This is a big topic
Why do any of us ultimately make the “big leap” across the gender divide? What are the factors that push us “over the edge?” The factors are probably as numerous as the reasons we do anything. I’m sure everyone has their own motivations, It’s not a small thing to make this journey. There’s plenty of evidence out there that transitioning is one of the most hazardous paths any person can choose. It’s probably more hazardous than scaling Mount Everest, Surfing Jaws, or racing motorcycles. If you read the statistics, there’s a good percentage of us that end up losing our lives along the way whether from suicide or violence. So why do we do it? What is it that compels each of us to feel that our options have become so limited that there is no alternative? Is it a fad as some would like to believe? I would say that theory is untenable. With all the hazards and difficulties we have to manage during transition, that concept is patently absurd. No one would make this choice if it didn’t seem absolutely necessary.
If most Trans people are like me, they tried everything else to avoid transitioning. It wasn’t something any of us really wanted to do. I think most of us tried to “fit in” in any number of ways before we saw transition as the only reasonable remaining choice. We all probably tried to “fix” ourselves. This may have looked like embracing extreme gender behaviors or occupations to prove that we were “normal.” I can’t tell you how many Trans women I’ve met who were former elite military soldiers, high-level athletes, or hard-charging business executives. It’s almost a cliché. This may be changing (I hope) as society is more aware and accepts our existence, but I think the social barriers still exist to a large extent. After all, who wants to tell their parents, friends, or children that the man they thought they knew is actually a woman? Especially after all the over-the-top masculine behavior we have been doing to counteract our real identity? Sometimes we’ve been outed or shared who we are with others, hoping for an ally. This doesn’t always work out. In my life, I’ve been betrayed by numerous partners and friends whom I thought I could trust. Rather than improving my circumstance, this tended to make my life worse. Now instead of my identity being something I controlled, there were others out in the world telling many people I knew about my dark secret. In addition, at least for me, there were always certain “tells.” Things about my behavior that other people noticed. Were my eyebrows too groomed? Why did I shave my legs? Was that a hint of lipstick still staining my mouth? Whose earrings are these? In a myriad of ways, there were signs that people in my life began to see or know that something was odd about me. Don’t get me started about relationships. I had one failed relationship after another and not just romantic ones. Why wouldn’t I let anyone in? Why did I keep them at arm's length all the time? Why was I such a loner? My life seemed to be circling the drain. More and more people knew and my life became more and more desperate. I only saw one way forward. One way to put all the whispering behind my back to rest. One way to reclaim my life and give an explanation for my odd behavior. Transition.
I believe most of us are looking for hope when we transition. We’re looking for a way forward. A way out of the difficult experience of attempting to be someone you’re not. A way out of being judged for being too this or not enough of that. At the very least a final settlement. A way to end the endless back and forth that goes with being a Transgender person. Personally, I had reached my wit's end and had been through one break-up too many that resulted from me sharing my hidden identity. I felt the walls closing in around me. I had been attempting to be a “part-time” girl all the while I was taking hormones, imagining I could skirt that fine line between being male and “something else.” My breasts began to show even under a loose shirt, and there were other physical and emotional changes that were getting harder and harder to manage. As a result, I had become more and more isolated. I had begun avoiding friends, family, and worst of all my own children. People began to wonder what was going on. I was in therapy at the time and thankfully one day my therapist asked, “what are you waiting for?” It took me a minute but as I thought about the question, I realized that all the reasons I had been putting transition off were in fact no longer there. My children were grown. My job was secure, I had enough money (at least to have all the procedures.) What was I waiting for? This was something I had dreamed of for an entire lifetime and now I had to confront the reality that I actually could transition.
Did transitioning solve all my problems? The short answer is, “no.” Transition isn’t an event but a process. At first, it was a huge shock. Sort of like being in a car accident. That may have been because I literally left work and took a 6 week's leave as a man, and returned as a woman. Just like that. People literally didn’t recognize me. My facial feminization and voice surgery were so effective that I was literally hiding in plain sight like a magic trick. I felt like saying, “Ta-Da!” It was incredible, but I also had this unbelievable experience of having to suddenly be a full-time woman with all that entails. My learning curve was extreme and for a while, I would encounter people daily that didn’t know who I was and where my former self had gone. I would often have to choose in the moment whether to tell the person or not. It was intensely stressful. Maybe a better analogy is that I felt like I had landed on another planet, like an alien. So did Transitioning make me instantly happier? Yes and no. I was relieved beyond belief to have done it, but there were a lot of loose ends to tie up and an enormous amount I had to learn on the fly. Some things improved, while many others did not or even became worse. I have learned so much about experiences many CIS women take for granted. I won’t get into that list, but there are definitely both good and bad things about being female in our society. I think popular culture would like to depict them as all bad, but that isn’t how I experience being a woman. So a decade later, I’m still thrilled to have transitioned, but it certainly didn’t solve all of my problems. If you are looking for a magic bullet, this ain’t it.
For me, the number one reason and justification for transition is to find peace. If like me, you are torn between two worlds and trying to somehow live two different lives, transitioning will solve that dilemma. It also ended my need to lie to people I care about. I don’t tell everyone that I’m transgender. I don’t think that would bring me peace at all. I tell those around me who need to know. I don’t necessarily want being Transgender to define me. I’m a woman first who happens to be Transgender. I don’t seek to impress or shock anyone with it. Transition is just what I needed to do to feel settled and happy. End of story.