Transitioning early in life: Lisa's advice

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

Lisa sent along the following coming-out letter to her sister and extended family.

I do not recommend coming out to your immediate family in a letter. However, I think that writing a letter in preparation can help you focus your thoughts and feelings, and help you say the things you want to say.

I think talking face to face with parents helps to convey the seriousness and the emotion involved for you. It also gives you a chance to answer questions right away.

Dear Sis (and others!!--this started as a letter to my sister, but by the time i had finished, it was all-inclusive...),

This E-Mail has been a very long time in writing...I'm sorry it took me forever and a day to respond to your letter. It seemed like every day I'd tell myself to write back to you, and sometimes I'd even start typing, but couldn't figure out a good thing to say. So I've promised myself that whatever this letter turns into, I'm clicking the send button when I'm done writing it. So that's why you're reading it, now, finally--after probably checking your mail a whole bunch and finding I hadn't written back yet each time.

These things are becoming a bit easier for me to talk about, like I'm getting better each time I open up to somebody. So one of the benefits in not hearing from me for a while is that this letter will probably make a whole lot more sense than it would have a month ago! It's still hard to not become overly melodramatic, but I'll try.

I don't really know what you've been told by Mom so I guess I might as well start at the beginning and stop when I get to the end.

I've been through a lot. I know that everybody has problems, and I'm not trying to make mine sound any bigger than anyone else's so I'll just flat out tell you as honest and open as I can be. I also won't pretend to know *why* any of this stuff happened, although I have ideas about it.The things I know are this: I have an identity disorder, according to my therapist and everything I've been reading. I have had spells of depression for several years. I think they started sometime in middle school. They were definitely there by high school. I've had anxiety, especially at night, which made sleeping really hard and for a long while I was getting practically no sleep at all and pulling a lot of all-nighters. I had an eating disorder for a while(throwing up after eating), although I don't think it had anything to do with my weight. Mom and Pa don't know about all of these things, but a lot of them. (and i guess now they know about all of them since they're getting this letter, too...)

There are good things, to look at the positive side: I haven't done any drugs, smoked, been drunk, or gotten into any fights. I haven't had any suicidal thoughts for over a year now and I feel like I've got some kind of direction to my life, as tentative as it may be. I've got a really GREAT therapist back at home (the third one I have seen; the first was a general psychotherapist obsessed with getting me on antidepressants (i am finally on zoloft.. altho it wasn't her prescription) who wasn't really able to help me with the gender identity thing, the second was a gender identity therapist [GIT] who really made me feel uncomfortable. My current one is a GIT, Ph.D., M.D. and she's so smart, easygoing and comfy to talk to!! I'm really blessed to have found her!)

While I don't know the *root* of my conflicts, I have been able to put some sort of temporal order to them--this was a problem for a long time. I couldn't be sure whether the gender dysphoria was causing the depression and anxiety, or whether it was a result of it, like an escape to some kinda alter-ego, you know what I mean? Well, I've definitely pinpointed my gender issues as the cause of pretty much everything else. But like I said, I won't even go into why it's there because there are so many theories and I have my own ideas, and it gets really complicated. I guess that's what my therapist is for.

ANYWAYS *deep breath* I've started telling people, and it's been a real life-saver. Ma and Pa know, several family members know, a few of my friends know, some of their parents know, Mom's boss (and my former employer) know, and now you know. And I guess slowly but surely the network is expanding. The more people who know, the easier it is on me.

Okay so I've been talking a lot but not really explaining anything. So here's the meat of it: I see myself as a girl and other people see me as a boy. That's the easiest way to summarize it. For as long as I can remember, I've imagined myself as a female in mind, body, soul, and behavior. However, all throughout my life I was presented with responses that told me that my identity was inappropriate--that I was a boy and that meant i was supposed to do certain things, act certain ways, be interested in certain things.. and that a lot of stuff was off-limits. It's like a freudian dream come true.. I can't even begin to get into it all.. I am keeping a thought journal that I'm kind of delving into this stuff (things I remember from my childhood and adolescence, how my identity was formed, and so forth)

While I can't really go into what gender identity disorder (i hate that phrase.. it makes it sound like it's all an individual problem and society has nothing to do with it, which is total bullshit!!!) *IS* I can at the very least make some notes as to what it doesn't mean.

1. It's not in any way related to homosexuality. I'm not homophobic or anything, in fact I totally admire people willing to be open about their "alternative" sexual preferences. Too many people assume that any person with a male body who acts effeminate automatically is "gay."

2. It's not a sexual thing. By which I mean a fetish. I crossdress, if you wanna call it that. But it's not for any sort of sexual pleasure or release. It's because in my head, in my heart it's not crossdressing at all. All that crap you see on Jerry Springer is just that. Sure there are people who crossdress for sexual fantasy. I am not one of those people. The truth is that my sex drive is very low (I can't believe I'm writing this to my sister!)

3. I have a friend (i am not calling her a girlfriend) that I'm very close to. I have two, really, but one of them is kinda like my "partner" and the other is a close friend of mine from high school. They know about each other.. it's not like i'm cheating on anybody. I don't really care whether my close friends are girls, guys, or anything else. I find that girls and I tend to "click" more. But the whole sex thing really gets in the way. For example, my partner and I keep getting into arguments because she wants to have sex and other relationship stuff, like as a "regular" boyfriend/girlfriend couple would, and I'm really not into that whole role.. I see myself more as like an Angel perched on her shoulder, if that makes any sense. I wanna look out for her, and be close and loving and caring, but I know she wants a man. And man isn't just a person with a penis, it's a role that I just don't fill. So there's always relationship problems! I don't want to make her sound like a bad person or anything, she's really been trying hard to work with me on all this stuff, and I give her incredible kudos for even sticking with me this far!!

4. I really don't believe that I have any kind of biological / brain *problem* of any sort. I don't believe that GID is a true "disorder" I think it's a social problem. Hopefully we'll know more about this in the next few years with our amazing technology and DNA sequencing and all! (Of course, if GID gets taken of the DSMiv, insurance companies will no longer pay for hormone therapy or surgeries because they'll be considered "cosmetic"..) Anyways, I truly don't feel like this has all that much to do with my brain. I think it's a social problem, and that problem is our society's gender dichotomy. It's like male OR female and you have to be one or the other. men OR women, boys OR girls, his OR hers, he OR she, masculine OR feminine. Well, while i was growing up, I didn't like men/boy/his/he/masculine. So I decided at some point "I must not a little boy." Because my criteria was more than just what i had between my legs. And the sick thing is, if you go up to people and ask them what's the difference between a boy and a girl that's what they'll say "penis vs. vagina" as if you could actually see that on a person walking down the street! It's not a penis or a vagina, it's a social code of everything--behaviors, ways of talking, power distribution, activities, jobs, clothes, education fields, bathrooms, styles of cars, reading preferences, movie selections, drinks, hair styles, space occupation, smells, accessories, posture, eye contact, flirting techniques, conversational behaviors, political views, sexual views, relationship expectations, dining habits, extracuricular activities, classroom styles, parental motivations, childhood toys and games, playground space and activities, ..., ...

I could go on for PAGES. My point is that I never associated with the things boys did, by and large, and while it's easy for people in college, or out of college, to say "well boys don't NEED to do any of those boy things!" the fact is that when you're five years old and kids taunt you if you jumprope instead of playing soccer, you'd better believe you NEED to do all of them! So I did, and I tried to convince myself that I liked them all.. but I was never convinced. And the more my body did social things that tagged me as a boy, the more my mind rebelled and said "THIS ISN'T THE REAL YOU!!!" and since as far as I knew the only other option was being a girl, that's who I became. And that's who I am today, it's just that nobody sees through my body.

I am not going to sit here and say I'm a girl, like some people do, as if it's some biological brain chemistry that decides. Maybe it is, research is showing more and more that there may be some kinda biological basis to it, but I seriously doubt it's THAT big of a factor! I don't have a vagina, so by the standards of anybody you asked, I'm not a girl. It's so stupid, but hey that's the way of dichotomy. But I sure want to be one. I always have, and in my mind I always have been. Whenever I picture myself in some kind of situation, I see myself as a girl. I plan my behaviors accordingly, but I often have to go against my plans to please other people. For example, I'm living in a house at school with five college men. I would absolutely love to have somebody here to be open and emotional with--somebody to talk with about my life, and shared experiences and feelings... somebody to talk to if i'm upset about something, or need advice--well I don't have that here; instead I have to be social and party-ish, making jokes, jesting at people, listening to berating comments about women, telling humorous anecdotes, competing for who gets to talk, always trying to impress people. I don't hate that atmosphere totally, but it's just too stereotypically *masculine* for me!! But they expect it of me, and they wouldn't if I were a girl, and the only difference is some organ that they can't even see.. it just doesn't make any sense. I hate the assumptions people make about me and the expectations people place on me because of my body. I hate the limitations put on me because of my body. I hate the fact that I can't wear nail polish because i get ridiculed for it (I do sometimes, anyways, so HA!) or that I can't cry or be there for my girl friends because then I'm "whipped." I don't like being called "he" or "his" or "him" and everything that gets attached to these pronouns. I hate that I get rude comments for saying I like certain "girlie" movies or books or music. I hate that I'm supposed to be strong, emotionally, and that I'm supposed to always take charge and know what to do. It may sound stereotypical but it's TRUE. I've experienced all of these things.

Anyways, I see that I've gone more into the problem and my inner and outer conflicts, which is something I wanted to avoid. The fact is that this has been going on for as long as I can remember, and it's too much for me lately. I'm sick of being a boy. All I've ever wanted was to be a girl. I used to go to bed every night imagining how wonderful it would be if I woke up in a girl's body, and how different my world would be and how everybody would treat me differently. And sure, I understand that women are supposed to have it worse off than men. The fact is that I don't care! I hate being a man so much that I'll take the proverbial low status women have in this society, if it means people will assume that I'm a girl not just in body but in social *ROLE*.

So what does this all mean? That's what I'm still working on. I'm working on it with our parents, and with my therapist and with some people here at the university.

(I'm a senior now, by the way, in case you weren't sure. I graduate next december if all goes accordingly--oh, and happy early birthday to jennifer, ma, and pa!! I've just decided to send a copy of this to all of you, since there's a lot in here you all might wanna know. While I'm at it I might as well send it on over the network, too. Please feel free to give a copy of this letter to anybody you feel you'd like to. Please don't feel like you need to respect any kind of "privacy".. I've been hiding for my whole life and I'm sick of it.. I want that burden off my shoulders, and if it means taking on another one of occasional ridicule, so be it! I will just have to adopt a better sense of humor about my situation.)

anyways, sorry for that aside! So yeah, I'm working with people on where my life goes from here. And the honest answer is that I have absolutely no idea. I've made like a chart that's kinda cool. It's four columns:

1. Where I am NOW

2. Where I'd LIKE to be

3. Where I'm AFRAID I'll be

4. Where I think a reasonable place to shoot for is

and down the side, I've got all kinds of different aspects of my life, such as JOB, FAMILY, FRIENDS, RELATIONSHIP, EDUCATION, THERAPY, SOCIAL LIFE, INNER PEACE, GENDER EXPRESSION, SLEEPING/EATING HABITS, and so forth. I can't really format it to fit into this email but maybe i'll put it into a spreadsheet or something at some point. Anyways, it's cool to have because it has some kind of direction to it, so I don't feel like I'm just sitting stagnant.

On the other hand, that's what I kind of *AM* doing at the moment. This is like a survival semester for me, here at college. I'm just trying to make it through to next summer so I can see my therapist again and be home with Ma and Pa who have been more supportive than I had any reason to hope for. They've been trying so hard to help me be happy, even though I imagine it must be causing them tons and tons of stress and frustration!! My partner, too, I imagine I must be totally obliterating her sense of the world..

I've been to this group here that's like a support group for crossdressers, but like i said I don't really feel that I'm a crossdresser and it's not like a therapy group or a direction group, it's more like a social hang-out group. So it's not really helpful except that it *is* a place where I feel I'd be accepted no matter how unorthodox my identity was! Plus some of the members who attend are really interesting people. Also, they're trying to teach me to walk in heels which is terribly detrimental to my sense of balance.. as if I needed any extra height!!!!

So I don't know where my life is going. Truth be told, there are many days when I seriously contemplate going on hormones and thru surguries so that I'd be more passable as a girl in this world. There's definitely a lot of times when I think it would all be worth it. The drawbacks are, of course, that I might *NOT* be passable, and then not only would I not be seen as a girl, but I wouldn't even be able to be seen as a guy so I lose that safety net--and it *is* a safety net, as much as it kills me to admit it.. it's like a safety net that's on fire, and the flames are getting closer.. Also there's the expense. Hormones and surguries are incredibly expensive. And then there's my constant worrying about what the people I love would think. I don't know if Ma and Pa and you and my friends could handle me getting surguries and going full-time as a girl.

And of course there's always fear. Because let's face it, people born with vaginas get socialized from the moment they're born. They get taught HOW to be a girl. HOW to act, HOW to talk, HOW to sit, HOW to walk.. it's the same for people born with penises.. they get taught HOW to be boys. And I was taught HOW to be a boy, even thought I didn't wanna be one. I was never taught how to be a girl, so I'd have like 20 years of catching up to do!! And that's intimidating, considering that I'd probably get ridiculed so much at the beginning because I wouldn't know how to do it right. Not to mention that I'm over 6 feet tall and have a fairly deep voice that surgury can't "fix." So I could work on the voice, but I can't do much about the height. Sure there's girls as tall as me, and taller, even, but they draw attention, and attention means having to be even MORE passable, blah blah blah blah...

oh yeah, also hormones make you cry a lot and make you very moody as if you had PMS. And they can potentially kill you, so you have to take them under careful supervision of a doctor. So I'd be taking pills and visiting a doctor regularly for the rest of my life. Not to mention the prospects of getting a job, getting legal name changes on all major documents, public restroom legality issues, marriage issues, and whether or not I'd be allowed to board an airplane (since the terrorist attacks, it's now illegal for people to board airplanes crossdressed.. they don't give a better definition of what they mean by the word!!)... so it's all scary stuff to think about, but the very fact that I'm even considering it regularly should give you some idea of how I feel!

What does it all mean for right this second, if looking to the future is too scary? It means that I'm doing "weird" things with my body.. stuff that "guys" aren't supposed to do.. having long hair, shaving and epilating my legs, trimming my eyebrows.. you know, all that painful stuff that women do because .. . .god knows why!! It means that there are women's clothes in my closet, and that I might have more makeup than you (I need to use more to cover beard shadow.. stupid beard!!!) It means that I might get letters or emails addressed to "Lisa" instead of "Charles", or you might hear people calling me "she" or "her" instead of "he" or "him" and you might see me dressed as a girl (I'm attaching a picture to this email just so you can see that this is a real thing and that I'm not a "sexual freak" that you'd see on Springer.. at least I hope you get that impression from the picture!) It means that I see a gender therapist, that I attend crossdressing support groups, that I subscribe to newsletters with words like "pride" and "alliance" in them. It means I have lots of books and saved computer files on the topics of gender and sexuality--titles like "transgender nation", "true selves" (A definite good buy!), and "mom I need to be a girl" (I'm also attaching this entire story as a text file!!)

The more of these things people around me accept, or even just tolerate, the easier my life becomes, and the more ground I'm able to cover towards what I hope will be some sense of contentment, and so much less conflict in my life. I'm not asking you to accept me today, or tommorow, but I'm hoping that you'll at least think about all this stuff, and maybe reach out and learn more about it, and hopefully not isolate me from your life. I'm the same person I always was inside, I'm just letting some of the facade fall, I suppose. If you're getting this email it's because I really care about what you think, and I feel that it's important that you know (I've decided I like this letter so much that I'm sending it to lots more people than to the one original person--my sister--that I was intending to send it to!)

Please feel free to call me, write me, stop by and visit me, talk to me, ask me anything (Anything. (I MEAN ANYTHING!))) that comes to mind, let me know what you think, what you hope, how you're doing, just to say hello, whatever you want.

Like I said, this has been a hard letter to write, and I'm making myself click this button here... So I'll try to end this with something funny to lighten the mood:

An old fart needs to replace his television. Accustomed to being frugal, he responds to an ad in the local want ads. Several hours later, someone knocks on his door. He answers the door and is shocked to see a pair of transvestites, each dressed to the nines. "Can I help you?" he manages to mutter. "I hope so hun. You responded to our ad for black and white TVs, so here we are."


Lisa / Charles / me.

Lisa's mom sent this great note in response.

Lisa-- your letter was more than I ever dreamed you would be able to put on paper! I know it took an incredible amount of courage and I am so proud of you for following through and doing it.

Several comments - first of all, I was happy to hear that you were looking forward to being home again. It is always hard to judge whether we have really achieved our goal of making you comfortable.

Second of all, as time goes by and we keep communicating, there are always adjustments and assimilation of all we are learning. That is why I think that it is so good to be letting people know in a very open and informative way what you are going through. They will have time to come to terms with your "reality" in their own way and time. For us, it is not nearly as stressful as you may be fearing. I think that we are adjusting and reassessing fairly well as we become more "educated". And the more you learn to communicate the more we can adapt. After all, it is a relearning process for us all !

Third of all, high heels were undoubtedly invented by sadistic MEN to keep women in their places, you cannot run, you have chronic back pain, and it throws your entire alignment out of whack.

Finally, I think Pa and I will "handle" anything that you ultimately decide to do. We only ask that you be open with us about your process of getting to your decision, and have included us in your decisions. Your choices will be difficult since there is clearly not an obvious choice, and I think it is important to work together along the way. As I hope you understand, you have our support no matter what you decide....

As more people become aware of your struggle, it is harder to keep track of "who knows what". I think if some of the family are in the know, they might as well all - and like I said, the sooner they know, the more time to adjust. Keeping the secret may actually be cause for more stress to you than just having it be open and seeing who adjusts to the new you and who does not. (I suspect that you will find that more people will gradually adjust than not, so in the long run you will be under less stress from this fear).

I was disappointed that I could not find the photo attachment - am I really so computer illiterate that I still don't know where to look for it ? Again, the more people see you in a new light, the quicker they will make the adjustment/. And I must admit that it is much easier to think of you as a female when we have a visual image of you as a female ! Pictures are worth 1000 words ! But keep those words coming !!!

Loved the joke - send more !

I LOVE the idea of the chart and would very much like to see it put down on paper. If you ever get around to doing it, please send me a copy....Again, this ended up longer than I anticipated but I just wanted to say what a great job you did writing this all down and how much I admire you for it. Every time you are able to express yourself, either verbally or on paper, the more we learn and the faster we are able to adjust to seeing you as you wish to be seen. The same probably applies to everyone you care about, and I can only encourage you to keep the lines of communication open.I know that the letter was originally for your sister, and then others added on, but how did your appointment with the local counselor go? And how was the rest of your weekend? [...] Sending BIG HUGS - Ma

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.