Transitioning early in life: Zoe's advice

(ed. note: she's changed her name to protect her privacy-- A)

Hi everyone,

After I directed a little question to Andrea, she asked me if I wouldn't mind writing something to be included on the site, five things I liked that I did, and five things that I would rather I hadn't done, and so since it certainly can't hurt, I thought I might as well.

*rolls up her sleeves and digs in*

As a bit of background, I've lived in increasing levels of stealth my entire adult life, having transitioned as a youth when I first started university (college for you americans) back home overseas. I'm now in my late twenties about half way through my doctorate and the amount of people that know about my past in the city that I live in I can count on one hand, and that counts my doctor. And I love it.

I've never identified as transsexual. Even back when I was pretending to be a boy but yet knew who I really was I didn't. I just (at the time) wanted to be another girl. Today I am just a woman, my own kind of woman, but just a woman nonetheless. I kinda like who I am, and while I am certainly still growing and learning about who that is, and will be, the above has not changed in any way at all.

That said, I would defend to my last gasp the right of those for whom identifying as transgender or transsexual or gender-queer is right for them. If I have a right to identify as a woman, so do they have the right to claim identities that are correct for them. I've never really gotten along with a lot of transgender people simply because I don't tend to have anything in common with them, but that doesn't mean I don't care about the issues, hence this letter. I know there are others out there like I was and I know that at the time that I wish I had someone to tell me that the particular way I identify was okay.

So anyway, on to my points, first, the things that I am glad I did.

Number 1.

Don't make transition your whole life. For a start, you'll get to be damn boring to your friends after a while, but particularly, because transition will eventually be over and you'll have nothing to do with your life. For me (admittedly, not thrilling) my schooling has been my major focus, and concentrating on that has meant I have been just another woman going to university. For others (both TS and not) it has been sports, or acting, or whatever. But just remember, HAVE A LIFE!

A big part of this is to remember to do this all in stages. It can be really depressing if you look at it all as one huge thing to get done, and it will overwhlem you and make your whole life about this one thing. I mean, sure, have an overall plan so you've got an idea about things, but take each thing as a little success in its own right; psych. appointments, hormones, electro/laser, transition, name change, surgery(s) etc. Be serious about these stages and don't just let them happen whenever, or they will take forever, but don't rush through them too quickly either. These things won't make you a woman/girl, you already are, or you wouldn't/shouldn't be doing these things.

Number 2.

Go to university/college. I know this is something that I can, as a white woman from a upper-middle class family background, rather easily state, and that not everyone has the advantages I have had. However, for those of us from countries where the welfare system helps us go, there are ways, and I have heard there are ways here in the states too. I know a lot of you will be saying "But I am not intelligent enough!". However, I can tell you this as someone that has been in tertiary education for nearly a decade; some of the most insanely STUPID people I have met were firmly entrenced at university, and some of the most intelligent never went.

So why do I say this? Because university is probably one of the most accepting and safe environments in society. Admittedly this, of course, varies from university to university, so pick carefully. However, that said, there are a whole heap of benefits and acceptance that you will be able to access that won't simply be there for you outside of the teritary environment, or at least will be, but won't be AS accessible. You'll be safer, more able to have access to things, have more possibilities, and you will be gaining a measure of options for your future.

Number 3.

Watch how much you come out. I know this can be hard to resist in the beginning. You are so excited about finally being who you really are that you want to tell everyone, particularly to get their sympathy and understanding. However, if you don't check this it can come back and bite your arse in the future. I was (after a brief period of insanity in the beginning) pretty tight about who I told, and yet still I had to do 'tidying up' a ways down the track as I noticed a few things. If all you do is interact with people as someone that is having a sex change, then that's what you'll be to them, and I am SO happy that I am now taken just as who I am.

It can be really tempting to want to come out about your past occasionally. I call this my "talk-show fantasy". I imagine myself on Oprah confronting my parents, getting sympathy from the audience, having Oprah do that patented glare at my mother and father. DEFINITELY satisfying. However, the consequences of such a thing would be HUGE. Stealth would go completely out the window. I'm not saying don't come out if you want/need to in particular situations. I mean, telling a new doctor is probably a handy thing to do *smile* Nonetheless, _always_ think about what the ramifications of doing such will be further down the trail, and if you have any doubts, err on the side of caution. I use that as a rule of thumb, and it has never let me down.

Number 4.

Hold onto your friends like your life depends on it. Because often it can. Particularly for those of us youth whose parents would rather physically and emotionally abuse us than recognise who we really are. This also includes the parents of your friends. Adults, more often than not, notice a hell of a lot more than we give them credit for. I had one friend whose single mother sat me down one time I was around at her place one day. She had a ballpark idea about what was going on, and wanted to offer her support and help. And her and her daughter became the people I ran to one night when my parents confronted me.

I mean, sure, ideally you should put yourself in a place where you are in a safe enough place to start doing all this. However, sometimes thats not possible, especially when you come out young (I did the first time to my parents at 15). And thats when you learn how much your friends mean to you. But, and this is a big one, don't make it all one way, be there for your friends too, and they will be there for you whenever and however you need. You might even need to talk them out of hurting your parents for you *smile*

Number 5.

Be healthy. I guess this is kinda related to the first point about not making transition your whole life, but it's also a bit more than that too. You are going to be pumping a whole heap of stuff into your body that wouldn't otherwise be there, and since all of this is hardly perfected, it probably will result in a shorter life overall for you. However, you can minimise this. Do sport. I don't care if it's just going for a run, or cycling, or hiking, or inline skating ... or being a gym bunny *looks askance and ignores her gym gear in the corner of her lounge*

Why do I make mention to these examples? Well, if you'll note they aren't social sports. I know some of you might feel great about social things, and if you don't, that's okay, but that doesn't mean you don't NEED to be sporty. For one thing taking hormones means for a while your body's systems go into flux in a big way and you will put on weight. While being larger isn't necessarily a bad thing, you really want to minimise as much as possible how unhealthy your body is, particularly in light of that some surgeons won't perform SRS if you are overweight.

Plus women do exercise. They do get dirty. They do sweat buckets. And they do have muscles. I love coming down from mountain biking covered in mud, and the endorphins rock. This does not make me any less of a woman. In fact, I think it makes me more of one.

Okay, now, on to the things I do wish I had done differently.

Number 1.

Do not retreat from the issue as much as I did. After the awful reaction from my parents when I first came out to them when I was 15, I retreated completely from telling anyone, particularly them. After all the strength I had put together to come out to them like I did, I turned it all internal and let it boil and hurt inside me. I am not saying push when its obvious all the levels of hell are descending upon you, but nonetheless don't let yourself cave into them, because then they will think it's a phase, and you'll have to start all over again.

You do deserve to know who you really are. While your parents certainly will have a good amount of insight into who you are, the person that really knows is you, and only you can make sure that you are that person. I let my fear of disappointing and hurting my parents let me put things off longer and longer as I went through my teens, even though I knew exactly who I was and that I couldn't be what they wanted. Putting it off is not escaping the issue, its just going to come back later worse. Sure, strategically organise things, but make sure when you are putting things off that that is actually what you are doing.

Number 2.

You are being selfish. I guess this is related to the above. My parents told me that I was being incredibly selfish. I denied it. I wasn't being a bad person after all, so how on earth could they accuse me of such a thing? But, of course, I am being selfish. I was willing to lose everything on the hope that I could be happy. And yes, that's a wonderful goal. But it's also selfish. Further, it will make you selfish.

You will become quite self-focused, and for a teenager, who are normally self-focused by their very nature, this can get bad. Now, I am not putting down other teenagers, but occasionally when you have a moment step out of the immediate things are you and WATCH the other teenagers around you, and see how teenagers act differently from adults, and think that maybe you might be behaving similarly. I'm not saying I have the answer to this. Hell, I am still working on not being such myself (hence why this is in my wishing to be different part), but all I am saying is just try and be aware of how much you are making this about you.

Number 3.

Recognise you have a lot to learn. The girls/women around you that have grown up being recognised as such DO know a hell of a lot more about being girls/women than you do. Sure, you know more than they do about the KIND of woman you want to be, but your friends have been living as girls/women in society for a LOT longer than you have, and you would be a fool to ignore that. It doesn't make you any less of a woman/girl, after all, your friends had to learn all this stuff too, they didn't come born with these instructions imprinted either.

Sure, for a start, they aren't perfect at it either, nor certainly alienate them with piles of questions, won't be able to think of you as anything other than someone changing their sex. Nonetheless, when they have a suggestion, listen. I know this can be hard, and it took me a while to learn, but they are just trying to help (if they are real friends) so take it as such. By getting in their faces and just saying "I am a girl!" or "I am a woman!" does not help. You certainly are such, but those same girls and women don't go around saying that either. It will only serve to push them away as you ARE claiming an identity that is very important to them. So respect it.

Number 4.

Don't put stuff off. Because of transitioning as a youth I didn't have much in the way of facial hair, only a little bit. As such the expense, as a student, was something that I could put to more immediate concerns. This was a Bad Idea. It just made things need more work later on. I never got a full face of hair by _any_ stretch of the imagination, hell I don't think I could have stayed in stealth had that been the case, but nonetheless it did sadden and hurt me for much longer than it needed to. Plus here's a thought; imagine waking up the morning after SRS with fuzz all over your face. Not good. That luckily didn't happen to me, but thinking about that really galvanised me.

I have had to put SRS off. I had to make a decision quite a while back between doing graduate school and getting a job and being able to put the money together for surgery. I chose the former. And while I still know it was the right decision, it was a decision that was never going to be black/white. It still hurts painfully beyond anything, I miss simple things like going to the beach for a swim, and I dream every day about being whole, but it was the right decision. Hopefully soon I'll be able to correct my birth defect, but that doesn't mean I don't wish I had it at 20, or 15.

So basically, what I am saying here is to make sure you don't let things slide. If you need to put things off, then make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Push yourself, because no-one else will. This is one (note: only one) of your major goals in life, and like any other goal you need to do stuff in order to get it. It won't happen simply by itself.

Number 5.

You are not going to be a supermodel. I don't care if you are 5'11", you aren't going to be a supermodel. You are going to be beautiful in your own right, but the chances are that that won't be the same thing as what you see in beauty magazines. For a start they have the right lighting, 15 seconds ago someone touched up their hair and makeup, and after the fact their bodies are digitally sculpted and polished. I have model friends, and they look just like me when they are blobbing out watching dvd's at my place with their mouths full of pizza.

So be aware of the things that are beautiful about you, and try to emphasise them in elegant and subtle ways. Sure, in comparison to those amazons on the catwalk we all have imperfections, but that doesn't mean we can't be beautiful in our own right. Enjoy and promote the things about you that are gorgeous and you love, and just downplay the things you don't. But that said, don't agonise over the things you wish were different, it can be REALLY easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to the magazines and starving yourself to acheive that look (trust me, I know). Plus it'll really screw with the things the hormones are trying to do for you.


As a concluding comment, I wanted to comment on "autogynephilia" and the current furour over the book by J. Michael Bailey.

I am not "autogynephilic," (whatever that means) and I honestly don't think the majority of people that change their sex aren't either. I know there are some that are, and I think they have a right to surgery just as much as I do, albeit for different reasons. However, where the problem comes up is that if _all_ people are tarred with the same brush. I don't get excited by the conceiving of myself as a woman. I get turned on by imagining myself with my partner (or particular celebrities). Of course I am a woman in that fantasy, but that's because that is who I am. Hence, as much as I detest being referred to as transsexual because I am not, niether am I "autogynephilic." Moreover, I take exception to those that would claim similarity to me and come from that position, because in that case I have nothing in common with them.

Why is this then a concern for me? Because when a particular minority position gets taken to be indicative of the majority, there are large, negative, consequences. The current book by Bailey is a good example of this. I don't doubt that the people he talks about are extremely valid in the constructions of their lives, and as I said at the beginning of this I would defend their right to be such to my last breath. However, that is not me, and I really take exception to the possibility of that becoming seen as representative.
I am a lesbian, a lesbian that came out as such as a youth, like a lot of my other lesbian friends. I am a woman, having lived as such since I was a youth too. I did not do all this in order to be a lesbian woman. I AM a lesbian woman. I was aware of this when I was little, and the only choice for me was to ensure that I was open as such or I wasn't going to be open as anything. I am not pyschotic, deluded, unhealthy, or in denial. Nor am I am a man, straight or gay. Books like this do not contribute to the body of knowledge because they do not present knowledge. They only contribute to misinformation, hatred, abuse and pain. It is not because I disagree with his findings that I say this, but because it is simply bad scholarship. Coming from my position as an academic I can honestly say this.

I live as a woman, because that is who I am. I have a large circle of friends. I am successful, happy, dating, loved by the people who are important to me, and try to do the right thing as much as possible. I like who I am. Why should I not be able to be comfortable in my body if my demand for such is not unreasonable? Why not? Because men like J. Michael Bailey would not allow me such.

And that's wrong.

(not my real name, but I guess you would have figured that out already *smile*)

Andrea's comments

It's easy to recede into a cocoon during transition, but don't! Having other things to do will take your mind off the pressure. I recommend thinking about a creative outlet where you are making or doing something expressive. If you're good at it, you can even make a little money from your hobby, whether it's writing, or music, or a craft. Maintaining a connection to other people will make the hard parts more bearable. As Zoe notes, friends are vital, and I suggest keeping a mix of TS and non-TS friends if at all possible. It keeps it all in perspective.

I cannot agree more wholeheartedly about the importance of continuing your education. Transition only takes a few years for many of us, but after that you'll need to live in a world where a degree will greatly help your ability to assimilate and be upwardly mobile.

A lot of transition stuff is hard, like coming out to people and going full-time. While preparation is important, don't let your fears keep you from moving forward. It's important to do a little preparation every day, no matter what.

Exercise and eating right will make you look and feel better, and will usually help you deal with the stress of transition.

Zoe's five things to be careful about are extremely important. Coming out is not usually a one-time thing. You will probably have to tell your parents many times before it sinks in completely. The younger you are, the more patient you may have to be. Don't get mad, but don't let an initial negative response get you down. Regroup, think about what they said when you told them, and prepare for the next time you talk to them by trying to address their concerns. Don't get mad at them. This is VERY hard for a parent to understand or deal with. Imagine if one of your parents laid that news on you-- wouldn't you be shocked? The main thing is to manage their fears and expectations so they are more likely to see you've thought this through.

Finally, realistic expectations and self-acceptance go hand in hand. Transition does not magically change you into some better person or resolve all the problems in your life. If you are a negative person before transition, you'll probably still be one after. We all want to be accepted as women and be considered attractive and fun, but don't let fantasies of glamour cloud your judgment. Many of the beautiful women you admire would be unrecognizable if you saw them roll out of bed in the morning. Believe me, I worked in advertising for a decade-- actresses and models are 50% nature and 50% lighting and makeup.

"Autogynephilia" is a vague term being used to describe a number of distinct things that aren't even exclusive to women like us, so the term as it stands is not especially useful or descriptive. I agree that this concept and Bailey's book about it are simply bad scholarship by a fringe element of academics.

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.