man, I feel bad. Later I look in the mirror, I feel bad some more. With transition, when other people look at me, sometimes they signal they see a woman, and some part of me goes “yep, that’s right!” and I feel good. Later I look in the mirror and I feel… pretty good, sometimes, for the first time in my life.

This “people’s signals override my reality” thing isn’t just me, and it isn’t just trans people; everyone is easily fooled by what the people around them do or say, and I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding examples of that once you start looking. Treating gender dysphoria just happens to be a positive application of it.

Q: You’ve been in the closet for more than ten years?

A: I guess it’s been about twelve years since I found out the word for it. I only told my therapist (who advised me to stay in the closet), and my wife-to-be, until the past few years. If I had been able to pass as a woman, I’d have transitioned as soon as I figured out I was trans. But the prospect of being a permanently non-passing trans woman was just way too much. My intention was to never come out.

Q: Why are you coming out now?

A: Closets just keep getting smaller and smaller. Hiding a significant portion of myself seemed like a reasonable price to pay for comfort and security, and above all, not being laughed at, when I was twenty-five. By thirty, that price seemed awfully steep. By thirty-five, I’d spent ten years knowingly pretending to be someone I wasn’t, and getting laughed at didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world anymore.

Also, there’s been a big cultural shift. Until very recently, passing was critically important to transition changing anything about the way that people treat me—or at least, changing anything positively. Now I can fail to pass, and still realistically hope to be referred to and treated as a woman, by a handful of people in a liberal urban bubble, like Seattle or my hometown of Evanston.

Part of that shift was people have coming out and saying “I’m not a man OR a woman!” And I was like… hell, non-binary people don’t even a gender to pass as. If they can come out knowing that they’ll never pass, I can too.

Lastly, cancer, twice. It was one thing to be like “I’m gonna take this to my grave” when I thought said grave was a long time in the future. When faced with maybe dying in the closet NOW, it just felt like a waste. It seemed like people might want to know the real me before I died, and it seemed like a shame not to find out. 

Q: You need Jesus.

A: I understand that you’re saying that out of a genuine desire to help, and I appreciate it. I’ve prayed non-stop about this my whole life, though. Some people insist my problem is that I never tried it at their one very specific church, but I prefer to believe in deities who’d answer a prayer to them regardless of the address it came from.  

Obviously, I would have preferred a tiny bit of help from God, to giving up my public safety and my public dignity by telling the whole world that my six-foot-six self is a woman. But after two decades, it seems like if any higher power intends to help at all, it’s only going to be after I help myself.

Q: Have you tried ______? Are you sure this isn’t just some kind of _________?

A: In addition to prayer, I spent two years working with a therapist who was advising me to stay closeted, checked into several other forms of therapy, psychiatric drugs, looked into hypnosis, virtual reality, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting. Every reputable source I could find said that transition is the only treatment for gender dysphoria with any success rates at all. I gritted my teeth and spent another five years hoping for some kind of medical breakthrough, but I don’t think it’s coming. I am open to suggestions, though.

Q: So, do you like wearing women’s clothes?

A: No, sadly. That was one of the things that kept me from figuring out I was trans for the first twelve years or so, I actually kind of dislike them.

(Women know why, but for the men reading this one: Women’s clothes are, at every price point and in every context, more expensive, yet worse made, from worse materials. They never have pockets, or at least not useful ones. They often seem designed to inhibit motion, modesty, utility, or all of those at once. They’re also hard to buy, because the sizing is completely inconsistent, even within brands. And for obvious reasons, they’re especially hard to buy to fit me.)

But if I don’t wear women’s clothes, getting anyone to call me “she” goes from a painful leap, to downright impossible. Whereas, when I’m looking sufficiently feminine, people often don’t even need prompting to address me as a woman. So, that’s what I wear most of the time now! And it is satisfying when I do find something that looks good.  

Q: So, are you gay?

A: No—being trans isn’t really connected to sexuality at all. There are gay trans people, there are straight trans people, and there are bisexual trans people. I’m one of the bi ones.

That was another thing that kept me from figuring out I was trans for so long—I thought that my wanting to be a woman was linked to my being attracted to men. A key part of my figuring out I was trans was having some very nice gay men explain to me that actually, they *love* being men.

Q: Do you expect me to call you “she?” Or to stop calling you Kent? What about when I’m talking about you in the past?

A: I mean, yeah, I think you should give it a try. It makes me feel a lot better, and it doesn’t cost you anything. It’s just like a “please” or “thank you” that way.  

It’ll take some getting used to, but I’m not gonna get mad at people while they’re working on it!

As for referring to me in the past, I wasn’t sure about that, but I’ve tried it both ways, and what I’ve found is, if I only refer to “Kent” in the past tense, and “Gwen” only in the present and very recent past, it kinda sounds like “Kent” is dead. Which is kind of a sad thought, because most of that guy is still right here, actually. So, so far, it’s awkward both ways, but it seems to make slightly more sense to stick with Gwen in past and present.

Q: Are you having any surgeries? Are you taking hormones?

A: I’ve wanted facial surgery since I was twelve or thirteen, I just didn’t realize why until I was much older. As of right now, though, bad luck has given me enough surgeries and hospitals to last a lifetime. Not to mention the cost.

I am getting my beard lasered off. It hurts like a bitch and costs as much as a used car, I really can’t recommend it.

I started taking estrogen hoping that it would fix my dysphoria and I wouldn’t have to come out at all—it does that for some people. I tried a few different doses and methods and so on, and ultimately, I was like “well, this doesn’t work, but it’s keeping me from going bald, which is great because that was really getting to me.” It’s also making me grow tits, which I was pretty “meh” about initially, but it turns out when your goal is to get people to address you as a woman, tits go a long way.

I’m also on progesterone, for mood stabilization. There’s a whole emotional aspect to the hormones that I’ll definitely get into writing about some other time—that isn’t so much a frequently asked question. The ups and downs of hormone replacement therapy has, in general, been a wild ride that has made me much, much more empathetic towards cis women.

Q: Cis? What’s cis?

A: Pronounced like “sis.” Short for cisgendered or cissexual. It just means “not trans.” So a cis woman is a woman who the doctor assigns as female when she’s born (or even before) and who continues to identify as a woman throughout her life.

Q: So, are you having any OTHER surgeries? 

A: In general, when you find yourself curious about someone else’s genitals, pause, and ask yourself: “Do we really have that kind of friendship, or would it actually be kind of weird if I brought up genitals?”

Q: How’s Sunshine taking all this?

A: Like a champ. She carried being the only person who knew I was trans for years, she married me right as I was starting to make noises about maybe letting some other people know too, and she’s being super supportive as the rest of the world is getting to find out right now.

Q: How about your family? Friends?  

A: Oh, most definitely. I couldn’t be doing this without my community of friends here in Seattle and elsewhere, who have been just incredible. And I’m so damn proud of my parents, and my brother and his partner, for being just hugely supportive right from the instant I started to come out. Also a special shout-out to my bestie Kiki, no longer on Facebook, who not only talked me through this entire journey, but also has been showing me how to do the whole female presentation thing.

Q: Career?

A: To be honest, leaving a freelancing career for a full-time job is a lot of what made me feel like I could do this. You should hear the shit people say about trans people when they don’t think there are any around.

Q: What are your goals here? What are you hoping to achieve? 

A: My transition goal is to pass, not as a woman, but as a trans woman—that is, for strangers who are aware of the existence of trans women to address me as “she” and “her,” or at least ask my pronouns.

My personal goal is to find some kind of peace with my sex and gender.

I’m hoping to achieve authenticity, and service.

Authenticity: I’m really looking forward to finding out who I am when I’m not consciously lying about myself. At its most obvious, that looked like keeping my mouth shut, as friends, co-workers, and acquaintances said fucked up stuff about trans people, knowing that there was no way I was going to be able to argue about the subject without outing myself. But it’s lots of little shit too, all the time. Pretending to be somebody else takes up so much head space, even when it’s become automatic, and I’m excited to see who I am when I have all that space back.

Service: I have a lot of privileges that most trans people don’t. I’ve got a stable job, a supportive wife with a stable job, a house, a car, supportive and loving parents, a strong community of accepting and understanding friends, an incredible wife, the whole just-for-showing-up gift bag of white privilege, the confidence of someone who got to be a man for a long time, a really good education, and more. The least I could do with all that is to support other non-passing trans people by being visibly out, and support trans people in general by engaging with cis people on this subject.

Q: What can I do to be supportive?

A: This has been my most frequently asked question, because my friends and family are awesome!

–If you’ve got contact info for me in your phone or computer, change it! New email address is Gwendolyn -dot- Cubbage -at- Gmail -dot- com. Same number same hood.

–If you are ever in a position to give input on adding or changing bathrooms or locker rooms in a public space, workplace, etc., advocate for one or more to be gender-neutral. Currently at most places my options are “wear a dress into the men’s room” or “scare the shit out of whoever else is in the women’s room,” and, yknow, those are both just huge bummers.

–I could really use a trans woman friend or two in Seattle. Coming out during the pandemic has made it really rough to make social connections in general, and it’s been a particularly rough couple years for trans people specifically.

–I could really use a place to get reasonable-looking women’s shoes in a women’s size 15.