Only a few months before a study abroad trip to Rome, Charlie had begun hormone therapy and completed top surgery. He was nervous–about the language barrier and about passing as a male–when he walked into a small barbershop in Rome.
My name is Charlie Poulson and I’m from Des Moines, Iowa. I guess my story kind of starts going back to college when I first started transitioning. It was in Ames, Iowa, which is a little bit more on the conservative side. It’s mostly an Agriculture school so when I came out and started transitioning it kind of turned heads a little bit. But I was very open about everything from taking testosterone to surgery and everything else that kind of came with the whole package of transitioning.
But then that Fall semester, my last year of college, we did a study abroad trip to Rome and this was the first time I had gone somewhere after surgery where nobody knew my past, nobody had known that I used to be a woman. So I was a little bit worried that if I wasn’t passing that something might happen to me. But luckily, the culture is kind of where everybody kind of keeps to themselves.
The one moment where I was kind of like, “Okay, I can probably live kind of stealthy” was, I needed a haircut. It was getting long and I looked up barbershops and was like, “Alright, I’m getting a haircut from someone who doesn’t speak English at all. This is going to be a little difficult but I’m willing to figure it out.” And I was walking around and I turned this corner and there was this little hole in the wall store and it looked really cool from the outside and I looked in a little bit further and I realized it was a barbershop but it was a barbershop that hadn’t been touched since it opened probably in the ‘20s or something. This little tiny old man with white hair comes shuffling out from behind the curtain and I tried, I just slaughtered all Italian skills that I had at that point and I asked him for a haircut. And I brought in a picture of how I wanted it cut because I figured that would be the easiest way to go about that. But at the same time, a) I was nervous because I was getting a haircut in a foreign country in a language I wasn’t comfortable speaking fluently and b) barbershops are kind of like, almost a rite of passage for any kind of masculine, masculinity in general speaking. I was sitting in there and on top of that I was kind of worried about if he would figure me out, what am I going to do, but it just kind of, everything was totally fine, I didn’t have anything to worry about.
It’s the funny little things guys do between each other. For example, if you don’t know a guy and you are crossing paths with him, you nod downwards, but if you do know someone you nod upwards. It’s just little tiny unspoken things like that. And when he was cutting my hair it was a very unspoken, “Don’t worry, I got you, I’m going to cut your hair, make you feel better, you’re good to go.” That sort of thing.
That trip to Rome was like an entire turning point. It was definitely kind of like an interlude between two different books or something. It was kind of like a taste of what my life could be like. It could be something where I have more time to focus on design and things I really enjoy doing and I don’t need to worry about, “Do I need to tell anybody that I’m trans, do I need to out myself, that sort of thing.”
I think this story is important to share because not very many people have conversations about transitioning past surgery. They kind of see surgery as the end-all to every single transitioning problem but that’s not really the case at all. Past surgery, okay, great, that’s done, but how do you navigate the world past transitioning. You finally have had been on testosterone or hormones long enough that you can navigate your own emotions, but for example when I first started taking testosterone when I was getting the prescription from my doctor, he was going through a list of all the things that could possibly happen and you have to legally sign off on every single one, and he suggested going to therapy the entire time I was on testosterone. And he was super sweet, he looked at me and he goes, “I don’t think you personally need therapy. It’s not your fault, it’s society’s fault.” And it was like, “Okay, how do I navigate that.” So it’s good to keep talking about things past top surgery.
This article originally appeared on I’m From Driftwood