10 things I wished I knew before I transitioned

Some of these directly relate to my trans experience, others are more life lessons that intersect with my trans identity. I think my biggest lesson was learning to dial down my ego and be more emotionally intelligent, and often I can be my own worst enemy. When I fully transitioned in September 2000 the world was a very different place, with social media more an exercise in disjointed thinking than the hyper connected world we live in today. Now information, both positive and negative, is readily accessed, with trans folk all over the internet sharing their stories and resources for this generation to find. This wish list is more a musing on the lessons I have learned, and I wanted to share not because I know everything, but because my path is one of continuous growth and understanding.

1) Be kind to yourself. I am forever pushing myself to be better, look more desirable, be the best friend I can be, know as much as I can. This is great in short spurts, but lead to numerous emotional breaks that take time to heal. Being trans is not easy on the soul or the mind, and sometimes, for me, I compensate by pushing myself to achieve as much as I can. The dirty secret is, it is never enough. There will always be more goals, more to achieve, and someone else will always, always be better or smarter or more ‘desirable’ than you. Everything is relative, and ultimately you are really only in a race against yourself. By being kind to yourself, and understand who you are as a person you can set goals than bring you contentment and joy, rather than chasing after someone else’s tail. This is still an ongoing process for me, as I have an innate desire to push myself as hard as I can, and berate myself when I fall short.

2) Transitioning is not a sprint, but a lifelong journey. If you ever need someone to count time, young me would be your gal. I knew all my personal milestones, I could tell you where I was relative to people around me, and I was an insufferable arse because of it. Time was measured in months, possibly years, with no real appreciation for what my journey would be in the long haul. It is really, really easy to get caught up in a medicalised loop, whereby your life is judged by when you can have X surgery, because X will bring me one step closer to happiness. I have had two trans related surgeries, one which completely changed my world, and the other was more a comfort thing for me that took my body nearly a decade to fully heal from. Surgery, for me, was life affirming, but each was a milestone, a step, to bigger and better things. I am finding that I now have pre-menopausal symptoms, something which the medical literature is silent on with respect to trans folk, and combined with my alopecia is showing me that my journey into womanhood will indeed to a lifelong process.

3) Hang on to the things that bring you joy. While I did not turn my back on my passions, I allowed them to drift because they belonged to an older version of me. However, as I get older I am finding that those older joys, hobbies, and experiences as just as meaningful to my life as the new ones I picked up along the way. It is easy to wrap hobbies and passions in a colour coded gender wrapping, but ultimately if something sparks happiness and joy in you, then why turn your back on it? I love sports, PC gaming, field hockey, trans music, history, and so much more, and each brings wonder and excitement into my life. It is easy to say on paper that none of these are gender coded, but you would be surprise by how much people can gender any activity.

4) Looks are not everything, or at least not as important as we are lead to believe. Yes, for trans women in particular looks and appearance do affect our daily lives, and I would be lying to say that your external appearance do not count for something to the wider world. However, there is a fine line between being feminine and femme presenting and wrapping your whole identity in society’s ideal version of femininity. It took me till my early 30s to figure this one out, but getting comfortable in your own skin is just as important as having the perfect hair, nails, face etc. It took me losing all my hair at the beginning of 2020 to realise just how dependent on my looks I was for projecting my self-image, and it has been a journey trying to figure out what this new me will be.

5) Societal expectations of your identified gender or rejection of binary gender suck, and this one hit me square in the face for the first then years of my transition. I was extremely fortunate that if I kept my gob shut I was stealth, that people assumed I was female, and was treated as such. However, people around me often prodded me into being me feminine, edge ever closer to what was ‘expected’ of being a woman. Even now it is hard to completely ignore this, as I am working through unpacking the essentialist notions of womanhood I was taught.

6) I was Bambi. I thought I knew a ton from reading and talking to trans folk, but boy was I mistaken. I was very much an innocent, very naïve about how the world worked and how trans people were treated. Yes, there is a ton of information out there, but the practical lived experience was not something I was prepared for. I put my foot in it a lot, and while many people were patient with me, being doe eyed only gets you so far.

7) People will surprise you, in good and bad ways. Doctors, employers, family all reacted to me in varying ways, with my university GP becoming a staunch ally in a time when I was her first trans patient. I learned pretty quickly to have an open mind about folk, as otherwise I would be way too open (as in drop of a hat tell my whole life story to complete strangers) or way too guarded. Finding that balance took me a long time to figure out, and possibly I am still trying to fine tune my bullshit metre.

8) People do learn, and this was something I had to get wise to pretty sharpish. It’s hard to articulate just how frustrating and painful it is when someone you trust abuses your faith or inadvertently says the wrong thing, but if you have a hard talk with them often they will learn from that moment and you can both build from it.

9) On the flip side, sometimes you just have to walk away. There have been occasions where I have chosen to walk away from a friendship or employment because it was not the right environment for me, and I have done so with no regrets. It is clichéd to say you only have one life, but sometimes having to recalibrate a relationship in whatever form is simply not worth the emotional time or energy, and I was better off moving on.

10) Even all the surgery and hormones under the sun will not make you feel complete unless you have space to address any issues that you have in your life. It is only in the last eight or nine years that this has really sunk in. It is a very, very hard lesson to learn, as much as I want to say the medical side of my transition made my world, all they really did was affirm who I was inside. What made me was addressing core issues that sat within my personality, filling my life with people and activities that bring joy and passion, and having frank and honest conversations with myself about what I actually want out of life. It is very easy to get fixated on a medical solution to gender issues, and this is something that I fixated on for the first eight –ten years of my transition. It was only after all of that those surgeries had been completed and I began to find my friendship group that I became more grounded and honest with myself. My gender is very much female, I identify as femme, yet because of the amazing people around me I have grown into something more than just a ‘woman’, I am very much an intersection of identities that just happens to have woman at my core. This is the biggest lesson I wish I had learned when I was 17 signing my deed pole, when I hit university at 18 naïve and Bambi. I wish that I had known that womanhood was an intersection of all my identities, and not just a lightning rod to absorb my pain and anxiety. If I could impart any one piece of advice this would be it, that feeling complete is more than just one part of your core identity, it is about the whole you and how you relate that to yourself.

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Rejserin

Rejserin

Writer, researcher, and generally curious