I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I remember playing dress up as a child, standing before the full-body mirror in my bedroom and admiring how I looked just like a superhero or Robin Hood or Peter Pan or a knight. Or I’d stand there in my regular clothes, pushing my hair behind my ears, trying to figure out if I looked like a boy or not.
It didn’t have to be a mirror. I’d catch sight of my reflection in the car window and become mesmerized by the features I saw there: brown eyes, bright smile. My eyes followed the way my nose curved, the way my ears joined with my jaw, which then melted into my neck. I’d look at my hair and wonder if it was short enough that other people would know I was a boy. I’d compare what I saw with the image in my mind, and feel confused when they didn’t match.
I remember watching in the mirror the day I finally got my hair cut short. Both my head and chest felt lighter as the brown locks fell to the floor.
Post-haircut, looking in the mirror brought joy. Especially with clothes on, my outside matched my inside for the first time.
Puberty turned my relationship with mirrors into a love/hate thing. I found myself spending more time in front of the mirror when I’d get dressed, checking that my clothes looked good and hid the curves that had started to appear. I also started avoiding mirrors when I wasn’t fully clothed, or made a point of using mirrors that only showed from the neck up. Looking at myself in a sports bra and pants wasn’t too bad, but looking at myself shirtless guaranteed a rising tide of dysphoria that would drown me if I wasn’t careful. Thankfully, the bathroom medicine cabinet was high enough that I could only see from the shoulders up.
In public, I’d constantly check my reflection wherever I could, whether the mirrored pillars in the department stores or the windows of buildings I walked past. I had to make sure that other people saw what I saw. Dressing room mirrors could alternatively be heaven or hell, depending on what clothes had to be tried on that day. New cargo pants? No problem. New t-shirt? No problem. New dress clothes? Problem. Big problem. As I tried on blouses and dress slacks, I couldn’t meet my own eyes in the mirror, because this was not me.
The love/hate relationship continued even after I began my Transition, although the love started to overcome the hate. I’d use the mirror every morning to check that the Ace bandages I initially used to bind weren’t obvious under my clothes. The switch to actual binders a year later made life even better. The first time I stood in front of the dressing room mirror as I tried on a men’s dress shirt and chinos, I could finally meet my eyes in the mirror. Starting testosterone meant that I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my reflection, trying to see if anything had actually changed yet. Was that facial hair? My shoulders seemed to be getting broader. And was that an Adam’s apple?
If at all possible, I still avoided mirrors when naked. The bathroom mirror at the house I lived in in college showed most of my torso; I trained myself to not look below shoulder-level. Once I had on underwear and binder, however, I had no problem catching a glimpse of my reflection.
As a student teacher and a sub, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror each morning, making sure I’d tied the tie straight and checking that my shirt and slacks looked good. Even on the weekends now, I had no problems checking how I looked before going out, whether to my museum job or elsewhere.
June 2012 brought a huge change: top surgery. I remember looking at myself in the mirror a day or so after the surgery, trying to figure out how I’d look when the drains and dressings disappeared. A week after the procedure, I finally got to see how I looked shirtless as an adult. Even with the still-healing incisions and grafts and my chest shaved, I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.
Nowadays, I love mirrors. Six years of testosterone, surgery, and consistent exercise have helped me get a body that matches how I’ve always known I should look. I’ll happily watch myself shave, put on lotion after a shower, or get dressed for work or play. No matter what, I can meet my reflection’s eye and know that finally, the world sees what I see in the mirror.