Transition is not a one-way street, or a bowling lane with the bumpers up. Transition is not a recipe with precise measurements, or a fixed curriculum, or a rulebook. Transition is not a set protocol, dictated by faraway experts. It is far too intimate and important for that.
Transition is a banquet. A table overflows with delicious offerings. Bowls of ripe fruit, loaves of fresh bread, the shifting fragrances of herb and spice. Pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, mint.
You are welcomed to this feast as an honored guest. Your cup is filled and the table is set. Take your seat.
There is no right way or wrong way to dine at your own banquet. Let taste move you. You can fill up on bread or skip right to dessert. You can eat nothing but grapes or try a little bit of everything. You can fill your plate once or many times. All is offered to you without question or terms.
Who can judge the tastes you combine? Will you allow anyone to diminish your enjoyment? No–you will savor the smells and the tastes and the textures. You will nourish your body and soul. You will laugh with your friends and you will get seconds as you damn well please. This is far too good for shame or petty limitations.
Transition is an emergency exit; go through it. Transition is a tourniquet; apply it. Stop the bleeding. Cease the flames.
And then stand among ashes in the burned-out room, sunshine streaming through smoke, and the cold rain of the sprinkler system, and the shrill, relentless pulse of the alarm. Put down the fire extinguisher.
The time has come to dance.
Taking on a new name is one of the most important steps in transition. But naming oneself is a strange activity. Most people inherit their names and take them for granted–that’s just what they’ve always been called. How on earth does a grown person choose a new name for themself? Here are some ideas about how to select a new moniker.
1. Narrow it down. With zillions of names out there in the world, it’s pretty tough to settle on one. So a good place to start is by narrowing the field. Think about what’s important to you in a name, and come up with a few criteria. Some trans people want a name with a certain meaning, a name from their religious tradition, a family name, a name that was common the year they were born, or a name that is unique or unconventional.
When I was changing my name, I chose two criteria that helped narrow it down. I decided I wanted to keep my initials–so my new first and middle names would start with the same letters as my given first and middle names. I also decided I wanted to keep the format in terms of the significance of my names. My first name is a Hebrew name, and my middle name was given to honor a dear friend of my mother’s who died. So I knew I wanted a Hebrew male name beginning with the letter R and then a male name beginning with the letter P (not my real initials but you get the idea).
This was so helpful. Instead of wading through thousands and thousands of possibilities, I was dealing with a much smaller field. I came up with a rather short list of male Hebrew names beginning with R and quickly settled on one that fit. My mom suggested a male name beginning with P to be my new middle name, and I really liked it, so I went with that.
If you know a few things you want in a name, you can cut down the options from nearly infinite to a manageable range.
2. Try it out. Find some safe spaces to try on your new name and see how it feels. This could be at home with your partner, with a few close friends, in one organization you belong to, or on the internet. It’s a good idea to test-drive the name, see if it feels right, and get a taste of what it will be like to be called that name for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to try out a few different options.
3. What does the name say? Give some thought to what the name will communicate to others. For example, I have a very ethnically marked first name. People are often confused at first, many people mispronounce it, and I constantly get comments like “So are you Jewish?” and “What does your name mean?” This is totally fine by me–but it’s important to consider how this new name will affect your experience of the world. Do you care about having a name others find easy to spell and pronounce? How do you feel about what the name might say about your ethnic, racial or religious background?
Another thing to consider is what a name suggests about your age. We’re in the odd position of naming ourselves at the age of 20, 30, 50 or beyond–decades after our first name was selected. So we make our choice in a different cultural climate than our parents did. Do you care about whether your name creates any kind of anachronism?
4. Just pick something. There is no one true perfect name. There are a range of names that fit, some better than others. At the end of the day, you just have to pick one. A name is like a pair of jeans–you break it in over time. We grow into our names; they shape us and we shape them. We’ve probably all known a few people who share the same name, yet wear it very differently. Over time, you’ll grow into your name and your name will grow on you.
So take your time, think it through, try on different names. But at some point, give yourself permission to just choose one. Trust yourself to make a good call. Allow the name to settle in over time.
5. Have fun with the paperwork. A legal name change is a pretty serious pain in the ass. Depending on where you live, your name change may involve numerous packets of paperwork, hundreds of dollars in fees, notices in legal papers, appearances before a judge, and updating records at your job, school, bank, with various government agencies, etc.
In my state, I picked up a packet from the courthouse to fill out, took out an ad in a legal notices paper, and appeared once before a judge. Then, I took my name change order to the Social Security office, MVD, bank, university, and so on. All in all it cost about $150 for the name change itself, plus the costs to get a new ID. Google the process in your jurisdiction to find details.
Give yourself rewards and incentives to make this process enjoyable. If you’re intimated by the paperwork, break it into very small chunks and do a tiny bit each day, followed by something you enjoy. Acknowledge your progress along the way. When you’re finally finished, celebrate! A new name is a happy occasion and a major accomplishment
Readers–how did you settle on a new name? If you’re currently changing your name, what’s challenging about the process?
When I first started exploring my gender, I was a proud outlaw. Then I was a conformist: I wanted to be just a regular dude. Today I am a proud outlaw once again.
I’ve noticed a pattern of identity development among binary trans folks. (Not sure how this applies/doesn’t apply to nonbinary people. Feel free to fill me in!) As we discover and express ourselves, we often have a shifting relationship to queerness and gender norms. These shifting feelings often follow a particular trajectory, which I’ll dub circling back to queerness.
Initially, many of us embrace being queer or different. We may have spent years or decades living in silence and shame–but as we dip a toe into the great lake of honesty, we start to feel okay with being different. Many times, we feel passionately about our difference. We are proud rebels, outlaws! We are rule-breakers! We have no use for sexist bullshit or gender stereotypes. We are going to be free, goddammit!
But as we wade deeper into these waters of genuineness, something changes. We get real with ourselves about the longing, hurt, disappointment, and exclusion we have felt for so long. We admit it: we always wanted to be just another one of the boys or girls. We wanted to belong. We wanted to be recognized. And we still do. We want to be a woman or a man, period. We want everyone to be able to spot our gender with just one glance or a few words on the phone. We want to look and act and fuck just like all the other dudes or ladies. We go stealth, if possible. We begin to insist we are normal–we are just like everybody else. If we could erase our painful former lives and be cis people of our post-transition genders, we would do it in a second.
Months pass, then years. We continue our march into the lake, and the water gets deeper. We know ourselves better. We are recognized more often for the women or men that we are. Dysphoria eases, a lifting fog. We begin to relax a little. We are not so painfully insecure; we are not so alienated from our bodies. Something changes.
We begin, again, to notice that we are different–and that being different might not be such a bad thing. We notice all that we’ve learned from our suffering. We start to actually like ourselves, and we realize that being trans has helped to make us who we are. We get more comfortable. We begin coming out about our trans status, if safe and possible. We get our outlaw spirit back. We realize it’s not an either/or choice: we can be men and women and we can be different. We stop pretending and we stop making concessions. We have no use for their bullshit system. We don’t have to be just like them–and we don’t want to be.
We are rebels. We are queer again. We have learned to swim.
So you’ve decided to take testosterone. Starting T is an exhilarating and highly disorienting experience. Along with much anticipated changes like a lower voice and a squarer jaw, you’re bound for a radically altered social landscape and shifting internal world. You’re coping with the demands of a second adolescence and a gender transition–and you’ve probably got a full plate of regular life stuff, too.
My first year on T was one of the most beautiful, transformative, stressful and challenging passages of my life. Nearly five years later, I feel at home in my body and my social role; gender isn’t on my list of concerns. If transition is right for you, and T is part of that transition, some time on testosterone is likely to give you a similar sense of ease, belonging, and the precious freedom to worry about other things. Testosterone therapy works. The trick is getting through the intensity of transition with your resources and relationships intact. Here are a few suggestions for surviving your first year on T.
Each person is different, so please feel free to take or leave anything here as it is helpful to you. I’ve aimed this post at people taking T with the intention of bringing levels into the male range.
1. Expect chaos. You are diving head first into a storm of transformation–physical, social, emotional and otherwise. So expect stormy conditions for awhile. Your sleep, appetite and libido are all likely to change dramatically (including possibly increasing by an order of magnitude). You may also notice that your moods are all over the map and that people are treating you differently. Know that you are going through an intense period of change. Remind yourself that this does not last forever. Make any accommodations that you can to make this a bit easier on yourself. Eat snacks, take naps, take time to care for yourself. This is not good time to take on any huge new projects. Let transition be your project for awhile.
2. Express yourself. This is an emotional time. Hormones are throwing your moods out of whack. You’re undergoing an important process that you may have brooded over for years. And you’re coming up against the longing, shame, stigma, and hope that characterize the trans experience.
I found that, along with some moodiness associated with my body being in flux, starting T brought up a lot of emotions around being trans. For the first time, I was able to feel my anger at my family and my society for failing to see and accept me. Moving through these feelings is an essential part of the transition process.
Make sure you have plenty of opportunities to vent, share, and connect with other people. See a counselor, talk with friends and family, attend a trans support group, play your favorite sport, keep a journal, create music or artwork, yell as loud as you can from the top of a mountain. Whatever strategies work for you, be sure to create space for your feelings and find ways to express them.
3. Patience is a virtue you probably don’t have. After all the agonizing about transition, after all the hoops and hassles, comes another tremendous challenge–more waiting! You have to wait for your voice to drop, wait for hairs to grow, wait for your body to change shape, wait for others to see you as male. Perhaps you are more patient than I, but this was one of the single hardest parts of transition for me. I was tired of waiting and I had an intense fear that testosterone would somehow not work on me and my body would never change.
But it did work, and it does work. A year from now, you are going to look very different. As much as you’re able, enjoy the ride. Be patient if you can be. At least, be patient with you impatience.
4. Masturbate. Everybody talks about how libido increases with T, and for me, it was totally true. If masturbation is something you enjoy, now is an excellent time to enjoy it. I jerked off a lot during my first year on T. It’s a great way to adjust to any libido changes, and also provides a nice chance to relieve stress and get to know your changing body.
5. Be self-absorbed. Might sound like weird advice. But people in transition are guaranteed to be a bit more self-absorbed than usual. It’s an intensely introspective, self-focused process. After years or decades of living in the closet, our selves need some extra attention. Like the first time around, this adolescence is a process of self-expression and discovery. It’s important to pay attention and try on different ways of moving and being. So don’t fight it–just go with the flow and be self-absorbed for awhile. Trust that by going into this process completely, you will soon enough arrive on the other side.6. Remember to listen. It makes sense to be focused on yourself right now. But don’t neglect the important people in your life, either. Show up for your partner, friends and family by giving them your time and your full attention. Be ready to put the transition stuff down for awhile and hear about what’s going on for other people.
Also be prepared to listen to their feedback for you. At some point, someone is going to tell you that you’ve been a jerk recently, you’re angrier than you used to be, or you’re waving your male privilege around. From one guy to another, they are probably right. Don’t make time for folks who put you down or reject your transition–but be ready to hear challenging feedback from the people who love you. This is just part of being a dude in our society; you’re not going to do it gracefully on your very first try. Listen with patience and openness, and be curious about how your behavior can change.
7. Celebrate small changes. Most of us are focused on the big, exciting changes, like muscles, a beard and being seen as male everywhere you go. But the little changes are just as delicious, and in some ways, it’s the small stuff that really makes your transition. Notice the new hairs sprouting up on your belly, each time your voice cracks, the way people move a little differently around you, the veins just a bit more visible on your arms, even the pimples. It’s all these tiny signals that sooner or later come together and present a new side of you to the world. Enjoy them.
Readers–what advice would give to someone just starting T? If you’ve started T recently, how are things going so far?
Pronouns–those tiny little words that can hurt like a broken bone or be as delightful as a birthday present. For many trans and gender-nonconforming people, gender pronouns are an important aspect of self-expression. Whether you want different pronouns because of your gender identity or your views on the gender system, it’s a challenging task. If coming out is safe and feasible, you might be ready to ask your loved ones to start using a new pronoun. How do you go about getting other people to call you by the right words?
1. Ask for what you want. Requesting different gender pronouns can be a nerve-wracking prospect. You might be wondering whether people will take you seriously as a she or a he, whether people will play grammar police when you request singular they, or whether friends and family will be willing to learn a new set of pronouns like ze/hir/hirs. It can be tempting to look for a compromise and ask for whatever you think is most likely to stick. This might be a good option if you think there’s no way friends and family will come around or if you just don’t feel that strongly about it. In general, though, I think it’s worth it to ask for the pronouns you really want. You’re already going out on a limb–you might as well go all the way out!
2. Be patient…for awhile. Adjusting to a pronoun change can be pretty tricky. We tend to use pronouns without thinking about them. Even people who are 100% supportive will probably screw up at first. I’m trans, and I have messed up people’s pronouns numerous times. For some reason, it seems new pronouns take longer to stick than a name change.
So when you first change your pronouns, be patient with friends and family who make genuine mistakes. I’m not talking about people who are disrespectful, cruel, and/or refuse to accept your new pronouns. I’m talking about people who love you, who are good to you, who plain old mess up sometimes. When people use the wrong words, politely remind them and move on. They should be able to acknowledge the mistake and move on quickly, too. So long as people are actively cooperating, allow a grace period for adjustment.
3. Boycott the wrong pronouns. It’s been almost a year since you came out about your pronouns to friends and family. Some people have completely adjusted, some mess up occasionally and then correct themselves, and some call you the wrong pronoun on a regular basis and don’t correct it or apologize. You’ve talked this over with everyone and politely corrected people, dozens and dozens of times. It’s time to end the grace period and stop playing along with folks who claim it’s too hard to change.
At this point, I suggest completely refusing to respond to or acknowledge the wrong pronouns. This is an approach I took and it worked really well for me. The questions I asked myself was, “What would a cis guy do if someone called him she?” I figured he would a) assume the person was not talking about him, b) be shocked and even offended if he realized they were, and c) correct the mistake with indignation and a sense of complete entitlement to the correct pronouns. So, I made it my mission to react in this way, figuring that I am just as entitled as anyone to the right language. I don’t recommend flipping out on people or anything–just acting as if it’s completely obvious that others should use your preferred pronouns, and refusing to play along when they don’t.
For example, a mispronouning would often happen in my family when we got together for dinner and my mom started telling stories about when I was younger. As my mom began an anecdote referring to something she did as a child, I would get a very confused look on my face. She would pause, noticing my confusion–often, that would be enough and she’d correct herself. If that didn’t happen, we’d have a short exchange along these lines.
Me: Wait, who is this story about?
Mom: You, of course!
Me: Oh! Huh, okay. You said she so I thought you must be talking about [female relative].
Mom: Oh, did I? Sorry about that. Anyway, when he was little…
I suggest a “fake it til you make it” approach–act like you can’t imagine being called the wrong words, are shocked someone would make such a mistake, and are obviously deserving of the proper terms. I found that after a few weeks of acting this way, it became second nature.
This worked really well on two levels. First, once using the wrong words stopped being a viable strategy to communicate with me, the last holdouts came around. Second, and perhaps more important, getting mispronouned didn’t sting so bad, because I was not participating in it.
4. Spend time with people who get it. Coming out about your pronouns, correcting people when they mess up, adjusting to the change yourself–it’s an exhausting process. Recharge by spending time with friends and family members who see you for who you are and show it.
When I was knee-deep in my transition, after an exhausting family dinner in which I’d been mispronouned ten or twenty times, it was such a relief to come home with Alma and know I could finally relax. I also drew strength from close friends who got my masculinity and had no trouble seeing me as a dude and calling me he.
To stay in balance during this difficult change, spend plenty of time with folks in your life who just get it. If none of your friends or family members fall into that category, seek out other people for solidarity. You might be able to find trans support groups or meet-ups in your area, or feminist or queer organizations where you can meet like-minded people. If this is not available where you live, connect with people online as much as you can.
5. You are more than your pronouns. At the end of the day, remember that you are a whole person. You are an incredible being of great dignity and power. Whether or not other people get your pronouns right, you deserve respect, happiness and love. Be good to yourself. Don’t let others’ ignorance compromise your self-worth.
Readers–what do you know now that you wish you’d known when you changed your pronouns? If you’re considering changing pronouns in the future, what holds you back?
I’ve been processing the prospect of a hysterectomy for the past year. I’m at the point where I definitely want the surgery and will probably schedule it as soon as I don’t have a bunch more urgent stuff demanding my attention (i.e. when the semester is over). I have to say it’s been an excruciatingly painful aspect of my transition. A few thoughts on where I’m at and how I got here.
1. Sterility is a really big deal. When I went in to get a prescription for testosterone, my doctor asked me if I wanted to preserve the possibility of having a biological child. I was like, um, yeah, hell no. I was also 21 years old and way more concerned with paying for beer that night than with being a parent someday.
Letting go of the possibility of having a biological child has been the hardest and most heart-wrenching aspect of this experience. I don’t want to use any of the options available to me for having genetic offspring. There are so many reasons for this, I don’t even want to get into it. Suffice to say that even though I don’t want to use what I’ve got–just the prospect makes me queasy–it’s still hard to let it go. It means letting go of the fantasy that I could ever be a biological father. In confronting this reality, I have felt disappointed, cheated, and humiliated. I have felt left out of the great dance of life, a lonely alien. It feels strange to be so sad, yet so repulsed by the options that are open to me.
2. I am in profound denial about my body. I have never accepted the fact that I was born with a female body. I have to admit that I just straight up do not believe it, to this very day. There’s some pretty solid evidence for my view in that I am, you know, a man. Again I ask, WTF God? WTF?
This is a very deep-seated belief that is beyond all logic and is extremely resistant to change. As far as I can tell, I have always carried the worldview that I am male and it seems I always will. This is the reason approaching hysterectomy has been so painful–it has forced me to experience the cognitive dissonance of being transsexual in a whole new horrible way.
My take on this is, to paraphrase Eckhart Tolle, when you can’t accept, accept your non-acceptance. I accept that I am a trans man, that I have a view of my body as male that is not going to change, and that the thing I can change is my body. I accept that I cannot be a good custodian to female reproductive organs. It’s just not realistic for me at all. So a hysterectomy is something I can do for myself and for my health, out of love.
3. Grieving is necessary. I spent a good while feeling heartbroken about my status as soon-to-be-sterile and never having the option to be a biological father. This was an absolutely essential process for me. It’s normal to grieve over this kind of thing, and we need to allow ourselves the space and time to fully go there.
I can now see that a lot of my grief is about lingering shame and pain around being trans, rather than about parenthood (though of some of it really does have to do with parenthood). I have an ingrained belief that being able to father a child has something to do with being a “real man.” I’m still dealing with this; cultural ideas like that are just hard to shake off.
4. Planning a family is about a lot more than gametes. As I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel of my grief, I got a reality check about my hopes to be a parent. Having a child is something I want to do with my wife, obviously, but it’s only recently that I’ve been able to really consider her feelings. In retrospect, I’ve been pretty myopic and selfish about the whole thing; but at the same time, I really could not have gotten to this point without moving through my grief.
Alma has always wanted to adopt and has absolutely zero interest, or really less than zero interest, in ever being pregnant. I can now enjoy the wonderful match we have in this area and feel good about supporting her in her bodily autonomy.
I’m enjoying my new-found clarity about my own feelings, hopes and fears. I’ve come to realize that I actually do not care about having a biological descendant or sharing that connection with a child. I do care very much about being a father someday and I hope to adopt children with my partner. There is a scary vulnerability in this, as I have no idea if it will work out. But it’s real and it’s honest, a genuine dream.
How has your transition impacted your feelings and choices about fertility and parenthood?
Thanks to Lesboi for teaching me the term “middle surgery” for hysterectomy.
I finally got my birth certificate amended. I’d been putting off dealing with it and finally sent in the papers a couple weeks ago. It arrived in the mail, shiny and official. I was born in Massachusetts, and I’d read online that I could expect a birth certificate with my birth name and assigned sex crossed out, and the correct name and sex written in. But when it came it was complete and perfect, just my name and the word male, no nonsense. Opening that envelope had a real thud of finality to it–the very last piece of paper to get changed.
I’m jumping directly into another legal transition of sorts and changing my name again. Alma and I have put a lot of thought into what to do with our last names now that we are married. I’ve decided to take hers. I’m pretty excited about it. I really wanted us to share a name; she is very attached to hers, and I’m not that attached to mine; and we’re not that into hyphenation for a few reasons. Any why shouldn’t a guy take his wife’s name?
So soon I will have changed every single name from what I was born with–first, middle, and last. I’ve managed to keep the same initials, SLB. Taking her name also allows me to make a gesture of cultural solidarity, as she has a very ethnically marked name. She’s converting to Judaism; taking her name is kinda as close as I can get to “converting” to be Chicano.
I’m finally getting ready to seriously pursue a hysterectomy. It’s been a long emotional process–I hope to give it a proper treatment in a post soon. At this point, I feel at ease with my body and my circumstances, and I want the surgery. I’m hoping to get it this summer.
Between these things I’m feeling like my transition is really ending, maybe over. My paperwork is all changed; I’m getting ready for my last surgery; the big changes in my life now aren’t about my transition; shame’s appearances get rarer and rarer. It’s a good feeling, a spacious absence, very quiet.
I’ve written before about my evolving relationship with my post-transition body. Last night while meditating naked (don’t knock it til you try it), I found myself staring at my junk, which is pretty typical. And suddenly I wondered, why the staring? What am I looking for? In an instant I realized that I am looking at my penis to confirm that I am a man. I am looking to my body to validate my transition, to prove I really am a guy, like I still need to convince a skeptical mother and bigoted society that my transition is right.
I began to laugh then, because, of course, my dick cannot do that. Of course my genitals don’t determine or validate my gender! Hello, I’m trans, I supposedly know this.
Yet once my body became congruent with my lived sense of self, I reverted to hegemonic thinking and demanded that my dick demonstrate my manhood. This left me scrutinizing my body for proof of maleness and any sign of femaleness. And this, in turn, left me rather uneasy and unhappy, blocking my ability to just be in my body.
Seeing this, I let go completely of asking the question “Male or female?” about my body. There was a sense of space and relief, like the refreshing burst of silence when a constant hum suddenly stops. Maybe for the first time in my life, I was inhabiting my body, naked, without subtly trying to categorize myself as male or female.
I saw much more fully then, like a fog on my glasses clearing away. And oddly enough, my body became more comfortably male to me than ever before. It was a relaxed, natural masculinity, with a violet aura of sacred queerness. I felt I was seeing my body as someone else might see it, just a body without the screen of pain and memory. I sat in an easy confidence, suddenly liberated from a terrible hunger that had been siphoning away my strength. My body is male, yes, and trans too, and above all, human and very ordinary, soft and olive and animal, covered in fuzz, not problematic in any way.
We’ve been taught to pose the question “Male or female?” constantly. It’s a core process of our society, the rigid sorting of life into these two constructed poles. As gender-variant people, we know this, and we see the violence it does. Yet it is all too easy to do the very same thing to ourselves, whatever our identity or transition status. It’s the path of least resistance, a conditioned habit deeply ingrained, a reflex we don’t even know we have. We ask and ask and ask, aching for an answer that will make us feel okay. The messages we get about ourselves hurt so bad, we feel like we need to hear the right answer or we will never be alright.
But the asking itself is the problem. The more we ask, the more we look for a definitive category that confirms our sense of self, the worse we feel, and the farther we get from our bodies, our lives and our truth.
We can only see ourselves when we look with eyes unclouded by judgment. We can only feel ourselves when we sense with hearts unburdened by need. Compulsively categorizing the world in terms of a male/female dichotomy undermines our ability to actually perceive. If we need some insight to navigate the field of gender, there are other questions we can ask.
So as soon as you can, just drop the question. Don’t answer it, don’t even disagree with it. Just let it go, like a dandelion seed on its parachute in the wind.
You’ll be glad you did.
Whether to undergo gender transition is a profound and challenging decision. It’s a question each gender-variant person has to answer for themself. As someone whose life has been transformed for the better by transition, I wanted to share a few ideas that might be useful to those wondering where to go next.
First, a reframe. In most cases the question is not so much, “Should I transition?” but rather “How should I transition?” In the broadest sense, transition is a process of personal growth and change in which we adjust our lives, self-expressions, bodies and social roles to foster a healthier, happier and more harmonious existence. The list of possible transition steps is endless, and no two transitions are exactly alike. For some folks, transition in any form is just not feasible due to safety concerns or other circumstances. At the same time, more and more people are finding ways to trade out gender dysphoria for gender joy.
If you are profoundly unhappy with your gender status, chances are you would benefit from some form of transition–that is to say, some kind of readjustment, internal and external, to relieve pain and nurture contentment. What might that adjustment look like for you? How do you figure out where to start, and where to stop?
1. Forget the narrative. This is easier said than done, but seriously, as much as you can, disregard the dominant transsexual narrative. You know the one I mean–the one where you came out at age 3, where you take a specific dose of specific hormones, where you have specific surgeries in a specific order, where you look and fuck a specific way post-transition, etc. This is just as important whether you are a trans woman or man pursuing a conventional transsexual transition or a nonbinary or otherwise gender-variant person charting a different path. The narrative was not created by trans people; it does not serve trans people; and it will pretty much make you feel like shit regardless of who you are.
You are going to feel inadequate, illegitimate, not trans enough, not man or woman enough, etc. You are probably feeling this already, and it is going to happen over and over again. This is part of being trans in an intensely transphobic world. Recognize these thoughts and feelings for what they are: internalized transphobia. Don’t let them run your life.
2. Get playful. Gender questioning feels like a very serious business, and in many ways, it certainly is. These are life and death issues, after all. Yet when we labor under the weight of this great seriousness, we severely limit ourselves. It’s like trying to learn to swim with a bag of bricks on your back.
Instead, to whatever degree you’re able, take a playful approach to your gender journey. Somber, high-stakes, stressed-out struggling is no way to pursue happiness; it will only lead to more struggling. If we want to create conditions of ease, contentment, and harmony, we must begin to live that reality now.
What does gender playfulness look like? The specifics vary widely, but basically, you give yourself permission to explore, try things on and pursue what appeals to you in an open, low-stakes situation.
Say you’ve always wanted to wear panties or boxer briefs. You may agonize about what this means about you, what it indicates about your future surgeries and whether you’ll ever find love. That’s okay–given the cultural context, of course you feel that way.
You can also just buy the damn thing, put it on and see how it feels. You can do this without condemning yourself or attempting to predict the future. Just put the underwear on and sit there and notice how you feel. Then take it off. Then put it on. Then try one in a different color. Prance or strut around the room. Have fun with it.
Release your gender-variant inner child, who never got to run free and play properly. From a place of love and respect, let that kid run wild on the big open field of gender. Don’t build fences, chase them down or put a leash them. Let them play, trusting in their innate intelligence, like a wise parent who knows that the bumps and scrapes of youthful summers pose no serious danger. Then, see what happens.
3. Honor your responses. As gender diverse people, we have become experts in silencing, ignoring, repressing and mistreating ourselves. This has got to change if we are ever going to feel okay.
Learn to listen closely to yourself. Feel the subtle ripples of joy, shame, anxiety, and desire that move through you. Hear your body’s moans of pleasure and of misery; listen to the commentary of your chattering thoughts. Do this as you play with gender, as you go about your day, as people call you whatever pronoun, as you eat your lunch, do your job, etc. Notice when you feel scared, contracted, limited, and nauseous; notice when you feel relaxed, open, beautiful and whole.
All the information you need is already within you. Contained in the secret movements of your thoughts and emotions is everything you need to know to manifest your metamorphosis. The key is to start really listening to this information, and above all, to honor it. Let your heart and body be your guide. Follow the thread of joy with complete faithfulness.
Your own responses will tell you where to begin, where to move next, where to sit down and rest awhile, and where to call home. There is no other source of this wisdom. You must look within, and you must do so with a loving heart and an open mind.
Meditation is a wonderful tool for accessing the world of wisdom within you. Meditation has been a complete game-changer for my mental health and self-acceptance; it really helps me with internalized transphobia, dysphoria, and anxiety. If you don’t have a meditation practice, you might want to look into the contemplative wing of your tradition (if you’re religious), try secular mindfulness meditation or learn about other traditions.
Readers–what advice would you give to someone wondering whether and how to transition? For those who are questioning, where is your journey taking you today?
A moment of clarity recently. Sitting deeply in my body. Thought in the form of words, spontaneously.
I am a hermaphrodite. I have no idea why.
I laughed for a long time. I am baffled and I am whole.
I am letting go of the need to be as close as possible to the system’s ideal of a man. I am okay with my ambiguous body. I am proud to be a member of a secret tribe. I am comfortable moving through the world as a man. I am an undercover outlaw. It’s a condition of my life: very well.
I am a man. I see a man’s face in my mirror. Other people see a man when they see me, hear a man when they hear my voice. The best part about this is how little I care. Sometimes I feel a pleasant sense of affirmation and belonging; sometimes I feel the gnawing pangs exclusion and isolation. Both are okay. Most of the time, I just don’t think about it. What a goddamn relief. As Amy has said, the best part of alleviating dysphoria is forgetting about gender and just living.
I am not a man. Not because I am transsexual–because I am a soul. In my essence I am an open eye, perceiving, no content. In our deepest essence, no one is a man, woman, nonbinary person. I am a man, as much as anyone is, which is to say, superficially. Gender exists on the level of form; it’s about human bodies, human personalities, cultural lenses, social roles. Nothing wrong with that–it’s part of life. One part.
It’s good to do what we can to be genuine, to be at ease, to be ourselves, to enjoy life. But we don’t want a Pyrrhic victory in which we imprison ourselves in our bid to be free. So we need a right relationship with the project of self-discovery and self-expression.
The experience of being trans can potentially reveal what is transient and what is solid, what is real. This is a twofold realization. First, we realize who we are. We might be feminine, masculine, androgynous; we might be men, women, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, etc. It is healthy, courageous and invigorating to be honest with ourselves. We then begin a process of evolution and manifestation is which we express ourselves in the world. Beautiful. This is a very good thing.
But in itself, it’s incomplete. If we get trapped in a rigid idea of ourselves as our labels, we will be back in the box all over again, if perhaps a somewhat friendlier, roomier box than before transition. I have observed that trans men and women often run directly from the box of assigned gender to the box trying to fit in perfectly as the more suitable gender, trading a cage for a carpeted cage. (Not sure how this plays our for nonbinary people–let me know in the comments!)
This is what I did and it seems to be quite common. We get lost between competing false selves. After beginning medical transition, I became very hung-up about my gender, feeling a completely overwhelming desire to be gendered correctly by others and to be not one iota different from a cis man. It’s perfectly reasonable to try to express one’s gender and want others to recognize it. But the painful need to be seen, and, more troubling, to be the same, was actually rooted in transphobia. On some level, I accepted the bullshit line that being trans is inferior, that we are less real and less legitimate; I thought I needed to be as close to cis as possible in order to be okay. But I don’t. I just need to be me.
It is totally understandable that we try desperately to “pass”–our very lives depend on it, and assuming a person genuinely wants to live as a woman or a man, there’s no deceit involved, just the intense desire to express ourselves honestly at long last. The danger is getting stuck there. By getting stuck I don’t mean simply living as a particular gender–nothing wrong with that–but getting stuck in the belief that our very worthiness and even existence depend upon our gender.
We also need the second realization: what we are not. We are not our personal histories, our genders, or check-boxes on a form.
What are we? Deep, alive, mysterious. We are exactly how we’re supposed to be.