Transitioning early in life: Karen's advice

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

In April 2002, Karen sent me the following:

Below I've included some advice that might be useful for your section on transitioning early in life. I went full time when I was 22. I'm currently 24, working on my Ph.D., and just trying to enjoy life. I've always felt a bit guilty for not being more active in the TS community, but I value being stealth too much. Your website was extremely helpful to me, so I thought I might contribute this to give back something.

The most important advice I can think of, is just be yourself during your transition. It sounds easy enough, and it should be the entire point of your transition, but you'd be surprised at how confusing things can get at times. From friends who mean well to your own misconceptions you can get pretty mixed up.

Try not to worry about what the latest gender theories say. If you're trying to find absolute scientific validation that you are a "real woman" you'll never find it. More importantly, even if some magical gene that explains it all is found, do you really think the jerks out there who hate us will care? If you base your self-worth upon whether or not everyone accepts you as a "real woman" you are always going to be disappointed. Just be you, whatever that is. If you're happy with being you, the rest doesn't matter.

There is nothing you have to do in order to be a real woman/girl/trannie. I was guilty of thinking this way when I first started my transition. I grew my hair long, I wore certain clothes, thought I couldn't be into certain things, etc... The truth is, I look bad with long hair. A short pixie cut suits me much better. If the weather's nice, you'll probably catch me in a dress, but most days you'll find me in a pair of comfy jeans. The point is that you can do whatever it is you feel comfortable with and it doesn't make you any less of a woman/girl/trannie. Look at the women around you, they are all different but they are all still women. Remember, you're doing this so you can finally be the real you, don't end up living a totally different lie.

While its nice to have friends who know, be careful about who you tell. There is an old saying that goes, "Three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead." Be prepared that once you tell people, it's bound to get out. My senior year of high school I told a few friends who I was sure I could trust, but by the end of the year almost the entire school knew. It's how high school gossip works. You tell one person, and swear them to secrecy, then they go and tell two people who they swear to secrecy, and before you know it everyone knows. I'm not saying don't tell anyone. It can be wonderful to have someone to confide in, just be careful.

Have a plan! It's one thing to say you're going to transition by a certain date, it's another thing to actually do it. I was positive I was going to transition right after high school, even though I didn't have a clue about what I was doing. Needless to say, it was a fairly miserable experience. After I convinced my parents that it was just a phase, and got my life back together I sat down and formulated a plan. You can't do it overnight; it takes time, and if you want it to work out you need to have a plan.

Start electrolysis, see about getting ahold of some hormones, start figuring out what you want done, what doctors you want to see, and how you are going to pay for it. Its boring and it seems like it takes forever, but it's worth it. By the time I was ready to graduate from college, I was done with electrolysis, I had started hormones, and I had an appointment with Dr. Ousterhout After three years of careful planning and preparation I went from almost never going out dressed to living full time in the span of about three months.

Know exactly what you are getting into. While it's important to start electrolysis ASAP, it's worth waiting to find someone who's good. I was lucky. I didn't know anything about the electrolysist I was seeing. Thankful she was quite good and I don't have any scarring, I know people who weren't so lucky. If you're going to start hormones you need to be prepared to handle the changes they bring about. I spent the last few months of college in baggy clothing trying to hide my breasts.

There are many wonderful doctors and shrinks out there, but some of them have their own agendas, so be careful. Be extremely weary of gender clinics. A lot of these places try to fit everyone into the same mold. As a young transitioner you may find you don't fit the mold designed for people who are transitioning later in life. If you're not happy with the care you're receiving, find someone else. There is ALWAYS a way to beat the system. I was on hormones for two years, completed electrolysis, had facial surgery, and went full time without the help of a doctor or shrink. It probably wasn't the wisest thing I've ever done, but I don't regret it. Today I see both a doctor and shrink to be safe. Taking hormones without supervision can be dangerous, and if you want to see one of the top SRS surgeons you'll have to see a shrink eventually.

Always keep your eye on the prize. Being able to live as Karen for the last two years has been amazing, and it keeps getting better every day. Do whatever you have to do to transition while you are still young. There is a time and a place to stand up for yourself, but know when to keep your mouth shut, and know when to lie through your teeth. Going off half cocked at your shrink, doctor, school administrator, or surgeon is only going to delay things. I can't count the number of times I put up with B.S. just because it got me closer to my goal. The system sucks, you can either fight it every step of the way, or do what you have to do to get where you want as fast as possible.

Don't sacrifice your education. Transitioning costs a lot of money. The better your education, the better the job you can get, the easier it is to pay for everything. It's that simple. Just because you can't be full time in school doesn't mean it has to be a miserable experience. Having friends who accept you as you are, can make all the difference in the world.

Of everything I've done, the best decision I made was to see Dr. Ousterhout Dr. O changed my life in ways I can't describe. Not only did facial surgery help me pass infinitely better, but it's amazing to be able to look in the mirror and finally see myself the way I always thought I should look. As far as I'm concerned he's a miracle worker. His assistant, Mira, is also the sweetest person I have ever met and I can't thank the two of them enough.

The worst decision I made was to completely cut my family out of my life. My immediate family is very conservative and is completely unaccepting of my choices. I came out to them twice. Once in high school when I thought I was going to transition, and then again four years later. When I first came out to them, they said some truly hateful things that I have never forgiven them for. Since I had assumed that they would be accepting, I hadn't bothered coming up with a plan of what to do if they rejected me, so I lied. A few months later I told them it was just a phase and I didn't mean it. Four years later I packed up everything I owned, and ran away from home the day after I graduated from college. I moved to a new city were I transitioned over the summer, before started graduate school. They eventually tracked me down, but thankfully at that point I was financially independent and didn't need them for anything. Because of their rejection, I didn't make much of an effort to gain their acceptance, nor did I bother to keep in touch with the few aunts, uncles, and cousins who did try to accept me. Today, I have very little communication with my family, and soon I'll probably have none.

To be honest, I'm not sure what advice I'm trying to give. I believe it was the right decision to get away from them, and that it is important to have a place to go in case your family rejects you, but other than that maybe my story is just a warning.

Andrea's comments

Here's another wonderful success story! I'm always pleased when I see women who haven't sacrificed their education to transition. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation, school or transition. In many cases, going to school will actually get your transition completed sooner, since you're often able to make more money if you do well in school.

I agree about not worrying about what causes all this or what current opinion is about it. You know what you need to do, and if you're self-accepting, you'll be better off than if you base your validation on whatever trend the theorists are pushing.

Being yourself is the whole point of this, so be sure to act like you, not what you think a woman acts like. Many of us (myself included) overcompensate at first, I think to make sure we will be accepted. After a while, once you see it's easier than you thought it would be, you can loosen up a bit. That's when the fun begins!

You will need support in all this, but you must choose carefully who you tell. I was shocked by a few people who disowned me, and I was just as shocked by a couple of people who became even better friends.

You must have a realistic plan in place, or you will be lost. Many women try to start in their 20's without a clue what to do, then fail, then don't try again for 20 years. Don't make this mistake and mess up your first chance! You must have a plan that is achievable and realistic, and customized for your unique situation.

It can be hard to find a good doctor or therapist. I strongly recommend staying away from gender clinics, too. They are usually a bad fit for younger transitioners.

I agree that the smartest thing I did was facial surgery. There are risks, and it's very expensive, but it has made the most difference in my own life, too.

Many of us have problems with our families. Even if the relationships seem strained to the point where they can never be repaired, it's important to keep the door open. I have several friends who are cut off from their families who wish that weren't the case. It may take time, but there is hope. The best way to get them on your side is to have a happy and productive life after transition. Then they will often see that you were right, and that you have made the right decision, one they should accept.

Thanks to Karen for this great advice!

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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.