One Teenager’s Female-To-Male Story: Going Through Puberty Twice

Dr. Annie Brewster
Guest Contributor

Zachary went through puberty twice, first as a girl, then as a boy, after he started taking hormones. “The second time was a lot better,” he said. “I got excited when my voice cracked, and when I started to smell different,” though he adds that excitedly telling friends that you smell really bad is kind of a conversation killer.

Zachary is transgender. He was born female but he has always known, even before he could articulate it, that he is male. His journey has been challenging, and he suffered from depression for many years as a result. But he is now a confident, happy, inspiring young man.

Zachary was born as one of three triplet girls; but he has always known that he is male. (Photo: Marilyn Humphries/Greater Boston PFLAG)

Zachary was born as one of three triplet girls; but he has always known that he is male. (Photo: Marilyn Humphries/Greater Boston PFLAG)

Last month, Zachary, 19, graduated from Methuen high school. He’ll start Wheelock College in the fall, where he has received the four-year, $20,000 annual Passion for Action scholarship for his demonstrated commitment to community service, leadership and scholarship. He plans to become a social worker with the goal of working with LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) kids.

Medically, a transgender person can choose to pursue hormonal treatment and/or surgery in order to bring the biological sex closer to the gender identity, though no intervention is a necessity. For female to male trans people, like Zachary, the surgical options include removal of the reproductive organs, “top surgery” (mastectomy), or “bottom surgery” (construction of male genitalia). For now, Zachary has chosen to pursue hormones, removal of his uterus and ovaries and top surgery, but doesn’t feel that he needs to have bottom surgery. He stresses that this is a personal decision, and that no two transgender people are the same.

Sexual orientation among transgender people is equally varied. Zachary identifies as bisexual. He has dated females in the past and currently has a boyfriend who is a female to male trans like himself. Their shared experiences have brought them very close.

I have learned a tremendous amount from Zachary. I now better understand that people are born with a biological sex and a gender identity, and that these don’t always match up. Trying to ignore ones gender identity, or to force it to align with ones biological sex when this doesn’t feel right, is painful and psychologically detrimental. To feel whole, gender identity must be embraced, but when there is incongruity between biological sex and gender identity, as is the case for transgender individuals, society doesn’t make this easy.

Most importantly, Zachary has taught me that we all need to educate ourselves and develop tolerance toward transgender individuals. He is a person with tremendous courage and integrity, but he has been forced to deal with a more difficult set of decisions than most of us, and with societal discrimination.

This week, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in Massachusetts held a hearing to determine the future of the Equal Access Bill.

This bill would add “gender identity” to the Massachusetts civil rights law for public accommodations. As it stands, this law prohibits discrimination on the basis of “age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex and marital status” in public accommodations, but does not protect transgender individuals. Put simply, this means that Zachary could be denied service or treated unfairly in a restaurant, an airport, a retail store, a public bathroom, on public transportation and so on. According to a national transgender discrimination survey published this year, up to 50% of transgender individuals in Massachusetts have experienced verbal harassment or mistreatment in public accommodations.

(Dr. Annie Brewster, who also produced the audio above, is a Boston internist who became interested in storytelling as a way to promote healing among patients. You can hear and read more of her stories here, here and here, as part of our Listening To Patients series.)

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  • Wick Sloane

    Dr. Brewster —

    I learned so much here. Thank you. Another brave essay/piece by you addressing a complex and important topic that doesn’t receive much thoughtful coverage.

    Wick Sloane

  • KPR

    This is such an accessible and clear description of what it feels like to be transgender. Thanks, Zachary! Kudos also to Zachary’s parents for believing in him and going on this journey with him. The fact that Zachary felt safe enough with his mom to insist she feel miserable when s/he did tells me the foundation of their relationship was already strong before the trans issue came up! That made me laugh. Best wishes to you, Zachary. Here’s to courage. Stay safe and protect yourself from jerks.

  • David F

    I’m very disappointed that this story does not mention, even in passing, the array of undesirable side effects and health risks associated with FtM hormone therapy.

  • Futo Buddy

    it would also mean that children would be allowed to go into the other gender bathrooms at schools. that seems like a headache

    • JCaganteuber

      Why would that be a headache? What’s the big difference? If one identifies as male, then he should be able to use the male bathroom. If one identifies as a female, then she should be able to use the women’s bathroom. One’s anatomical makeup should have no affect.

      • Futo Buddy

        what if one switches back and forth? perhaps the children should fill out a form where they designate their own gender? technically you have to be over 18 to be a transgendered individual according to DSM.
        do you honestly think it would not be disruptive to have 13 year old boys to have free reign in the girls bathroom?
        what we should do if you really want to push this policy is just make them all single user unisex bathrooms. as long as that’s not the case this is a nightmare from the point of view of managing kids behavior.
        as a transgender individual myself, I was told by a state trooper that that was fine but if I went into the woman’s bathroom he would lock me up.

        • JCaganteuber

          To be honest, I have never heard of a transgender person going back to their biological gender. So, back and forth would not be an issue. I suppose someone can stop taking hormone therapy and revert back to their biological gender.

          • Futo Buddy

            I have heard of 13 year old boys lying. if that was all they had to do to go into the girls locker room or more likely as an excuse after going in. kids are not eligible for gender reassignment surgery are they? there is a reason for that.

  • Beth Young, RN

    What a wonderful and moving piece. Zachary, you are so fortunate to have such a loving family, kudos to them for loving you for who you really are. I have long felt (since just a few years after barely surviving high school which was 35 years ago) that most kids with “issues”, if they can make it through the morass of high school, become strong, effective adults with more to offer the rest of the world than their counterparts who didn’t have “issues”. (“Issues” is in quotes because we are ALL different and in middle school and high school we are expected to find a place to “fit in”, some of us find that niche and flourish in adolescence and others don’t. Those who can’t (because there aren’t many others like us for a huge variety of reasons) have the opportunity to discover who we are at our core and are better prepared for the real world because of it. I wish you the very best in your college studies because it sounds to me like the world is in dire need of all you you have to offer it.

  • sjw81

    i dont find this inspiring, i find it very disturbing ; its the end of our civilization

    • dust truck

      yep, before you know it men will be yelling “oog!” and clubbing women over the head and draggin’ ‘em back to their caves! It’s the end of civilization.

  • Blyth Lord

    What an incredible story and how fabulously well told! I applaud Dr. Brewster for working with Zach to help him tell his story to the rest of us, to help educate us and to help him further his identify and confidence.

  • Laura Ryan

    Thank you for sharing your story. It is very inspiring to hear about Zachary’s journey and his advice to others about how to be supportive.
    Laura Ryan

  • Athena Edmonds

    What a wonderful and sensitive story. Zac is a remarkable young man.