Transitioning early in life: Ellen's advice

Ellen sent this in February 2012.


I am just a little over a month shy of my 24th birthday, and I have been living full-time as a woman for almost three months (three months exactly on the 9th).  I especially like to read your "younger voices/advice from others" page, and found much of what I learned there relevant, as I began my transition at age 15.  I thought I might be able to offer a contribution.  My own story is a little long and convoluted, but it is an unusual one for sure, and one that has some angles to it that I don't think a lot of people have explored, though I believe they need more advocates.  You will see what I mean.
My personality has always been somewhat androgynous (though almost everyone falls on either one side or the other of the male-female line, and I firmly side on the female end), at least I thought so when I was a kid.  But if I had been born physically female, I'd have certainly have been a tomboy.  My interests were mainly gender-neutral as a kid, but I knew that I was "expected" to be a boy, so I would occasionally try my hand at more gender-divided activities like sports, but I had no real aptitude for (or interest in) it.  My male cousin who is exactly my age and I used to play-fight and wrestle when we were young, but again, I did that because I was trying to impress the people around me/show them I was "normal".  This was just one of a lot of things I did like this, but is probably the most obvious examples those who grew up around me can think of.  (This is not to say of course that girls can never have an interest in sports or physical fighting, of course, but in my case, it was strictly going-through-the-motions).
Still, my memory goes back to age 3, and three of the things I remember most strongly about that period are: 1) I preferred to play with girls, 2) I was uncomfortable being labelled a boy, and 3) I wanted to dress like a girl (though I never told anyone at that point).  However, because my interests were otherwise androgynous things were perhaps more confusing for me than it would have been if I'd been obsessed with Barbie dolls or some other such thing, because I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong with me, why I was different.
The first time I recall everything suddenly making sense was when I was in a book store at age 7 and came across a children's book called "Marvin Redpost: Is He A Girl?".  The cover drawing was of a boy looking in a mirror and seeing a girl stare back at him.  Seeing this was like being struck by lightning-it implied to me that someone COULD be a boy on the outside and a girl on the inside, and suddenly everything came into focus.  I read the book over and over and obsessed over it, for it introduced another concept inside-that one could CHANGE what one was on the outside.  The book was about Marvin Redpost, a third-grader, being told by a classmate that if a boy kisses his elbow, he will turn into a girl.  And the rest of the book is all about him imagining what it would be like to turn into a girl, and it explored the theme of gender roles in childhood in general in a sort of bizarre way.  I became further obsessed when I thought about how this might apply to me.  Probably not by kissing my elbow, but the abstract idea that someone could change their physical sex suddenly seemed like a possibility, and I assumed that somehow, it was and that it could be done.
This happened during an already turbulent time in my life.  Earlier that year I had threatened suicide for the first of many times, an incident that oddly enough had nothing to do with my gender identity.  It was the beginning of a long period when I was basically a psychiatric guinea pig, for the pediatric psychiatric industry was only then learning to use drugs to treat children who were suicidal.  Eventually I became one of the first kids to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at the age of 9.  But in the two years leading up to that, I was out of control behaviorally and emotionally.
One of the main symptoms was impulsivity.  And armed with the sudden realization that I might not have to be a boy if I didn't want to be one, I started telling my classmates that I was going to turn into a girl.  I don't think I knew how I expected this to happen, but I did fully believe it would.  They didn't take much notice (I did so many other weird things at that point that I think they had become immune to me), but I was still positive it would happen.
After my diagnosis, I was put on lithium, one of the standard treatments for my condition.  After that, my emotional state calmed down and I realized how dumb all of the impulsive things I'd done were, especially "outing" myself.  So ashamed, I built up a wall of repression around my need to be female, and tried harder than ever to "butch it up" to my classmates so no one would remember or suspect.  (Even so, most of my friends were still girls-even in butch mode I couldn't stand talking to boys much.)
This went on for 3 years until I saw a movie that changed my life, Ed Wood's "Glen or Glenda".  I'd watched it as a fan of bad movies, but what drew me back to it for multiple viewings was its claim that an operation could change a person's sex.  I somehow assumed that the movie was not a total fantasy, though I had no way of knowing it was actually partially loosely based on the story of Christine Jorgensen, the first male-to-female transsexual whose story became known in the United States.  This seemed even more real than my childhood obsession with the Marvin Redpost book because it had the stamp of medical legitimacy.  If this was the case in 1953, when the movie was made, then what was possible today?
I did a google search on the subject and what I found (including made me more certain than ever of what my mission was.  I knew now what I had to do.  The only question was, how?  I was terrified of telling my parents about this, especially when I read further stories about how parents abandon their children when they come out to them.  My parents were reasonable people, I knew, but I couldn't predict how they'd respond.
I finally worked up the courage when I was 13.  My Dad and I were alone in the car, en route to a family vacation.  There was an uncomfortable silence between us until I finally knew this was my opportunity.  So I told him.
His response was facetious and sarcastic, but at least he did not kick me out of the car.  I tried to pretend I'd never said it, and by the end of the week I'd become so panicked that I attempted suicide by overdosing on my anxiety meds.  This time, Dad panicked, and made me repeat what I'd told him to Mom-over the telephone.
After our return home and my recovery from the overdose, my Mom took me aside one day and asked me very calmly what we were going to do about "the gender situation".  I tried to deflect the question, as I wanted nothing more than to put myself back in the closet.  Almost immediately, I demanded that my long hair be cut-a symbol of my defiance, or denial.  Secretly, I still hoped that I could transition on my own someday WITHOUT my parents' aid.  By the time I was 14, I was still not very physically developed-I took this as a sign that I was perhaps one of the lucky transsexuals who did not develop much at puberty as their birth sex.  I hoped I would stay that way until I was 18 and then could somehow accomplish transition then.  I was not ready to face seeing a doctor, much less living full-time, or even part-time as a girl.
What I didn't count on was that as I entered high school, my voice finally changed and I shot up to six-foot-one.  I was humiliated at how male I looked and sounded and knew immediately I could not risk further changes.  So I wrote a long letter to my mother begging her to find a doctor who could stop my male puberty from getting any worse.
She pulled through.  She found a therapist for me who specialized in adult transsexuals, who didn't quite know what to make of my situation, but still wanted to help.  She sent me to an endocrinologist at the children's hospital who, again, had never treated a transsexual before.  After six months and a psychological second opinion (including a very long psychological test I had to take that I found hard to believe was based on science), he finally prescribed injectable hormone blockers.  I was 15 and a half years old, and puberty had already done much of its damage, but I was beyond grateful all the same.  It took two more years of begging (and, one one occasion, crying) in his office before he prescribed estrogen for me, in minimal doses.  (Nowadays you hear about transgendered kids as young as 10 or 11 getting hormone blockers....I must have been ahead of my time, because shortly before I left his care my endocrinologist told me that he was suddenly getting a lot of young transgendered patients).
In school, I was as isolated as ever and resented this more and more as time went on.  I blamed my gender situation and unpredictable moods for this, but in reality I think I really was trying to push people away for a long time because I was shy and very afraid of other people.  Shortly before I turned 16, I finally worked up the courage to attend a meeting of my high school's gay-straight alliance.  I didn't know what to expect to find there, or what people might think of me if they saw me there, but I felt compelled to do it.  At the end of the meeting I swallowed my fears, walked up to the two girls who were the leaders of the group, and told them my story.  They, I assume, had never met a real live transsexual before, so they were intrigued, and I promised to stay in touch. 
At future meetings I met more people, and began expanding the group of people who knew about me.  At one of them I met a girl who was very eager to be my friend, which was a departure from almost every single other one of my peers.  And when I came out to her at one of those meetings, she immediately recognized me as female, and has ever since.  She was the first, and seeing her call me "girl" always brought a smile to my face, even when I was too chicken to actually step out of the house dressed as female.  She remains my best friend.
But of the years between ages 17 and 22, the less said the better.  My mental illness came back in full force.  I became psychotic, chronically suicidal, and an active self-injurer.  I was practically disabled for those 5 years.  Again, all of this was totally separate from my being transgendered.  Because I could not imagine socially transitioning while I was in high school (partially because my area was pretty conservative and I could not predict how people would react, but also because I'd heard of almost no one at the time who made the transition that young), I planned to wait until after graduation.  But by then, I was so unable to function that I gave up on taking the hormones I'd fought so hard for.  I hoped I could just make the best of being male.  After 5 years, 8 hospitalizations, numerous medication changes, and 18 electroshock treatments, I improved enough that my life was finally in my own hands again (in a positive way).  But I'd been so sick that transitioning would have been the equivalent of asking someone with freshly broken legs to run a marathon.
After my last shock treatment, I knew I had control of my life again.  But I also knew that I didn't stand a chance of being alive unless I went through with the transition.  So I went to a new doctor, and he prescribed premarin for me again, this time in reasonable doses.  But I'd gained almost 100 pounds during the period when I was sick, and thus my body was less feminine than ever, even with the hormones.  I resolved that I was going to change the way I lived, and I started walking, then jogging, everyday, never letting up.  Something inside me wouldn't let me stop, because I knew what this was for.  This was the only way I could make it so that I could transition, and transition was the only way I could live.  I gave up my habit of eating at McDonald's everyday.
I also found an electrologist, as the two years without hormones had caused me to finally grow facial hair.  I found him on my own, after looking up every name in the phone book.  He was the last one on the list, and the only one who would have worked for me.  Through him, I also found a doctor who specialized in trans patients, and through him a therapist, and even a support group, where I met the first other trans people I'd ever met in person.  All of this was significant not only because of the results, but because I'd found them on my own, and I tasted achievement and responsibility for the first time.
As I shedded weight over that year and as the hormones changed my shape even further, I felt ready to take a risk.  I took a vacation out of state for a long weekend where I stayed with some friends who knew of my situation and who were supportive.  This was only the second time I'd walked out of the house as female in my entire life, but it felt so normal and natural, and even though my friends occasionally slipped on the pronouns once in a while, they made it feel like it had always been this way, that it was SUPPOSED to the this way.  I went home ecstatic, and knew only one thing for certain-I had to do this all the time, and I had to start NOW.  I realized I could not wait another minute, I did not want to waste another milisecond of my life.  It had all happened so fast!  Though it was stressful for my mother, who I continued to live with, she was behind me all the way, helped me change my name legally, and helped me tell the neighbors (all of whom were supportive, even the conservative ones).
Things have only gotten better everyday in the last three months.  Every night I lie in bed sad that each day has come to an end, and beyond overjoyed that this is now my life.  It keeps me awake for hours, reminding myself that I finally made it!  Whether I've had surgery or not, I am finally being recognized as a woman, as it should have always been, and I can only imagine how great I will feel when my body finally matches my mind.  My friends and family are beyond supportive, and treat me as if I'd always been this way, even the ones I've not had direct conversations about this topic with.  They SHOW me how much they love me and accept me, and that is more valuable.  Just being out in public everyday is a joy, and everything, every work of art I ever appreciated now has a deeper meaning because I am in sync with the rest of the world.  I jokingly tell people that they should try living as the opposite sex for a while just so they will realize how wonderful it is to live as the correct one again.
I want to tell this story because I know there are other transsexuals out there who struggle with mental illnesses or some other unrelated condition that keeps them from transitioning.  There were many moments when I thought I was so messed up I could never hope to be a woman.  It's hard, but I believe that for many if not most of these people, it IS really possible, no matter how long it takes.  There is no right path, and no right amount of time it takes to get there.  (And fortunately I have therapists who don't believe that my mental illness is a reason NOT to write me letters for surgery, finding sympathetic professionals is possible too if you know where to look).  And I also want them to know that I would live through another five years of psychosis in a heartbeat in order to experience five minutes of the great satisfaction I feel because of having transitioned, if I had to (hopefully I won't, but you get the idea).  So it IS also more than worth it.  Keep this in mind during your struggles if you can.

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.