Transition is never perfect, never easy and never finished. But it does get better, it does easier and it does recede into the background as time goes by.
I started my transition in my early twenties, after escaping from a completely unaccepting home situation in suburban Tennessee by joining the Navy. My family’s fundamentalist religion made me feel terrible about myself, and I was the last person anyone would have ever expected to join the military. But in the Navy I was promised a ticket out of Nashville and a medical job that would allow me to take care of people and be compassionate, as long as I kept up physically and maintained a strong will to survive. I did my best in the military, taking full advantage of the training and learning self confidence that would later serve me well when I began the most difficult journey of my life: the journey from living a lie as a boy to living truthfully as a girl.
Although I had always been a feminine person who dreamed of being a girl, I never imagined it was possible to transition and I was not an ideal candidate in any case. I was tall and skinny, with bad teeth and sensitive skin that was always turning red and looking irritated at the slightest little thing. I was desperately awkward around people and painfully shy. But immediately after High School and four years in the Navy, I decided that I had to try or else I would never know whether I could ever be happy. I made many mistakes along the way, and had many bits of luck, and here I want to share some of the things I wish I had known when I began this amazing process.
I wish I had started earlier. When I was a teenager, there was very little information available, so I hardly knew that there was anyone else like me in the world. But now there are community resources like TYFA and online sites like Andrea James‘ tsroadmap.com that list thousands of pages of medical, social and legal information, so people in transition can learn all sorts of things about the process before they even begin. They can learn about how to find therapists or supporters, and how to come out as trans to parents, families and friends. They can share information about what to expect with their parents and doctors, and get everyone working together to make a safe, smooth transition as early as possible. In a nutshell, young people are at an age where some of the most irreversible changes are still taking place in their bodies that will read as either “girl” or “boy” to people. Trans women who take steps in their 20’s or before to block testosterone with various medications can reduce the thousands of dollars and pain that comes with removing facial and body hair that will otherwise become thicker and more abundant as time passes. They can reduce the effects of testosterone-fueled growth spurts that result in unusual-for-women height, shoulder size, hand and foot size later. And women who start hormone therapy at an early age usually have hugely improved results in physical development, skin texture and general feminization as compared to women who start this later in life. I wish I had taken care of the legal aspects of transition sooner as well. I was very focused on getting my appearance in order, and integrating into society as quickly as possible, but it wasn’t until I encountered a sudden, unexpected legal situation that I realized how vulnerable it left me to have all of my legal paperwork still in my birth name and sex. I rushed to change my bank accounts, birth certificate, Social Security Card, Driver’s License, apartment lease, car registration and title and every other thing I could think of to reflect my new name and sex. Some things required one document to be changed before the other could be done, and it was all very rushed because I had not researched it beforehand and made a plan. You can find information on how to do these legal changes yourself at tsroadmap.com.
Aside from medical and legal transition, the very best thing you can do right now to give yourself power and freedom later in life is to study hard, get the best grades you can, and get into/stay in college or a trade school and earn a degree in something that makes money. Not comparative anthropology with a specialization in Etruscan pottery. You need a job that makes money, and to get that you need some kind of education. And it doesn’t have to be something trans-stereotypical like hair or beauty-shop, though those are perfectly fine as well. I’m talking about business, finance, accounting, medicine, nursing, and so on. This doesn’t have to be boring. Any of these jobs are what you make of them. And this doesn’t mean you must have a 4.0 GPA and get into Harvard (although that would be great!) Focus on your strengths and do your best, even if it’s the local state school or community college. You can get an education with less money than you think if you get good grades and take out student loans sensibly. Focus on your dream, visualize yourself as a beautiful, happy woman living in her own place, with her own car and a good job where she is so valued and essential due to her skills that they would have no problem accepting her past if it should ever come to light. Save your money, read up on credit and establish good credit for yourself. You will have a large credit limit sooner than you think if you are sensible and don’t take advantage of it on flat screen televisions and $400 shoes. And all this time, you can be progressing in your transition in other areas and enjoying the journey as the new you.
Along the way, you will be faced with choices that can either help you down the path to your goals, or hold you back from them. Just remember that you are worthwhile. You have things to share with people that are good, and unique and important. The choices you make should be the choices that give you the power and the strength to make your dreams happen in life. Some may be tempted to medicate the painful emotions and experiences with drugs or alcohol. Some may be tempted by medical shortcuts like street hormones or back-alley silicone injections. But look beyond the moment, to a few years down the line, and make your choices with love and hope for the future that you deserve.
As a trans person, you will find yourself fighting for respect and equality in most every circumstance you encounter where people know that you are trans. It will be easier to avoid prejudice by blending in as well as possible, and it will be easier to fight prejudice when it does come by being the most self-reliant, educated, financially stable person you can be, with a circle of family and friends who have had access to good information along the way so that they can support you with all their hearts. This is one of the most difficult, rewarding and magical journeys that anyone can undertake. As in a fairytale, by the end you will have transformed from one thing into another. You will have overcome emotional and social obstacles far beyond those that most of your friends and family will ever face. We are warriors and we are magical in the truest sense, and I encourage you all to take courage, take a deep breath, prepare yourselves and march onward. Past all the battles and those who would be your enemies, you will find your victory.
(This piece was originally written by request for Matthew’s Place, a website dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard. Ihave changed a few words and bolded some key phrases.)