Some basic questions you may have been too embarrassed to ask. These answers are true across the board.
When referring to a transgender person, is the gender used based on the starting point or the destination?
The destination. Always the destination. Most of us, myself included, get offended when people refer to us as the gender we were assigned at birth, whether prefixed with "transgender" or not.
I am a transgender woman. With most adjectives, a sentence will still be accurate if you take them out. So, if you wanted to refer to me to someone else, think...
Beth is a transgender man. ❔
Beth is a
Beth is a transgender woman. ❔
Beth is a
The following are questions that are specific to me. Other transgender/agender people would have answers (if the questions even apply) individual to them.
What pronouns do you prefer?
I prefer female pronouns. Initially this was primarily so that I get used to hearing them. It is still a pleasant surprise when I hear people use "she" and "her", and the realization that they're talking about me stokes in me an inner warmth. I feel affirmed and accepted and supported.
Now I prefer female pronouns for another reason, which I wrote in a Facebook post.
What I absolutely do not want is for you to feel bad for using the 'wrong' pronoun. Many years ago, I was at a game night with a trans woman whom I barely knew but had been used to seeing as a man. I accidentally said "him" and was so embarrassed, I immediately tried to cover it up by explaining that I had said "'em", which made the gaffe more painful and awkward many times over. To this day, every time I think about that blunder, I feel a flare of pain and anxiety and disgust for myself, and I absolutely do not want you to ever feel that, especially since pronouns really do not matter much to me.
I merely ask for your respect; acknowledgment that my gender is valid, perfectly natural, and moral; acknowledgment that I'm not making it up, confused, or pretending; and to be treated with dignity--the same dignity you would afford anyone else. Any effort beyond that is just highly appreciated.
What's the hardest part of transitioning so far?
By far it is the lack of support and outright adversity from my mom, but probably not for the reason you're thinking. While it is frustrating that she is doing "everything in [her] power" to prevent me from transitioning (her words), it's nothing compared to the pain I see in her face every time I bring transitioning up. It's the knowledge that I could stop her from hurting, but that, to be me, I can't. My mere existence hurts one of the people I care most about.
While certainly tangential, my original answer pales in comparison to this past Monday. A few months ago I came to the conclusion that my mom in all likelihood will never accept me as her daughter. She has no intention of ever calling me Haley or using she/her pronouns. Thus began a months-long preparation for the hardest conversation of my life.
This hurt more than any month of my divorce, and that pain was condensed into two hours.
As I said in the post, I will almost certainly add more to this, perhaps even in its own sub page.
Are you agender or transgender?
Both, kind of. I'm agender, was born with male genitalia, wear women's clothing, and am in the process of transitioning to female anatomy. Since I'm agender, it's a little confusing to say what I'm transitioning from and to, but saying I'm transgender is an easy label to make things clearer in casual conversation. And regardless of the 'from' and 'to', it is a transition, a shift in lifestyle, identity, and mindset--both for me, and those who know me.
Are you gay?
The short answer?
Not really, but it depends.
I'm agender, so the terms we have don't really make sense. I am, always have been, and almost certainly always will be exclusively interested in women. If we're comparing my sexuality (whom I am attracted to) against my genitalia (as opposed to against my gender), then I am transitioning from being straight to being a lesbian.
The long answer
This is my reply to a Facebook comment made by someone who was having a hard time distinguishing between gender and sexuality. She suggested that, since I was previously married to a woman, I've "felt pretty straight", and she would find it "too bad" if I'm transitioning because of a few gay urges.
Gender and sexuality are very different things that have been convoluted for various reasons, a couple of which are that 1) for most of human history, people thought anatomy determined gender and gender determined sexuality, and 2) after it was discovered this linear cause and effect was not absolute, talking heads--be they politicians, pastors, members of the media, whomever--because they don't know better; because they refuse to accept that reality may not match what they already believe; or because, for whatever motive, they are misleading their constituents--these talking heads have perpetuated this confusion. For those of us who do not align to that convenient waterfall of (inaccurate) equivalency, it is quite frustrating. Infuriating, actually.
My sexuality--the group of people I find sexually attractive--has always been, is, and will almost certainly always be exclusively women. While occasionally I look at a guy and think, "Wow, he's really attractive," I have never once wanted to kiss him, much less have sex with him.
My gender, while up through two years ago I had not recognized it, has always been agender. I never fit in with guys or with girls. I could really never relate with either group at a fundamental level beyond that of "human". I "was" a guy simply because I had a penis and was never taught that I could possibly be something other than a guy. Had my parents and church community encouraged me to consider my gender at a younger age, I do not doubt I would have come to this conclusion much earlier.
Why I also identify as transgender is largely a matter convenience. As gender is a relatively new field of science (say, compared to physics, astronomy, biology, or engineering), we don't have proper language in place in the common vernacular. My impression is that most people aren't aware that 'agender' is even a thing. After all, I am agender and it took me 29 years to learn of its existence. However, whatever connotations they may attach to the term, most people have at least a rudimentary grasp of what 'transgender' means, at least practically: "That person was born with a penis, but sees herself as a girl and may or may not intend to have surgery to mimic breasts and vulva," or the male equivalent of that statement. As this crude working definition does apply to me, I've adopted the use of the label, even though it's not completely accurate.
Since the labels we use for sexuality (hetero-, homo-, bi-, a-, etc) are relative to one's gender, as someone with no gender, the terms are rendered mostly useless. The only way I could be homosexual would be if I was sexually attracted exclusively to agender people--technically possible, I suppose, but not very useful for classifying people, which, let's be honest, is what this discussion revolves around. If you want to make sexuality labels be relative to genitalia rather than gender, then I--without changing whom I'm attracted to, start to finish--am in the process of moving from heterosexual to homosexual. I'm attracted to women while emulating a man. I'm attracted to women while transitioning to female. I'm attracted to women after fully transitioning with HRT and corrective surgery. "Feeling straight" and "feeling gay" aren't applicable here, and to be completely honest, based on my interpretation of what you mean by the phrases, I'm not entirely sure they're applicable ever.
When we use the words "feel" and "feeling", we once again run into a frustrating limitation of our language (more specifically, what academics call our "discourse"). In everyday conversation, we often talk about feeling as it pertains to emotion, but that is not how gender manifests. If I ask if you feel like a girl--and assuming your answer is 'yes'--is it an emotion that causes that answer or is it a sense of being? My gender--agender--is the latter. I am agender. I am at home in a female body and exhibiting female behavior, as I am not at home in a male body, exhibiting male behavior. I can say that it feels wrong, but it is not an emotion that I am expressing. It is something deeper and more fundamental.
If you're agender, why is it important for you to transition?
Trans people always say it isn't a choice, but if you're neither gender, you must be choosing to be female over being male.
I think I covered this pretty clearly in my coming out story. It is a choice, but not the choice specified in the question. It's a choice between dissonance and peace; between pretending and not; between feeling removed or abstracted from my life and feeling involved and attached to it. There is no choice.
Does this mean you are abandoning your faith?
No. On the contrary, I'm finding it is strengthening it. Yes, I reject the classical interpretation of scripture regarding homosexuality (and transgenderism by proxy), but that issue appears to be the next great schism in the church, like the Reformation 500 years ago. That is, many churches are rejecting that harmful, dehumanizing interpretation.
I have yet to read the book (I purchased it last night), but a pastor friend of mine, Holle, recommended "The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why" by Phyllis Tickle (whom, I think we can all agree, has the best name). Holle, told me the book discusses this present bifurcation of the Church in detail, if you are interested. It's $9.99 on Amazon for Kindle or $10.81 for paperback (as of 11/21/2017 with Amazon Prime).
How open are you to questions?
Extremely open, especially if they are genuine and curious. Even if they're awkward, and the wording sounds rude, as long as the intent is to gain greater understanding, I welcome your questions and will eagerly answer them. This is nearly as new an experience for me as it is for you, and the more thought-provoking questions I get, the more I get to explore my own identity. I eagerly welcome questions.
As a rule of thumb, "stupid" or "silly" questions are fine (with me)--I won't shame you or think less of you for asking them; in fact I encourage you to ask them, or how else will you learn and be able to ask the "smarter" questions?--but pointed questions are (generally) demeaning.
A caveat: I can only speak from my own experience, and my answers shouldn't be generalized to the transgender community at large, and especially not to the entire LGBTQ community. I do, however, think that my experience is typical among agender trans people.
Would you rather have been born a girl or a cis-gender boy?
Either of those would have made life easier, for sure.
But I would choose neither of them.
I love my friends, and as painful as my life has been at times, I'm genuinely grateful that its path brought each of those friends into my life. Having been born a girl would have given me a completely separate set of friends. Would they have been better or worse friends than the ones I have now? No, probably not. But it's a moot point, and not worth considering. I was born with a penis and have always desired a vulva and breasts. It is what it is. The thought of losing my relationships with those close to me--even knowing those relationships would likely be replaced with equivalently sacred ones--is devastating to imagine.
I would not choose to identify as male, either. It would have been much easier, sure, but I enjoy being feminine. It's who I am on a level I haven't felt about anything other than that of my identity as Christian. I would be an entirely different person--I would not know myself--had I been cis-male.
Yes. I would rather have been born cis-female and just pray that I ended up meeting my friends by some other God-destined means.
I'm tired. I'm tired of not being who I am, of not having the body that I should, of worrying if I'm creeping strangers out, of clothes not fitting properly, of wishing and waiting. Of hair. I am so tired of shaving my face and chest. Most of all, I'm tired of not having the relationship with my mom that I once did. That loss is soul-crushing. If she saw me as female--if I'd always been female to her--our relationship would not be strained.
When did you realize you were trans?
Subconsciously, I became aware of my gender around age 4 or 5. As I mentioned in my Coming Out article, I was playing "mermaids" with my sister, and my dad corrected me, saying I would be a merman. But I liked being a girl. This is about the age that most trans people realize their bodies don't match their gender. Washington just passed a law requiring sex-ed in K-12, and the basics of gender are now required to be taught in Kindergarten. I don't doubt that had this law been enacted 30 years earlier, I would have come out to my parents at that age. While I'm thrilled that this law has been passed for future generations of trans people--both so that they learn of their own gender and so that other kids won't think anything abnormal about trans people, having been educated young--it hurts in my soul that I didn't get to benefit from it directly.
I became curious about transgender people the first day I learned of their existence. I don't remember for sure, but I think I was around 7 or 8. We had some family friends over for dinner, and sitting around the table, our friends brought up someone they knew who "had decided he was a woman". I remember a small part of me immediately thinking this could apply to me. The four of them shared nervous laughs about weird or crazy people. If they hadn't laughed, I would have asked questions and discovered my gender quickly thereafter. Instead, I shamefully buried my curiosity deep enough that it didn't resurface for another two decades.
The rest I described in my Coming Out article. I was never comfortable with my gender through childhood and puberty. At age 28, I began to reexamine my gender and realized I was agender. Just after turning 30, I tried on my sister's dress and everything fell into place.
People have a hard time understanding when a trans person says "I've always been transgender" when they come out later in life. That's because it's a question with a complicated answer. I have always been transgender; I just didn't know it consciously.
We frequently hear two self-contradictory arguments: "If you've always been trans, why didn't you come out when you were young?" and "Kids aren't mature enough to make 'decisions' like that when they're that young." The answer to the first is often that they simply weren't told that they could be. The answer to the second is that it's simply untrue; kids do know at an early age that their body doesn't match their gender.
What effects has discovering your gender later in life had compared to discovering it earlier?
The longer it's been since coming out (now about 2.5 years), the more I've realized just how damaging it was for me not to be raised female. Beyond the physical, I'm beginning to see just how long a road it will be to deal with the emotional and psychological pain. Fair or not, I'm uncovering quite a lot of resentment toward my parents for not helping--and in fact hindering--my self-discovery of my gender.
I would do anything to go back in time and start taking puberty-blockers around age 10 and start HRT when I was in my mid-teens. My body image issues are stronger and deeper than I initially realized. I hate my masculine form, both the male anatomy, and the hard, angular shape. Had I gone through female puberty instead of male puberty, my voice wouldn't have dropped, I would not have developed facial or chest hair, my hips would have widened, and my shoulders would have rounded. These are permanent changes that surgery and hormones won't fix (though painful electrolysis can help with the facial hair). The best I'll ever be to strangers is a "masculine woman" if not "a man pretending to be a woman". I could have been every bit as feminine and physically beautiful as my sister. I could be loving my body right now. Instead I cringe when I look in the mirror and wonder who I am trying to fool. I listen to my recorded voice and know I will never hear a customer service agent greet me with "ma'am". I will never be seen at first glance as the woman I am. Ever.
The physical changes I can still make are slow in coming. I've been on HRT for ten months and my breasts have barely grown. A friend of mine I hadn't seen in a while said my face looked fuller than the last time she'd seen me, so that's encouraging, but I still don't look feminine. I'd need to have "bottom surgery" regardless, but tracheal shaves (to lessen one's Adam's apple) are expensive and have a three-week recovery time. Feminization speech therapy is expensive and mentally and physically taxing, and its results aren't perfect. I don't know that I've ever heard a trans woman whose voice had dropped speak, and not immediately picked out an uncomfortable difference. While better than sounding jarringly masculine, the best I've heard still sits well within uncanny valley.
If I'd known consciously at a young age that I was female, I would have learned my mannerisms, how to move, and how to talk from my mom and other women, rather than from my dad. According to Melanie Anne Phillips's website, pitch is the least of eight distinguishers between masculine and feminine speech. The biggest is resonance, which is developed during puberty. The rest--dynamic range, enunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and body language (and one I haven't paid the $20 to find out what it is)--can be learned, but first you have to unlearn how to speak. It would have been much easier and much more natural had I learned it right the first time and had my voice not dropped. (I have discovered through some experimentation with hypnosis that I can actually paralyze my lower vocal cords and lose the resonance automatically, but the effect lasts only a few minutes.)
Beyond just "passing" as female, I feel like I missed out. I didn't get bows and ribbons, easter dresses, learn how to apply makeup from my mom, or a sweet 16 party. I didn't get photos to look back at--all mine are of a boy that makes me uncomfortable. These may seem minor, but I ache when I think about them.
I guess if there's one takeaway from all this, if you have kids, teach them at a very young age that their gender might not be what they'd always been told. It probably is, but allow them the freedom to question, and then trust their answer. If your kid is trans, finding out early will save them a lot of pain and frustration and resentment and money in the future.
Do you plan to change your name?
This answer has changed drastically over the past three years. The answer now is yes. I will change it to Bethany Erin Éponine Hitch. It was a long journey to get there, so I left the original answers below.
I'm in the enviable position of being agender and having an androgynous name, so I plan to stick with Jordan, unless my family somehow forces it to be male and uses it against me. I always liked it more as a girl's name, anyway.
What I do with my middle name, currently "Scott", is another matter. My dad's and my initials are the same, so I'd like to find a name that starts with S. Alas, I haven't found one that I like that hasn't already been taken by a friend or isn't the unconventional name of a character in a fantasy series. I'm looking for a cutesy name.
I love "Haley", but obviously it starts with the wrong letter. Also, my last name being "Hitch", I'm not too fond of the alliteration, even though virtually no one knows middle names.
The S-name I'm most strongly considering is Shallan (shu-LAHN), a character who is remarkably similar to me in my favorite book series. My major hesitation is that it's an unconventional name and my sister is likely to mock me for it (good-heartedly, but still with an air of disapproval).
I think I do need to change my name after all. Partially, this is because I think that to my mom, Jordan will always be her son. The greater reason, however, is because I still think of Jordan as a guy.
I am agender--I know this in my gut; I feel it, as much as something neutral can be felt, as much as water can be tasted.
I am transgender--I know this in my head. I feel it when I'm dressed up with makeup on. I feel it when I picture my future, post-surgery. When I imagine falling in love. I don't feel it, though, when I'm driving or programming or playing Nintendo. I don't feel it when I'm mentally reliving memories or lost in thought.
Jordan is, unfortunately, inextricably bound to my masculine history, to the identity that never fit me. I believe that in order to attach the identity in my head to the identity of my soul, I need to think of myself with a different name. Another androgynous name like Morgan, Riley, or Jamie would probably work fine in the long run, but the more feminine the name, the quicker, I believe, my identity will take root.
Given that my first name needs to change, I think Jordan might make an excellent middle name. It is gender-androgynous, and it would tie a string to my old identity like a balloon--I wouldn't be giving up all of my current self, but neither would it drag behind me like the ball-and-chain it currently provides.
Picking a middle name, as previously planned, carries less weight than picking a new first name. A first name requires far greater consideration. It's how everyone will perceive me from then on. I have a few friends who've changed their names for various reasons, and they've warned me to be careful. I intend to be.
I am currently considering Haley. As I said originally, I love that name; I always have. It also carries a personal significance: it's the name of a girl I loved (platonically) who died about eleven years ago. She was so full of life, utterly brimming with it. It was the reason I was so fascinated by her. Given the overwhelming strength of my depression, and its constant, battering insistence that I would be better off dead, I think a name filled with life might be perfect.
The alliteration might chafe. I'm not sure. Some nine years ago I went to purchase a new violin. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I knew it was the one I was going to buy. It was $1000 more than I intended to spend, but more notably, it's coloring was strange. I didn't like it.
The violin I'd used up to that point was light, the color of balsa, like the top and bottom of the body of this new violin; most copies of Stradivari I'd seen and those I'd rented before growing big enough to use a full-size violin were reddish like the center of this one. That this one was both bothered me. After spending a couple hours trying literally every other violin in my price range, finding I wasn't crazy about the tone of any of them, I resigned myself to trying this violin I didn't like. Of course it just had to sound amazing. I played it for a long time--longer than was altogether fair--trying to find a non-aesthetic reason not to purchase it, and came up empty. So, I wrote a check for $4000 and purchased the darned thing.
That violin is now my most precious possession. If the house was on fire and I had to choose to grab my violin or my cat, I would agonize over the decision, and would probably go with my violin. Money has nothing to do with that decision. My violin is every bit as alive as my cat.
My point is, what chafed at first turned out to be one of the best decisions I've made. The alliteration of Haley Hitch chafes less than the coloring of my violin.
So now I'm figuring out how to discern my name. It's kind of funny; randomly last night I was thinking about someone asking my name--I wasn't even thinking in the context of choosing a new one--and my response to their question was, "I don't know." It made me chuckle.
I thought maybe I could try Haley out for a while and see how it sits, but I don't know exactly how to go about doing that. I changed my Nintendo account name to Haley as a small step, but for this experiment to really work, I need people to call me Haley, and it seems strange to make that request on a temporary basis.
I have been going by Haley about 6 months now. I've noticed there are four sets of people.
- People who will likely never call me by my name, and will always use my deadname
- People who try to call me Haley, but slip up every now and then
- People who knew me as Jordan but have had no problem calling me Haley since I asked them to
- People who have only ever known me as Haley
These last two groups have only told me that Haley fits me a lot better than Jordan does. (I haven't gotten any specific equivalent feedback from the first two groups.)
My insecurity has me wondering if the people who have only known me as Haley only think so because they learned that name first. I watched The Lord of the Rings movies before I read the books, and I like the movies better. I can't think of a case where I both saw the movie and read the book of some story and didn't like the thing I saw/read first better. I'd like to think that if I saw the Harry Potter movies first, I'd still like the books more, and if I'd read The Lord of the Rings first, I'd still find the movies to be higher quality stories. It's frustratingly impossible to know the answers to these types of questions.
The third group mitigates that insecurity to some extent, but I worry that people are just being nice. I, myself, can't make those kinds of white lies, and so I just stay silent or phase things in a way that is technically true. Haley fits you really well, rather than Haley fits you better than Jordan. I don't know how many people are like me, though, and I know I have a weakness misjudging sincerity.
The Wizard's First rule is "People are stupid ... they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they're afraid it might be true." In this case, I am people; I am stupid. I just don't know if I'm stupid for wanting to believe it's true or fearing it might not be.
I have seen and watched a story where I liked the second experience more than the first! Eragon. I watched the movie first and left the theater thinking, "I bet the book is better." It was. The books weren't great (though they are great for a 14-year-old author), but the movie was just that bad.
December 2020/January 2021
think I may am not be Haley after all. I think I am probably (read: almost certainly) am Bethany Erin Éponine.
Like a good sermon, three points and a joke:
Are you going to have surgery?
Yes. I will have "bottom surgery" for sure, and top surgery if HRT doesn't make my boobs naturally large enough to be indisputably female.
While I "feel" female already, there are three primary factors for why I need surgery.
The first is gender expression. I need to be recognized as female by society. While I'm patient with people misgendering me when they're trying not to, it's still irritating. It would be better if people saw boobs and naturally thought "that's a girl" rather than needing to consciously gender me correctly.
Second, I need to be consistent. It's a quirk of mine. In the US, tobacco kills more than 480,000 people each year, alcohol kills 88,000 per year, and marijuana killed roughly 32,000 deaths in 2014 due to car accidents and, as best I can tell, zero other deaths. Personally, I hate the smell of marijuana, never have and never will smoke tobacco, and have had four glasses of wine and two flutes of champaign in my life (neither of which would I miss); however, it drives me nuts that we outlawed marijuana but keep tobacco and alcohol legal. If we didn't have masses of empirical evidence that outlawing drugs does not reduce drug use, only increases criminality, I'd argue we should outlaw all three. As we proved between 1920 and 1933, with the Eighteenth Amendment, this won't work. Nevertheless, our laws should be consistent, and despite hating being exposed to marijuana smoke, I voted in 2012 to legalize it in the state of Washington. Likewise, if I'm going to call myself female, I feel the need to be as female as possible, and that includes anatomy.
Last is sex. I want to experience sex the way a woman does. I want someone (or something another woman is using) to be in me, and anal--or more precisely, fecal matter--grosses me out.
Do you think being transgender affected your job search?
Some of you may know I've been searching for a job for well over a year. I found one immediately before the pandemic entered full force, but hadn't (and haven't) signed papers yet. Now I'm waiting for the market to stabilize so they can hire me.
To answer the question, though, as far as I know, my gender hasn't affected my job search at all. I can't know for certain, but the few places I did get interviews at were perfectly professional, and I didn't detect any discomfort from anyone I talked to.
I do know that this is not the experience of most trans people. My experience has been positive because of my field--for whatever reason, it seems like software engineers are more easy-going and accepting--and because the places I interviewed at were located in Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco--three of the most inclusive, progressive cities in the US.
Do you fear getting attacked by people on the street because you are transgender?
Short answer? Yes.
Initially I was only worried about making people uncomfortable. I'd been uncomfortable around trans people before, trying not to offend them, and I didn't want other people to feel that way. I also didn't want to be stared at or ridiculed. I figured if I kept my head down, I'd be fine, and I was willing to make that concession.
While I've never been attacked, I have gained a little fear of being attacked on the street. However, I don't have this fear everywhere.
I don't fear being attacked in Seattle for a number of reasons. First, Seattlites are far too passive to actually confront each other much less get violent. Second, when in public, I don't think I've ever been secluded enough that someone could attack me unnoticed, and I do trust that if I was attacked, someone would step in or at least call the cops. Third, Seattle is generally a very open-minded city.
Twenty minutes north of Seattle, in the blue-collar city of Everett is where I had my first and, so far, only negative experience that could potentially have turned ugly. I was at a bar and a tipsy woman (whom I've labeled
W below) started chatting with me.
What's your name?
What was your name before?
I don't really mind that you asked--it's Jordan--but that's not a polite question. Most trans people will be very offended if you ask them that.
Yeah, but I always want to know. So I'm just going to ask anyway. Because my feelings are more important, you know?
At first I was stunned; I just said "okay" and turned my back to her. Crisis averted. Then I was livid, but by that point, I was already on my drive home. (I wrote a Facebook post about it which became its own negative experience.) Also, I discovered I actually do mind when someone asks me for my dead name. So don't do that.
I wish I had confronted her, not for my own dignity (though, yes a little of that), but because not confronting her feels like tacit approval of her behavior or at the very least acknowledgement that her behavior is normal and acceptable. Depending on how tipsy and intolerant her date was, the situation could have turned ugly. In the angry hypotheticals I entertained on my drive home from the bar, I imagined having my friends record the confrontation. I would have been careful not to taunt or in any other way instigate, and had he started a fight, I would not have faught back. The guy would have ended up behind bars with a hate crime on his record. While there would have been a measure of poetic justice, and I'd feel better for having stood up for myself and trans people as a whole, I still could have been badly beaten or worse, and the guy would hate trans people more than he hypothetically already does. And that's the best case scenario.
That anecdote was not of a confrontation with someone off the street, but it also wasn't far from Washington's heart of culture. Go 40 minutes east of Everett and you reach Granite Falls, a rural mining town where I was living at the time. I was warned by the friends I was staying with to avoid the area around the only bar in town or I would get beaten up. As I don't drink, this wasn't particularly limiting, but it is a stark reminder that most of the US is not like Seattle, and as a trans woman, I am not safe.
When you date, when do you tell the person that you're transgender, and what are the common responses you've gotten so far?
For me, I tell people up front before a first date. For one, I don't want to date someone who is intolerant toward trans people. Two, it saves me from any ridicule if it turns out the person is intolerant when I come out to them in person. Three, I don't pass as a woman, so in the best case I'm able to hide it until we meet face-to-face, and then surprise! I'm trans! That doesn't sound like fun to anyone involved. Finally, I'm not hiding. It's no secret that I'm trans.
Other trans women, especially those who can pass and those who live in less tolerant places, might have different philosophies.
As for common reactions, I haven't been on a date in about three years (I've only been out for two-and-a-half), so I'll have to let you know when it happens. 😅
Common Transgender Experience
The following are questions about transgender people and their experiences in general--what many of us would have in common.
Note, these answers are my opinions on the matter, and certainly subject to disagreement within the transgender community. That said, I suspect my experience is fairly typical among other agender/transgender women.
It should also be noted that I am not particularly well-educated on gender and sexuality. It's actually not that interesting to me. Having learned enough in order to identify my gender and determine I need to transition, that was enough for me. So, while I can answer these questions based on my experiences and thoughts, I might just be flat out wrong in some cases.
Why are MtF transgender people stereotypically so girly?
It seems to me (not trying to stereotype or anything, but this is just what I have observed) it seems like when people start identifying as a female that it is always ultra girly female. Like dresses everyday, makeup etc. I get the makeup everyday, lots of women do that, but why the super dressed up aspect as a daily outfit? I don't know any women who do this, and even in public I feel like it is kind of a rare thing to see women dressed like this as an everyday look. I would love to know your view on this.
It's a compensation thing. We need to try harder in order to ensure that we are perceived as women. Due to social stigma and transphobia, many of us are terrified that we'll be recognized as 'men' dressing in women's clothing, and that that will make them uncomfortable if not outright disgusted. If we register as women, we avoid this situation.
It's different for different people I think. I'm not super into makeup; as long as I look like a woman, I would rather people not be able to tell I'm wearing anything. If hormone replacement therapy (HRT) makes me appear feminine enough, I will likely reduce the amount of makeup I use, if not stop wearing it altogether.
Another aspect is, at least if we are interested in women, we know exactly what we find attractive. If we can look that way, we feel attractive, likely for the first times in our lives. When I first began coming out to people (women in particular) and showing them my two dresses, more than one of them asked if I could be their personal shoppers. It's very easy for me to pick out cute clothing: I just pick things I wish I saw other women wearing.
I'm guessing--I haven't actually paid attention to this trend--that the longer it has been since someone transitioned, the less effort they still put into cosmetics (unless it's their passion). I think in this case (which is probably my case), it's like a dam breaking, and we need to express our heretofore pent up femininity.
What's the worst part of being transgender?
There are really three parts to this question.
What's the worst everyday experience?
By far, the most frustrating part is shaving my face. I hate it. I hate doing it; I hate that I have to do it (it's a degrading reminder that no matter what I do, I'll probably never look as female as a cis woman); I hate that no matter how carefully, how meticulously, and how thoroughly I shave, I can never quite get it close enough that there's not a shadow, nor that makeup can be applied easily.
What's truly mindboggling to me is that shaving my armpits, which, by their shape and looseness, I'd have expected to be much harder. But they aren't. A couple quick and careless swipes in each direction and you can't tell there ever was hair there to begin with. Would that it be the same for faces.
What's worst part socially?
The insecurity and the fear. The fear of being mistreated, the fear of violence, the fear of making people uncomfortable. And the insecurity that comes with imposter-syndrome. Do I look and act feminine, or are people just saying that to be nice?
What's the worst part internally?
The longing and regret implicit in gender dysphoria. It's torture. Absolute f***ing torture.
It seems that trans people each have their own experience of gender dysphoria. There are some decent descriptions here. Honestly, it's not even a pleasant experience describing the experience, and I'm too tired right now to explain my own. I'll probably come back to this.
What's the best part of being transgender?
There really isn't one. There's nothing I can point to where I would think, "That's something I can do that cis people can't," and there's plenty where I think, "That's something I can't do, at least not as easily, as a cis person."
You know this won't fix your depression...
First, there's no evidence that that is the case, and plenty of empirical evidence that, while not fixing depression entirely, it will help reduce it.
Second, I don't expect it to. In my case, I believe depression is primarily a chemical imbalance that requires medication and counseling to manage. I do expect (and it already has to some degree) my life to get harder being openly transgender, but unless all of my numerous, extremely supportive friends suddenly vanish, this added difficulty should not cause a net-negative effect on my depression or well-being.
Third, and most importantly, living into my identity as transgender has absolutely nothing to do with my depression. Fundamentally, they are completely independent issues, though they both have an effect on my well-being. I'm not trying to "fix" anything. I'm merely living more aligned with who I am, and who God designed and destined me to be.
How do MtF people hide their penises?
There are three ways, and it depends on what I'm wearing which I want to use.
The first two are called gaffs. These are specially designed pairs of underwear. One kind is molded to give the appearance of the lips of a vulva, but does little to hide the bulge under it. These are best for when wearing jeans, where the jeans do the majority of the constricting, but don't look strange with a little extra bulk.
The second kind of gaff is made of material that has little give, top-to-bottom, but is stretchy side-to-side. Men have cavities in their pelvis that testes recede into when they get cold. The cavities are still there when not cold, so trans people can lie on their back, pull the scrotum up around the shaft--drawing the balls into their cavities--and then pull the gaff into place. Of the three, methods, this tends to be the least comfortable, but it's also the most convenient. I wear these when wearing yoga pants and leggings--basically any bottom where it would be awkward to have a bulge there.
The third method is taping. Some trans people use duct tape, but that sounds awfully unpleasant to me, so I use medical tape. A site I read said the disadvantage of medical tape is that it comes off in the water, to which I said, "That sounds like a feature!" Like with the second gaff, trans people can lie on their back, pull the scrotum around the shaft, and then tape the top of the scrotum in place, which holds the balls where they want them. I prefer this method most often. It has about the same effectiveness as the second gaff, but isn't as uncomfortable (I could just be using a low quality gaff, but there's not a lot to pick from on Amazon). When moving around for a while, gaffs tend to shift a bit, and the balls fall out. If you're not careful, you can sit on one and then the world ends. Taping works with any underwear, and any outfit except swimwear (duct tape handles swimwear, too, but you'd get tape residue on your bathing suit). As long as you're shaved very close in that region, removing tape isn't very painful unless it folds on itself a little and it becomes hard to peel it off.
When should kids start transitioning?
One thing parents often freak out about is that trans people want kids to transition early, thinking we mean to undergo life-altering surgery well before they have the capacity for foresight. Rest assured, we do not.
I'm not an expert in this area, but from what I've read, there are basically three steps.
The first is social transitioning. This is what should start at a young age, and can begin at any age. Social transitioning means changing their pronouns, dressing how they want to be dressed, and possibly calling them by a different name. It means introducing them as your daughter instead of your son, or your son instead of your daughter. It means making sure anyone you do introduce them to knows that you will accept no grief or mistreatment of your kid due to them being trans. As none of these are physical changes, this lets the kid experiment and discover if they truly are trans, are just curious, or are genderqueer. There must be no shame in them realizing, hey, yeah, I'm not trans after all. This should dispel the notion that being trans is somehow what all the cool kids are doing, a fad. Trust me. No one who isn't trans wants to be trans after living as such for a year or so. It's not easy.
The second step occurs pre-puberty, and, as you might expect, only applies to kids who have not finished puberty. In consultation with an endocrinologist and a child psychologist, if the kid is "insistent, persistent, and consistent", they start taking a type of med known as puberty blockers. These will delay puberty the few years until the kid is old enough to decide whether they want to fully transition. There are some risks involved with being on puberty blockers for a long period of time, most notably that it may cause infertility, especially for people with female anatomy, so make sure you talk to your kid's doctor and ensure your kid understands these risks. Do not push them one way or another. They will resent you if they feel pressured to make the wrong decision. Generally, however, puberty blockers' effects are reversible. If midway into their peers' puberty they realize they were wrong about their gender (which is entirely okay to do), simply stopping the meds will allow puberty to take its normal course.
If you haven't already, read my answer to this FAQ for why these first two steps are vitally important pre-puberty.
The last is hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and optionally surgery. These--what most people think of when they hear the word "transition"--are only appropriate after a person is absolutely certain about their gender and that they want to permanently alter their body.
These are questions that aren't specific to being transgender, but are shared by queer people in common.
Do you have any advice for coming out?
I struggled for a while with where to place this question. I had three options: Personal Experience, Common Transgender Experience, or create a new section.
On the one hand, coming out is an experience that virtually all queer people will have. That, coupled with the fact that the people asking this question are asking from a common experience point of view, is an argument in favor of the Common Transgender Experience, though obviously it applies to queer people in general, not just trans people.
On the other hand, the breadth of coming out experiences queer people have ranges from complete acceptance to pure rejection to--quite literally--fearing for their life. As I can only speak from my own experience, and that experience is somewhere between acceptance and rejection, it doesn't really belong under Common Transgender Experience.
I dislike adding facets to a framework if they're unnecessary, so I was hesitant to add a new section. On top of that, I'd have to figure out what to name it. Obviously, I finally decided on this third option.
I really wish I had a better answer for this question as it's one of the most relevant and important questions to queer people. Giving advice in this realm is dangerous as the best way to proceed depends almost entirely on the person's situation.
So, first let me say that if you believe you might be physically in danger if you come out to someone, or that coming out to them might critically affect your livelihood, such as losing your job and being unable to purchase food for you or your family, do not do it.
Along similar lines, if you are fairly convinced you will be rejected, you have to weigh the cost of not coming out with the possible repercussions of coming out. I'm not saying to let fear win out--not at all. I'm merely saying it's a consideration you must make, and I sincerely hope your situation allows you to conclude you should come out. It's important.
After you've concluded that you should come out to someone, I'll give my advice based on my experience.
Start with people that you are absolutely certain will accept you (other queer people) and people you are mostly sure will accept you, but if they don't, it won't have severe--if any--consequences on your life. Online messaging services (e.g. Facebook) are invaluable in this latter regard; pick people you like but rarely see in real life. It's important (or at least was helpful to me) to have a solid base of twentyish people whom I could rely on for emotional support before having riskier conversations with people whose opinions matter a lot to me.
Ask queer people that have come out publicly and/or to their important people about their experience doing so, and about their familial context. Compare their context to yours, and then learn from their experience if it is relevant. I think this pair of questions is more helpful than a general "Do you have any advice?"
For important people, have a couple conversations with them in an abstract context, or in the context of a friend or queer person that they have interacted with. Do this to get a sense of how they will react. Bear in mind that it is very different for a parent to know a queer person than it is to get the news that their child is queer, but if their reaction to the abstract is strong enough one way or the other (completely accepting or entirely homophobic, transphobic, etc), it can give you a sense of how you should proceed.
Before you sit down with someone important, have a solid plan for what you will say. You can write a script beforehand. You can write a letter, ask the person to read it, and then be willing to ask and answer questions afterward. Choose the method that would be most effective--both for you as someone coming out, and for them as someone receiving the likely shocking information. That said, be direct. Leave no wiggle room for who you are, and make sure they understand that they do not get to define you. Only you get to do that. How they perceive you is immaterial.
If someone reacts violently, physically or emotionally, get out. Get out get out get out.
If you are trans, particularly a trans woman, it is important to dress how you feel comfortable. (I mean after coming out. I do not recommend sitting down to come out to your parents wearing a pretty pink dress.) It is not selfish to wear a dress even though it makes someone else uncomfortable. It is selfish for them to ask you to dress and act opposite to your nature. This is one aspect I wish I had been able to better convey to my mom, as she feels I'm being the selfish one.
You are going to doubt who you are. "Am I really trans?" or gay or whatever. When you ask yourself this, remember to check the facts. For me, I picture myself--my body--post surgery. I smile every time. Every time. This would not be the case if I were not trans. Having doubt does not mean you aren't queer. It means you're human.
Similarly, you do not need to defend who you are. If you can't answer a question of theirs, that does not make them right. It does not make you wrong. Odds are that if you are in the coming out stage, you are still confused, still discovering who you are. That was the case for me, at least. You know you are queer, but haven't quite figured out what all that means. Being queer is subjective and differs from person to person. Someone cannot "prove" that you aren't who you are. Even if you are never able to answer their question, you are still queer.
It's impossible to do this, but try your best to put yourself in their shoes in order to understand why they are reacting the way that they are. They might feel betrayed, for example. All people are entitled to have their own emotions. How they act on those emotions is their responsibility and you do not need to put up with their abuse or cave to their emotions, but if you can figure out what they're feeling, it can help you make relationally healing decisions.
I have some more advice for handling religious family that I will add later, but right now I'm spent.
What is coming out like?
As I write this, today is National Coming Out Day. I wrote what I had expected to be a brief post, but like usual, turned into an essay.