Niklis Donia, 27, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, living in Brooklyn, NY.
I don’t identify as a trans man. I identify more with the “trans*” umbrella term, with the asterisk. I’ve been genderqueer for six or seven years now. A year and a half ago, I started doing what people call “natural transitioning.” You take a bunch of zinc and B vitamins and bodybuilder stuff. This alters the hormones your body already makes and blocks some from converting to estrogen, so you get the effects of low-dose testosterone. I got a little bit of facial hair from that; my voice dropped, I got some weight redistribution and muscle gain. At that point, I thought, Okay, I’m comfortable with seeing where this goes. So, I started testosterone.
When I got my first T shot, they asked me if I wanted to keep the syringe as a memento. I was like, “Noooo.” But, I kept the first vial.
I’m an assistant at a hair salon, so I talk to a lot of different people all day, for five or 10 minutes each. That’s a lot of being bombarded with “she.” Nobody asks about my preferred pronoun. That pushed me to go further with this, so that people would actually question. Now, totally straight, mainstream people are like, "Wait, is this person male or female?" If I don’t present genderqueer enough, they just assume I’m a lesbian.
Older women — old hippie white ladies — generally use male pronouns for me. They’re my best people in terms of pronouns. Some other people will ask, but most won’t. They’ll just say “she,” and I have to get into the conversation. It’s great; it’s constant education. They’re like, “Oh, I thought trans* people always passed.” And, I’m like, “No, some of us don’t pass. Actually, some of us don’t want to.”
My mom’s a Catholic schoolteacher, and we’re working-class Irish, so it took her a while to become okay with this. When I was 15, I came out as gay and that didn’t go over well. When I came out as trans* it was much easier; for some reason, it made sense to my mom. (Although, her first question was, “Are you going to grow a penis?” And, I was like, “It definitely doesn’t work that way!”)
My dad and I don’t speak anymore. We did for a couple of years while I was out as gay, but he never was down. My youngest sister, who’s going to be nine at the end of this month, she gets it — she’s really cute with her policing. On Instagram the other day, some little kid was like, “That boy’s really cute,” about me, and one of her friends was like, “That’s a girl.” My sister responded: “No, he likes to be called a boy!” She’s adorable, and so good at this.
Honestly, everybody’s been really cool and supportive. I think I was always the biggest weirdo of my friends, so they kind of expected something like this. They’re like, “Go for it, Nik, do your thing.” My current girlfriend is very supportive. In my previous relationship, I was having some body-type issues. I’d say, “Can you not, like, cup my chest and make me feel like I have breasts?” That made my ex uncomfortable, but it wasn’t the reason we broke up. Trying to explain your body to somebody while you’re trying to figure it out yourself is just a really hard thing to do.
In the summertime, my salon is going to do a hair fundraiser — a bunch of really discounted cuts, maybe a braid bar or something — so I can raise money for top surgery. When I applied for my job, I had to tell them to use male pronouns. They weren’t very good at it, and I was kind of a bitch at first, saying, “Nobody ever told you to call me ‘she,’ so I don’t know why you think that that’s okay.” Now, though, a lot of them are really good with it and actually won’t even use “he.” They’ll just be like, “Nik’s going to take care of you” or “Nik’s going to do this.” I think that’s really cool, 'cause they’re not also pushing the male gender on me entirely, which is the whole purpose of my non-binary identity, you know?
Really, it’s strangers who are the problem. The other day, my girlfriend and I were at a restaurant, and some white dude called me “ma’am.” My girlfriend said, “Actually, he doesn’t identify that way.” And, he was like, “Oh, sorry, I’m from the South.” My girlfriend’s from the South; she was like, “That’s not an excuse.” And, the guy just said, “Well, I’m working-class.” I’m working-class, too — that’s also not an excuse.
When people fight back, I just think, Why are you fighting? Stop making excuses for yourself. Say you’re sorry. If you said something racist and a person of color said, “That’s racist,” you wouldn’t fight back. Just apologize, and then go educate yourself.