What Are You Going To Do About It? (Deciding About Transition)

I’d like to talk about two very important arenas of working with transgender people: one is their gender identity, and the other is what they are going to do about it.  One is who you ARE, the other is what you DO.

A woman I was speaking with recently made reference to a transgender acquaintance of hers: “He is in the process of becoming transgender.” “Transitioning”, I said. “What?” she asked. “Transitioning is the process”, I said.  “Being transgender is who he is.”

One does not “become” transgender. One is born transgender.  What one eventually does with that is an entirely different issue, and is different for every individual.

Understanding, knowing, discovering, realizing one’s gender identity is a unique process for everyone. Some people understand what gender they are from the very start, never think about it, and never have to worry about it, not even once in their entire lives. These people are usually those whose biological sex match the gender of their brains. For transgender individuals, coming to understand their personal gender can look many different ways. Some have an immediate sense of identifying as the “opposite” gender (forgive my reference to the gender dichotomy!) and depending on temperament, family influence, etc. that awareness can cause very different levels of distress in the individual. Some are vocal about it, since childhood. Some guard it like a secret. Some don’t really know exactly what’s going on, but they have a sense there is something not quite right. Some individuals don’t realize their gender doesn’t match their biological sex until they are much older, but when they do, a lot of pieces fall into place. (Having a child or family member not realize until they are much older is often more difficult for the family members, but that’s a subject for another blog!)

By the time a client makes it to my office, they are usually pretty darn sure about their gender identity. In fact, MOST transgender clients I come into contact with are completely sure of what gender they are. I have been known to facetiously say, “that’s the easy part!”.

After understanding and coming to peace with one’s gender identity, the next task is deciding what they are going to DO about it. For those of you not completely savvy with all the concepts and terms, the process of aligning one’s biological sex with one’s gender identity is called “transitioning”.  Mainly this includes changing one’s appearance, name, and pronouns to “present” as the gender with which they identify. It often includes hormones and sometimes includes surgery.

This is the hard part.

Much of the agony for my clients comes from not trying to figure out what gender they are, but what they are going to do about it. Transitioning from one gender to the other, and coping with all that entails, is a very scary thing.  Some clients will come saying they identify as “third gender” or something in the middle. (Of course, some people really feel this way, and they refer to themselves as genderqueer. In this blog I’m discussing those who ultimately identify as transgender.)  What usually causes someone who is transgender to say this is the fear of the transition. In this case it is the “what to do” wreaking havoc on the “who I am”!

In my experience with my clients, fear of transitioning mainly comes from outside sources.  They may fear the reaction of significant others, family members, co-workers, or society at large.  If the fear of this remains greater than the desire to make themselves happy by aligning their body with their mind, the transgender person may decide not to pursue transitioning. This does not make the person any less transgender. It just means too much got in the way of doing what they needed to do for themselves, to make themselves happy.  Having a transgender person decide not to transition is not cause for a sigh of relief, it is often cause for concern.  Not transitioning due to fear of reactions or to please others may be the recipe for an unhappy future.

For some, deciding to transition is easy, even if the process is still a challenging one. Once their gender identity is realized, transitioning to match their body and outer appearance is a natural next step. For many transgender individuals, transitioning is a very positive process, one that brings much relief, joy, and satisfaction.

It’s my wish that over time, with an increased understanding of what it means to be transgender and extensive de-pathologizing of the concept, the gap between who someone is and what they are going to do about it will become much, much smaller.

To my transgender friends, clients, and blog followers, I’d love to hear your feedback about this! Either comment on this blog or email me privately. Thanks as always for reading!

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 9:04 pm  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Feedback: yes. I agree, the hardest part after you consciously realize what you are is… “now what?”

    You did mention though that some genderqueer people eventually identify as transgender, as though those two concepts were mutually exclusive. Yes, there are some trans people who use genderqueer as an appetizer before the platter, but in my view some people are genderqueer, some are trans, and some are both. You can still be a non-binary (genderqueer) transgender person, who wants to transition and live in your gender. However, this now becomes extremely tricky, since the world does not recognize nor allow this other gender.

    I’m going to forward this blog to a few people because everything is very clearly explained!

    • Maddox, thank you for your input! Much appreciated. 🙂

  2. […] is transgender (has the gender identity of something other than their sex at birth) and deciding what they are going to do about it, normally described as “transition”.  For the sake of this specific blog’s concept, I’ll […]

  3. I feel I’m trans but not sure what to do as my wife cannot accept it so i have been trying to please her.

    • Dear Tracy,
      Many individuals find themselves in your situation. I think it is extremely difficult to know what to do in this circumstance; on the one hand you are trying to choose happiness by living your truth. On the other hand, most people feel their happiness will be affected if they are facing the threat of losing someone they love due to transitioning. Seek support from others who can relate to what you’re going through, either online (such as Laura’s Playground) or in-person support groups. I wish you the very best!

  4. […] about their gender identity, really? The most common source of indecision is the choice about if/when to transition, not one’s gender identity. About that most people are sure, especially when they make the big […]

  5. […] about their gender identity, really? The most common source of indecision is the choice about if/when to transition, not one’s gender identity. About that most people are sure, especially when they make the big […]

  6. I’m going through this right now. The choice of going through with transition and dealing with the judgement of family, friends, and society…or being unhappy to satisfy others. The main thing that keeps me from starting is I question if it will really lead to a happier life. Like if I lose my family and friends but can live as myself would I be happier?

    Then if they do accept me there’s the fear of transitioning around all the people I know and them never actually looking/treating me as a girl. I live with my parents too and am not very independent so if they don’t accept me I dunno where I’d go. I’ve also told myself it would be selfish to transition because I think it would hurt people I care about. There’s also positive thoughts but these negative ones have held me back this far.

    I put up a mask of being another person my whole life that I think everyone would doubt what I say and I’d be considered crazy. I understand how it gets to the point where you need to transition. My masculinity bugging me is getting worse and it sucks cause it’s like there’s a clock running out on the chance to be passable, and to enjoy what’s left of my youth.

    I can’t even somewhat express myself because of this person I built up from before I realized I was trans. Maybe that’s another thing that leads to indecision…when you don’t realize your trans right away and you have built a male life with friends and family for all that time its hard to imagine them accepting or seeing the way you want.

    Thanks I enjoyed your article it’s exactly what I was looking for.

    • Dear Natalie,
      I just realized I never responded to this! I think you echo the thoughts and feelings of many transgender people contemplating transition. It can be a very tough decision! For what it’s worth, I think things typically go better than expected. How are you doing now?

  7. I am a trans woman on HRT for almost 2 years. I just recently spoke to my doctor and he agrees with me that transitioning is NOT mandatory. I asked him if he would apply for my SRS/GRS and he agrees and has started the process. I do not wish at this time to transition, but to start my life NEW with my new body if I am granted funding for SRS.

    I am not sure when I will hear back about the decision, but I hope it is a positive one. I do have many plans in place if I do get my SRS. First I will most likely leave town and start fresh some one where no one knows me.

    Where I am now, I have way too many negative people in my life.


  8. […] and adults, know their gender identity. The difference is that knowing what to do about it is either subject to overthinking or not. Given a child’s pure mind, you can rest assured they […]

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