When Eli Chi was asked how he identified his gender over a year ago, he freaked out. It was the first time he was offered an alternative to what he had become used to since high school. The question ignited a shift in his gender identity.
“Being brought up female I thought, ‘Well, if I’m female and I’m attracted to other females, that must make me a lesbian,’” Chi said. “The question pushed me to explore my gender further.”
Chi, a Webster alumnus formerly known as Elise Chi, is biologically female, but feels more male. Last spring, Chi decided to start the process of transitioning from the female gender expression to a male identity.
He introduced himself as Eli and asked people to use male pronouns with him to see how it felt. When he became comfortable being addressed as a male, Chi wanted to take the next step in his transformation by taking weekly injections of testosterone.
The testosterone helped Chi, “physically look more the way I feel,” he said.
Although Chi determined he did not identify as a female and became comfortable as Eli, he still had difficulties with his gender. Chi struggled in his self-exploration last year, he said. He didn’t identify as female, but he didn’t see himself as a typical masculine male, either. Then he came across the term “genderqueer.”
On the spectrum of gender, with female on one side and male on the other, genderqueer lies in the middle. Chi felt that’s where his identity was — neither male nor female in the traditional sense, but somewhere in between.
“I would spend hours and hours watching all these different guys, and I could not relate to any of them,” Chi said. “I thought, ‘I can’t be trans. I can’t be a man.’ I don’t feel like I was born in the wrong body because I don’t.”
The transition affects not only Chi, but those close to him. Last spring Chi told his younger brother. Then in August, he told his younger sister, Allison Chi, 21, that he was transgender — someone who identifies opposite their biological sex. The reality of the matter didn’t hit any of them until Eli Chi told his parents in November. Allison Chi had to be the voice of reason for her family at times.
“It didn’t really hit me until a few months later when he came out to our parents,” Allison Chi said. “I realized I don’t have an older sister anymore, I have a brother now. For (our parents) it was a lot harder. They felt they had lost a daughter and hearing the tone in their voices shook me up a little bit. I had to calm them down and explain that you don’t have a daughter, you have a son now, but it’s still the same person.”
Though his parents had difficulty adjusting, Eli Chi said they have been nothing but supportive. They call him Eli and use the appropriate pronouns for him.
After telling his parents of being transmale, Eli Chi decided to take the next step in becoming more masculine.
“I decided to start taking testosterone because it just felt right,” Eli Chi said. “After coming out to my parents, it opened up a lot of doors. I wasn’t going to start testosterone unless I (told) my family first.”
Eli Chi began seeing a therapist last March to discuss his thoughts about his gender identity. In November, after he told his family, he brought up the desire to take male hormones. They discussed the option for a few months, and in January, Eli Chi received a recommendation letter from his therapist to allow him to take testosterone.
Eli Chi began his first round of injected testosterone treatment on Jan. 23. He injects it himself every Monday and has had four shots so far. The shots are ongoing until the transperson decides to stop taking them. Eli Chi wanted to be sure he was making the right decision and felt he would achieve that reassurance through therapy.
“I wanted someone to say, ‘Yeah, you’re ready,’” Eli Chi said. “That was important to me to know I was ready and wasn’t making this incredibly rash decision.”
The amount and how often treatments occur depends on the person’s body, Eli Chi said. Also, the effects of testosterone vary from person to person. The changes take time, but so far Eli Chi has experienced high energy levels, more sweating, slightly more irritability and some uncomfortable growth of the clitoris. Other changes to be expected are some facial hair, potentially more acne, disappearance of menstrual cycle and more body strength. Eli Chi has been working out as much as possible to ensure a more masculine build.
“I’m essentially going through puberty at the age of 24,” Eli Chi said.
Hormonal treatment is just one option for transmales. There is top surgery to remove the breasts or bottom surgery to construct a penis from the existing genitalia. The latter is not perfected and is currently not a popular option, Eli Chi said. Also, some transmales get a hysterectomy to remove the ovaries. For Eli Chi, testosterone was the best option. He does struggle with top dysphoria — a mental disconnect to his breasts — and began to bind his chest shortly after beginning his transition last spring. Some transmales struggle with bottom dysphoria — disconnect with the vagina — but Eli Chi said that isn’t an issue for him.
“I don’t hate my breasts, I just kind of wish they weren’t there,” Eli Chi said. “I bind everyday and it sucks to bind. I’m okay with having a vagina. I’m a boy with a vagina and I’m okay with that.”
Eli Chi is attracted to females and considers himself male, but said he could never be considered a heterosexual man because he’s been a part of the LGBT community for so long. When it comes to dating, Eli Chi said he would definitely disclose the fact that he is transmale to the person he would be seeing, but that’s not a struggle he has come across thus far. The sexuality of the female is not of concern to Eli Chi either.
“I’ve dated girls who have identified as heterosexual and have never been with a female bodied person before,” Eli Chi said. “I’ve also dated girls who have been with other female bodied people and identify as lesbian. It does not matter what the sexuality is.”
Eli Chi is in the very beginning stages of his transition, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate confusion about his gender for his friends, family and new contacts. He is being patient with family and friends and realizes it is a transition for them, as well. Allison Chi has grown up with a big sister all her life until last fall, so a change in perception of her sibling can take some time.
“‘Elise’ and ‘sister’ slip everyday sometimes, but I have gotten used to calling him Eli, and my brother and all my friends started calling him Eli, which helps a lot,” Allison Chi said. “But throughout my entire life, he’s always been a tomboy and seeing him over winter break, I definitely see him as a male more. He’s always been pretty masculine throughout his entire life.”
With new contacts, Eli Chi sometimes struggles with confusion. People will approach him and ask if he is a boy or a girl, which often makes him feel self-conscious.
“I feel like, ‘Am I doing something wrong? Am I not passing?’” Eli Chi said. “It can ruin your day, and it sucks.”
Throughout his journey to becoming transmale, Eli Chi has created a blog to document his experiences and also made YouTube videos. When he was discovering his own gender identity, he turned to the online community for more information. He said this is a way to give back to his community and help other transmales who may be dealing with the same difficulties. His online presence also allows him to clear up any confusion for his family and friends, and fill the community with more knowledge on the topic.
“I want to give back because there’s a hell of a lot of guys out there struggling and I realize there are a lot of friends and peers, and family that need to know more,” Eli Chi said. “There’s unintentional lack of knowledge, so I’m taking advantage of the fact that I’m outspoken to do this.”