CMU transgender student spends year transitioning from female to male
Ellyot Gryczewski is a Central Michigan University student who has spent the last ten months transitioning from a female to male.
Ellyot Gryczewski sits in his kitchen, watching as a syringe slowly fills with testosterone. He asks what video he should watch this to distract him from the sting of the injection. He selects “Make a Man Out of You” from Disney’s “Mulan” for irony.
He takes a Snapchat of his fiancee, Karlie Penn, who is filling the needle, and adds the caption “she’s the best” over the photo.
A transgender support group meets on the first and third Tuesday of the month.
Meetings begin 5:30 p.m at 201 S. University Ave.
Partners and family members are allowed as it is a support group.
“Are you ready?” Penn asks. He pauses and then nods. She presses the plunger of the syringe down and its contents empty slowly into his arm.
October is Ellyot Gryczewski's tenth month on testosterone. The Perrysburg, Ohio senior is spending this last year at Central Michigan University transitioning from a female to male.
As a transgender person, his sex assigned to him at birth was female; his anatomy and hormones. However, it doesn’t match his gender — his inner sense of man or woman.
“You grow up being told you should be one way, only to realize you’re actually the other way. You should have been the other way the whole time,” Gryczewski said. “Saying ‘being a man stuck in a woman’s body’ isn’t really fitting. There’s not a little man in my head yelling (all the time). I just wish society wasn’t so strict on a gender binary system.”
Gryczewski began experiencing gender confusion in junior high school. His mother made him change into more feminine clothing after she found out he was playing baseball. Girls "shouldn't wear baseball hats," she said, and made him change.
When Gryczewski returned to the field the next week in his new uniform, his boy teammates withdrew. They told him they didn’t play with girls.
“I always tended to have guy friends, but they always treated me like a girl,” Gryczewski said. “I never got the bonding experience with friends like guys have. It put me in the middle somewhere. The guys didn’t fully accept me and I didn’t fit in with the girls.”
When he was little, Gryczewski knew he was attracted to women. After noticing an attractiveness, Gryczewski would shake his head and decide to "deal with it later."
Yet the attraction wouldn't be suppressed for long. He came out as bisexual in junior high school. The sexuality made sense at the time, but Gryczewski said the identity never felt right to him. He came out as a lesbian his junior year of high school.
The summer after he graduated from high school, Gryczewski came out to his mother as a lesbian. There was an initial “blowout” between the two, but in the end she accepted him.
During his sophomore year of college, he attended therapy sessions for a psychology class project and realized it was his gender identity that didn't fit.
“Putting it together, I said I think I’m transgender,” he said, recalling wanting to wear ties and have short hair as a child. "(A transgender friend from high school and I) started to compare our stories. They lined up a lot.”
Gryczewski’s therapist referred him to another professional who specializes in counseling in transgender youth. The new therapist used a book titled "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition." She began listing the characteristics to be diagnosed with Gender Identity Dysmorphic Disorder.
Gryczewski matched with each characteristics.
“When I went home for Thanksgiving, I ended up telling my mom,” he said. “I waited for another huge (fight)— but she just said ok, I love you anyway. Five minutes later, she was joking with me about it. It was actually really nice to get it off my chest.”
Five months into dating his fiancee, Penn, Gryczewski came out as transgender. When he told her, she said “it was about time he figured that out.”
It was an answer he said he should have expected. They two met in an archery class a year earlier after Gryczewski read Penn's sign language conversation between a friend. Penn, who is deaf, was calling him cute. He approached her after class and they quickly became close.
After months of being friends, he suggested they should date. “Took you long enough, she responded.
The two are now engaged. Together they are raising Penn's daughter Ryan, who is also deaf. The extreme unconventionality of their family is “always full of shenanigans" and makes them unique.
“It’s really interesting trying to tell people we have a kid together. Having them ask how we had a kid together if I’m transgender,” Gryczewski said. “(Ryan is) not biologically mine, but I’m raising her. Just adding them being deaf on top of it just makes things really loud.”
Penn immediately became Gryczewski's main support system through his transition. It's been a difficult journey to self-realization.
His shots were biweekly in the beginning of his transition. The first two weeks on hormones felt like waking up "after a night out drinking," he said.
After his shots, he'd initially feel great. On particularly bad days, he'd find himself on the bathroom floor, sobbing for no reason. The severe emotions eventually balanced out when he switched to weekly shots of half the dosage, but he said he's still easily irritated.
“I’d get so angry randomly," Gryczewski said. "(Penn and I) would fight about literally everything."
Gryczewski may require the weekly shots for the rest of his life, despite the severe lack of certified local or state doctors. One of his original doctor vacationed to Switzerland without notifying him. A few weeks later, the doctor he transferred to closed their practice.
The doctors were two of twelve transition-certified physicians he said he's found in Michigan. To get his levels checked, his next closest options are in Lansing and Grand Rapids.
Dosages and testosterone levels aren’t something to toy with — Penn said each time the dosage amount increases, Gryczewski risks his body going “haywire” and replicating a drug overdose.
“On testosterone, I can still get pregnant, but the chances are lowered because the lining doesn’t repair. That makes my chances of uterine cancer skyrocket,” Gryczewski said. “If my levels aren’t where they need to be, my body can (be badly messed up). But most doctors don’t seem to care.”
The transition is a life-long process. Physical changes aren’t permanent after years of hormone injections, meaning he risks the changes reversing if he stops his injections, and the costs add up. Gryczewski's doctor and counseling appointments typically cost between $150 and $300. His hormones costs $100 a bottle and typically lasts four months.
Top surgery to remove his breast tissue would cost more than $8,000. Before he receives the desired surgery, he sometimes wears a binder to flatten his chest. Binders typically costs $100 for a “decent one.”
“(Top surgery will allow me to) to feel more comfortable in restrooms and public," Gryczewski said. "I’ll be able to finally walk around without a shirt on and locker rooms won't be a huge source of anxiety."
The Wait, Costs and Healing of the Transition
Throughout the transition, Gryczewski hasn't just struggled with being jealous of cisgendered men, but other transmen. He finds himself counting the weeks he’s been on testosterone and feeling frustration when he notices his voice hasn’t dropped as low as friends who are also taking hormones.
Physical attributes like facial hair, larger feet and a lower, more typically masculine voice make the weekly shots worth it. It's a physical transformation he looks forward to.
“There’s a lot of things you want to happen right away that biology won't allow to happen quickly,” Gryczewski said. “It would be nice to realize I’m transgender, (immediately begin) hormone therapy and two days later have a glorious man-beard.”
In the last 10 months on testosterone, he’s grown an inch, his jawline has become more defined and his menstrual cycle has stopped. The changes came with consequence though — not only do the shots sting, but he has experienced growing pains and “more acne than a first round of puberty.”
Since he began physically passing as a man, he said he receives more head nods from other men who pass by him. People are more prone to listen to him in group settings, he said. He also finds he is now less likely to change his opinion in debates.
“I decided I was going to do something for myself — to take control of my life and improve my mental health,” he said. “I am more confident, comfortable and less self-destructive.”
Before his transition, Gryczewski said he struggled with self-harm throughout high school and a majority of college.
His transition is a form of recovery. He said he doesn't feel like he's lying to himself anymore.
“I don't have this huge weight on my mind anymore. I appreciate my body more," Gryczewski said. "(Transgender people) are just people. We aren’t asking for special treatment. We aren’t trying to make a statement. We are trying to blend in and create as little issue as possible.”