The desire for transition may live in the heart and belly of a transgender person for decades before they gather the resources and the courage to claim their true identity publicly. Talking to a person in the midst of transition is like talking to a bull during the famous “Running of the Bulls” in Spain. Once they are ready to run; get out of the way.
I can continue to throw metaphors at this; like not being able to see the forest for the trees, but you get it. No one can really prepare anyone for the reality of transition. I’m not just talking about the good stuff here; like getting to wear clothing that you may have longed for forever. Or being called by your chosen name and proper pronouns, or stepping into the privilege of your newly embraced gender.
Except perhaps for the fear that many transgender folk feel around telling family, friends, colleagues about their transition; the rest is all a long anticipated fantasy of being able to walk in the world and be accepted for who you really are.
Things You Have to Find Out The Hard Way
1. Sexism is alive and well. Guess what? No matter if you transition from M to F or F to M — you will encounter sexism in a brand new way. For example if you were seen as female; people may have offered to carry your bags or hold your door. Welcome to being a man. Doors will be closed in your face and not only will you be humping your own suitcase, you will suddenly find yourself carrying everybody else’s as well. Got your female on? Welcome to womanhood. Prepare to be judged by your weight, your beauty and your age. Starting now.
2. Did you enjoy massages? Going to the gym? Using bathrooms? Sitting in the jacuzzi naked? Guess what? This has just become more complicated if you are in the midst of transition or choosing not to have full surgical transition. Where do you go? And what’s safe for you? Many transgender people find themselves self conscious at the beach, pool, spa or in any other situation that requires nudity, changing clothes in a public setting or body revealing clothing. What I have shared with cisgendered people when trying to explain why these situations are so difficult is: “When I get naked, I feel like I have a lot explaining to do”.
3. Sometimes, our new gender comes with societal baggage; for female to male you may find yourself walking in your newly minted male body and notice a woman walking alone, crossing the street at night to create safe space from you. Wow! Welcome to manhood you are considered a possible predator now. Better think twice about approaching small children that you don’t know well because parents may now question your motivations. In your female bodied self, it’s very likely that it was quite safe for you to gush over babies and small children. Men are less welcome; and no one prepares you for the dark steely expression that can fall over a parent’s face when a male bodied person makes a fuss over a child in the grocery store line. For male to female, no one prepares you for the shift in your professional life. Suddenly you may not be heard or taken as seriously. You may also not receive the same amount of credit for your accomplishments or ideas. The way you dress may be carefully scrutinized. The color of your hair, your makeup is all under the microscope. You may find yourself crossing the street to avoid men when walking alone. You may now question a man’s intent when he begins speaking to you. You may now experience being objectified for the first time; like receiving cat calls, complimentary drinks served to you at a bar served with a wink, that odd man on Facebook that keeps sending you unsolicited penis pictures.
4. Whether you transition from female to male or male to female; you may find that your traditional safe places, clubs and even bars no longer welcome you. The world is cut up into gender clubs; and no matter how close you were to your all female book club — now that you’re a man; you may be asked to leave and you probably didn’t think that you would no longer be welcome on your Olivia Cruise. You may also find that you are not welcomed into either gay or straight gender spaces with your new embodied gender. So where do you go? Yes, the world is opening to transgender people — but the all women’s group whether it is straight or gay may not be comfortable yet having a transwoman there. Flip it, and the same goes for the newly minted male. The all male naked yoga class may not be ready for you.
Welcome to Oz. Along with your beautiful ruby red slippers, you are a horse of a different color. There are witches, flying monkeys, trees that throw apples along with beautiful poppies, helpful scarecrows and fabulous tender hearted lions along the yellow brick road. But unlike Dorothy, once you transition there will be no going back to Kansas anymore.
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