Navigating The Transition Maze
Transition is amazing. To me, it's quite simply the most beautiful art form a human being can engage in. And that's not to diminish its value or necessity for many people! Depending on the person and their needs, transition can be an instantaneous mental shift or a multi-year process. But no matter what, it amounts to a human being architecting their presentation in the image of their spiritual and mental identity.
Transition is a process that a trans person may elect to embark upon in order to bring their physical selves more in line with their identifying gender. Transition is multifaceted, unique to every individual, and has no bearing on whether or not a person is qualified for or deserving of their gender identity.
A trans person assigned female at birth (AFAB) who identifies as male but decides not to transition is just as much a man as a trans person AFAB who identifies as male and fully transitions in every possible way so that they completely match society’s accepted image of a man. And guess what? Both are just as much men as any cisgender male.
In this post I'll paint a picture of transition by introducing several potential facets of the process and explaining what they often entail. Except it won't be a real picture. More like a written picture, where the colors are words and instead of a paintbrush, I'll use my keyboard.
Right, anyway...(it's 3:04 in the morning and I am fucking delirious)... I'm going to sum transition into three major categories—social, medical, and physical. There's no right or wrong way to go about transition as long as your approach is safe and sane. But ideally you'll want to rely on qualified professionals where it counts (read: anything being done to your body), and try to plan your process so that it's as streamlined and financially efficient as possible.
Social transition involves all of the changes a person may make to adjust their identity within the confines of society. It usually starts with informing one’s closest loved ones that they’re trans, sharing one's new name (if applicable), and advising them about which pronouns (She/He/They, etc.) to use to accurately reflect who they are.
As part of their social transition, one may also adjust their personal style, including their clothing, hairstyle, makeup and mannerisms.
It may progress to “coming out” publicly and changing one’s legal name and/or gender markers on one's official identity documents.
Altogether, social transition may include changes to:
- Self-Identity (how you view and refer to yourself internally)
- Name (unofficial)
- Official name and gender markers on birth certificate, social security record, state ID/license, passport, bank accounts, etc.
Transitioning medically usually involves a regimen of medication designed to alter hormone levels, commonly referred to as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). For trans women, HRT involves a testosterone blocker which brings T levels to within target range for cisgender women, as well as an estrogen supplement.
For trans men, HRT is single-step—just a testosterone supplement. Testosterone by itself blocks estrogen, and alone is enough to bring both T and E levels in line with cisgender male levels.
HRT is huge. It’s capable of rewriting the body at an amazingly fundamental level. Here’s a breakdown of what it’s been known to affect, depending on your physiology:
- Skin texture
- Body hair growth rate & thickness
- Fat distribution
- Breast growth (in MTF trans people)
- Muscle mass and ease of growth
- Libido and sexual attraction triggers
- Body odor
- Sex organ size
- Decreased fertility
- Voice (deepening of pitch in FTM trans people; a less potent inverse effect in MTF people)
- Body chemistry (changes to menstrual cycle for FTM trans people; onset of cyclical PMS symptoms in MTF people. Awesome.)
- Brain chemistry (varies too much to summarize; most report positive effects in line with their identifying gender role, if applicable)
HRT is known to do the majority of its work within a window of 18-36 months, depending on body chemistry and one's prescribed regimen.
Disclaimer: I am not a surgeon or doctor. Any information or advice offered on this blog comes from my personal research and/or experience. Do not base any significant decisions on my insights alone. Always conduct a licensed professional before beginning any treatment or undergoing any procedure.
To fully bring the body in line with a person’s gender identity, there are a plethora of procedures and therapies that can round out the changes hormones and presentation tweaks just can’t deliver. Physical transition can include surgeries to alter anything from voice to breasts and sex organs, but can also be as non-invasive as laser hair removal or electrolysis.
For male-to-female trans women, it's often a good idea to start certain physical procedures around the same time as HRT so that the effects of each more closely align. For example, hair removal, whether by laser, electrolysis or both, takes several months before desired results are achieved. If opting for voice therapy over vocal surgery (highly recommended), this also takes several months, and can be taken on in parallel to HRT and hair removal so that a combined shift across multiple modes of expression occur simultaneously.
However, when it comes to surgery, depending on the procedure, it can be strongly advisable to wait as long as possible within the 18-36 month window of HRT's most powerful effects. The aggregate changes hormones can bring about on their own can be substantial, and in some cases may preclude the need for surgery. Jumping the gun on surgery can at best be wasteful and at worst, may result in undesirable outcomes when combined with the compounding future effects of HRT.
Mental Health During Transition
The most important aspect of transition I can speak to is the time component. And not in regards to how long hormones take to do their thing. Look, despite my lovely theoretical intro, nobody wants to be in transition. Sure, you may be proud to be trans. So am I! But transition is awkward AF and while it gets better every day and eventually (in my experience anyway) does become enjoyable, the first few months can just suck.
Usually this is the time period between, "Wow, okay, I'm trans." and when hormones start having a distinctive effect on your appearance. It's tough. It can be awkward, and it never goes fast enough. Transition is like a long flight. Sure, there are some decent aspects of the trip itself, but really you just want to get where you're going. If teleportation was an option, that plane would be empty.
But it's not, so be aware that it can be tough and not every day is going to be exciting. In the beginning it may even feel like the opposite. But you will get there. Just trust me, okay? It will happen for you. In the meantime though, it can make a world of difference to have an ally or two by your side.
Allies, if you're reading this because you have a loved one going through transition, stop off at my list of ways to be a great trans ally. The impact you can have on a friend or family member is immeasurable.
If an ally just isn't in the cards for you, that's okay too! It doesn't make you any less deserving of transition or your gender identity. Please remember that. But it's tough to go it alone, so consider seeing a trans-friendly therapist to help you find a solid center and get back there when things get overwhelming.
To all my trans brothers and sisters out there, I see you, you matter, and you are beautiful. If you feel like you have nowhere else to turn, drop me a message using the 'contact me' button on the left-hand menu. You're never alone.