Note: There are some sweeping generalisations in here. I don't claim to speak for all Trans people; there are things in here that don't even entirely describe me. I tried to make this a very general FTM-101 sort of thing. I apologise if you're FTM and you don't feel accurately represented by some or all of this. When reading this, please bear in mind that our experiences are not cookie-cutter, and I tried to make statements that would make it easy to understand us on a very basic level.
A guy I met through Compass, which is the southern New England FTM support group, said at my first meeting, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." His words struck me as the perfect way of describing the FTM experience. Thanks, M, for putting it perfectly.
Being FTM is a very special experience. We as FTMs are not socialised to become men until we come out and start living openly as boys or men. We are not encouraged to hide our feelings, to "be a man." We are not encouraged to shun dolls, dress-up, and other "girly" things in favor of toy guns and remote-control cars. Thus we have to learn how to be men in society when we were, in some ways, never boys, unless we transitioned ion childhood.
But we were never girls either. We enjoyed the freedom we had in being allowed to play with dolls and stuffed animals, and, because of the vicious, dramatic double standard in today's society (masculine girls are accepted, and even embraced, while feminine boys are shunned), simultaneously being encouraged to play with toy cars and remote-control cars. Toy guns and playing Army and such are still considered a little too boyish for girls, but it's not treated with the same high disdain and even horror that a little boy having a tea party is.
FTMs who grew up earlier on, or in some countries outside the US, or in parts of the US that weren't quite up to speed with the rest of the country on such matters, had less freedom than those of us who grew up more recently, because boys and girls were kept completely separate in terms of activities and expectations. At recess, boys and girls were on separate sides of the playground. The girls played jacks or hopscotch or jump-rope and the boys played marbles or had running races, and woe to the child who didn't want to join in where s/he was supposed to. S/he just had to sit on the sidelines, and the teachers would report to his/her parents that their child was antisocial or something similar. I feel extraordinarily fortunate that I didn't have to go through that. To those of you who did, you have my ultimate admiration for enduring that without embarking on a life of crime.
Even though we who grew up more recently had this freedom, and exploited it to the best of our abilities, we still didn't fit the mold of what normal little girls were supposed to be. We were tomboys. I can't even begin to recall how many times I was called a tomboy. A lot of times it was by my peers (always girls), who were trying desperately to insult me, and were infuriated when I'd grin and thank them. Sometimes I'd be told that I acted just like a boy. I'd thank the person and tell them that was the highest compliment they could've paid me, and they'd just stare at me as though I'd mutated into a donkey before their eyes.
Growing up, I had no idea that I wasn't the only person in the world who was like this - not only masculine, but so masculine that I desperately wanted to be a boy. I would pray nightly to turn into a boy. Every birthday candle, every star, every chicken wishbone ... every wish I made was "I wish I was a boy." The worst nightmare I ever had in my life was when I dreamt that I woke up with a normal male body and didn't like it. I woke up in a cold sweat after that one - I think I was about 10, but I'm not sure. I enjoyed playing with stuffed animals, and had a dollhouse that I enjoyed - I used it as a house for my Lego guys, even though it was huge in relation to them. I didn't mind. But I loved playing with my toy cars. I have some really cool cars. I'd race them up and down, crash them into walls, etc. I played in a girls' (gag) soccer league from kindergarten through fourth grade, until I got completely sick of it. I was desperate to play Little League, but my parents wouldn't allow it under the premise that they were afraid I'd get hurt, and so I played in a girls' (gag) softball league in grades four through eight. I haven't played on a team since.
(Ironically, in the sixth grade, I got a split lip at softball practice that resulted in four stitches and the lip swelling to three times its normal size.)
Time passed. Puberty arrived, and I went into a state of serious depression. Here I was, feeling inside like a normal boy, and I had breasts developing and I started to menstruate. I wore baggy shirts and slouched more and more as I got bigger. I never wore a bra in my life, so I don't know what cup size I would be, but I was probably an A or a very small B. Thank God. I actually know girls who are smaller than I, but hey. They're content where they are, otherwise I'd gladly give them mine.
Menstruation (oestrogen poisoning, the FTM's bloody hell, etc.) is so obnoxious and disgusting. I would hear girls at school talking about how they were so excited, and they couldn't wait for it to come, and I couldn't understand it for the life of me. I still can't. It doesn't serve any purpose! Unless you want to get pregnant, and God knows I don't. When I got it - I was in the seventh grade - I was really disappointed. I had read about girls who never got it, because they had organs missing or malfunctioning. I prayed constantly that I would be one of those folks. And then it arrived, and I thought about dealing with this for the next forty years, and I just spiraled downward. I was suicidal for a while but never attempted anything - I thank God constantly for making me a chicken. I couldn't get over thinking "What if there isn't an afterlife?" I figured that maybe my life could get better somehow, but if I was dead and cold in the ground, that was it. So I hung on.
When I was 15, I went into my freshman math classroom and sat down at my seat. Next to my chair, on the floor, was a folded piece of paper. I picked it up and turned it over, and saw that the word "TRANSGENDERISM" was written in big letters on the top. I'd never seen that word before, but something inside me clicked, and I put it in my backpack. When I got home that afternoon, I read it three times, and I put it down and I said, "Oh my God, that's me." Suddenly I wasn't alone. This had a name, and I had proof that it wasn't a phase and it wasn't all in my head and there was hope for me. I got into the Internet and ran a million searches, and found a ton of sites with information. I joined mailing lists and discovered the Transgender Community Forum (TCF) on AOL. (The TCF no longer exists on AOL. There is a great channel on IRC, though, accessible through a page on my site.)
I'll tell you, I was so annoyed when I found out all this. All I could think of was all the wishes I'd wasted wishing that I was a boy, when I was a boy all along! I could've wished for a pony or a bike or a baby brother or something. Dang it all.
The piece of paper I found, incidentally, was a pamphlet from that year's To B GLAD (Transgender, Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day) at my school. It's held every December, although it was held in April when I was at school there.
I went full-time as a male at age 16. I introduced myself as Michael and told people I was a boy whenever they asked, and I began using the men's room (!). I haven't looked back.
My discovery of my name just sort of happened. I was Matthew for years. Nobody ever called me by any of the names I chose for myself, but I talked to myself a lot, trying out how the names sounded. I was David for a couple of months, Patrick for a few weeks, Ben for a few weeks, Zachary briefly - you name it, I tried it out. My mother had told me, when I asked at the age of 2, that I would've probably been named Michael Lawrence, but might've been named Matthew. She also told me that if I'd had a little brother, he would have probably been called Alexander. But it wasn't that that led me to the name Michael Alexander - that was just an interesting coincidence. The meanings of the names (Michael means "Who is like the Lord?" and Alexander means "Defending men") weren't what attracted me, either. I honestly don't know how it happened. I don't even remember making a conscious decision about it. I just know I got kind of tired of Matthew, tried Michael for a while, and liked it, but I didn't like the name Lawrence. Alexander appealed to me, and Michael Alexander had a nice ring to it. I talked to myself and got used to the way it sounded, and I still haven't tired of it. And so, on my 18th birthday, I filed for a legal change of first, middle, and last name. (I could have had it done before that, but my mother would have had to sign the papers and she refused to do so.) I do believe that I was, one way or another, meant to be Michael Alexander. I believe in fate, to a degree, and I think we all have a name (or more than one) that we're supposed to have. Sometimes we're given that name at birth, by chance or divine inspiration or something else, I don't know. But sometimes we're not, and when that is the case, you can't just randomly pick a name. You have to go on a little journey of self-discovery and find out the name that really fits you, that you're comfortable wearing for the long haul.