Some of my readers may already know this, but for those who don't I want to share that as I've begun my transition to living a life as Emma, I have decided to spend some of my spare time volunteering for a Gender therapist. Mostly this volunteering manifests in me answering emails from people who have contacted her and are seeking advice about their own gender issues. Since she is very busy being an awesome advocate and ally to the transgender cause, not to mention a therapist with a full patient list, she doesn't always have the time to answer all the emails she gets. Because of my background, education, and unique perspective regarding gender and gender transition, she has brought me on to help guide and assist the transgender/non-binary gender people she can't fully respond to.
Today I want to share a question and answer session I had with one of these people. For the sake of anonymity I will not be sharing any names, but I have received permission from the questioner to share our conversation here because I think it can serve as a great resource for any who are questioning whether or not they want to transition. So, here we go:
-Question: "I am confused about transitioning. There are times I want to, then there times I do not want to. I have a feeling my family and friends would not be very accepting of it. What should I do?"
-Answer: That is a difficult question that ultimately only you can answer for yourself, but I will try to offer some guidance to make the decision a bit easier, or at least more clear.
The first thing you must do, and this is the hardest part, is to set your fears aside and try to look at this from a purely logical standpoint. Our fear is a wonderful mechanism intended to keep us safe and away from harm, but sometimes fear can become the very obstacle that prevents us from finding true harmony and safety. The best way to set your fear aside is to acknowledge it, to truly feel it and experience its effects without distraction or reservation. Our minds like to keep us from actually experiencing our difficult emotions because they do not wish us to suffer, but if you are willing to truly look at your fear with the light of your full consciousness you will come to better understand it and it will lose its power over you.
So what are you afraid of? Identifying what exactly you fear better helps you understand the actions you must take. You mentioned that your friends and family might not be accepting of a decision to transition, so I'm going to assume that this is at least part of the fear you are experiencing. If we look at this analytically what exactly is it that creates the fear in that situation? My guess would be you are afraid that if you make the transition you will be estranged from the network of people you are accustomed to living and interacting with. You fear that if you make the decision to transition that they will not understand you and will ultimately choose to leave your experience. Under such circumstances you might end up alone, and being alone is very difficult for social creatures such as us humans.
Your fears are serving their purpose by trying to tell you that there is a chance that some or all of your friends and family will not accept your new identity. To this I say, "good job," to your fears, because they have done excellent work in warning you that dangers might be ahead. Now that we've accepted your fears and acknowledged that they are working as they should, we must now look at the options you have to deal with the dangers that your fear is warning you about.
As I see it, Option A is: do nothing (or do not transition). If you choose not to transition this will mean that you must continue to live your life as your current presented identity and gender. You will always be spoken to as and assumed to be the person you've been up to now. this will manifest as continuing to be called sir/ma'am, him/her, he/she, and guy/girl (or any variation of gender pronouns you are accustomed to hearing). People will continue to place expectations on you that they normally would for one who has been assigned your gender. They will continue to lump you into a group that is obviously less than comfortable for you. You will always have to see the same reflection in the mirror that you currently see, for better or worse. You will be forced to set any desire you have to be a different gender aside and hope that it does not continue to plague you with whatever emotional issues you are currently experiencing (confusion, depression? anger? disappointment?)
Option B: Decide to completely set your fear aside and make the leap of faith into transitioning. You will begin a new journey, one that will have uncertain consequences on your life as it is now, but may ultimately lead you to the happiest you've ever been. You will begin the lengthy process of examining every part of your identity to see which parts actually fit, and which parts are just socialized thoughts, interests, and behaviors for the gender you were assigned. You will begin to set aside the parts of you that no longer apply and will begin to further explore the parts of you that you've been too afraid to accept. There will be great rewards when you do this as you will come into greater alignment with who you really are on the inside, but sacrifices might have to be made. Parts of your life might change and parts of your life may very well cease to be. Friends may no longer be able to tolerate who you are becoming and will cease to associate with you. Family members may become angry, confused, or even judgmental about this new identity you've chosen. You will find out, once and for all, who loves you unconditionally, and who only loves you for who they think you ought to be. Those people you associate with may have to decide if they want to love you unconditionally or not, and that may take some time. They may have to see you completely on the other side (and how happy it has made you) before they will accept their own short-comings and return to your circle of friends/family.
(Option B cont'd) You will have to make the important decisions about whether or not you'd like to medically transition and to what degree you wish to pursue those medical options. You may choose to do none of them, or you may choose to do a great deal of them. It may end up costing you a good deal of money, but you will have to weigh how much money means to you compared to inner harmony with your being and the happiness of showing the world your inner beauty (the one that's been hiding beneath a mask of socialized gender expectations, perhaps?). With medical transition (HRT) your reflection will change and will probably begin to look more like what you feel on the inside. You may find greater comfort with your body and with the way other people see you. You will begin to be called by the opposite pronouns and people will begin to think of you as the opposite gender (or whatever gender you wish to present). Different expectations will be placed upon you and it may very well be that you are much more comfortable with those expectations. You may find great harmony and peace with those expectations and will truly shine as you take on your new role. As I said in the beginning, you may become the happiest you've ever been.
Option C: Simply choose to explore further before making a decision. Transitioning can be like a mountain standing high above you with cold winds and blowing snow; a mountain you feel like you could never climb on your own but you feel some desire to climb it anyway. Options B and A are between vowing to climb the whole mountain and deciding to go home before you even try, respectively. Option C is deciding to see how far you can or want to climb without the pressure of deciding to climb the whole thing. This option manifests in the light exploration of your gender to get a better sense of whether or not transitioning is actually something you'd want to do. You can begin by examining what exactly you'd like to do or be if you paid no attention to what other people thought or had to say about it. For me this manifested in me painting my toenails a lovely shade of purple. I cannot express in words the extraordinary happiness I felt when I did that, not to mention the elation I felt every time I looked down at my purple toes. Because of the joy I felt at this initial attempt I decided to take it a bit further and started painting my fingernails too. Again I felt overwhelming joy of doing something I wanted without worrying about what anyone else would say or think. Sure I felt fear and still rarely wear my fingernail polish out in public (not until I can better "pass" as female, at least) but the happiness I felt was so much more powerful than the fear I felt. The more I explored my desires instead of giving into my fears of what others would think, the more it became clear to me that transition truly was something I wanted to do. I always knew I was a girl on the inside (from a young age) but it wasn't until I set my fears aside and felt the joy of being openly girly with myself that I knew that I'd never be truly happy until I could be a girl in body and presentation too. For you this may manifest differently, but the point is to start, little by little, to do the things you want regardless of whether or not it fits your assigned gender. Yes, you might get some strange looks or some people might tease you about it, but if you are willing to not worry about what they say or do for a little while, you may just find that you care more about your own happiness than what other people expect from you. You may also find that your friends start to just accept this new behavior because you are unafraid of their challenges to it. In time, if you continue to climb that proverbial mountain you may look back and see that you've come so far already with such joy and relief that you may as well just finish the journey to becoming this new person. Then, the decision to transition will no longer feel like a daunting task, but rather, the next logical step in the evolution of your identity. You will have faced your fears one at a time and can now embark on transition without reservation because you know that nothing would make you more happy.
Option D: this may not be an option for you at all, but in case it's been on your mind at all I want to address it. Option D is to quit, to give up, to willingly end your life. This option is tragically common among pre-transition transgender folks, and I, myself, faced it many times, so I feel compelled to explore it with you. This option is honestly the easiest option, despite how difficult it can be to make it. It takes all the pain and uncertainty away as you will no longer have to make the choice between transition and living the life you've built to now, but the cost of this decision is monumental. Everyone you know will have their hearts broken and a gaping hole will be left in the lives of those closest to you. They will feel anger, rage, regret, anguish, confusion, and the indescribable pain of loss. You will become another person who was overcome by the social pressure to conform to a gender that didn't fit and didn't feel right. Instead of possibly shining as a brave star of true inner beauty and harmony, you will become a black cloud of despair upon everyone you know. Your decision will lead to the dysfunction of many others as they try to cope with the consequences you chose not to face. I know what I'm saying might seem harsh but my best friend from high school committed suicide and it has done untold damage to me, his other friends, and most especially his family. None of us will ever be the same because of his decision, and a part of my heart will forever be missing because of his absence. It is for this reason that I chose the path of transition over suicide. I knew it was better for me to put everything in my life at risk rather than to bring the unimaginable pain to my loved ones because I was too afraid to be who I really was. For me, it truly was death or transition, and I chose transition and do not regret it for one second.
So, those are the options as I see them. What do you think? Has this illuminated the paths ahead of you any? Do you believe that you can continue to live your life as it currently is and still be happy? That is what you must decide, what would make you the happiest? In the end, all we have are the choices we made in life. Everyone you know will eventually pass from this earth. All the money you have will eventually be spent or be passed on after your death. Every social tie you currently have will eventually be broken either by time, distance, disagreement, or death. Nothing is forever except for the life you choose to live. That is the only thing you can take with you to your grave, your choices, experiences, and memories. Will those choices be for happiness or for fitting in to social expectations? Will those choices be the conquering of fears and the exploration of new avenues of expression and beauty, or will they be the result of not wanting to risk what you had because of fear of loss? You only live this life once, my dear friend, and you are the only one who can decide what makes you happy and whether or not you will pursue that happiness.