Austen Crowder

Surviving a Hoosier transition, part two

Filed By Austen Crowder | December 15, 2009 2:45 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
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In part one I discussed the lead-up to transition: getting trained, getting a good job, and getting financially stable. In a state like Indiana, these three things will pay huge dividends when someone finally makes the decision to transition. I'm a firm believer in good, solid planning: having this groundwork laid out will make the actual process a lot easier.indianatrans.gif

This is Indiana, however, and even though the laws and small-down hospitality do help a bit there are still a lot of sinkholes in the Hoosier transitioner's path. Part two takes a look at the actual process of transition in Indiana. Again, planning is key: knowing the problems before they happen can go a long way in keeping people out of sticky situations. Knowing more than your neighbor goes a long way in keeping situations to a minimum.

So you've decided to transition. What do you do now?

Use community resources to make a plan

A wise man once told me that there are two ways to do something: the hard way, and the smart way. People who have gone before you already know who to talk to, what connections to make, what doctors are worth your time, and what things are worth your money. We are happy to provide this information to you, along with words of wisdom for your trip. Why slog it out when we already know the ins and outs of the system?

A quick call to PFLAG, INTRAA, your local LGBT community center, or a trans friend can often turn up exactly what you need: laser treatment options, doctors, therapists, the whole nine yards. Furthermore, finding one community link often leads to an entire trans-friendly program, from doctors' services to supportive new friends. You don't have to plan this alone, and we don't want you to.


Move to an LGBT friendly city, if possible

I'm marking this one as "optional," but its certainly worth looking into. While Indiana doesn't have an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination law, the larger cities are friendlier toward gender-variant people. I've lived in small-town Indiana and can tell you that people are sometimes not kind to people that are different. Places like Indianapolis and Bloomington have human rights ordinances protecting LGBT people, and Lafayette, while not having an ordinance on the books, is known to be a friendly place.

This isn't just about comfort, though. Many of the trans-friendly doctors and therapists in the state gravitate toward these bigger cities. Finding a doctor in some of the more rural areas of the state may be a tall order. Moving to larger cities means that you'll have access to a larger group of people going through the same experience - a key to any transition, in my opinion - and the most proper medical care we trans people can muster.


Get resolved

There will be resistance. No matter how awesome you may think your family and friends to be, or how well you pass in public, or how happy the hormones make you, there will be resistance. The formula usually rings similar to the following: small town gossip + church + local hangouts + socially conservative people = hotbed for opposition. Everyone with half an opinion will suddenly become an expert on gender, insisting that you hear their opinion about how horrible a decision you're making. ("After all," they reason, "I'm sure you don't hear this side of the coin that often.") It will happen, like it or not: however, since we know it's going to happen we can take steps to stop it from getting under our skin. By far, the best response to these kinds of arguments is to have the resolve to step up and say, "This is my decision." Back this up with an emergency fund, a plan, and a few basic facts about transsexuality (a key, that!), and most naysayers will have to eventually give way.

Most important of all is to memorize the following statement: "My transition is a personal matter, and I'd rather not talk about it." Any polite person will get the hint and drop the conversation. If they aren't willing to let it go, walk away. If you can't walk away, ask a friend to intervene. Nobody can make you talk about the issue if you don't want to, and it's up to you to exercise that right.


Make a family

Unfortunately, the coming-out process is not friendly to family ties. Some of us are lucky to maintain good connections with our families. Others are not so lucky. The establishment of a family outside the blood relatives - one built of similar experiences - is vital to the stability of your life. Let's face facts here: trans people don't exactly have "normal" problems while changing from one gender to another. Many times my cisgender friends tell me that "they feel for me, but they can't even begin to understand what this whole process feels like." Establishing trans family opens the door to share and reflect on the experiences of transition without having to explain everything all over again. Besides, there are some skills (voice, fashion for a cross-gender frame, legal issues) and pieces of history that cisgender people don't know. Our culture has traditionally passed from generation to generation through this sort of trans-family connection, in which the older teach the younger all the things their doctor, therapist, and cisgender friends could not understand.

Sometimes, hearing someone say "I've been there before" makes all the difference in the world. This is especially true in Indiana, where some people simply do not like Our Kind of People. We've all had experiences with it, and we call can help a new transitioner cope.


Practice!

I know this one will get me in trouble with some gender-variant purists, but we're talking Indiana here. I am of the opinion that most anybody can pass, given enough work, and in Indiana, where small-town mentality shuns anyone who doesn't fit the mold of a good-ol-boy or a country-raised-girl, having the option of passing is really valuable. Enlist the help of your trans family and cisgender allies and learn the ways of your target gender. The keys are voice, gestures, and social graces. (Men and women behave differently, on average, in their individual social groups.) This is especially important in Indiana, where sometimes it's just best to be a part of the crowd and not stir up any trouble. As far as I'm concerned, being able to exercise that small-town tact is a key to surviving Indiana transition, and practice is a very important part of that issue.


Be patient and be strong

Transition sucks. I mean, it's wonderful and transformative and beautiful and all, but the act of transition is just plain not fun. Between getting read as a trans person, dealing with romantic issues, learning how to be a member of your target sex, dealing with family, dealing with friends, fighting negative self-image, getting facial hair burned away, facing discrimination, the guilt of putting your close family and friends through this painful change along with you, training your voice, training your voice, and training your voice some more, and making the legal changes necessary to be the person you are inside, the whole act of transition is an exercise in patience and tedium.

If you've followed your plan, made your connections, and secured your livelihood, however, you'll have plenty of good friends and allies to fall back on when things get tough. Things do get better over time.


Your Mileage May Vary...

I'm not going to say that everything I've said here is 100% the truth; as a young transwoman who grew up in a small Indiana town I admit to the bias of my ideas and talking points. In my world, one never backs down from a challenge - when I discovered the option of transition was available to me I knew that I wanted to go out there and own it all the way through, no halfway-there concessions allowed. My goal from day one has been to pass and function in society as a young lady, with all the rights and privileges that role entails. Your transition experience may vary, and you may have a completely different list of priorities than mine. That's fine. However, as a Hoosier girl I have to again stress the importance of understanding how Indiana society works, no matter how easy or how hard it makes transition. Small-town, "everybody knows everybody" mentalities, combined with conservative mindsets and a high value placed on a good work ethic, make Indiana a place where "normal" is, well, the norm.

Keep that in mind, and transition is more than doable in Indiana.


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Excellent advice, Austen! My lovely spouse transitioned successfully here in Indianapolis, and she had all those things going for her. He training, job experience and skills made it difficult for anyone to keep her down. She transitioned on the job and she had already proven herself, her workplace valued her, and there were no problems, other than the HR people fussing over bathrooms (when will that ever go away??). As small as the trans community is here, I'm surprised that we haven't met you yet, but it does reveal that it's bigger than I thought :)

Thanks! I'm glad you agree with the comments. Regarding the community here, I'm not exactly out and about in the community. I'm looking to change that after the new year, however. :)