Transitioning early in life: Keri's advice

(Editor's note: I've changed her name to protect her privacy.)

Keri sent the following letter to me in June 2003. Her attitude about this is probably the closest to my own way of thinking out of all the contributors: plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Hi Andrea

I wanted to contribute my personal experiences about transitioning young.

1. Understand the stakes you are playing for

If you plan on doing this before you are out of college you are very vulnerable, even more so before 18, and amazingly so before 16. This is your life which can be completely ruined without success in this struggle.

2. A Plan

This has been said a million times, have a plan, in fact several plans. Figure out what the realistic worst case scenario is and plan that one out the most thoroughly.

3. Coming Out: on your own terms and once

Do not get outed before you are ready and once you are out to authority figures, stay out. If you go back on your need to transition you lose almost all credibility.

4. Hair is super important

The hair on your face and on your head will do a huge amount of the talking for you. The earlier you start hormones to keep from getting a five o clock shadow the better. But don't get upset if you do have facial hair, I had facial hair, enough to grow a decent beard. BUT I found out what most older men will tell you, the difference between the amount of facial hair at 18 and 25 is normally pretty large. The sooner you start zapping the sooner you will be done, end of story.

Head hair is something that is neglected by many people. While older women might get away with shorter bobs, pixies, e.t.c. that is hard as a young women. If you are short and narrow shoulders you might be ok, however for the rest of us having hair long enough to break up our shoulder line from the back is important.

5. Grooming

Learn how to take care of your hair, face, nails, etc like most young women at *know* how to. Now that they always do that but they know how to.

6. Go full time late rather than too soon

As a general rule I wouldn't go full time till at least you start getting ma'amed in androgynous clothes and no makeup. BUT the best thing you can do is wait till you are almost done with electrolysis and have been on HRT 12-18 months.

7. Stop spending time around boys

I hear lots of talk about developing a voice, mannerisms, etc. The simplest and in my opinion most natural way to do this is by socialization. Women not only get told how to sit, walk and everything else by parents as young girls but also have the constant reinforcement of other young girls.

8. Don't try to go stealth when you first go full time/don't put yourself in a place where not being stealth is dangerous

With all respect to Vicky's attempt to go stealth from the get go, I think this is a poor idea. First of all for emotional reasons of support there is almost no healthy way to go stealth before you have surgery. You will learn how badly it hurts not to be able to talk to your girl friends about your pains and they will pickup on you being upset. I tried this and I crash landed because I had no support system and just was not there physically. Granted I don't get read often but being stealth implies blending 99.9999% of the time. I was not there, you will not get there before 4 or 5 years after you start HRT in a lot of cases.

But none of that mattered because I went to a large, public, liberal university here in Philadelphia. So most of my new girl friends were more upset that I lied to them than anything else. And to be honest I am glad I no longer have the pressure of wondering if people know. Or if I need to ask help with something girly that I don't know how to do it's ok. In short I realize the fact that I have my whole life after university to be stealth and at that point I will have the physical and life experience to integrate in that capacity.

9. Girls like to do lots of things, you can like typical boy stuff and still need to transition

I loved to play sports prior to transition and because of that I was constantly at odds with how I could be trans. The typical story is that a young transitioned is the type of person who gets labels like, "fag, queer, sissy," etc. I personally never did, I was a well balanced kid that was good in both school and sports. While I played contact sports, loved to watch football I also was known to be an excellent fiction writer and to be someone you could call and talk to when you were feeling bad.

Guess what I am still that same person and fit in perfectly with my girl friends! Screw the BS DSMIV definition of cross gendered. Don't tell any of my crew that they might fit under half the category for FtMs or else they might kick your ass .

10. Be wary of people in the "community"

The community can be a positive or a negative. First of all don't take help from anyone who has even an in inkling of the, "you need to give back," mantra. IF you want to give back at some point in your life that's your choice. Also I think it's the most healthy thing to spend as much time around girls your own age as possible. That's not busting on other trans women but rather admitting that other young women have the best chance of properly socializing you.

Andrea's comments

I agree that decisions you make when young will have a lasting effect on how your transition and your entire life will play out, but not let fear keep you from doing what you know in your heart you need to do. Once you are absolutely certain of what you want to do, and you have realistic expectations and self-acceptance, it's important to start acting on your plans as soon as possible.

Having said that, planning is essential. As I noted up front, plan for the worst, hope for the best. Keri points out that having a plan and a few backup plans depending on how this or that goes will help you respond quickly to a variety of outcomes.

Many young women make a failed early attempt, and then they let their fear keep them from trying again till they are much older. Don't let this happen to you! By having a plan in place that's realistic and well thought out, you can get through all this. Once you come out, you better be damn sure. People are going to look to you for signs of second thoughts, or they are going to think it's just a phase. If you get all wishy-washy, you will only confirm their opinions, and it will be that much harder to get their help. The day you come out is the day you never look back, so plan on making a serious commitment!

Please please please start growing your hair and getting rid of facial hair if at all possible, even if you're not out and don't plan to for a few years. If at all possible, get on an androgen blocker now. These three steps will make an astonishing difference at your age, and even if you're not sure, if you do the first two, you can always change your mind later. So even if you're on the fence, start growing your hair and doing facial hair removal. Some people say it separates the girls from the boys, and that's not far from the truth!

Stealth usually happens in increments. Once you've moved from your "transition town," you'll find that you leave a lot of things behind. Same is true for the job or school where you do all this. Try to keep a fairly low profile during transition if you plan to go stealth, and don't share any information except on a need-to-know basis. Once you move, you will be stealth almost al the time if you are accepted as female in terms of looks, etc. The main things that can catch you after you move are job things and official records. Most people will never have access to that stuff, but as it gets easier to get on the internet, it's a good idea to minimize as much of it as you can BEFORE you move to that new town. That way you can start with a pretty clean slate, and that will make a huge difference in how others treat you and how you feel about yourself.

I agree on the importance of hanging out with other young women who don't happen to be from our community. You have a little catching up to do, and that's the fastest way. Surprisingly, some young women in our community don't like hanging out with other women, because they see them as competition or something. Don't fall into that trap-- other women have much to teach you, and it will help you get rid of some of the stereotypical ideas you might have about how girls act. You'll be surprised about some things-- I sure was!

I also agree about being careful in dealing with others who are going through this. It can be great to have a friend who truly understands what this is all about, but it's import to remember that there are people for whom gender issues are the least of their problems. I like to think of it like a bunch of people who have fallen into the water. Some people will be able to swim fine on their own. Some might need a little help. Some will panic and pull you down with them if you get too close. And some will push you under just to be mean. In other words, make sure you aren't just treading water, but moving toward shore. If you want to help others, it might be better to do it once you've reached a position where you are no longer in danger of getting pulled under.

Thanks so much to Keri for sharing her observations! If you have questions for Keri, 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.