Health

'I'm a transgender woman - ask me your invasive questions'

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Media caption"Now that my body matches how it was supposed to look in my brain, I'm happy."

A transgender woman who offered people the chance to ask "invasive questions" on an internet forum has been overwhelmed by the response.

Gwen, 24, from Pennsylvania, hosted an "ask me anything" (AMA) session on the online community site Reddit.

She received almost 2,000 questions and comments, mostly from "supportive and respectful people".

"I figure very few of you know trans people in your everyday lives and might be afraid to ask questions at the risk of offending someone, so I thought I'd give you all the opportunity to learn from someone who will answer your invasive questions," she said.

One Redditor wrote: "I think you just won over half of Reddit right there."

Another said: "You're very beautiful, and I'm glad you found the happiness that you were searching for. Thanks for sharing with us."

These are some of the questions she was asked.


When did you first know you wanted to be female?

Gwen, who medically transitioned using hormone replacement therapy, started dreaming about becoming a woman when she was five years old.

"I would wake up from those dreams and feel so happy. It was weird because I looked like a boy and everyone told me I was a boy," she said.

Image copyright Gwen
Image caption "I noticed things were different when I was five or six," Gwen told the BBC

"When I was 10, someone at school asked what people look like in heaven, and our teacher said, 'You can look however you like.'

"I was so excited. I couldn't wait to die because then I could look like a girl. I wasn't suicidal, but I thought someone had just unlocked the secret for me."

At the age of 22, Gwen began her medical transition.

Two years later, most people she meets can't tell she was born male.


Do people treat you differently?

Image copyright Gwen
Image caption After two years of HRT, most people can't tell Gwen is transgender

"As a guy, it was lonely because people were nice but didn't really engage with me.

"If I was walking home late at night, I could tell if when a woman was uncomfortable with my presence.

"Now, I get catcalled a lot walking through the city, and I fully understand the mindset.

"You get way more attention as a woman, and you assume that anybody could be a threat."

Gwen also notices sexist remarks.

"You don't really understand it until you experience it for yourself.

"I get lots of comments like, 'You wouldn't know because you're a girl.'

"I grew up as a guy, so I do know, I know a lot of these things."

But she said one of the positives about living as a woman was how other women treat her.

"They're much more comfortable around me and compliment me on my hair, make-up or clothes."

"Men go out of their way to hold doors for me or ask me if I need help."


How did your body change with HRT?

Image copyright Gwen
Image caption HRT reduces hair growth on the face and body

Gwen explained that, as well as reducing hair growth and redistributing fat to her hips and chest, the structure of her muscles had changed.

"I went down three shoe sizes because the muscles in my foot changed, and I shrunk in height because of the curvature of my spine," she said.

"I lost all my strength. Before, I'd always win in a hand wrestle with my sister or girlfriend. Now, they'd probably beat me."

The transition process was an "awkward phase" for Gwen, and she felt people were uncomfortable with her appearance.

"You don't look like a man, but you don't look like a woman either, and people don't know how to talk to you.

"I suffered a lot in that period because I felt I was a fake because I didn't look like other women did.

"I had to tell myself that there's no one way for a woman to look."


When did you first feel like you were really a woman?

Gwen finally felt that she "passed" as a woman after a man made sexual advances on a train.

"My heart froze. For a split second, I was happy that a stranger had seen me as a woman for the first time.

"Then I immediately felt disgusted, uncomfortable and guilty for the attention."


What was it like coming out to friends and family?

Although one of her uncles refuses to speak to her since the transition, Gwen feels that most of her family has accepted her.

"My mum had to relearn a lot about me and there are things she had to get used to, like the fact that we'll never have a mother-son dance.

"We're much closer now though, because I feel more authentic."


Will you have the op?

Image copyright Gwen
Image caption Gwen wants to have children with her girlfriend before considering surgery

Gwen also discussed her personal life, although she said most trans people preferred not to be asked intimate questions.

"My girlfriend has always made me feel OK with my body, and I enjoy sex a lot more because now I actually get to be myself," she said.

"It's more pleasurable, and I feel it all over my body.

"I can still use my penis but I prefer not to."

Surgery is a consideration for the future.

"If my girlfriend and I stay together and we want children, I need things to stay as they are right now.

"After we have kids, I'd like to have surgery.

"That's the only thing holding me back because I hate having it."


What do you wish people understood about you?

"I'm a person like any other. Being trans is just a part of my medical history," Gwen told Reddit.

"People feel they need to walk on eggshells around trans people, and it keeps them from wanting to learn anything about us.

"But being friends with a trans person isn't all that different from being friends with anyone else, and it can be rewarding to have a different perspective on life.

Image copyright Gwen
Image caption "For 98% of my life, my status as a trans person doesn't matter, and anyone who spends a few minutes talking to me would realise that," Gwen said

"I love everything about me that makes me 'me', it was just my body I was unhappy with.

"Now that my body matches how it was supposed to look in my brain, I'm happy."

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