post cover

Undergoing renovation


Emily VanDerWerff

Apr 16 2019

6 min read


A couple of weeks ago, I had to lay down on my bathroom floor and cry for about 15 minutes. Never mind what got me there, or what happened after. Just live with me in that space for a second, the concrete floor hard and cold, and the towel I used as an ad hoc pillow getting sticky with my tears. Oh, look, there's one of my cats, who got trapped in here and is legitimately terrified that I'm the one expressing any emotions instead of her other mom. She's just gonna sit over... there maybe and wait for this all to pass.

When I got to the end of my crying jag, a voice in my head, very clearly, said, "Girl. What. The fuck. Are you doing?"

"Crying," I said, because it seemed self-explanatory.

"Okay, cool. Why?"

And here's the weird thing: I knew. I knew why I was crying. I knew what had upset me. I knew why I couldn't get past it. I knew that what I needed to do was get the upset out. And I knew that now I had, and it was over, and I could just get up and go to bed.

It felt monumental. It felt downright giddy.

I realize that saying I felt giddy at the prospect of inconsolably weeping must sound bizarre. But I had quite honestly never felt like this before. Sure, I had had outbursts of emotion before that night, but they had always felt unresolved, like something left unfinished. They would sit in my gut and fester, instead of expelling themselves in the way they were supposed to. Eventually, my gut filled with these sentences ending in commas, and I just stopped feeling things entirely.

I was a weepy little kid, and I remember a time when I was 8 or 9, and I got really overwhelmed and cried and cried and cried, and I remember how embarrassed basically everybody in my life was by that. I remember... not deciding, exactly, but maybe concluding... that what I needed to do was just stop doing this. Crying was for babies, and I wasn't a baby. So I, in essence, started dividing my brain up into separate rooms, making sure to keep things in exactly the right place. I stopped crying, first, but then I stopped doing a lot of other things, too.

If you knew me as a guy, you probably never really noticed this. I did a good job of, in essence, performing a version of sly, sarcastic masculinity with a wink. I would say something witty, and everybody would laugh, and I would smirk, and you probably wouldn't notice that I wasn't also laughing. I was, to some degree, a series of operating procedures built off that one key decision to just stop feeling things, like how Windows is still built atop MS-DOS for some reason.

Something that I was told a lot before starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy, for all my gentle cis readers) was that the most dramatic changes would be mental more than they would be physical. And for the first few months of HRT, I was honestly a little disappointed at how the effects were... pronounced but not exactly life-changing. I felt more comfortable and more secure, and I increasingly felt "like a woman," whatever that means. But the overall effect was sort of to make me feel like maybe I'd never needed the hormones in the first place. Paradoxically, they settled so quickly into the background radiation of my life that they became like the hum of a fluorescent light.

After the first couple of weeks (when my overstated reaction to hormones probably had some degree of placebo effect), I took them every day, felt better from having taken them, and just sort of went about my life, never quite clear if the pills were actually doing anything (except for all of the ways in which it was quite clear that they were doing things to my body). I had seen a lot of trans women on Reddit saying things like, "I cry at everything now!" and that wasn't true for me. Whatever compartmentalization I had done before HRT was largely holding firm.

In the last month or so, however, that's started to change. Now, I get why everybody says that the mental effects are so dramatic, because I feel, in some ways, like my brain is being literally rearranged and renovated. The walls are all coming down, with little concern for if they're load bearing or not, and as they're disassembled, new ones are going up to conform to the way my brain is meant to function. It is, I promise you, utterly wild to be in the middle of it, and a little overwhelming, and also intensely, intensely exciting. Before, I had the vague notion that if I really had to, I could stop taking hormones. Now, they literally feel like they saved my life.

This is not to say that I was suicidal or anything like that before I started taking HRT. But it is to say that before I got on my current regimen, I didn't have a life. I had a series of routines that added up to become a person built as much by ritual as anything else. I'm still a lot of the things he purported to be, but I'm also something stronger and steadier and real. I'm the voice in the back of my own head, who wonders what the fuck I'm doing down on the floor, when everything else is up here, just waiting for me.

I am a trans woman in her 30s. I live in Los Angeles, and you might have heard of my other self. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter