This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Four months ago, while on vacation on the North Sea shore, Anja returned to her hotel room to find her boyfriend, Tim, trying on her underwear. She was shocked, remained in the doorway, and laughed—not sure what to do with herself. Near the end of the vacation, Tim asked her: "Would you still be together with me if I were a girl?"
When I meet Tim and Anja—which aren't their real names—Tim is wearing a short, gray coat with a lilac shirt underneath. His lips are painted a subtle shade of red, and he has covered up some spots in his face with a concealer that's a bit darker than his own skin tone. For this article, he asks to be referred to as "Tim" and "him." It's what he wants now; it's how the people around him refer to him. "It would sound weird to me to be called 'her,' even though it would be right."
Tim is a year older than Anja and studies physics. I meet them at a burger place, after they've just been to the opera. They're having a burger and share a Fanta. Anja is wearing a black dress, and her blond hair is up. She wants to go dancing in a club or a bar, but he doesn't. He says he feels uncomfortable around muscles and alcohol.
Tim realized that his idea of himself didn't match his body when he was still a boy. He's been disgusted by his masculinity since his first erection. When that burden became unbearable for him, he started cutting himself—he put a knife to his forearm. Some time later, he did the same to his penis. "It's like an illness, like a tumor. It doesn't belong to me."
Anja takes her phone and shows him pictures of the town where she gave a piano recital yesterday—especially of the wrought-iron streetlights that lined the streets. Anja and Tim started photographing beautiful lanterns on their trips to Cologne, Hamburg, and Düsseldorf. He smiles and strokes her thigh.
Tim and Anja got together a year and a half ago, while practicing for a piano recital together. She fell in love with the elegance of his hands first. His fingers are long, and he files his nails. He fell in love with her female form, her lips and breasts, which he'd love to have himself. "I dream of having a body like hers," Tim says.
After piano practice, they talked for hours. "He's very sensitive and special," Anja says. She noticed that he doesn't like guys acting macho—he once threatened to leave a bar after a group of rowdy lads fresh out of soccer practice came in. She loves that about him. They go to beauty shops together to test creams and perfumes. "Women have softer skin," Tim says. "I try to compensate with skin care products." Anja chose his perfume, a men's fragrance.
Anja is his first girlfriend and the only person he has slept with, despite being ashamed of his body. "Sex is beautiful," Tim says. "But I'm embarrassed about my body." Anja exhales loudly through her nose. "Embarrassed is the understatement of the year," she says. "It took a long time until you would undress in front of me."
She likes the body he hates. She likes his stature. "I fell in love with him as a boy. If he transitions and has surgery, I probably won't be sexually attracted to him anymore." She likes his strong shoulders, his narrow hips, his penis. She doesn't like that he stopped working out and started eating unhealthily—he wants to gain more body fat, because women have more body fat. "I don't understand why he wants to change his body," she says. "It feels to me like he wants to destroy something that's beautiful." Tim isn't looking at his girlfriend. He's shaking a little, and a piece of lettuce he just picked out of his burger escapes his fingers and falls on the tray.
Anja isn't the only reason he is thinking twice about transitioning. He's afraid that he'll still look masculine afterward. "If everyone could still tell that I wasn't always biologically a woman, it wouldn't feel real to me." The next thing he says sounds memorized: "The best thing would be if l could just flip a switch and be a girl."
Tim's physical transition from a man to a woman begins with hormone therapy, which means his skin will soften, and he will grow breasts. Operations will come in phases—there will be at least six months between every one. The hormones won't change Tim's voice, he tells me, so he will have to do speech exercises to be able to speak at a higher pitch. He hasn't told Anja about this yet. He says having to do so much for a woman's body feels awkward.
Tim's parents don't know about his impending transition either: He only started to talk to them about the way he feels after he found a therapist and had had consultations with surgeons. His father thinks it's "ridiculous" that he wants to live in a woman's body. "He said I'm not a woman and would never think like one."
Tim's therapist encouraged him to see a hormone specialist. She explained that his insurance would check the psychological evaluation and then cover the costs of his transition.
Tim recently started talking to Anja about female names. "Love isn't dependent on gender," Anja says. "But it will be a different relationship. We'll be more like close relatives or good friends." She suggested half a dozen names for him and has decided on Annika.