By Ari Utria
We’re back again with our regular column: My Fave Five, one in which we ask trans-identified individuals to reflect on the five most memorable days of their transition. For our second one yet, here is Ari Utria. If you’re interested in contributing to the Fave Five column, please write to us at email@example.com.
1. The first time I “met” myself as Ari
The first step I took towards self-discovery was coming out as a gay female. When I was able to do that, I felt myself consciously letting go of conventional ideas of how a female should present herself—clothing, hair, makeup, etcetera. It was liberating. I started to change my style and progressively moved towards androgyny—choosing an unconventional way to show my identity gender-wise, incorporating both feminine and masculine elements into my self-presentation. I was lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive partner who was interested in fashion and style and she helped me redefine myself through my clothing and my hair styles. She understood that I needed something to help me feel comfortable in my skin.
We started to explore my look together and noticed how androgyny and the simple notion of purchasing non-gendered clothing were still not subjects of conversation, nor were they readily available in mainstream stores. Going shopping meant either buying men’s or women’s clothing. She decided to start a blog around the subject of androgyny and gender within the fashion industry and chose me as her model.
We started shooting photos of ourselves, with more experienced photographers as time went on. The deeper we got into it, the more I started to see images that reflected my true self. She would apply makeup that masculinized my face and I would wear men’s clothing. I never felt comfortable with my given name and especially did not want to use it on a public blog. I stared at these photographs which reflected the boy I always felt I was; the name Ari arose and it just made perfect sense.
2. The first time I put on a chest binder
I got such tremendous satisfaction from discovering Ari as the person I was, and then introducing them to my closest friends. I was finally finding comfort in the way I presented myself, but it still was not enough. I felt like people could see through the clothes and see the female body that was hiding underneath them—and psychologically, that was extremely difficult. I didn't know anything about binding other than the memory of Mulan, the Disney character, wrapping her chest up to disguise herself as a boy in order to join the army. Then the “Break Free” video started circulating on social media and I knew immediately I would find comfort somehow in binding my chest.
As a super-rational, analytical person I didn’t just go out and buy some kind of wrap for injuries. I dove into heavy research into the concept of trans-masculinity and the solutions that have been created to help with dysphoria related to one’s breasts.
All the answers were very expensive and all reviews and blogs talked about how painful binding can be. I was afraid of spending large amounts of money on something I would end up not using. I ended up trying to just use the wraps I had at home from previous injuries but I realized very quickly that that was not a good idea.
I randomly went onto Amazon to see if there were cheaper options designed specifically for comfort. To my surprise, I found a brand that predominantly catered to an Asian customer base that was selling the same binder as other retailers I’d found, but for a fraction of the price. I immediately purchased one in every colour and two different sizes—as an experiment. The day they arrived, I ran into my room and put one on. When I turned to face the mirror, tears of relief and happiness streamed down my face. There I was.
3. Coming out at work
When I started my current job, I was only Ari to my friends and some family members. My plan had been to fulfill my contract under my given name and then leave the company and start fresh at my next job. I was working on a team of predominantly cis-gendered men and if you include me, there were three females on our team. We would constantly be referred to as “ladies,” and I had to stare at the giant name tag on my computer all day. I kept telling myself to stay calm and that a year would fly by and then I could leave this place and move on.
But one day I received a group email that was sent to me and the two women on the team and it ended with the phrase, “Thanks, ladies!” That was my breaking point and the push that I needed to reach out to Human Resources and ask for help.
They were incredibly receptive and supportive and the same day I met with them and my superior to explain my story, the IT department was instructed to change my name in all the systems, as well as the contact information in our company database. I could finally peel off the name tag and replace it with a new one. The following day my supervisor told the rest of our team in one of our weekly meetings and the information was well received. Other departments were also informed and I received several messages of support from people. It was a wonderful feeling.
4. Being accepted by TransCare
Deciding to medically transition was a slow process for me. I knew that I definitely needed to have top surgery but I hadn't decided if I should go on hormones as well. I had found comfort under the umbrella of “transgender,” but still felt outside of the gender binary. I don't identify completely as male, but I know I am very far away from female. Before making any decisions medically-speaking, I had to figure out what that meant for me. I had to undergo some more self-reflection and figure out what would be the best solution.
Eventually after much research and many conversations with people who felt the same way, I came to the conclusion that, yes, I needed to medically transition. It was an emotional rollercoaster filled with moments in which I thought my life was over; at times, I thought I would be better off taking my own life—but something always told me that I deserved the chance to pursue happiness.
I contacted the local transcare system and added my name to the wait list they had in order for me to see an experienced physician. After months of waiting, I finally got a phone call telling me it was finally my turn! I was finally going to have access to the help I needed to feel complete.
5. The day I started hormones
Just over a month ago—after multiple appointments with my new doctor, blood tests and a physical examination—I was ready to start taking testosterone. I had managed to convince my doctor to print out my prescription two weeks before I was actually approved to start my treatment. I went straight to the drug store and purchased my first little vial of testosterone. I held it in my hand so tightly and walked home with the biggest smile on my face and in my heart.
Two weeks later, I was sitting in the clinic waiting room sweating and smiling nervously. A close friend was with me for moral support and we made small talk until the nurse who was going to administer my first dose, called my name. My plan was to have her show me all the steps and then take over and inject myself so that I would not have to return there for the second dose. I couldn't stop smiling as she walked me through all the steps involved in preparing the shot.
Then she told me to sit on the bed and drop my pants. The needle was ready for me. She showed me the motion I should use to insert it into my leg and then attempted to hand me the syringe. I burst out laughing and chickened out. She then asked me to relax and gave me the shot. It was painless and I stared as the fluid went into my leg. I placed an Iron Man band-aid over the injection site and jumped off the bed with so much joy I had to stop myself from giving the nurse a massive hug! It was the beginning of the rest of my life. My second birthday.
Ari Utria is half Brazilian, half Colombian (but born and raised in Zimbabwe), and works as a Lighting and Compositing Artist for film and television. Ari hopes to make a difference in the way society views transness, and to be a voice for the LGBTQ community. Ari Utria currently lives in Canada. Follow Ari’s journey via instagram at @arifrem.