Tom Forrister was born a woman. Now that he’s a man, he has to learn a few things. Like shaving.
My wife recently bought me an electric razor. After years of shaving my feminine legs with Gillette Venus disposables, I gaze upon this emblem of our technologically advanced society with awe and wonder. Whir, whir. It spins with a satisfying buzz as I brush my neck experimentally. My 5 o’clock shadow is beginning to show.
The gadgetry that accompanies manhood is still foreign, yet pleasant, like the abandoned Transformer toy I rescued from the park sandbox when I was 6. “More than meets the eye/Robots in disguise,” like me, I thought, only I was a boy in the guise of a little blonde girl. I hid the Transformer among the Barbie dolls in my room, where it remained my secret treasure until I grew brave enough to ask my parents for action figures. To my delight, they gave in, not ones to believe that gender roles are absolutely fixed. None of us realized then that my tomboyish tendencies were more than a girl defying prescribed stereotypes, but that my gender identity itself has always been male.
The weight of the new razor feels right in my hand, as though I was meant to have it all along. I begin to lather the shaving gel. It feels much more natural than applying the blush and mascara of my former life, the mask I once wore in an attempt to play along.
It’s the small things, really, the accoutrements that clutter his and hers sinks—details most people never stop to think about. For me, the little things matter. They contribute to the big picture. The fancy razor. Aftershave. Cologne. Even the colors for men’s products are darker, bolder. The scents are stronger. They make me feel one with the forests, the waves of the sea, and the musk and rain-rugged elements of nature that are difficult to ignore. Nameless natural forces that can evoke the masculine spirit.
My second puberty began when I was 23. It was the puberty I had always wanted, instead of the hips and curves and softness of skin and endless ups and downs of emotion brought on by the dreaded monthly cycle. The bleeding I could handle. But the way estrogen made me feel was hell. It was a heady sensation, as if I were constantly stumbling into thick, numbing fog with no way out. I would tear at my skin, thinking I could somehow claw my way to the surface and reveal my true self. When I told the women around me about this, they looked at me like I was from another planet. They couldn’t know what I was going through. Their gender identities aligned with their bodies.
I visibly shuddered with relief the first time I injected testosterone into my leg. My body took to T like a fish to water, and after several months my voice deepened, my already broad shoulders grew even broader, my rib cage expanded and my jaw squared out. Along with the physical attributes of maleness came a release from the anxiety I’d always felt. T makes me feel calmer, clearer, more focused. I see the world through new eyes, and the world finally sees me back as the man I am.
I’ve always felt the masculine spirit stirring within me, but now that it has form and expression, I will never take being a man for granted. I have earned my manhood, and I am proud to join the league of good men who stand tall and protect the ones they love, who are not afraid of authenticity nor shirk responsibility. I’m also proud to join the league of good men who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable from time to time. Being open does not mean being weak; in fact, it makes us stronger.
The rite of passage in today’s world is vague and elusive. In some ways, I count myself lucky to have had the chance to endure the trials of my own rite of passage: leaving home, making my own way in the world, coming out, undergoing dramatic surgical procedures, facing adversity. I wandered into the proverbial wilderness alone, experienced pain and fear, but also drew upon strength I never knew I had. I have walked both worlds. I understand the similarities and differences between the sexes as only others of my kind can. I hope that, along the way, I’ve picked up a thing or two about simply being human.
My path is different, but it’s as valid as any. I am not certain of much, but I’m certain of my male identity. I never question it now. Even though I was not physically born to it, my male identity prevailed. I know I am a real man, despite frequent comments from the insecure guys who see me as a threat to their masculinity. I’ve gone down roads that others fear to tread and come out better for it. I am a real man, and I strive to be a good man.
“How’s my guy?” my wife calls as she walks through the door after work.
I smile at my reflection, something I could never bring myself to do before the transition. I think about all that I’ve accomplished, and what sort of man I want to become. I glance down at the scars under my pectorals from last July’s double-mastectomy. They’re almost completely faded. Soon I will be able to walk shirtless on the beach. No one would ever suspect I am transgendered.
But when it comes to the basics, I’m still learning. (Razor burn speckles my left cheek. Ouch. Too close.) It has been a long journey to manhood, one that’s just beginning. I’m still trying to get the shaving part down.