It’s been almost three years since I started HRT. It is about three years to the day when I returned from Province town and decided that I could transition. Province town had been the experiment in living full time. Starting with my return I came off the small dose of testosterone I was still on and started living every weekend as Rachel. The plan was to wait ten weeks and reevaluate the decision.
There were two reasons for the wait. First, I had come off of testosterone before (I was taking it due to very low levels, which were causing their own set of issues) and the result tended to be that my trans feelings would be suspended, at least for a while.
The second reason was basically to make sure the decision was solid. Many people in my life had a false impression that I kept changing my mind on the subject. The truth was I always wanted it, but I was trying to figure out if I could save our marriage and still survive intact with some lesser accommodation.
No trumpets blew when I took my first doses of estradiol and spiro after those ten weeks (plus a couple), but after a couple of weeks I felt better and my skin started to soften. I was off and running.
Don’t Be Self-Righteous
Resist at all times when dealing with friends, family, strangers and coworkers any impulse to be self righteous. Many people believe that their feelings are backed by facts or beliefs, the truth is that many people simply have strong feelings about this. They have less control over these feelings than you probably imagine.
In another age is was about gays or Jews or blacks. Now it’s about trans people. Sigh if you must, but anger will accomplish nothing. That’s not to say you have to stand for abuse. Do the appropriate thing. Just don’t answer it with abuse and anger, it feeds into the story.
If it’s someone you know well and care about, the only answer that’s really ever needed is that you hope that you can count on their support during a difficult time in your life, even if they find it hard to understand.
Come to think of it, this is probably good advice for life in general.
Be Approachable, but Let them come to You
For an awful lot of people, especially those you know and love this will have been a shock. Especially if they haven’t been paying attention, like all your aunts and uncles and cousins, or perhaps even friends.
Remember that they just found this out. Be gentle and kind and very, very patient. Ask if they’d like any help understanding it, and if so what format would be helpful. If they do then get it for them or tell them and try and let them be and process. Unless they are just fine and dandy. I’m betting one or two won’t be though.
But don’t go to them to offer the help. They will find you if they want it. If they are staying away there’s a reason. Asking will just make it worse, leave them be. They can find help elsewhere if they want to or get counseling.
Try not to feel to hurt if a friend or a relation walks away. This sounds trite but it is true. It’s about them and not you. Hope that they may return at another point. Resist the urge to anger, it will hurt you but it won’t convince them.
Remember too that there will be people in your life that are deeply conflicted and torn. They know they should act one way but don’t feel comfortable with you. It doesn’t make them bad people.
People to Avoid
Here are some of the categories of folks I’ve encountered.
The Holy Roller
Some people just can’t help themselves. They think they know what God thinks and what she thinks is that they need to tell you what she thinks. Tell them to get off your lawn and eliminate such toxic people from your life. This is not to say all or even most religious people will do this.
They can’t wrap their heads around it and are just wound up. They won’t look at you. You’re probably both bringing out some combination of homophobia and confusion. Give them space. Perhaps they’ll come around.
The Cool Girl/Dude
These are my least favorite people. “Hey, whatever floats your boat ma’am, we’re good.” It’s basically this incredible dismissive statement that at the same time says they don’t think much of who you are or what you’re doing and don’t really care to understand. I guess I prefer them to actual haters, but only a little.
The Boundary Jumper
This is the person who just starts out with questions about who you’re sleeping with or better yet whether you’ve had or intend to have reassignment surgery. Tell them to look up Calpernia’s Bad Questions to Ask a Transsexual
Mistakes to avoid
Resist the urge to follow what I now realize was a mistake and be open and free. Realize the potential to shock those around you with nearly any detail.
[[No, I didn’t do all these things!]]
- They will approach you when they are ready – they do see you!
- They will ask questions when they want answers. Offer up only how you would like to be called and what pronouns.
- You can’t read their minds and you can’t tell if they’re lying. Be cautious about accepting what might be polite offers.
- Don’t assume a smile and politeness or political correctness means they are cool with it.
- Don’t assume progressives are good with it
- Don’t assume conservatives aren’t
- Don’t, don’t, don’t tell anyone everything ever. Come up with a short version that skips the worst stuff and is a positive statement about who you are now. You want support, you do not want pity. It was very bad, then I figured it out, I got help from this great person, and now things are peachy.
- Stop complaining (I should know, I’m a pro at this, nobody wants to know if they aren’t your girlfriend and you’d better be giving her equal time)
- Stop complaining <— Really!
- Never ever tell male friends about your surgery unless they are doctors. They will never forgive you (no, I never did this).
- Never tell other women either unless they actually want to know. OK, some men will genuinely want to know. Make absolutely sure.
- Avoid finding out the details of your surgery unless you have a strong stomach – I know them but I’m the sort of person who watches herself being sewn up in the ER after a bad cut and asks questions. Nothing bothers me.
One of the difficult things we need to overcome when transitioning is the lack of a female upbringing and the attendant understanding a social cues between women and men from the woman’s viewpoint. We come at this from being male (adjust for younger!) our adult lives. For me that was 35 years between 20 and 55.
However much we didn’t feel we were men we were socialized as men and were (or are still) used to talking with men as if we were still men. The issue is how this can be read by men.
First, it will be seen as challenging and by a woman, and with the dynamics that are still very much present it amps up the male ego into a defensive posture. If you’re trying to win an argument this might make things much worse.
Next, it may be read as a come on. Not because there’s anything sexual about it but because men will take almost anything that way if there’s a good excuse. Worse, if you’re there with a couple, the wife or girlfriend may view it as you trying to get her boyfriend’s or husband’s attention in an inappropriate way.
The upshot is that we have to be very cautious about how we engage with men.
On the female side expect a pretty wide variety of attitudes. I’d suggest that it is better to err on the side of caution here too and feel out the relationship as one develops with girlfriends (not Girlfriends). Some women are going to be more accepting than others.
Last, as much as surgery shouldn’t matter in the equation, for those closer to you who will probably know about it, it almost certainly will matter. It is seen as a permanent step, a sign of seriousness and therefore people view you differently. Make comments if you want, but I’m not the one you need to convince. I did what I did for my own reasons and not for others for the most part, you should too. However, don’t ignore this element – it can matter.
The other aspect of surgery is the chances of a post transition sex life. There are guys and probably some lesbians who won’t be with a trans woman, but I guarantee you the percentage, especially for men, who will be with a trans woman without SRS is significantly smaller.
I can’t even say it shouldn’t matter, this isn’t a social thing when you’re talking about someone’s intimate life. The other side is that there’s a small group who specifically wants exactly trans women without SRS.
Have Modest Expectations
I remember thinking about how I would know if friends were ok, that some would just drift away, maybe one or two would be obvious. Things don’t work like that. Here are some portraits I’ve encountered.
There are some general rules, but don’t count on them. Younger people tend to be somewhat more tolerant than older people. Men are more likely to be uncomfortable than women in my experience. Men are more likely to physically confront you from what I’ve read, but I’ve fortunately not had that experience.
For God sake don’t expect people to understand! They can’t and they won’t. Instead hope that they will respect your right to live your life as you see fit and understand that you’ve suffered. Everyone understands suffering.
My standard line now? If someone is poking I ask them if they know what it’s like to be the opposite sex. Then I say, so why would you understand what it’s like to be me?
Realistic expectations are important. Here’s a list of just some of the things transition will not do:
- Cure all your psych problems – if they’re there now, they’ll be there later. It will fix your gender dysphoria, so if some psych issues are from that you’ll get some relief.
- Give you a perfect body – your body will feminize to some extent, but unless you’re doing this right after puberty blockers you aren’t getting a fully feminized body. (and if you complain about your body to other women don’t expect any sympathy – just saying)
- Fix your personality – I’ve had some people claim to be more extroverted
And some things are a matter of fortune, luck or sometimes surgery:
- How feminine your face looks
- How proportionate your breasts are
Ultimately it is important to have modest expectations.