Transitioning early in life: Terri's advice

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

Terri began transition at 24 and had SRS at 27. She sent the following advice to me in July 2001, when she was 27. See my comments following her advice. I asked her what were the smartest things she did in transition, and what she wished she'd done differently.

Hmm, that's a really good question -- For smartest things I would say:

Paperwork! Early on, I noticed that a lot of women I knew who transitioned a long time before me were still getting mail and doing business in their old names. It can cost money, but I realized that changing my name (like myself) was a one shot only deal. I obtained a legal court-ordered change of name. It didn't matter at the time it said "Ronald" is changing *his* name to "Terri", but just that the change was court ordered -- Common law name changes are cheaper, but can take a *long* time to fully implement. Since your SSN card is a primary ID document that does not include gender, I immediately sent away for a new SSN card with a copy of the legal name change. Bear in mind that it can take 2-3 years for the government to completely catch up to your name change on tax records and other documents they send out, so it pays to do this right away. I then underwent the process of changing my drivers license name and sex (this varies from state to state, in CA it is pretty easy), leaving only my passport name and gender to change. After SRS, you're issued a notarized "change of sex" document, which the Government will recognize, and because I obtained a legal court-ordered change of name, all I need do now is present a copy of my old passport with the change of name document and change of sex letter to any agency. Along the way, I called as many agencies as I could (credit cards, college and university registrars, etc...) with the change of name order, and even if they left my prefix as masculine "Mr. _____", I would then call them back a few months later and say "oops, it looks like you got the prefix on my name wrong" and they would usually accommodate without blinking. Bear in mind that changing paperwork can be a very self esteem eroding process -- sometimes, I would get completely understanding folks on the other end of the phone, other times it would require calling back several times. It only has to be done once, and the earlier you start, the farther along you'll be when you move to so-called "full time" status.

Start hair removal immediately on your face. Hell, start hair removal before you start transition. Get electrolysis on your face even if you are only thinking you *might* be transgender. If you remain male, you'll appreciate having to shave less. If you transition fully, your skin only becomes softer and more sensitive the longer you take hormones, and as you move further along in the process, the extra hair will make a big difference under makeup. Whatever you do, DO NOT use EpiLight, "laser-like" hair removal, "laser" hair removal or anything else that offers removal via light or "light-like" processes. They are a complete scam - I can say this with some authority, as I worked for a now defunct "laser" hair removal chain called Vanishing Point. I actually quit my job because it was that much of a medical scam - we were taking thousands of dollars from people who thought it was helping them, and in the short term it did, only to grow back in about a year. The only system with any proven efficacy is the diode laser, which incidentally hurts as much as electrolysis when done correctly. I spent a lot of money on "laser" hair removal, and it just turned all of my facial hair permanently blond. Post-operatively, I'm having to now pay for electrolysis on my face.

If you can afford it, get an orchy -- I mean it. Testosterone is poison to the MTF, and the longer it is in your system, the harder it will be to remove its effects. I had one at 25, and didn't get my SRS until 27. In the two years in-between, I not only spent less on medications, my system was that much easier to manage. I felt more confident, my pants fit marginally better, and best of all, I was reaping post-operative benefits such as hip and breast development. The caveat is that very few doctors will perform them, though they are out there.

One other smart thing to do is find a good and sympathetic GP doctor, and stick with him/her throughout your transition - it will make everything medical easier.

Stupid things I wouldn't repeat:

I saw several TS (MTF) shrinks during the course of my transition. They actually gave me more issues than I had, because I wound up dealing with *their* "I wish I transitioned at your age" or worse yet "you're too young to transition" issues. HBIGDA is in my opinion a fascist organization, but I did find a few great referrals to shrinks through them. NEVER see an unlicensed "counselor" - they just take your money, and no insurance will pay for them.

If you're young, try very hard to find young support groups. I won't glibly say stay away from all support groups, but I found myself in groups that had participants two times my age and beyond facing a very different set of issues. I've wrestled hard with this, because there isn't much support out there if you're younger than 30 - Doctors expect older TS patients, support groups are geared around "older" TS issues (dealing with divorces, wives, etc...), and in general MTF transition is sometimes viewed as a quirky thing old crazy people do. I found myself in several "support" groups where my self-esteem was actually brought down - either I was getting hit on by older members, the range of topics painted such a bleak picture of the world that I started believing it, or people were so obsessed with how they *looked* they never talked about how they *lived*. If you're in a group where you are the youngest (or one of the youngest) member, keep your eyes open, and be very wary of to whom you give your email/address/phone number. NEVER, no matter how hard people beg you, loan money (also another mistake I made) - you'll have your own financial worries soon enough, and no-one is as responsible about your personal finances and property as you. There is some scamming going on, and the "oh, can you loan me $500 so I can make my surgery date, and I'll pay you back in time for yours" line is a load of crap.

Do not buy that being a woman and being feminine are the same thing. I almost fell in to this trap, and started buying really frilly clothes I'd never be caught dead in, worrying about every movement, every strand of hair and every time someone looked at me twice. Don't forget to be yourself - buying in to the stereotype of being a woman will cause greater damage than the occasional "look, it's a *dude*" comment. A good friend saw me going this route and gave me a really hard shaking a few years ago, basically saying "you're in this to be a woman, not to be alienated from women by embodying everything the women's community loathes." It's true -- for me, I almost never wear makeup, would rather be dead than in a dress, and find my greatest companionship with really radical (and obnoxious) dykes. For you, it might be the same or different, but remember that the clothes and the moves don't make you a woman, you make you a woman.

Woo - sorry this was so long-winded. I feel like one of those eighty year old Holocaust survivors, "No-one spoke of these things, or asked me about them until now...etc." But it's true, I spent more time getting transition done than anything else in the past few years, and quite nice to look back on it all in retrospect before turning 28.

Andrea's comments

I agree that getting a court-ordered name change makes everything else easier. Even though it's expensive in some states, it's like having a backstage pass at a concert or a VIP card at a club-- it opens doors closed to other. The trick of leaving the sex "male" and going back later worked for me on my driver's license-- they changed it and even apologized. That's right-- someone at the DMV apologized! See my section on legal issues for more.

This hair removal advice echoes my own. Get started NOW! You'll thank me later. See my section on hair removal for details.

If you think it's going to be a while till you can afford SRS, an orchiectomy (castration) is a good way to eliminate testosterone. There are certain kinds of incisions made during the procedure, some of which make it harder to use that skin later during SRS. Check with the SRS surgeon you'd like to go to. They might tell you not to get it, but don't let that stop you. Just say, well, if I were to get one, is there a good way?

A sympathetic private doctor beats a gender clinic any day. Gender clinics suck for young TSs. It's worth the money to see a doctor who's cool. Every big city has a few known for it, and every doctor I've ever had was cool even though they'd never dealt with it before.

Another problem with seeing a TS shrink is that your parents might think they brainwashed you. See my section on choosing a therapist for more.

Older TSs have very different issues. And sadly, most of them should be avoided. Some have far more serious emotional issues than transition I know that sounds mean, but my own experiences with support groups was exactly the same as Terri's. Many older TSs are like drowning victims-- they try to grab onto anyone who's floating, and they'll bring you down with them.

Sometimes I see people talking about how to do this or that "like a girl." These people are almost always crossdressers or late transitioners. Successful younger TSs know that being a woman is like being cool. If you try too hard or do what you think is cool, you ain't cool. If you try too hard to act female, it's a dead giveaway that you aren't. Just be yourself. If you get clocked every now and then, no biggie. Everyone (even my most passable friends) have these occasional "gray moments" where we think we're getting clocked. Maybe we are, maybe we aren't. But if you act all paranoid, that will confirm it. People can sense fear. If you're confident and have self-acceptance, you'll be fine.

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.