Portrait: Heath Ledger (The Joker)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red) + black Bic marker

Time: 6 hours

Reference: Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). Wanted to try a very different style with more black and more abstract representation of facial features. Also wanted to try to create a compelling portrait without being able to rely on detailed colorful eyes to draw attention.

Comments: most fun so far!!! Pencil allowed for outer face shape and outline of eyes. Eraser allowed only when the drawing was complete. Did lots of practice work to figure out the best method for black (high-density layering of black pen with marker over top) and the best way to draw hair to against a black background (could not use my previous scribbly style). Really happy with this one!



“Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.
Oh, and you know the thing about chaos?
It’s fair.”
– The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)

Portrait: Tom Hardy


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red, green)

Time: 6 hours

Reference: Tom Hardy (not in any character role). Chose a face with a happy, smiling expression and a more challenging posture (face slightly angled, head tilted upwards and looking over shoulder).

Comments: definitely the most challenging portrait so far. Pencil allowed for outer face shape and outline of eyes. Eraser allowed only when the drawing was complete (to remove traces of pencil outline). A smile is very difficult to capture, especially with an open mouth and visible teeth. Also very difficult to make his body position look natural. I’m happy with his shirt and necklaces, usually I don’t enjoy drawing clothing. Doing a five minute practice sketch first was helpful.



“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”
– Eames (Inception, 2010)

Portrait: Jonny Lee Miller (Sherlock Holmes)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, green)

Time: 2 hours

Reference: Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary (2012 – ). Chose a face in semi-profile for more challenge, with short stubble to try a different texture. I will admit that I’m a huge fan of various book and television versions of Sherlock Holmes, and I think Elementary provides the most compelling characterization of Holmes and Watson.

Comments: pencil allowed for outer face shape only. No eraser. Facial proportions accurate. Shading smoother. Eyes and hair consistently the most enjoyable aspects of a portrait. I lost interest after finishing the face and decided not to darken his jacket.


“I mean, Watson, that I am an important part of your life. And you are an important part of mine. And even though we might draw further or nearer from each other depending on circumstance, you and I are bound, somehow.”
– Sherlock Holmes (Elementary: S03/E04, 2014)

Portrait: Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock Holmes)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red, green)

Time: 90 minutes

Reference: Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in BBC Sherlock (2010 – ). Chose Cumberbatch for his very distinctive facial features. Slight head tilt for challenge.

Comments: pencil allowed for outer facial shape only. No eraser. Facial proportions much more accurate than previous drawing. Shading still very rough. Satisfied overall, but considerable room for improvement.


“Heroes don’t exist. And if they did, I wouldn’t be one of them.”
– Sherlock Holmes (BBC Sherlock: S01/E03 – 2010)

Portrait: Robert Downey Jr (Tony Stark)


Materials: ballpoint pen (black, blue, red, green)

Time: 45 minutes

Reference: Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008). For simplicity, I chose a recognizable male face on straight angle with facial hair – adding more facial hair allowed relatively easy adjustments in lower face shape despite being unable to erase.

Comments: first completed drawing since 2011 and first human face ever attempted. No pencil, no eraser. It’s certainly not great – facial proportions somewhat distorted, shading very rough – but it’s a start…


“We make our own demons.”
– Tony Stark (Iron Man 3, 2013)

Forever Incomplete


In a previous post, I mentioned that I used to draw. Most of my earlier artwork was done during high school from 2006 – 2008. I usually drew animals. I preferred colored pencils. I reluctantly tried different styles and different drawing materials (pencil, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, ink etching) for art class assignments.

High school art class deadlines forced me to keep drawing frequently for three years, but after graduation I only finished a handful of pictures. Eventually, I completely stopped drawing. Art was simply too frustrating and too painful for me to continue. I was too perfectionistic for the process to ever be enjoyable. I would get so angry while drawing that my family often had to physically restrain me from tearing my work to shreds. Before I ever started a picture, I spent hours drawing a 1cm by 1cm grid on the reference photo and enlarging the grid proportionally on the blank white paper so that I could copy each detail meticulously. After the grid was complete, the drawing process felt like a never-ending series of mistakes that required constant erasing and smudging and adjustment. So I hated drawing. But I felt compelled to do it because I received so many compliments on the end results.

My last attempt at drawing was during second year vet school in 2011. It was a picture of a cow and her calf, shown above, intended as a gift for one of my professors. I became so enraged halfway through the drawing that I tore up the reference photo and threw my box of colored pencils across the room. After cleaning up the scattered paper fragments and shattered rainbow lead, I stuffed the half-finished picture back in a folder and promised myself I would never draw again. That drawing will remain forever incomplete. And I was artless for the next five and half years.

In all my previous artwork, I had never drawn people. Partly because I assumed I would never have the skill to draw a person perfectly. But mostly because I was so uncomfortable with my own appearance – discomfort arising from gender dysphoria and resulting in anorexia – that I refused to consider any attempt at drawing a human face or body. But I harbored a secret desire to be able to draw portraits with enough skill to capture a person’s resemblance and facial expression.

During my time on the psychiatric unit over the past few months, I finally decided to try drawing again. But I knew I had to do something differently to avoid returning to the same frustrating perfectionistic habits. And following the radical improvements in body image, I wondered if I could now try drawing people. So I broke all my old rules.

No pencil. No eraser. No grid. No animals.
Human faces. Drawn freehand. With pen.

This process has been far more enjoyable than I ever imagined. I now find myself looking forward to drawing with more excitement that I ever believed would be possible for me. I think my portrait efforts are a reflection of my progress in creating a more positive perception of my current appearance. And, in some ways, these portraits have been very helpful in contributing to acceptance and appreciation for human faces, including my own.

My drawings have become an incredibly important aspect of how I cope with body dysphoria, so I will start posting them here on Genderland. This ongoing active acceptance of my appearance is a process that will remain forever incomplete.

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
– Basil Hallward (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde, 1890)

Ambiguous Androgyny (Part 3): What You See

Part 1: Recognizing an Optical Illusion
Part 2: Deconstructing an Optical Illusion
~ Part 3 in the Ambiguous Androgyny series ~


Following the radical shifts in perspective after the mirror experiment, I have been working through several new considerations.

The first consideration is an important caveat: all of these recent realizations – a more positive and more realistic body image, a concrete image of my ideal body to help guide transition choices, and increased gratitude and acceptance for my body – all of these realizations apply very specifically to my body as it currently exists. Had I attempted that mirror experiment at any other time over the past 10 years, I think I would have aborted the attempt within a few minutes because the disgust, self-loathing, and confusion generated by seeing my mirror reflection would have been intolerable.

But now, I am fitter, stronger, and physically healthier than I have ever been before. This is not to suggest that accepting your body is only possible if you meet externally imposed standards of fitness or conform to conventional expectations of attractiveness. Absolutely not. I am only saying that the increased muscularity and decreased body fat associated with a rigorous exercise routine are changes that have allowed me to finally feel comfortable in my own body.

This also is the first time that I have achieved a degree of androgyny sufficient to alleviate most of my physical dysphoria while also maintaining a healthy body weight. This is not to suggest that expression of androgyny excludes bodies that are thinner or heavier than mine. Absolutely not. I am only saying that finding a way to create a comfortably androgynous appearance for myself, without resorting to a dangerously low body weight, is a much healthier and more sustainable approach than my teenage anorexia.

I think it is also important to acknowledge that much of my gratitude for my current body comes from realizing that I have won the genetic lottery. As an XX individual, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have a body that is capable of looking this androgynous without medical or surgical intervention so far. I have made considerable effort, through my workouts and my diet and my clothing choice and my haircut, to create this appearance. But that effort is only one small part of the story. I am lucky that I have the metabolism to lose weight relatively easily and maintain low body fat. I am lucky that I have the anabolic capacity to build muscle mass fairly easily in response to the effort I put in at the gym. I am lucky that my facial features are naturally androgynous. I am lucky that my chest has always been flat and has become even flatter after thousands of pushups and thousands of bench press reps. I cannot take credit for those factors. I can only be grateful for them.

The second consideration is that maintaining my body in a way that feels comfortable for me will require consistent ongoing effort. I have several options about what kind of effort this might be. I could continue my current diet and exercise routine. I could proceed with medical options including testosterone and mastectomy. I could work towards greater internal acceptance of the aspects of my body that I cannot control. All of these possibilities represent ongoing effort. All of these options come with advantages and disadvantages.

My daily workouts require a considerable investment of time and energy. Having started a new combination of medications to manage the debilitating fatigue of depression and having adjusted my lifestyle to incorporate an early morning exercise routine, the time and energy costs are no longer prohibitive barriers.

My diet requires constant awareness of calories, grams of protein, grams of fat. My diet also requires active tolerance of the often intrusive nature of this awareness. Many of my food-related thoughts and behaviors are habits deeply ingrained from a decade of disordered eating, and I do not recommend these strategies to anyone else. But I have accepted that these thoughts and behaviors are unlikely to disappear entirely. And while I don’t think the improvements in body image will lead to any immediate changes in my approach to food, these thoughts and behaviors become much more tolerable in the context of acceptance and gratitude instead of disgust and self-loathing.

Now that my ideal body is more clearly defined in my mind, I feel better able to evaluate the many different options for testosterone moving forward. Because I have realized that my goal is not complete physical masculinization but rather minor masculinizing adjustments to my current body, I think I would prefer to start on a low dose of testosterone so that physical changes occur very gradually. At this point, I have one particularly prominent question: In an XX person, would long-term administration of low dose testosterone ultimately lead to complete physical masculinization, but at a much slower pace than higher doses of testosterone? Or would long-term administration of low dose testosterone lead to partial masculinization that would be sustainable and non-progressive past a certain point? I am hoping very strongly for the latter. I have started looked for published data to answer this question, but so far I have only found articles describing the effects of chronic administration of high doses of testosterone in FTMs or describing the effects of short-term administration of low doses of testosterone in women (including the effects of exogenous testosterone administered to treat various medical conditions as well as the effects of endogenous testosterone in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome). However, there seem to be no studies describing the effects of long-term administration of low dose testosterone in female-bodied people without concurrent medical issues. I have only found a handful of anecdotal descriptions on personal blogs from trans people taking low doses of testosterone. But this is an important question for me, so I will continue my investigation.

The third new insight is that greater acceptance and comfort with my how my body LOOKS has been followed by much greater awareness of how my body FEELS. Prior to the mirror experiment, I was so detached from my body that I had very little awareness for how it felt. When prompted by my psychiatrist to identify physical sensations associated with certain emotions, I was completely unable to do so. The only time I ever felt any meaningful physical awareness was during exercise, as I have described with respect to running and boxing.

But since that mirror experiment, I seem to have developed an intensely heightened awareness of so many daily physical sensations. A shower used to be just a shower. Now a shower is a thousand individual drops of water, each one hitting my skin and trickling down my body. Applying hand lotion used to be just a necessary task. Now I am aware of how the knuckles and metacarpals and tendons of one hand feel inside the palm of my other hand. Clothing used to be just a set of pants and shirts and underwear. Now I am aware of how different types of fabric feel against my skin, aware of the pressure as a shirt stretches across my shoulder, aware of the gentle tension of cuffs around my wrists. Going outside used to be a retinal adjustment from dark hallway to sunny doorway. Now this transition is not just a visual adjustment but also a physical awareness of the change in temperature from hallway to door, an awareness of how the shadows feel when they dance across my skin as the sunshine chases them away. Waking up in the morning used to be an abrupt termination of a dream replaced by real-life thoughts. Now waking up is an immediate awareness of my whole body stretched out on the mattress, an awareness of the light weight of sheets and blankets surrounding me.

“You used to be much more… muchier. You’ve lost your muchness.”
– The Mad Hatter (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865)

I really can’t describe this feeling any better than The Hatter. Being inside my body now is much more muchier. There’s so just much muchness.

I had been living with my parents before I was admitted to hospital but was unable to move back in with them after discharge, so one of the priorities was finding a place to live after discharge. Up until the mirror session, I had been thinking only in terms of apartments and rent and location. But now, I finally understand that I can live HERE, in my own body. It feels like authentic inhabitation of a home I didn’t even realize that I had.

The last new realization is also the most powerful. I previously described watching how women shift their interpretation of my appearance from male to female when they see me in public washrooms. I recently had the opportunity to observe this perceptual reversal in a dentist’s waiting room instead of a womens’ washroom.

I sat down in the waiting room to fill out a general history form, which required that I list my current medications. An elderly man sitting nearby saw me writing and said, “Whattaya doin’? Writin’ down the names of all your girlfriends?” His tone and posture seemed to suggest that he was making a conspiratorial joke, but I did not find his questions humorous at all. I was annoyed by the interruption, astonished by his presumption, and curious about his assumptions.

I was wearing jeans and a loose-fitting blue sweater, with my backpack on the floor beside me. I thought it most likely that his attempted joke hinged on the string of assumptions that I am male, straight, teenage, and obsessed with girls. I also considered the possibility that he perceived me as female and assumed that I am lesbian because I have short hair. I won’t list all the problematic stereotypes associated with those assumptions, but I will say that I have encountered all of them on multiple occasions before.

I continued writing without looking up from the page, and said, “No, I’m writing down my medications.” And then, because I was both intensely curious and intensely irritated, I looked up and asked him, “Do you think I’m male or female?” He frowned, and I watched his eyes roam up and down my body, eventually returning to my face. He finally said, uncertainly, “Ooooh… I guess… you’re actually female?” So it seems that he had indeed made that first series of assumptions: male + straight + young = girl-crazy. And while his assumption that I was a boy provided some validation of my physical androgyny, his comments also demonstrated incredible ignorance. So I shrugged, unwilling to definitively confirm either maleness or femaleness. But because he now saw me as female, I said, “Doesn’t mean I don’t have girlfriends.” He let out a short uncomfortable chuckle, and then stood up and moved to the chair as far away from me as possible.

And you know what? I did not feel the slightest hint of guilt about being the source of his discomfort. Nagging guilt about the discomfort that my appearance causes other people has plagued me in the past. But not anymore. Because I have achieved not only an authentic inhabitation of my body, I have also achieved an authentic acceptance of my ambiguous androgyny.

This here? What you see when you look at me?
This is not a deliberate deception.
This is not an intentional illusion.
It is authentic ambiguity.

It is not a palmed card.
It is not a crafty shuffle.
It is not a false cut.
It is an ace worn proudly on my sleeve.


“So come close. Get all over me. Because the closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see.”
– J Daniel Atlas (Now You See Me, 2013)