Believe it or not, I think that Indiana's not a bad place to transition. Mind you, that assumes that you mind your P's and Q's, and carefully make plans for your process, but the laws of the state combined with the Hoosier Hospitality mindset make this a pretty decent place to be when changing gender. We may be a bleeding-red state with a checkered past regarding diversity, but all in all most people seem to tolerate, if not respect, transgender people in the state.
One of the hardest aspects of this process, however, is simply the act of getting started. There are some great resources in this state for transgender people but they are as rare as they are hard to find. Also, it is very important to consider how Indiana culture will impact transition. Trust me when I say this isn't easy - doubly so if you aren't a born-and-bred Hoosier, because Indiana people live on a different timeframe and cultural world than most people in the nation.
A few tips for potential Hoosier transitioners come after the jump:
Get a degree
I get a lot of e-mails and questions from younger people looking to transition in this state, and this is always my first piece of advice: "Get trained, get valuable, and get down to business." Indiana is an at-will employment state, and many Hoosiers have an appreciation for good, old-fashioned hard work. Having a degree and a work ethic can sometimes help offset potential prejudice in hiring. Also, consider that Indiana is smack dab in the middle of the Rust Belt, which has taken the brunt of damage from our financial recession. Last I checked unemployment was over 10% in Indiana. Every bit of training and education you get helps differentiate you from other potential hires, increasing your chance of landing a job. This may sound unrelated to the process, but it's actually an essential part of transition in Indiana: having these skills and the long-run hirability of a degree or certification will help increase your chances of employment, which increases your chances of a successful transition.
Besides, younger transitioners, with a little finagling, can transition in college, which can bring great returns in the long run.
I'm a big fan of Dave Ramsey. Huge fan, even. Putting his personal politics aside for one moment he has a solid point: pay yourself before you pay anybody else. In Indiana, this kind of financial prudence is something that we respect and sometimes revere: it's just how small-business based Indiana culture works. (Whether people actually abide by this financial prudence is another story - I'm simply talking about perception.) Ramsey's absolute best piece of financial advice? Save a thousand dollars for an emergency fund right now, and work to saving three months' expenses over time.
Why is this important to transitioning? Transgender discrimination can and will happen no matter who you might be. This may include losing a job, getting booted out of a home, or simply having to "pay your own way" as far as hormones and doctor's visits are concerned. Yes, it's wrong, but that doesn't mean we have to be blindsided by it when it finally does rear its ugly head. Being able to absorb the impact of prejudice and discrimination both reduces its effect on your psyche and increases your chances of bouncing back quickly.
If this sounds too generalized to be in a column about transition, you're wrong. Transfolk are people too, and they have the same basic financial needs as everyone else. I'd give this same advice to a gay man, a straight woman, a young guy, or an old lady. It's just that important.
Research, network, research
Getting back to trans-specific tips is the necessity of research and networking. Indiana has a _strong_ trans community, mainly focused in the larger cities. Organizations exist to help people through the rough spots of transition. Some doctors are even willing to treat transfolk without reservation or prejudice. Problem is, these resources are all nearly impossible to find without help.
If I were to tape any motto to the top of a transperson's bed, it would be "Research! Network! Research!" You simply cannot study the organizations, processes, rights, and procedures related to transition enough. You may run into people who are unwilling to give you the help you need, or who will make half-hearted attempts of casting doubt on your status as a transgender person. Being able to stand up and present facts to fight back will garner respect, as people will recognize that you didn't simply make an off-the-cuff decision.
People don't know anything about transgender issues, but they feel like they're entitled to be an armchair psychologist and diagnose you as a fake. You must be the expert in these situations. Many Hoosiers will voice their opinions on the issue; it's part of the small-town Hoosier culture to be a bit of a busybody. However, people tend to back off once they realize that their conversation partner is more knowledgeable about the subject than they are. And, unfortunately, acceptance of your transition in Indiana may very well have to be fought one busybody at a time.
One of the best first steps one can take while considering transition is to contact a local LGBT organization for help. PFLAG does some fantastic work with tracking support groups and friendly doctors. INTRAA is a fantastic organization, and they can really help to point a person in the right direction. The key to an Indiana transition is to find these resources early on, develop relationships within the community, and get connected with doctors willing to help with your needs. For example, I had to try four different therapists, all dismissing my problems as misguided, before a trans friend of mine recommended a therapist willing to talk through my issues with me.
Also, don't be afraid to ask a transperson for help. We've all been where you are before, and we all remember what it felt like to be lost. We want to help, and we will do what we can to get you the assistance you need.
If these suggestions sound like a sad attempt at branding "how to be a financially stable and successful adult," you're right. Transition is Indiana is about planning and determination. It will be hard; however, getting the basic "survival and stability" tasks out of the way lifts a huge burden. I know from my experience that possession of a career, financial stability, and expertise in transgender issues heads off most "you're ruining your life" arguments at the pass; even though people may be vocal about their distaste it's hard to argue against someone that has their life in order. While I know it's not always possible, it's something that a pre-transitioner should shoot for whenever possible.
Stay tuned for part two, where I'll talk about surviving the actual transition process in the Crossroads of America.