Journey to Discovery

After a few minutes of watching people walk through the cold wind my friend asked me if I was ready. We were waiting to walk in to the pharmacy to get my first prescription of T, we had been here five times in the last four days. Each time the medicine either wasn’t ready, they had the wrong needles, or the pharmacist wasn’t sure and wanted to talk to my doctor before giving me my medicine, which meant that I had to wait another day. I felt crushed throughout this whole process, I felt like crying, screaming, hiding under a rock. This was the world telling me that I was wrong. This wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. My emotions were up and down, from excited to scared, angry, crushed, hopeless before finally, when I had my T at my house, relief. Finally, I could start the process to becoming me.

Starting testosterone meant I could finally have people see me as I saw myself. I know I would still be feminine, and even after starting T I would still seem feminine for a while. It’s a weird place to be mentally, being feminine and having lived as a feminine person for 21 years. I saw myself one way, that I wasn’t a girl. I was masculine, and I was a guy, and my friends that understood also saw me as masculine ever since I came out. On good days, I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone that I didn’t know, no one would misgender me. On others, I would have to fight the urge to flinch when I was called she or her.  

One day I know no one will be able to tell I was born a girl, not unless I tell them. Stealth is a huge topic when it comes to the trans community.  For some people, like my roommate, Rose, who identifies as a trans woman, it’s a lot safer to go stealth. It lessens the chances of her being attacked and possibly killed.

Stealth is when a trans person hides the fact they are trans and present solely as their gender identity.

Comparatively, between the two of us, it is a lot easier for me to go stealth in the future than it is for her. My hormones work faster and do a lot more. My voice drops, my muscle and fat distribution changes, and I’ll be able to grow facial hair. My roommate’s hormones don’t do most of that. Her fat and muscle will redistribute, her hair will soften and grow thicker. Her voice will never go higher unless she works hard and possibly sees a vocal coach, or there are surgeries she can go through. She’ll have to have electrolysis to hopefully stop her facial hair from growing. Sometimes it works really well, but for some women it doesn’t. She’ll have to go through more surgeries than I will, if she wants them.

The news shows the biggest reason as to why going stealth is good for people of the trans community. In the United States, during 2015, 22 trans women were murdered, followed by 2016 where 27 were murdered. In 2017 there were 28 murders.

I don’t think I will ever go stealth. Maybe when I’m really old, but even then, probably not. I enjoy talking on panels too much, and helping educate people what it means when I say that I am a trans masculine, non-binary person. I plan on continuing to write about my identity and talking about it for a long time, even when I am reach point in my transition where I can very easily go stealth.

Those outside the LGBT community, assume that we wake up one day and instantly know how we identify, that it isn’t a journey of twists, turns and back tracks. It can go forward, sideways and backwards before someone can find an identity that fits them, and then years later it might change again. I personally went through a few different identities before finally admitting to myself that I was trans. I didn’t want to identify as trans. I had heard how hard it was, heard about people getting murdered and kicked out of their homes. I didn’t want to make life harder, I was already in college trying to figure out what the hell I wanted to do with my life, figuring out why I had always felt wrong and knowing I was going to be going through a huge change was a terrifying thing that part of me didn’t want to stack onto the already full load on my shoulders.

I joined my college’s Gay Straight Alliance and there I started learning about different sexualities and gender identities. I saw the identities as actual people who were breathing and existing, not just definitions on my computer screen.

Demi-female is a gender identity describing someone who partially, but not wholly, identifies as a woman, girl or otherwise feminine, whatever their assigned gender at birth.

I still felt like a girl, but it didn’t fit right. I didn’t want to be seen as a girl all the time. I wanted people to look at me and be like, “Oh I don’t know if they’re a boy or a girl,” or even, “Oh that’s a boy.” I guess for me personally, this could have been considered my “Tom-Boy” stage. Sure, I wore some outfits that could have been considered girly, cute shirts and stuff, and I didn’t bind my breasts at all. As time went on though, I felt more and more that I wasn’t this single identity. Maybe I wanted to be more girly on one day while more like a guy on another, but that didn’t fit in with the demi identity.

Genderfluid is denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender, who identifies as different genders at different moments or different days.

I felt this was better. Some days I still felt “like a girl.” I didn’t have a problem with my chest. I liked my hair down to my shoulders while on others I kept my hair in a ponytail, so I could ignore it. I wore baggy clothes to ignore my chest. It felt okay for a month or so but as it went on, it felt like I was having my guy days more often than not. Finally, I cut my hair. You could tell I “was a girl” but damn it felt so good to not have hair at my neck or even at my ears. I could play a little with the bangs, and some people even accidentally called me a boy before “correcting” themselves. It felt great when they “messed up,” that moment before they “corrected” themselves was great. I started wanting them to not be able to know if I was a guy or a girl. That’s just me though, I know people who hate when someone messes up on their pronouns.

When they called me a girl, it felt like I was physically getting punched in the gut or slapped in the face.

Non-binary is not identifying as male or female but something in between the two.

This was the shortest stage in my questioning but later on in life the longest. I’m pretty sure it lasted a week at that point in my life. I enjoyed the idea of people not being able to guess my gender. Hell, I still really like the idea. As I thought more about identifying as non-binary though I realized, I didn’t exist between male or female. I was wanting to be on the male side. I didn’t want to say I wasn’t male or female. I wanted to be able to say I am a guy. The people in my life that identify as non-binary go by they/them pronouns. I knew I didn’t want to use those pronouns. I wanted to use he/him.

Trans masculine is a term used to describe transgender people who were assigned female at birth but, identify with masculinity to a greater extent than with femininity.

It took me a while to come to terms with identifying as trans. It felt right though, I was he/him, I was Zak. I knew it was going to be a long journey. Many years on hormones and a surgery or two, depending on what I wanted. I also saw the dangers of it: my family could kick me out on the street, I could be attacked, and even killed either by myself or another person. It was scary on all accounts, but, god, did I want it. I wanted to deal with facial hair, I wanted my voice to crack and I wanted to have two scars on my chest from my breasts being removed.

I spent my first year and part of my second year of college bouncing through these different identities. I noticed I was seeing myself as less and less feminine. The day I finally had to admit to myself I wasn’t a feminine person and wanted to be seen as masculine was when I was out at lunch with friends. A waitress came to take our orders and said, “Let’s go ladies first,” and looked at me. Instantly, I wanted to yell and correct her. I felt frustrated and angry and I made sure I gave my order last. Afterwards I was quietly ranting to my friends.

I kept my voice low though, I was scared to make the waitress angry. I was tugging at my shirt, trying to make my breasts stand out less, I wanted to make them disappear. After we ate I called Essence Salon to schedule a haircut for later that week. During that time, my friends were a little careful around me, calling me slightly more masculine terms without using he/him pronouns. A few weeks later I showed up with my chest binder on with hair cut above my ears and everyone started to refer to me as Zak and I never felt more comfortable with myself.

No one goes through figuring out their identity the same and sometimes even when they find it they way they feel about it and see it isn’t the same as another person who shares the same identity with them. I dragged my feet and explored different genders. Rose one day just went, “I can’t keep ignoring this feeling of wrongness with identifying as a guy.” Our friend Lily had known since she was seven, though she never knew the exact term for it until she was older. We all feel it differently, some know earlier than others and don’t bounce between different identities to know which fits best for them. Some, like myself, go through many different identities before finding theirs.

Looking back through the years I can see the signs I was trans. I hated dresses, argued with people when they said, “that’s for boys.” I kept asking my first boyfriend if they would still be with me even if I was actually a guy. I didn’t know anything about the LGBT community, or that it even existed until I was in my junior or senior year of high school. Even then I didn’t start really looking into anything until I was in college and questioning everything. Coming from a military catholic family, the LGBT community was definitely something that was not talked about. Even now that I am out to my family and actively transitioning, we still don’t talk about it and my family actively avoids conversation about it.

My father still uses my dead name, the name I was legally given at birth. The community calls it our dead name because in all honesty, that person is dead. In my life, there is no Olivia Moreno. Some of my coworkers have never heard that name. I only hear that name, or even deal with that name when it comes to legal stuff and family. My mother has recently sent me a couple boxes that have MY name on them: Zak.

I think the reason we call it “dead name” is because there’s this time period after you come out as trans, where everyone has to grieve about who the person was before transitioning, including the person transitioning. They must let the idea of that person go and welcome this new person. When you’re growing up, your family plans out who you are going to be, what your life is going to be like.

Olivia was going to grow up and be a veterinarian, she was going to own a couple dogs. Probably have a cis-gendered husband and live near the east coast so she could be a vet at one of the huge zoos there. Have a few kids who would get into sports like she did when she was younger.

She wanted to be the perfect child for her parents. She didn’t see a therapist for her depression or anxiety. She went to college for a degree she was barely interested in because her parents liked the idea of what she could do with that degree. She had panic attacks and cried multiple times a week because she couldn’t get the grades her parents wanted her too. She didn’t have her hair dyed, any tattoos or more than her lobes pierced and a single cartilage piercing because she knew her parents would freak out on her. Giving her parents a call once a week slowly turned into maybe once every three months because each call just led to more stress and tears. She started finding ways to get out of visiting family over the summer or during holidays. She accepted the fact that, to her parents, she would never be good enough. She would always be a failure in their eyes. She dated two abusive and controlling guys, making herself look how they wanted her too.

Zak’s a writer, he wants to live on the west coast in America, Europe or maybe Australia. He wants to travel with his writing. He plans on writing about trans topics or maybe even teaching classes on gender and sexualities. He’s thinking about going for his masters in gender studies.

He focused less on who his parents wanted him to be and more on who he wanted himself to be. He made the decision to do what made him happy and force his parents to except who he is. He started seeing a therapist and got medication for his depression and anxiety. He has multiple piercings and tattoos. He dyes his hair a new color every month. He enjoys his classes and looks forward to school with his new degrees. He’s getting grades he’s proud of. He remembers to take his medicine every day and to get out of his binder every eight hours, so his ribs don’t hurt. He chats with his mom once a week after class about school and work.

My family has to grieve that girl who died at 19 to help welcome the son they got when he was 19. I have to grieve the possible children I could have birthed, the “normal” life I could have had. The life where my father could have been proud of me instead of tense and judgmental. Where my family isn’t waiting or slightly hoping for me to go, “Surprise! It was a phase! I’m still your daughter!”

Growing up I always heard slurs aimed at the trans community, though I didn’t know they were slurs at the time. My cousin is also trans, he helped me come out to my family and talks to my mom often about it. When she brought him up in conversation she would always say, “Oh my she-he cousin did this,” “How every they are identifying” or “My tranny cousin did that.” Now she never says those things, I think having one of her children come out as trans changed her perspective on it all. She sees the dangers and is trying to help me the best she can.

I see myself as a “guy”, when I look in a mirror. I don’t always see my breasts. I see the hard line of my jaw, my cheek bones and my short hair. I don’t always see the soft curve of my hips, the small size of my hands and somedays I can even ignore my height. I see myself as the masculine person I am, who I want to be, and I am actively taking steps to get to that point.

Gender is not this solid idea of this or that, boy or girl. It was very confusing for me when I was exploring gender to figure out where I was on the spectrum. I wanted bits of everything. For people to look at me and instantly assume that I am a guy, but at the same time, I wanted people to look at me and not be able to tell. I just knew I never wanted to be called a girl. There are still articles of clothing that as a guy, I “can’t wear.” Crop tops, skirts, even dresses. Mentally the idea of wearing one and being called a girl and having breasts and a high voice as I wore them makes me feel physically ill. Though the idea of wearing them, with a flat chest from surgery, a low voice and possibly with facial hair was and still is way better to me mentally.

I’m nervous with that thought, but even as a guy it’s okay to think that. I’m still as much of a guy in six-inch stilettos, make-up and a dress as I am in a three-piece suit. I am a guy, I use he/him and they/them pronouns and that will never change if I’m in a dress or a button up and pants, and the people that are important to me and need to know will understand that, and stand by me.

Non-binary started to make sense over time as I transitioned. It’s not existing in the middle of being a guy or girl. It’s just simply existing as not a guy and not a girl. I can look masculine, have a deep voice and a flat chest but still not be a guy. I can wear a cute dress with heels but still not be a girl. I can be both and neither. People can look at me and won’t know if I am a guy or a girl because I’m not either of those. I’m non-binary because, while I want to be considered a “guy,” I don’t actually have to be a man. I call myself trans because I’m transitioning away from being a girl. I call myself masculine because while I don’t want to be a guy, I still want to lean more towards that perceived side of the gender spectrum. I can be non-binary and still use he/him pronouns, though over time they/they has become comfortable for me.

I plan on being that person in the cute crop top that shows top surgery scars, a skirt and hairy legs riding my long board to Dutch Bros. I plan on laughing and shaking my head if someone asks if I’m a guy or a girl. I’ll correct someone if they call me ma’am but smile when someone calls me sir. Any children I might have can call me dad or mumda, zizi, zaza, or any other random title they feel like calling their parent that isn’t a woman but also isn’t a man. I plan on happily existing as myself as over time I become who I want to be.


Zakary Moreno is studying Creative Writing, Journalism, and Women and Gender and Sexuality. Zakary is GenderQueer and his writing often includes topics of gender and identity. This is Zakary’s first published work.