It’s right before I go to sleep and right after I wake up that I notice my skin is softer. I like to stretch in bed at these moments, and one of my habits is to reach behind my torso and flatten the palm of one hand on my back, between my shoulder blades.
Along with other stretches, I’ve always liked doing this; one of the pleasures I take in sleeping alone is the freedom to splay my lanky ass out, spider-like, and writhe around for a minute, a dedication to my muscles I could really stand to match before exercising.
My skin was never terribly oily or tough before I started transitioning, but a few weeks after I started the pills (and that’s what I’ve started to call them, the pills, as if I only open a bottle three times a day to control some boring, nondescript condition, and not to grow breasts or melt my chest hair) my skin felt lighter, softer and smoother than it did before. My stretching ritual has become a checkpoint, a marker of the effect the pills are having on my body.
One of the pleasant side effects of spironolactone—my testosterone-suppresser—is that it reduces acne, which had always stayed a problem on my back. And unlike many other parts of my body, which are becoming cracked and dry, my back has somehow become naturally supple. (Before the pills, I wondered what the deal was with women always using moisturizer. Now I use it regularly. More moments like these to come, I’m sure.)
It’s an added pleasure to the bookends of my days now, brushing my palm on my softening back half-asleep, whether daylight is snaking its way down to my third-floor courtyard window, or whether it’s two in the morning and I’ve just laid down. And in such dreamy moments, I keep my eyes fiercely closed, imagining my body is already female, both thinking and dreaming about the day when I get up and this will be true.
Often I churn around after I’ve touched my back and I rub my arms, I run my fingers on other body parts, my thighs, the sides of my neck, my hips. I push delicately on my nipples and feel hard, growing lumps behind them—I belong to probably the only group of adults in the world for whom such a discovery elicits joy—and it’s a quietly blissful affirmation, complete before the day begins as well as right before it ends, half-conscious.
But the stretching, the exploring, has also become viscerally pleasurable in its own right, aside from the change it represents, and at first, I’m unconfident in this self-admittance. Because this pleasure rides parallel lines of sensuality to the days when I was new at putting on women’s clothes, and I understood I was taking electric pleasure in slipping on tights or zipping up boots.
I flirted with the idea that instead of being trans that I was just a cross-dresser (a quirk, I thought, that could be quietly folded into an otherwise average life) and that my dysphoria was sexual in nature, and sexual only. And if my feelings were only sexual, then, I wondered, perhaps I wasn’t actually trans.
I had read about a book called The Man Who Would Be Queen, by a Northwestern University professor who believed that transwomen who were attracted to women were really confused fetishists, they wanted to be women to satisfy an autogynephilia. And though I first read about this book in the context of its debunkment and disparagement, I thought about the electricity of slipping on those tights, zipping up those boots, and a stream of guilt followed. Maybe this professor was right, and maybe I was only a fetishist. Not trans, just a misguided boy.
About a year later, on the Internet, I come across a transwoman who added a unique message to the crowd refuting this professor. Oh, I wish I remember who this woman was, and I wish even more that I could do better than paraphrase her, but I remember her saying something like this: “Well, of course I feel sexy putting on women’s clothing and having a woman’s body. If you feel comfortable in your body for the first time, won’t that probably mean it’ll be the first time you feel comfortable, too, with delighting in your body as a sexual thing?”
I’ve only realized in retrospect that in years past, though I had some beautiful, hot, transcendent sex, I rarely, if ever, was conscious of my own body in the moment. I was focused on my lover, and our movement, and the pleasure we shared, but rarely was I aware of my own skin. I’m not sure what to make of that. I want to think it doesn’t take away from the experiences I’ve had, for they were lovely, but there’s also no denying that now, beyond those moon- and dawn-lit moments in my bed with my palm pressed to my backside, there are other nights spent in another’s bed, with a palm not my own pressed all over me, and I feel my own body, really, in a beautiful way for the first time. I don’t stretch as much if I’m not sleeping alone, and I don’t mind.