It sounds easy for me to say, but it’s true. When you’re still caught up in the process of transition it is obviously hard to think of other things or focus elsewhere but it is worthwhile. I’ll try to explain why I think that below.
Changes are slow
If you’re progressing down the medical transition route, and you’re on HRT, the changes to your body are glacially slow. There are plenty of other sites which will take you through the science of what’s happening and why it is as slow as it is, and there’s too much there to go into now.
If you’re focusing entirely on whether your skin looks smoother or your hair softer, and spending ages peering in the mirror trying to figure out if those changes are all in your head or are actually happening, you will go mad. It sounds kinda glib, and I really know that it’s not easy (I’ve seen friends go through this), but those changes will eventually kick in. You have to try and trust the HRT to do its thing.
In the online trans community (Reddit is a big example that springs to mind) progress pictures and transition timelines are really popular. Often these are inspiring and heartwarming – you can see that someone else got there, and it gives you the confidence that you can too. There’s no harm in that. But if you’ve only been on HRT for a couple of weeks, there are unlikely to be significant changes.
So for your own sanity, try to minimise taking progress pictures. It might be interesting for you to create a personal record, and the photos will eventually start to be reassuring, so maybe once a month take a photo of yourself in the same room, with roughly the same lighting and wearing the same clothes so you can start to see what’s happening. But for the first several months you probably won’t see anything, until one day you do.
Find another focus
And in between those picture-taking sessions, try to find something to focus on that isn’t the visual aspect. You can combine working on changing your voice or your behaviour, and you can certainly get started with hair removal (it takes a while to be fully effective), and you can spend time figuring out make up and fashion, but try to build in time in your life that doesn’t revolve around your transition at all.
Maybe you love a particular sport or are a keen photographer? Why not put some time into developing those hobbies? Perhaps you could learn a new language or take an online course in something you find interesting. Try to attend in-person group meet ups as well, and do hobbies that are social – you may feel shy and out of place at first, but building a strong social support network of people who respect you for who you are is really important for ensuring that your life after transition is a big success.
Maybe what you really want to do is work on something focused around your career, whether that’s developing really killer negotiation skills, or improving your use of a particular coding tool. Give your time to something that is rewarding and absorbing, and not related to being trans. If everything you do is based around your identity, you’ll burn out and lose touch with everything else about you that isn’t your gender, and that won’t be great for your mental health at all.
Maybe there is something else you need to work on…
It might be that alongside your dysphoria, you’ve developed other unhealthy coping mechanisms to try and get you through. This is a tough and important subject – given the intense distress that dysphoria can often cause while it’s untreated, it is not unreasonable (even if it’s counter-productive) to try and numb yourself to those feelings for example through alcohol or substance misuse, or self-harm, or even through disordered eating behaviours.
While you are going through the slow process of transition, this is a good time to try and address some of those issues. There are a lot of great in-person and online sources of support for alcohol or drug misuse, but for all the issues I mentioned above it really is very important to talk to your GP or local healthcare team about it in the first place. Left untreated, addiction, self harm and disordered eating can ruin lives – you deserve help for those difficulties, and terrifying as it might feel to acknowledge them and to try and live without those coping mechanisms, it will help you in the longer run to get the help you need to live without them.
Surround yourself with good people
This next point might be controversial. Humans are social animals and we learn from and influence each other. Having a strong support network of friends and chosen or bio family is vital to how well we deal with life’s challenges, so if you have a circle of supportive friends then that’s brilliant. However, there are a couple of potential things to be aware of.
First, nurturing relationships with other trans people, especially other trans women are really important. Whether you have a trans sister (someone who’s a bit ahead of you in her transition and who can support you along the way) or you’re just part of a friendship group of people who all happen to be trans, that can be great in terms of having friends who just instinctively get what you’re going through.
But if your only female friends are trans women, you will get a slightly filtered view of what life is like in your true gender. If you want the female experience of life, then try to make sure you also spend time with groups of cis women. This has been an age-old thing in the community, and as a good friend of mine (herself a trans woman) puts it, “the question is, do you want to be a ‘woman who happens to be trans’ or a ‘trans woman’?” Because who you spend your time with will influence this.
The other advantage of building up good friendships with cis women is that you can learn from them how to behave in a way that is authentically female. There are ways of talking and interacting with each other where men and women differ significantly – and where people who have been raised male might not immediately see those differences.
The other point of this is that trans people make up around 0.3% of the population, at current estimates. If you spend the majority of your time in the trans community, you’re essentially isolating yourself from the rest of the world, and while the world isn’t always as kind as it should be to people who don’t fit the norm, further isolation won’t change that.
Also, queer politics…
So… this is another controversial point and it’s kind of a follow-on from the one I made above. I’m no stranger to internet controversy and the online queer community is like a big boiling pot of hurt and anger.
A lot of this hurt and anger is justifiable. Queer people have been historically persecuted and abused, and there is still a long way to go around the world before we are all given the equality we deserve. But that can mean that it sometimes feels like you can’t be trans or queer without giving your soul to that struggle. The trouble with that is that it can quickly become exhausting and overwhelming. Your gender is a big part of who you are, but it doesn’t have to be the be all and end all. If you make it a political identity as well as part of your psychological make up, you really do end up risking burnout.
Plus, and here’s the difficult message, the LGBT community online is full of very strident voices. I’ve seen LGBT people persecuted more violently by their own community for saying or thinking ‘the wrong things’ than I’ve often seen outside the queer community. If you’re into the politics, that’s great, but when it becomes all-consuming it can be hard to remember to step back and treat others with compassion when you believe they are in the wrong. And if you happen to be the person that others think is wrong… It’s not a great place to find yourself.
How to avoid this? Decide for yourself how invested or not you want to be in online and in person queer activism. Do you love marches and protesting and want to be at the front of the activism changing the world? Cool, you do you. Or, do you want to just transition and move on with your life, without being part of the big queer movement? That’s great too. Whatever the choices you make, be sure they’re conscious ones. And also remember that being trans (or any other shade of the LGBT rainbow) doesn’t mean you have to hold particular political views. Being trans is only a statement about your gender – it doesn’t have to mean any more or less than that to you, if that’s how you feel about it.
You are more than your gender.
I remember watching a video interview with a trans woman a few years ago and something she said really stuck with me:
I transitioned so that I didn’t have to think about my gender any more.
That’s the message I think it’s useful to close with: you are more than just your gender. While the route through transition is tough, and it can be a lonely and difficult road, remember that at the end of it, you get to choose just how much or how little you have to think about your gender. There is so much about you that is interesting and important, and your gender is only one small part of that.
I’d love to hear what you think. I’m sure I’ve said a lot that other people find controversial, so if you disagree with me, then let’s chat in the comments. Let’s all keep it respectful and friendly though!
And, as ever, if you think that you’d find it helpful to talk to me about how to achieve your goals in transition then please do contact me and we can set up an initial chat.