Transitioning early in life: Deborah's advice

(ed. note: I've changed her name to protect her privacy-- A)

Deborah went full-time in her teens, and had SRS at 22. She sent the following advice to me in June 2001, when she was 27. See my comments following her advice. I asked her what were the smartest things she did in transition, and what she wished she'd done differently.

Let's start with the three things I did right in transition.

I think the first and most important thing is to be certain this is the right path for you. Some people can be confused as to what it is exactly they want out of life and what role they play in the big scheme of things. I knew from the time I was a wee little girl that this was the right path for me. I may not have known exactly how to get "here," but I knew here was where I wanted to be... and I would have done anything to get here.

Secondly, and relating to what I just said, a specialist in the field of gender is very, very important in actually walking the path to completion. Where I live, we barely have counselors for "normal" problems. I spent several years driving to Cleveland twice a month for counseling at Case Western, where they have a gender dysphoria program. They finally took mercy on me and let me see them once every couple months as long as I met weekly with a counselor in my town. This is all like jumping through hoops at the circus for girls who are absolutely certain of what they're doing, but this is the time that weeds out the ones who aren't serious. I can't tell you how frustrating I found it, though, because I knew what I wanted, they knew what I wanted, they knew I knew...

The third most important thing I did right as far as transition goes, was to keep a low profile. I think that is especially important if you live in a smallish town, or intend to go super-stealth after SRS. I had been cross-living all through high school. I dressed as girly as I could get away with, and people who didn't go to grade school with me, thought I was just another girl. Anyone who did know me from earlier days just figured I was gay and just let it go. So, I never got abused like so many others did. The worst I had happen was butch looking girls wanting to fight me. But, ha, ha, I was seeing the varsity football captain on the down low so nobody could mess with me. (Oh, and just a tip...a doctors note will get you out of gym class permanently if you have an understanding doctor or counselor....or can fake an illness). I was pretty much reclusive outside of school, but I figured it best to keep a low profile to avoid problems. I don't think anyone should go to that drastic a measure, but coming from a small, kinda rural town, I figured it best. For me, stealth worked so well that after SRS I was able to date a guy I went to high school with and he never had a clue.

Now on to the disasters...

I think the biggest, hugest mistake I made was not getting my college degree. I was in advanced classes in high school, graduated a year early, and had been tapped by Johns Hopkins. But, by graduation, I was burnt out. All my energy had been focused on getting good grades, but now I was ready to start a brand new life with no closets. I wanted to tell my parents why I've been so flaky for all these years and get SRS as quick as possible, so I did both. My parents were of course upset to start with, but they figured I was gay before this, so they got over the shock quick. I went absolutely full-time just one year out of high school. It was exciting and wonderful, and the beginning of the exciting journey to "me". But I was stressed over my parents occasional difficulty coping with me being "out," working nearly full-time, and going to I quit school. Bad Move! A college degree is THE most important thing for any sort of guaranteed future income. In order to complete transition and SRS, you need to spend money on doctors and surgery and an endless list of things...expensive things. Luckily, my parents have been very very supportive both emotionally and financially. Plus my grandfather left me an inheritance that helped with after SRS concerns...but you can't depend on dead relatives to pay the bills...get that degree!!! Now, I work in a very visible, public field, where degrees aren't important. But I have to depend on my looks rather than my brain and looks don't last forever. Yes I make a fair amount of money, yes I get to feel glamorous, but I would have preferred a more stable job...but without a college degree my options are limited.

Next on my list of faux pas is my choice of gender clinic. Since my town doesn't have any counselors who have experience in this field, I had to do much library research to find a gender clinic or counselor who knew what the Standards of Care are and how to meet the criteria for eligibility for SRS... since surgery was my driving goal in life. Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, OH is world renowned for their gender team. They work in conjunction with Cleveland Clinic to provide total care... endocrinology, testing, etc. I got incredible care both at the hospital and at my endo's office. The problem is that the actual gender team and counselors are very very observant to the Standards, ridiculously so. They literally count days of full-time working and living... and they mean both together, no if's, and's, or but's. This can be a problem when you have to work in the old gender in order to be able to afford to pay them. I was forced to do an extra year of therapy to be eligible for SRS because I had to work as "the old me" to be able to pay them. I had a job that paid very well and continued in therapy for that entire year, and lived my life outside of work as "new me". But then, my counselor was replaced and the new one said, "Well, that last year didn't count because you weren't 'full-time'." So I'm saying please please find a good counselor that you can trust, but respects your needs as much as they do the Standards.

My next biggest blunder was in choice of surgeon for my SRS. First, let me preface this and say that Dr. Menard did an excellent job...I couldn't have asked for a better result. And I personally can not agree with all the negative attention he receives. But, I chose him without much deliberation. I only knew of Biber...and some guy up in Washington or Oregon. I knew I didn't want to run around Trinidad, CO with stitches,stents, and what all, with such "folksy" people there. I'm not bashing country people at all, but I'm a realist, and I know how many people perceive us. I just didn't want to spend several thousands of dollars just to get bashed on my way out of town. With that said, I decided on Menard as being the obvious choice. He was also closer to where I live and substantially cheaper than Biber. I did not know at the time that his surgical skills were questionable. If I had known then about all the bad press he's gotten, I might not have chosen him. So, what I'm saying, is choose wisely because you will live with the results for the rest of your life. At the time of my surgery, Menard was doing 2 girls a day on Mondays and Tuesdays. When I was scheduled to go over to the hospital to check in, the girl who was to be my roommate chickened out and left. So on surgery day, I was the only one and Dr. Menard was able to linger (8 hours!!!) and tweak his technique. However, if I had been his second surgery of the day, or he had to hurry with me to get on to the next, who knows how I might have turned out?! (Since I've kind of dissed Dr. Menard a little here(and I truly don't mean to), let me add that no where else can compare to the level of after-care I received in Montreal. The residence is more like a vacation B&B rather than a recovery clinic. The staff there is incredible in every way and Dr. Menard's wife Sylvie is an angel! Nothing I had read prepared me for the level of care and hospitality I received at the Residence.)

All in all, I think I've done the best I could do with the information I had available to me at the time. I hope others can learn from where I screwed up and hopefully not make the same mistakes. I have to say that after everything is said and done, I am truly thankful that I've gone through everything to get where I am now. I have a life finally...with a boyfriend(or two), friends, and an unbelievable job. I know that if I hadn't gone down this path I surely would be dead now. Its so hard when you're in transition to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Transition is difficult at best. But it's so very worth it when you get to the end.

Andrea's comments

If you are unsure if you want to do this, it's very important to work this out with a therapist and (if possible) with your family. The younger you are, the more likely you'll need to work it out with both. Don't be scared to get the ball rolling, but be sure to do it in a carefully-planned way. If you think your parents will not be supportive, tell them you are depressed enough that you need to see a therapist, but don't tell them exactly why until your therapist and you agree you have a good plan in place.

I agree that it's good to find professionals with experience, or who is willing to make an effort to consult with those who do have experience.

I also strongly agree about the importance of a low profile. Please read my section on internet security and the option of stealth if you haven't yet.

As I mention in the section on education, sacrificing your education for short-term transition goals has long-term consequences. Once you are full time and have expenses under control, I recommend getting some additional education under your belt. Money gives you more choices, and the choices for women with limited skills are usually either fleeting jobs based on looks or dead-end jobs with limited long-term prospects.

I advise against going to gender clinics if at all possible. They all have a cookie-cutter approach that probably won't be tailored to your needs. The younger you are, the better off you'll be finding a private practitioner willing to bend the rules that gender clinics usually adhere to rigidly.

Surgical options for transsexuals should be considered an investment you have to live with the rest of your life. SRS isn't a place to cut corners financially. A year or two may seem like an eternity, but if the doctor you consider to be the best costs more, it's probably worth the wait.

Thanks so much to Deborah for sharing her advice! If you have questions for Deborah, please contact me. I'll pass them along, but there is no guarantee you'll get an answer.

Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.