April marked six months of hormones for me. This makes me a fair shake less experienced than many of the trans activists peppering the Bilerico site; where they have had years to cogitate over the issue, I'm dragging everyone along for the wild ride. I'm also living through a unique experience; where many transgender people will transition in stealth, or away from their hometown, I've decided to be open about my transition, and I live not thirty minutes away from my hometown.
What can I say? I like Indiana. The people are friendly, the area maintains a small-town feel, and people are, for the most part, honest. It was scary as hell to stay, but I couldn't imagine leaving my friends and family behind to be female. That represented a sort of forfeit, saying that I wasn't worthy to stay in my home while I was in transition. So here I am, same place, same people, working toward a different gender. What did I learn?
It should be noted that these rose-colored observations come from the eyes of a 24-year-old with little to lose. Your mileage may vary. I can't even pretend to speak for the FtM with two kids and a mortgage, or the MtF transitioning in retirement. Nonetheless, the veil of youthful enthusiasm will at least make the observations a little entertaining and hopefully motivating for those still struggling with their decision:
There are lots of us in the area
My mentor Estelle once told me that Indianapolis has one of the largest transgender populations per capita of any US city. I laughed. How in the world could Indianapolis top any chart concerning GLBT issues? It seems almost oxymoronic to say it aloud Indianapolis, the transgender haven. However, now that I look for the signs I see what Estelle was talking about: there are quite a few transgender individuals living in Indianapolis, working normal jobs and making normal livings.
For the sake of example, consider my last weekend in the Southport area. I ran into three confirmed, full-time transgender folk, was served by a transgender waitress, and pointed out at least seven possibly transgender people while shopping at a local Wal-Mart. I would never have noticed this until after I started transition myself -- that in itself is heartening, since most people look at these women and men and see nothing wrong with them. If I can only see it after traveling the path myself, most people will probably never be the wiser.
Family comes around
Let's face it: coming out to family is never a fun proposition. Beyond the simple facts of the matter -- Mom, Dad, I'm a girl -- one also must deal with the guilt and shame of admitting to family that the past few years have been a collection of lies built to protect them from the truth. It's hard to own up to these problems, let alone tell family about plans to change gender.
The most amazing thing about family, however, is their ability to bounce back. I went into transition thinking that my family would disown me outright -- a healthy perception to keep, considering the statistics -- and they surprised me by coming around to support me. Sure, getting there was one hell of a ride; there were moments where I was sure that I would never speak to family members again. In the end, however, family bonds almost always trump prejudice.
It's not as scary as people say it is
The monsters aren't hiding in the corners of the bedroom. Yes, terrible people exist in this world, and there are certain places I wouldn't dare walk through on a dark, late night. (Notable: a friend of mine stopped for gas in a small central Indiana town, where he was told by the attendant to "sleep sound, because the Klan is wide awake.") On the whole, however, this boils down to basic street smarts: know where you are welcome, and know where not to stop on a late night.
I have not received the dirty looks and harassing comments that I expected to get when I started transition. Instead, my open attitude has put me in touch with long-lost friendships, opened new doors, and paved new avenues for me to explore within my life. As for the physical and social changes associated with transition, well, they happen naturally as time goes by, and that's really the miracle of transition.
Passing is easy (And its corollary: People do not care)
There's no simpler way to put it: if a person has a clean-shaven face, plucked eyebrows, and breasts, they are female. If a person has facial hair, no breasts, and a halfway-manly haircut, they are male. After spending so long looking in the mirror, picking apart facial features as masculine and feminine, one learns that the line between genders is not nearly so cut and dry as people often believe it to be. This fact, combined with how little attention people often pay to their surroundings, makes it ridiculously easy to blend in with everybody else.
Related, but not obvious: the secret to passing isn't in the dress, or the hormones. Passing is mostly attitude. If I believe I'm female, and look relatively female, people will see me as female. This fact alone almost took all the fun out of transition for me, until realized that this was just part of the process of becoming a female in the eyes of others.
Pronouns come in time
When I started I worried myself sick over whether I'd be "girly enough" to be called she in daily life. The switch in gender pronouns has been a slow and gradual one; as much as I'd love for everyone to call me "she" on a daily basis, close friends and family struggle with the concept. This is understandable; it's not every day a friend says "from here on out I wish to be referred to by a different set of pronouns." But they try, and for the most part they succeed.
This is not representative of the world as a whole. As an example: the other day I went to my bank to dispute an overdraft charge. The lady at the terminal called me "she." The manager that came over to talk to me called me "he." Mind you, I wasn't trying to pass at the time: I had just rolled out of bed and was wearing a hat to conceal the fact that my hair was a disaster. Yet here I was, blurring the line in a junker shirt, beard shadow, and greasy hair. The further along I get, the harder it is to pass as male. I never in a million years thought that would be possible!
Life doesn't change -- it gets richer
This was the one thing that really worried me about transition. Somewhere, somehow, I had gotten the idea into my head that transition would change me as a person. Suddenly I wouldn't be me anymore, replaced by some hollow shell that resembled a woman. The question kept me up late at night, wondering how different a person I would be when I was taking estrogen. I worried about friends, family, relationships. By the time I went in for my first shot I was damn near inconsolable!
If there was only one thing I could send to myself six months ago -- hell, six years ago, when this whole ball really started rolling along -- it would be this simple fact. I'm still the same person; I like video games, dry humor, writing, and time with friends. It's not the things that have changed; it is the zeal for life that has changed. Things I was once scared to do are now within my reach: I dance, cry, and coo at cute things without considering how it will affect my manliness. I have a sense of self -- of purpose -- that was once missing from my life. In short, I am the person I should have been all along, and the people around me are taking notice.
I know it may seem odd to post about positive experiences on a forum dedicated to pointing out all the forces that wish to see us fail. There sure is plenty of that to go around, after all, and I could go on for days about the issues. But in the end, one question remains: is it better to point out all the wrongs of the world, or to bring light to the rights?
If I had only known about this years ago... it seems to be the mantra of transgender people. Maybe, just maybe, this post will help somebody out there to know, sooner rather than later, what their lives will become. I encourage you to leave your own "I wish I knew"s in the comments, such that others may know what's coming down the bend.