Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

The Trinity of Transsexual Transition

I’ve talked about how for me transition cured my transsexualism, but I think the understanding of transition is often overly-simplified. I believe that my transition involved three separate phases that were in their own ways three different transitions. I’m being a little silly, but I am going to point out how many things happen in threes; my transition is just another example of that. I think it’s important to tackle transition as its component parts to maintain clarity. When transition is used loosely, it can be confusing, and possibly even unhelpful as part of the discussion. I believe that intentionality around all of this language, especially the concept of transition, can be helpful when telling my story, but even more so it is essential in understanding the process I went through.

Transition is a lovely concept for understanding my story, both for myself and others. There are many types of transitions that people go through; childhood to adulthood, from one job or home to another, from one religion to another, and many others. Transgender and transsexual people use “transition” in a vague way that I think can sometimes be confusing, both to others and more importantly to themselves. It’s true that some transgender and transsexual people find the language of transition completely unhelpful, and I certainly don’t want to say that my usage of these terms is universal. But, I believe that when are used clarity is essential.

Transition of (Self) Acceptance or Diagnosis

The first transition I went through was the transition of acceptance, or diagnosis. This is a part of the process that I often see glossed over, but it is indeed a transition between one way of seeing oneself and another. I’m sometimes asked when I first knew that there was something wrong. The answer is always. As early as I can remember I knew that something was wrong. So why did it take so long for me to seek treatment? I sure had plenty of signs that in retrospect seem all too obvious as to what was going on. I even had specific moments of clarity when I was asking myself the right questions, I just couldn’t make the journey over the mountain to accept the truth.

In many ways, the transition of acceptance was the most difficult part of the journey for me to endure; it certainly took the longest. When I was very young I had no understanding that transsexualism was even a thing, and I just worried that I was alone in the world and crazy. I had no resources, no context, and saw no one anywhere in the world who seemed anything remotely like me. As I got older and gained a bit more knowledge about transsexualism (though very gradually) I still felt alone and crazy, but also thought that if I ever accepted the fact that I was suffering from transsexualism that I would lose everything; I felt like all my friends and family would disown me and I would be broken and alone. [The truth is so ridiculously opposite: I have more friends and am more well respected than I ever was before I transitioned.] I think it’s relevant that even as I became more aware of transsexualism, I didn’t see people who seemed they were “like” me; it made the process more confusing.

It was two specific people that helped me get over my fear (which I sometimes lump into repression and denial) and accept the diagnosis of transsexualism that finally enabled me to live my life. My ex-wife was instrumental in helping me accept the truth. She convinced me to attend my first support group and encouraged me to begin therapy. I can’t imagine my life being anywhere near as good as it is without her help and influence in my life. Heck, she accepted my womanhood before I could. The second person is my second therapist, who patiently helped me wend my way through all of my past struggles, fears, and questions to put it all together and take that step to be clear that I was indeed suffering from transsexualism. My first therapist clearly knew what the answer was, but she was unable to account for the fullness of my life at the time. Preserving my marriage was, at that time, my absolute highest priority. When my first therapist told me that I should consider the possibility that I might be a “secondary transsexual” (which is another term for “late transitioner,” or what I nowadays like to think of as a “late bloomer”) I was still unprepared to process the fullness of that reality, so I stopped seeing her and started seeing my second therapist. The process took longer with my second therapist than it may have with the first, but I believe that by that point in my life I needed to go at the speed I needed to go. [I’m happy to report that while my ex-wife is indeed still my “ex-wife,” there is a surprising and very happy turn to the that story, which I’ve documented a bit in the past, but further details should probably wait for a future chapter of the story.]

My transition from denial and repression to self acceptance was the longest part of the story, by a long stretch. It was also the hardest; I often left therapy feeling as drained as if I had been through an intense workout. I stumbled many times along the way, caught in fear and doubt. I was so afraid that accepting that I was suffering from transsexualism would destroy my life. I guess in some ways it did, but it also broke apart all the shields and masks I had trained myself to wear over all those years of fear. In the end, once I accepted the truth, everything else was mostly a downhill slide; not that it was always easy, exactly, but at least the path was clear.

[I’m reminded of when I had my gallbladder out in my mid-twenties. Apparently, I didn’t present as a typical gallbladder patient and it took a year of excruciating gallbladder attacks before I was finally diagnosed. I vividly remember lying on the ultrasound table and having the technician say, “Oh yeah, lots of big stones.” Suddenly, even though I was still in blinding pain, I felt such a wave of relief come over me: my problem had a name, a diagnosis, and more importantly, a cure. That wave of relief is exactly the same way I felt once I finally accepted my transsexualism.]

 

Transition of Gender Presentation

After a few years in therapy, and decades of denial, I finally decided to transition my gender presentation. This is often referred to as “living as a woman [or man, depending on circumstance].” I find that language problematic. As I said in a previous post about language, I was always living as a woman; a woman who was confused to her wits’ end, but a woman just the same. Here’s a place where the language can get a little tricky, and I believe it’s imperative to be as clear as possible. My gender identity was girl then woman. What transitioned was my gender presentation and gender perception.

I suppose I could accept the phrase that I began “presenting as a woman,” since it was, after all, my presentation that transitioned at this point. It took sometime for people’s perception of me, my “gender perception,” to catch up with my change in presentation. Or, I guess it’s more fair to say that people’s perception of my gender sort of happened at a different pace than my presentation. I was being seen as a girl not infrequently when I was fairly young (as a slight aside that I’ll address more fully in a later post, I grew small but noticeable breasts when I was 11). When my facial hair came in, that mostly put an end to that. I began hair removal about two years before my gender presentation transition, and once that began, people were gradually more and more perceiving me as a woman (sometimes with hilarious results, other times painful ones).

There was a period of time during which people were able to tell that I was about to or had just transitioned my gender presentation. There was my therapist who informed me that I had been presenting “androgynously” for quite some time (I literally had no idea – I thought I could still “butch it up” when I needed to, apparently I was confused), and the mother of one of my students who, after my presentation transition, adorably said that she had “seen it coming.”

It was several months before I had completed enough hair removal and grown into the naturalness of my self before I stopped being seen as someone in transition, and just as a woman. Nowadays I’d say that I’m incorrectly perceived as a man about as often as any other woman who is over six feet tall.

[A thing that I know is difficult for lots of folks who are uncomfortable with their gender presentation or perception in some way is when they are misgendered, that is, seen or perceived as a gender that doesn’t match their gender identity. After speaking with lots of friends who have no issues with their gender identity / presentation / perception, though, it has become apparent that most people are misgendered from time to time. There was a mental shift that helped me immensely with this. One time I was in the drive through at a fast food place, and after I ordered at the speaker, the woman gave me my total and said, “Please drive around, sir.” I was crushed. This was a few years after my presentation transition and even though that happened rarely I still just felt really crappy when it did. But a funny thing happened next: when I got to the window the woman took one look at me and said, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry [for calling you “sir”]. I hate it when that happens to me.” And with that one seemingly miniscule act of sisterhood, that woman let me in on the secret that she gets misgendered sometimes too, and that she hates it too. And suddenly, I remember vividly thinking that I was going to stop worrying so much about it. My exact thought was: my voice is a woman’s voice because I ~am~ a woman. Ever since then, since I’m more relaxed about it, I believe that I have been able to more fully and peacefully inhabit my gender presentation. Also, since then, in the odd moments that I am misgendered, it’s not so big a deal – it happens to almost everyone from time to time.]

Nowadays I barely think about it. With my gender identity, presentation, and perception in alignment, I just sort of live my life. I still think about it (obviously), but much more in a macro, philosophical, and perhaps even spiritual sort of way. Now when I think about gender it’s much more about trying to find a way for everyone to understand each other (a tall order, I know). But I vividly remember those bouts of what’s termed “gender dysphoria,” that questioning state of wondering what was wrong, and then knowing that it was related to gender but still not really knowing what to do about it. Having completed my transitions, I no longer feel those bouts of dysphoria; my life isn’t perfect, of course, but that specific element of my life is just gone, healed. Cured.

Sex Transition

My third transition was my physical, or “sex,” transition. That’s well documented in my Excellent Adventure series, so I won’t go into too much detail on the actual process. What I will say is that in some ways this transition was the easiest. Doubt had melted from my mind at this point; as I ventured to Colorado those five years ago I was on a mission, as my therapist described it: a victory.

This is perhaps the most straight-forward transition, and therefore I have the least to say about it. To use the terminology I’ve been presenting so far, when I was born my sex identity was female, but my sex presentation and sex perception were both male. My genital reconstruction surgery was about making my physicality as female as currently possible by medical science. I have little doubt that in the fullness of time treatment will progress to the point of amazement, and women like me will be able to produce their own eggs and have babies (and menstruate – yay? – but it all goes together). Likewise, men in the “opposite” position that I was will be able to produce sperm and father children. Medical science is amazing, and learning things all the time. It’s probable that treatment for other infertile people will spread and treatments will be available for people with transsexualism.

Once my body was as female as possible, I think it’s fair to say that my sex presentation and sex perception had become in alignment with my sex identity.

 

The word transition is often overly-simplified when related to transsexual and transgender people. Again, I feel it’s important to be clear when we’re talking about this stuff. Transition can mean many things to many different people, and if we’re not careful, we can communicate the wrong thing when we’re speaking about transitions. I understand that sometimes being euphemistic can be a bit easier and some of these topics can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing to some, but I think the only way to make people understand is to be open and honest and as absolutely clear as possible.

Advertisements

No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: