Transitioning early in life: Emily's advice

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

Emily sent the following letter to me in May 2003. This is excellent advice for those of you in high school or college and dealing with money issues and trying to figure out timing stuff.


I was thinking recently how funny it is that many many adult transfolk seem to look back on their childhood, "Why couldn't have I transitioned in my teens? It would have been so much easier, and I could have done it!" Well, that's true, it is easier in some way. On the other side of the leaf, I spent much of my adolescent years plotting a means by which to transition, and it sucks having such limited resources. But I found a way to do it, and I'm a better person for it.

Here are my thoughts on transitioning.


Three things that I did right:

1. I had a plan

When I finally escaped my little suburban home and headed to our local university, I had a definite plan in mind for transition. I had been plotting and planning since 11th grade on how to transition. I had successfully secured (to some extent) my parent's cooperation in the venture, so I felt very secure in walking right into the GLBT Programs Office that first day and saying, "My name is Emily. I will be transitioning in a year, I intend to be in the dorms, and I want to know how you're going to make that happen." The wheels began turning right then for my eventual transition in the fall of 2002, and that's because I came in knowing what I wanted. In many ways, I was just plain lucky to secure the financing of my parents and the support of the University. But for the most part, I chalk my success up to having a timetable and knowing what I wanted.

2. I had the people who could keep me going

In some ways, the whole transitioning bit was a game of politics for me. I had to be convincing and charismatic (especially to my parents), I need to know who to tell and who not to tell, and I needed friends. Friends in high places, friends in low place, it didn't matter. My friends in high places were the ones in University Housing and in the GLBT Programs Office. They are the people that made sure that everything went smoothly. One of my favorite memories was in Spring 2002, shortly before I transitioned, when I was applying for housing for 2002-2003. They added a gender selector to the application page just for me! There was a lot of talk about that one. ^^ If you intend to transition young, having friends who can affect change for you is very important. But do not ever forget your friends in "low-places" so to speak. The first person I ever came out to was not family, but one of my close friends. I rely on my partner constantly for support and love. For a while in High School, I had a family who took me into their confidence and allowed me to be female in their house. That was more important to me than anything. I was always say that friends, wherever they may be, are the very stuff of life, and that's the definite truth.

3. I fought the good fight

Every person in the midst of transitioning will have their supremely frustrating moments, and I'm no exception. My difficulties began the very weekend that I began to explore myself, when my parents found out. There were verbal taunts and rebukes, beatings and other unmentionable things for my gender variance. But that just made me stronger and more stubborn. Later, my parents and I fought quite a battle over hormones and actual transitioning. They wanted me to wait until after I had graduated and gotten a job. At that point, I considered any further waiting to be unacceptable (I simply couldn't go on as anything save female at that point.) I eventually managed to get my hormones and I transitioned my sophomore year of college (I'm a junior now). There were repercussions, but my parents eventually came through with grudging acceptance of my situation, and my fight was not in vain. There are other roadblocks of course. There's a looming battle with my parents over the actual surgery (once again they want me to wait), and there are some worries about the government. But I've accomplished a lot so far, and I get more confident with every victory. Setbacks can be frustrating, but every battle can be won in some way or another if you have the guts to keep with it.

Three things I regret:

1. Being outed before I was ready

And when I say, "Before I was ready," I really mean it. I had only recently begun to feel that something was wrong when my parents found me out. I had become enamored with the idea of a sex change while in 7th grade Biology, and I was increasingly aware and bitter about the differences between me and other girls. I tried on some of my mother's clothes, and I really liked the feeling I got with it. Unfortunately, I was discovered dressing up, and that lead to an unfortunate chain of events that lead to a great deal of hurt on both sides. I did not even know what "transsexual" was when I was discovered. I just knew that I wanted to be a girl. The only word I knew was "crossdresser." I knew I wanted to transition, but I didn't know how to tell my parents that. My parents assumed that I had some kind of fetish for women's clothing, and they treated it as such. To this day, I can't seem to properly express what I feel to my parents, which is unfortunate. I often wish that I could have had time to reflect on my status, that I could've chosen when and where my parents found out about it all. It probably wouldn't have mattered. They probably still would have freaked out, there still would've been hurt feelings, and worse, I might not have had the courage to tell them what I felt until it was too late. But at the very least, I might have known how to express myself to them.

2. I hadn't set myself back a year or more when I was a junior in high school

The whole trans issue was an on and off thing for my parents. When it came out, the anger could be pretty intense. There were a lot of times where I simply internalized and didn't say anything. I brooded a lot. My junior year in high school was transformative because I finally had the terminology and the guts to really let my parents know what I wanted - I wanted to be a girl. A dialogue opened up, and for the first time I found myself in the company of a therapist. A *good* therapist at that - I miss "Dr. Dan" dearly. I had 5 or 6 sessions with Dan, talking about my feelings and the like and really getting a feel for what I wanted, before the time came to have a joint meeting with Dan and my parents. The problem was, I was so afraid of my parents by that time that I simply couldn't bring myself to have them in the same room with me. My final meeting with Dan consisted of me meeting with him for 30 minutes, them meeting with him for 20 alone, then me meeting with him for the last 10. My parents were very bitter that I wouldn't talk to them, and they stopped paying for therapy, and they basically put a gag order on me about talking about it any further for about a year. I often wonder, what would have happened if I had had the courage to talk to them? Would I have convinced them of the need to transition? Could I have gone straight to college as a girl? At the very least, I don't think there would have been as much anger. I missed my chance for a dialogue with my parents, and I sorely regret it to this day. I feel like I set myself back. Of course, if we want to play 'what-ifs,' I wish that I could have had therapy all the way back when I was12. Maybe I could have articulated myself better.. Who knows? I might have even been able to transition in high school. But if wishes were fishes..

3. I wish I had managed my money better in high school

It would have helped anyway. Instead, I spent wildly, seemingly irregardless of the consequences. I bought expensive clothes, spent money on video games and movie, and ate expensive meals. As a result, I had only about $2000 to my name instead of the possible 10,000 or more that I could have gained after two years of near fulltime working. The only good thing I did during that time was buy clothes. But I bought *lousy* clothes. They were all dressy, they were all ugly.. I ended up donating a great deal of it to charity and starting from scratch. My wardrobe is adequate now, but it seems like such a waste to have bought so much worthless crap. There were other consequences. Last semester, when I nearly broke and sorely in need of cash, I had no reserve to draw on. I might have gotten a vital headstart on saving up for surgery - But as it is, I have only about $600 and I'm $700 in debt to therapy. Luckily, I have two well-paying jobs this summer, and I should be able to make a pile by the time school starts again. It's going to be a lot harder getting where I need though.

There's obviously a lot more that I feel did I right than what I listed, and there's alot more that I wish I could change. But really, that's all in the past, and all I can do it learn from it all and apply it to the future. That's what I recommend for all the people reading this - Don't dwell on the past. Take what you've learned and apply it to the future. You will probably get good results.

Some thoughts on dating.

Dating is a really touchy issue for transfolk, no matter what their age. Questions like, "Should I bring this all up with my partner?" and "What is our relationship anyway?" A transperson can quickly find themselves in really uncomfortable situations. In short, dating tends to really stink for transfolk. But since companionship is a natural impulse, and since transfolk seem to need affirmation and companionship more than most, here are my experiences with and thoughts on dating.

I identify as a lesbian, which makes some things difficult and other things more easy. It was easier before I transitioned because I simply dated as a guy and I didn't get any heat from my parents about it (they seemed to like it). On the other side of the leaf, I *hated* dating as a guy and much preferred to be dating girls as a girl. Unfortunately, my first three girlfriends were all straight, which meant that they weren't all so keen on the whole 'me as a girl' thing. All told, I've dated four girls and had casual relations with a couple more. One of my experiences (the one that I continue to have) was absolutely. One was pretty good but hearwrenching. Two were awful.

My girlfriend was something of a unique case. When I met her, I wasn't even close to coming out to anybody, but I was still depressed about it. We were both loners, but we remained lonely. We loved to write together, and it felt like we had a lot in common (as it turns out, way more in common than I would have ever guessed). She was my first, and as I result, the passions were way stronger than usual, and I went *way way* too fast. She became uncomfortable and broke off the relation, creating a lot of heartache for me. It was for the best though. One thing that was good for me in that relationship was that this individual was the first person I ever really came out to as trans. This person reciprocated several years later, letting me know that he was trans male. As a result, we have even more in common now than we ever did before (we both have fond memories of bitching about our respective hormones before either of us knew anything about ourselves). I'm happy to say that he is still my friend and I am very happy with our relationship.

My second was a very unique case. She was up by very strict parents in rural Michigan. As a result, much of her emotional growth.. Suffered. Nevertheless, I thought she was the sweetest thing I had ever met, and I dove headlong into a fairly long relationship with her. The trans issue caused a lot of trouble between us, and it still does to some extent. Like with my parents, I didn't come out to her by choice - She accidentally received an email that was supposed to be sent privately to a close friend but was instead to a listserv that we both occupied (that's how several of my friends found out, actually). The relationship was a happy and fulfilling one despite her fear of losing me and my feeling that she would never accept me. We were eventually separated by some troubles related to her maturity and mine. Sadly, there's a lot of bitterness between us about the trans issue. Though she's civil and calls me 'Emily' and uses the right pronouns, there's a feeling that she really doesn't believe it. That hurts me, but there's nothing I can really do about it.

The third was very short-lived, but the most traumatic. The nature of her personality saw me thrust into a hyper-masculine role at the exact time I *loathed* such a preposition. Her parents liked me, but everything was so sickeningly gendered. There was a lot of sexual craziness in that relationship, and I'm still embarrassed about that to this day. She knew about my identity, and that's what eventually killed our relationship.. Her parents read my open diary (it was linked to hers), and quickly discovered who I was. I was told not to speak to her or contact her ever again. To my knowledge, she's currently somewhere in Georgia.

After those three relationships, I swore off dating entirely. I hated the way it made me feel. I hated being ' the guy.' I hated how gendered it was. I hated it all. I started calling myself a 'free spirit,' and I promised myself I wouldn't date anybody else unless she was a lesbian and she fully accepted me as female. I didn't think that would happen, but it was my condition. I spent the whole summer leading up to college fending off relationships. I was *fending off* relationships when in junior high I couldn't have even *bribed* a girl into a date. Maybe it as the long-hair, or the rings, or the painted-nails, or my sensitivity. But I kept getting myself into a situation where I would be near a relationship, and I kept having to turn them down.

That is, until I got to college and met my 4th, a lesbian. I came out to her shortly after she came out to *me,* and she was immediately interested. She soon came to see me as entirely female, and we ended up in a relationship that is still going on today. Incredibly, my one condition for dating was fulfilled. It still boggles my mind. But in her case, she was absolutely essential in helping me transition. Best of all, we lived together in the dorms, making me the first transsexual (to my knowledge) to actually room with another girl. I'm proud of that.

So is dating worth it? Well, it depends on a lot of factors, I suppose. If you are attracted to the sex that you identify with, it can be very difficult to date them before you transition. You will constantly find yourself in situations that remind you of what you want so badly. You will probably end up being bitter and jealous of their body, desperately wishing that you could alter yours to look like hers (or hers). If you are attracted to the sex opposite of what you identify with, it can be even more troubling. You may find yourself pigeon-holed as a drag queen, or a stone-butch dyke. You could find that your situation is even worse than if you were in a 'straight' relationship.

The ideal situation, I suppose, would be to meet someone your attracted to who identifies you by the appropriate gender. There are difficulties of course. It can be hard to get past the bad parts before you transition (I had a fair number of issues with my partner on that before I transitioned), and it can be hard to out yourself as trans if you meet them after you transition. Sometimes, it's just a case of 'damned if you,' 'damned if you don't.'

Don't think that dating is all bad though. It can yield one of the most important things I trans person can ever have if it works out properly - A loving and supportive partner. That, if you can find it, is an amazing thing. It's *magic.* And if you go into a relationship knowing who you are, knowing what you want, and having the right self-confidence, you can probably get just that.

You, after all, are you. And you can do whatever you want.

- Emily.

Andrea's comments

For the new generation of women, college is looking more and more like a perfect place to transition. Most colleges and universities are going to be very responsive to your needs, unless you decide on East Central Texas Christian Military Bible College or something like that.

Generally speaking, the larger the school, the better the odds of a good policyt, and the larger the city, the more likely you will have lots of other resources. That doesn't mean you need to rule out small rural liberal arts schools (which are great in their own ways), but you might find you have a bit more flexibility and anonymity at a larger school.

Transitioning in college is yet another reason to do as well as you can academically in high school. The more scholarships and things you can get, the more money you'll have for transition. So work to get that music scholarsgip, or academic scholarship, etc. Take out lots of student loans and use some for your transition stuff.

There are two schools of though on college transition: start as female (which is great if you can swing it). This option means that no one in school probably knew you before. People tend to treat you differently if they knew you before transition. The other school of thought is to prepare through college and do the old switcheroo toward the end, either right at graduation (so records are all switched over), or a little earlier if you plan to interview for jobs or grad school.

Now, if you don't think college is for you, that's cool. It simply means you need to get with a plan to make as much as you can and put as much as you can toward transition costs. A lot of us can hang out at our parents for a few years after high school, which can save lots of money. However, I can tell you that you're going to want a place of your own as much as they are going to want you out once you start transition. Doing it in front of your parents day by day can be a bit stressful for everyone involved.

Dating is fun and scary and amazing, and everyone will have somewhat different experiences with this. A long-term relationship with someone who likes you for you is often just what women like us need to help our self-confidence. Some of you will want to wait till you're done with all the physical stuff, others won't want to wait that long. For more, check out my information on dating.

Thanks to Emily for this great essay, and for yelling at me because I didn't put any comment here! I'm such a lazy-butt sometimes!

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.