Morning Routine, 2005–2007
CN: This piece describes experiences of gender dysphoria and includes gendered words for body parts in the context of gender dysphoria
My morning routine ended when I was twenty-two. Five years on I think I can start talking about it. It’s something I had endured from puberty. But when I was nineteen I moved to London by taking a volunteering job that offered free room and board and for eighteen months, at the cusp of my twenties, my morning routine had to adapt to the logistical difficulties posed by living in close proximity to a large number of cis men. It had become a sort of banal private daily torture. We were in Harlesden, in North West London. It was a large shared community house in one of those tall narrow Victorian town houses West London is full of. It had been a hotel before. I slept in the male workers’ dorm with four other men, next door to the female workers’ dorm. The rest of the house consisted of single-sex rooms that slept two to a room. In these rooms lived folk who were there for respite and shelter, having previously been living on the streets. Most of these people were men; a lot of them had spent time in the military or prison. The entire house usually numbered at around twenty people, except at weekends when we opened up for ‘hospitality’ and people would come from all over London to grab some dinner and kip on the sofas, under the dining table, in the garden. We lived communally, meeting every morning over breakfast and taking turns to cook dinner every night. Workers had no specified times of work, but we had forty-four consecutive hours off a week. The one night that these hours covered would be spent at a 'day off flat' in Holloway where I could get my own room.
Each week we were given three 10 pound notes and a green travelcard neatly folded in a cash bag.
I was not open about the reality of my body with the other men in my room. I have no idea what they did or did not deduce from my appearance and voice. I could not, at the time, afford to think about it. One of my roommates, a German boy, eighteen, ripped, square-jawed, into football, eight inches floppy, did naked press-ups every morning.
I slept in a metal green bunk-bed. On top was a single mattress and at the bottom was a sofa which would pivot and flatten into a double bed. On this, permanently flattened, I slept. I was the only person with a double bed, I'd sleep on one side and imagine a man lying next to me. He was real, but the possibility of him sharing that bed with me was not.
I'd grown up in a shithole satellite town that I hated. So when I moved to London, I moved all my possessions to this one corner of this one room in this house in Harlesden. My bedside drawers were full of CDs, my tiny window was layered up with records, and all of my clothes were stuffed in the gap between my bed and the wall. Tucked under the mattress of the top bunk, and dropping down to cover all sides of my bed, I hung a load of different blankets and towels and one red flag with a picture of Karl Marx on it. This afforded me privacy so long as I was in bed, and having my clothes stuffed behind my bed meant that I could change in private. It also meant that I could sleep without wearing the tight Adidas sports top that bound my breasts. This was a relief.
So when I woke up in the morning I'd put on this sports top thing. It was grey with sweat and two sizes too small so that it would be tight enough. It was grey with sweat because it was a women's sports top, which meant it was difficult to wash cosz I was scared that someone might see it was in my washing. I had two so that I could try and alternate them to stop either of them getting too manky. Every now and then I managed to wash them.
You’ve heard of binders. The most common kind of binder at the time would have been a bandage tightly wrapped around the breasts to force them flat. If you've got big tits this involves a fair amount of constriction on the chest and lungs. It's uncomfortable and causes shallow breathing which has a funny sort of associative effect of making you feel really anxious. I was anxious enough. Another kind of binder was a tight sports bra that you bought one cup-size down to compress your tits. It dug into the skin underneath your tits. It felt like a bra. I wouldn't have been able to tolerate it.
So I had this sports top, it was tight, double-layered at the front, and almost covered my torso but I had to keep pulling it down. It didn't so much compress as blend the contours of my tits and stomach into one vague lump. I would not have been able to use the word tits.
I'd wake up in the morning and stoop awkwardly in the confines of my bed and I'd put this top on. Then a pair of pants, by which I mean briefs, not boxers. Another pair of pants I would roll diagonally, thicker at one end and thinner at the other. This I folded over so that the thicker end vaguely made the shape of a ballsack and the thinner the shape of a willy. I stuffed it into my pants. I hated the way these tight pants looked on my wide arse and chubby thighs, so over the top went a pair of loose cotton boxers. Over my sports top went a t-shirt and then a smart shirt; I’m not a formal dresser but the buttons, collar, and pocket on a smart shirt help to obfuscate what’s underneath. And then a loose jumper. These four layers were the absolute minimum. I wore them in summer. When it was hot I had to frequently excuse myself to the toilet so that I could wipe the sweat from underneath my tits. I couldn't use the word tits. As much as possible, I lived nocturnally during the summer. I still have a vitamin D deficiency.
With my sports top, t-shirt, smart shirt, jumper, pants, packing pants, and boxers on I got out of bed and went to the toilet. If I was on my period I would have to stuff some tissue in my pants to catch the blood. If I was lucky I might have found some tampons somewhere or I might have recently seen my mum who would give me some. I couldn't say the word tampons. I didn't let my mum either. We called them thingies. Most of the time I couldn't get hold of tampons; I could never bring myself to buy them from the shop. Deeply buried among my clothes behind my bed was a carrier bag of blood encrusted pants. I double-bagged them and threw them away when I could find a quiet night. I took too much Co-codamol. Co-codamol (paracetamol and codeine) is an analgesic. You need an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen for period pains. I didn't know this because I couldn't talk to anyone about my body. So I didn't ask. So no one told me. The Co-codamol didn't get rid of the pain so I took more of it until it gave me its own set of stomach pains. About once a month I'd take time off work with some mystery stomach illness. I was considered to be lazy and unreliable.
After having a wee I went back to my room, grabbed a towel, and walked the five metres between my bed and the shower outside my room. I locked the door. Once in the shower I would take off all my clothes. The sports top, the t-shirt, the smart shirt, the jumper, the pants, the other pants, and the boxers. I stood naked. This was the only time I was ever naked. I was shagging a man I loved, but he never saw me naked. I never slept naked. Standing in the shower behind a locked door once a day, I was naked. When I sprouted tits in my mid-teens, I was so horrified that at first I was having baths in boxers and a baggy t-shirt. But I enjoyed being naked in the shower. I enjoyed feeling air and water against my skin.
Once out of the shower I dried myself and put on my pants, my other pants, my boxers, my sports top, my t-shirt, my smart shirt, and my jumper. I unlocked the door and went back to my room and put on a pair of badly fitting jeans.
When I finally had my tits lopped off at the age of twenty-two, I immediately stopped packing my pants. I started to wear just one pair of boxers at a time. I'm twenty-seven now, and last month I took some dodgy MDMA that had me walking up and down the house naked, in front of strangers. It was a good night.