Transgender, student, and transitioning
‘The girl part of me is cut out’
Finding his voice
Robin was nervous; it was his first day at the University of Groningen. Excitement was in the air as his classmates stood, one by one, to introduce themselves. His turn was coming; his hands were clammy. As soon as he opened his mouth, they would know. Everyone would see right through him.
‘As much as you try to come off as a guy when you first meet somebody, if your voice is really high-pitched, it will catch them off-guard. I hadn’t been on hormones for that long when I first started university so I was pretty silent for a few months. I only started making friends when I felt like my voice was convincing enough. I wanted my first impression to be better in university than it was in high school.’
Robin told his parents first. ‘I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to be born as the gender I identified as. My dad was supportive and told me that we’re going to figure it out together. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I would be today. But my mum was always hesitant; she didn’t accept it. She’s still not convinced.’
But there were also times when Robin’s situation provided a good laugh. ‘My Grandpa has dementia so he forgets just about everything and tries to play it off as though he doesn’t. So my dad went and re-introduced me and my siblings to him. He gave me a big hug. “Look at you!”, he said. “I always knew you would grow into a handsome young man – ever since you were a little boy!” There was an awkward silence and we were all just trying not to laugh.’
Robin finally came out in his last year of high school. Though his friends were supportive – and still are – the administration of his Dutch high-school was far from understanding. ‘My school told me that I had made a mistake and made my own life and their lives harder by coming out. All I asked of them was that my teachers referred to me by my preferred pronoun and new name. Their response was that I shouldn’t have come out before discussing it with them.’
He was made to feel like his personal milestone was an inconvenient burden. But he had waited long enough already; hiding who he was too painful. ‘I felt trapped and uncomfortable, a fraud living the wrong life in the wrong body.’
The rest of the year was hard. His classmates became increasingly hostile. He had tried to ask them to use his new name. ‘Over time, I noticed that things weren’t changing and that it was purely intentional. What are you going to do in that situation? You don’t want to stay silent but saying something doesn’t help. I felt held back in highschool; I had to learn to let a lot of things go.’
He moved as far away as he could manage to begin his university life in the North of the Netherlands.
The environment at the university is more welcoming. ‘When I came here I wasn’t sure what to do. I wanted a fresh start where nobody knew me from my old life. People here just know me as a regular guy. I’ve only told a few people that are the closest to me.’
The biggest challenge for Robin was knowing that if some people found out, it would fundamentally change their relationship. It’s a balancing act, he says. He doesn’t want to hide the fact that he is transgender, ‘because it’s part of me. But it doesn’t define me. But if I display that part of me, some people will stop seeing me as a person.’
He feels like society defines transgender people in a very one-dimensional way, but he’s a multi-dimensional person. But once people generalise him as a ‘trans person’, they forget all of that. ‘They forget that you’re who you introduced yourself as – suddenly you become a girl trying to be a guy. They misgender you. That whole girl part for me is gone, it’s cut out, it doesn’t exist anymore. So for people to keep it in context when they find out I’m trans is just really weird.’
He wishes everyone could understand that being trans says nothing more about you than what gender you identify with. ‘It doesn’t dictate your personality. It doesn’t say anything about how introverted or extroverted you are. To assume that everyone’s one type of personality because they’re trans is ignorant.’
Robin says the most important thing is for people to be as open-minded as possible. ‘It’s difficult to stop yourself making assumptions but you need to at least try to recognize that you’re making assumptions and generalising people.’
Feeling like a coward
Robin has found himself in many situations where people – including his friends – have had extremely negative things to say about the transgender community, while he’s standing right there. They don’t know about him. It gives him a little bit of insight. ‘I feel like they don’t want more information. They just feel like it’s okay to be horrible when there’s nobody around to be personally offended. What does it matter if somebody has different genitals than you think they have? It’s not like you only become friends with somebody after you see their genitals!’
It’s not always easy to laugh it off, though. ‘I get really uncomfortable; these are people that don’t know about me – and after hearing them talk about it, I don’t ever want them to know. Then I feel guilty for letting them speak like that. Almost like I should defend myself and our community. It feels like being nailed to my seat; I don’t know what to do. Some people just want to hate you.’ So he stays quiet. And does not want to use his real name for this article.
‘Sometimes I feel like a coward’, he says. But he worries that the second he identifies as trans, it will be the beginning of the end for his future. ‘My courses are quite competitive and so is the career I want to pursue; I feel like it would hold me back. In the society we live in, I don’t think I would ever want to be completely out.’
He is also painfully aware of the dangers of being trans and out; hate crimes are a real concern. ‘Right now it doesn’t affect my daily life. But it’s crazy to think that if I was more open about myself, it would be dangerous.’
Confined to Europe
Being transgender means Robin has to think about so many things that regular students don’t. Other students can take travelling abroad for granted. ‘Everybody talks about wanting to work in these exotic places. I want the same, but I have to stop and think: do they have my medication? Would they let me get it? Would they be able to provide me with the medical assistance I need if something goes wrong?’
Even for the exchange period in his upcoming academic year, Robin has to stay in Europe. ‘I’m very lucky; I know how the healthcare system works and I’m allowed to access what I need. I can’t go out on a limb and go to countries where the treatment is extremely expensive or where trans people are slaughtered.’
Removing the womb
Robin says that the most important day in his life was when he turned 16 and was finally allowed to start his hormone treatment. The next step is surgery. ‘This Monday my doctor told me I met the requirements for the surgery. I was put on the waiting list!’
Every three weeks, he injects a full milligram of Sustanon into his leg. ‘It basically sends a signal to the part of my brain responsible for regulating hormones. My body then produces more testosterone than estrogen. Because I inject myself every three weeks, scar tissue has built up in my thighs. My leg just swells up so I can barely walk or bike, so I make my way around slowly for the first week.’
He feels good for two weeks before the process starts over. But it’s worth it, he says. ‘I can’t get my periods anymore. My body goes through physical changes like growing facial hair and changes in my muscle and fat percentage… I’m basically hitting puberty again!’
Robin recalls the first time he had to do the injection himself. He had forgotten to make an appointment and needed the shot that day. He laid the syringe and the dosage out and considered it. ‘Then I kind of stabbed it into my leg the same way I had seen my doctor do it. I knew it was going to be fine. But the physical act of injecting myself was so unnatural that my hands couldn’t stop shaking.’
He looks forward to his surgeries with mixed feelings. ‘I’ve been wanting this for the longest time. But there can be a lot of complications that require you to go through more surgeries. After the surgery there is a long rehabilitation period where I will have to be completely dependent on my parents.’ He hopes that undergoing the procedures will be enough to finally convince his mum who he really is.
The surgery will most likely be this summer at the VU Medical Centre Amsterdam. The operation will consist of the removal the breasts and the womb. Removing the womb is really important for him. ‘I know I won’t get pregnant or have my period but the risk is still there when you have a womb.’
He might have to put his Erasmus plans on hold to recover, but he doesn’t mind. He wants it as soon as possible. ‘Honestly the thing I’m most excited about it not having to wear the binder around my chest anymore! It’s the most uncomfortable thing ever!’