MICHIGAN (WXYZ) — Alia Ismail of Dearborn Heights has been through a lot of changes.
“Through my transition, I documented everything whether it was on Instagram or the actual documentary. And for me, I thought it would have been super inauthentic if I didn’t share this part," she said. "Because it’s real life.”
*Alia's pronouns are they/she
In May of 2015, Alia began medically transitioning into Issa, a transman in search of a more masculine-looking body.
“I wanted my face to be more defining. My voice to have a little more substance to it. I had this idea that hormones were gonna help me solidify my masculinity," she said.
Dr. Amanda Kaufman, a medical doctor who’s worked in transgender medicine for 15 years says what Alia was experiencing was gender dysphoria.
"Gender dysphoria is simply not feeling comfortable with the body your in," she said.
She says this type of dysphoria has taken a devastating toll on some of her patients.
"There’s a huge rate of substance abuse, suicide, and other violence because some people with gender dysphoria can’t imagine another day living in the body that they were born with," Dr. Kaufman said.
Alia said she began to feel very insecure in her relationships even with the short hair and masculine clothing. So after therapy, she decided to start testosterone.
"I’m not a medication person. I never liked being on medication," Alia said. "It wasn't until I finally got fed up with looking in the mirror and not being happy."
It took one year of hormones for Alia to finally hit a sense of gender euphoria.
“I was so happy in my body. I loved looking at myself in the mirror," she said.
"I still had this androgynous look even tho I was getting a lot more facial hair at that time. I was happy.”
By years two and three she said things changed.
“I just continued to get more and more masculine. My beard kept filling up my voice just kept changing. I was now being perceived as a cisgendered male.”
Dr. Amanda Kaufman says most female-to-male transitions can go unnoticed.
"You give any female body three months of testosterone and you’re gonna look like a guy," she said.
But this new appearance often comes with the erasure of one's trans identity.
“Even though I looked like a man, I still felt comfortable and resonated a lot with women and I didn't like that that wasn’t being acknowledged anymore. I was so uncomfortable in my body again.”
Kyra Smith the healing support services coordinator at LGBT Detroit says Alia’s ability to pass took away from her true identity.
"And that’s why you may see people take hormones for a certain period of time and they may just stop. And it's not necessarily that they're detransitioning it's just, 'I don’t like the way my body is being perceived by others,'" Smith said.
By 2018, Alia said she once again fell into a state of gender dysphoria. But it wasn’t until February 2021 when she realized hormones were part of the issue.
“As much as testosterone helped me so much and saved my life and my depression, it no longer was serving that purpose for me anymore. And so I just felt like, well, if this isn’t something I need to do to survive then I don’t need to be on it," Alia said.
It’s been 6 months since Alia’s used hormones.
She says she's happy and has no regrets about any of the decisions she’s made.
“I have to accept that that is what I went through and that is what I had to grow through in order to be who I am today.”
While Alia is currently presenting more feminine, she still hopes to have a more androgynous look going forward—just without the help of hormones.
“I think it's very important for people to understand that gender is fluid. And just like Alia, there are a lot of people on their journey to find out who they are and their most authentic self," Kyra Smith said. "And so it’s just as a community we show understanding and support.”