Transitioning early in life: Talia's comments

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

Talia sent the following letter to me in May 2003, and I think she raises important issues about why some of us are afraid to take steps to have our femaleness officially endorsed through legal channels.

An area I think needs special emphasis is that of young ts's who not only begin transition young, but due to severe emotional trauma associated with their legal identity, it is next to impossible to find work that can finance the greater goals of transition. Being accountable to a legal identity they find personally humiliating, and feeling unable to bear having to present themselves as men in ANY manner, they avoid all public matters that require them to "out" their legal identities, and thus a sort of financial and transitional catch-22 rears its ugly head. You can't make good money without a legal identity, and you can't finish transition without money.

I think this is why many choose sex work, prostitution, and female impersonation in the gay circuits (which I know from experience can be every bit as traumatizing, if acceptance as female is your goal). These occupations are perhaps the only regular places where someone who is avoiding the issue of their legal identity can make ANY money. It usually isn't the most productive option, but for some ts's, the extreme public fear and resentment associated with their legal status as males is so great that they wish to avoid all contact with it, live on the margins of it rather than in public, getting insulted, threatened, or professionally trapped into a male public persona.

I am not saying that this is a reasonable state of mind. But I do believe it is a very common one for young ts's. Take myself who felt 10 years ago that I simply could not bear to be called a man or present myself as male not one more day. By anyone for ANY reason. Especially not on paper, on job forms, not even on something so basic as a legal name change that would require me to say "Petitioner requests to change HIS name to _____"

I felt that to acknowledge my legal identity as a male was to "give in" and give those who would use this information over me even more power to keep me in a place I did not want to be in. I felt that putting myself in the general workforce was to set myself up for a daily dose of people laughing at me on the job, people ganging up on me in public, threatening me in public.

For me personally, this is the typical treatment I associate with a life of being male, a life lived entirely under duress. It is hard to remember a day that went by when I was NOT threatened and ganged up on and laughed at as a male. Now, even after transition, in situations where my TS status is known or obvious to the public, the situation can be every bit as humiliating and dangerous. Often times much more so.

But I'm tired of avoiding the issue. I'm tired of making peanuts in odd jobs, drag shows, or doing sex work and living in fear of getting caught, where I would be truly vulnerable to the abuses of the state.

Is there room to discuss these very real issues of trauma in the male identity, which prevents TS's from getting further along in transition? It seems some TS's have much less trouble putting on a male facade and living in secret, until they are financially ready to come out. What about those who simply cannot live a lie not one more day? What are their options? Where can a TS find gainful employment, a place where she does not have to expect to fight the hostile attitudes of bosses, colleagues, and strangers for a safe public space to exist in, every single minute of the day?

Andrea's comments

I know many younger women who are reluctant to take legal steps to enter mainstream society and assimilate. I chalk much of this up to institutionalized transphobia. Many of us suffered terribly in school, at the hands of students and teachers alike, and the prospect of dealing with "authorities" and institutions where our inappropriate gender classification has to be acknowledged, whether it's a job or a court of law, can be a painful reminder of a lifetime of being mislabeled.

I had to make two court appearances in the process of my transition. One was to get my name changed, and the other was to get my home state to amend my birth certificate after I had SRS. Both were not hard, but it was a little intimidating each time. Both judges were very cool, though, and it was absolutely worth the effort. See my section on legal issues for details.

I cannot emphasize how important these things are to do if you hope to get married and live a "normal" life one day. If you want to get out of the gender ghetto some "authorities" want you to stay in, you are going to have to make sure your name and sex are correct in the eyes of the law.

These legal documents are like a bulletproof vest: they will not protect you from everything, but they will protect you from most people who would try to shoot you down.

I was reminded when reading this letter of an essay I read a while back by someone whose gender variance as a child led to doing poorly in school:

I quit taking their tests and completing their homework assignments, accepting Fs rather than delivering the grades I thought might promote their reputations as good teachers. It was a strategy that hurt only me, but I thought it cunning. We each had our self-defeating schemes...

We'd spent years gathered together in cinder-block offices as one speech therapist after another tried to cure us of our lisps. Had there been a walking specialist, we probably would have met there, too...

We had long ago identified one another and understood that because of everything we had in common, we could never be friends. To socialize would have drawn too much attention to ourselves. We were members of a secret society founded on self-loathing.

-- David Sedaris, Naked

Don't let the the bigorty others show toward you turn into self-hatred. Reach out to those in your area who can help you if you're worried about changing legal documents.

Please, please, please don't put these things off. Work hard in school so you will have better opportunities later. Get your legal documents done as soon as you can so you will have better options for employment, etc. Get your birth certificate amended if you can so you can get married or not have your old status come up during employment checks.

If any of you want to change your name or birth certificate legally but aren't sure how to do it or are concerned about appearing in court, please contact me and we'll see what we can do to get you all squared away.

A lot of young women stay in the ghettoes of gender because they have been told since childhood it's their only option. It's not. You have so much to offer, but you will have to take steps to get away from old ways of thinking about yourself. The gender ghetto isn't a place as much as it is a state of mind. Don't let your own fears keep you there. Getting your name changed legally is the first step, and changing the sex on your driver's license and other documents is the second one. From there, you can start to move into mainstream society and out of the places the "authorities" want you to stay.

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