PERSONAL ESSAY

My hot trans boy summer: On re-emerging from pandemic lockdown as a boy

At home, I didn't have to check a gender box. The pressure to check that box only exists in public

By Charlie Nelson Jacobs
Published August 14, 2021 7:30PM (EDT)
Author and their dog, Joni (Photo provided by Charlie Nelson Jacobs)
Author and their dog, Joni (Photo provided by Charlie Nelson Jacobs)

Two weeks before the pandemic shut the world down, I got top surgery. In the months that followed, I changed my name and started testosterone. Best decisions I've ever made. But puberty in adulthood is a wild ride. Thanks to quarantine, I got to experience the most awkward stages privately: voice cracking, skin getting oily, acne, hair growing on my butt. The only witnesses to my real puberty — in my 20s — were my best friend Sam and my dog Joni. During lockdown, I could feel like a little boy every day. I would run into my living room shirtless, telling Sam and Joni to look at how well my scars were healing. Because of my contained, loving environment, I was able to enjoy a childlike appreciation of the physical changes I'd always dreamed about. 

Then it was time to re-emerge with a new name, a deeper voice, and no tits. Everything that was playful and fun about my gender expression at home was immediately complicated by the way people perceive me in public. All of a sudden, strangers see me as a guy. I wish it were that simple. I know that when people see me as a cis man, they're missing something. At home, I didn't have to check a gender box. The pressure to check that box only exists in the public sphere. In private, I feel like I exist outside of the gender binary. That's my favorite place to be.

Which public bathroom am I supposed to use now? I already know what to be afraid of in the women's restroom. I've been wearing boys' clothes and have had short hair for nine years now. Prior to top surgery and starting T, I got very used to people staring at me, struggling to gender me. Or silently judging me. Men seem less likely to say anything, but I guess they're also more likely to murder me.

The men's room is also filled with unknowns. I asked Sam if he ever pees sitting down. "I mean, what if I go into the men's restroom and I go into a stall to pee and then some guy comes in and we're the only two people in there and he hears me peeing but not at the urinals so he figures out that I'm trans?"

Sam said no one pays that much attention. We laughed about it, but I'm still scared. I hate that I have to consider all of this. It's always a question of which fears are realistic, which problems I should actually be prepared for. I still haven't used a men's restroom. Usually, I just hold it.

I just started driving for Lyft again. Before lockdown and testosterone, women were very comfortable talking to me. Not anymore. They get in the car, I ask them if the air is OK, they answer the question and that's the end of the conversation. I turn up the radio so there's no pressure to fill the silence. I don't consider myself to be particularly threatening. My personality hasn't changed. But my voice is lower now, and I wear a mask when I drive. I get it. I know it can be scary to get into a car driven by a man you don't know. I guess I'm on the other side of that dynamic now — and yet I still need to keep pepper spray in the driver's door, because I also have to be prepared for the danger a strange man can pose to me.

The men I drive feel way more comfortable talking to me now because they think I'm one of them. They call me "man" every other sentence. I wonder if that's just their way of saying "no homo." I'm still grappling with what masculinity means to me. The only thing I know for sure is that I don't need to say "man" all the time.

As I'm re-emerging into the world, part of me is excited to be seen. But I also feel more sensitive and raw, because I'm more myself than I've ever been. Any rejection or judgment feels more personal now. Then again, so does affection and praise.

A few weeks ago, at an art show flirting with a girl I just met, I mentioned that I had gotten top surgery. She just stared at me for what felt like 30 seconds, or a lifetime. Then something clicked for her, and she said, "I never would've known you were trans!" She meant this as a compliment. I guess I felt validated that I passed as a boy. But also, fuck that. 

I'm still scared that my landlady will figure out that I'm not a girl. I wonder if she already knows. I had a dream that my dog told her. I hate that I'm afraid people will find out.

Because I love being trans. There's something so magical about the feeling I get when I put on a T-shirt and let it fall down over my flat chest. Or when I'm shirtless at the beach and I look down at my body and it makes everyone else's judgments disappear. Or when I kiss someone and feel their hand on my chest, and I realize this is my real chest, and I feel hot, and I think maybe I've never really felt hot before this moment. 


Charlie Nelson Jacobs

Charlie Nelson Jacobs is a Los Angeles-based actor and writer with a TV show in development.

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