transition 101: phase two, the long and winding road
Please note that this is the third post in a series entitled Transition 101.
Welcome back to Transition 101. Yesterday I talked about how important it is to get in the right place mentally before transitioning, of having a clear Intent. Arguably as or even more important, properly researching and planning what you actually need to do and how to go about it is next up. Laying a good foundation is critical in determining how successful your physical transition will be, and plays a much larger part than most people would care to admit in how others react to that transition. So of we go…
Start by drawing up a schedule and starting a journal. I know it sounds a bit OCD (which I freely admit I am), but I can’t stress enough how useful these proved (and still do!) in my own transition. I didn’t even follow the schedule most of the time – often I would miss deadlines or accomplish a milestone sooner than expected, but it helped me to define a clear sequence of what I had to do. As a motivational tool it was also critical. Seeing a looming red circle on the calendar focusses your attention really nicely.
The journal is just as useful. Keep track of your physical progress, make to-do lists and note down your conversations with the various government departments, banks, schools, businesses and the like you’ll have to deal with – besides providing you with a historical record you can refer back to, it’s also administrative ammunition. Being able to name names and dates when you’re fighting with the Department of Home Affairs or the bank often ends up making a huge difference.
Finally, start a file and organise everything about your transition in there. Get a copy of every blood test and report. File every bit of correspondence. Print out and keep useful research so you can add your own notes and highlights. My file has proven invaluable to me.
Save. Start saving every cent you possibly can. Walk or cycle instead of using the car (good for other stuff too, like your butt 😉 ); Where you can, stop going out; Cut back on luxuries (and essentials) and learn to live … frugally, for lack of a better word. All it takes is some creativity, and you’d be amazed at how much you can cut back on your spending. Something as simple as changing your diet to primarily vegan can halve your food bills, for example (worked for me!), and I even read a forum post once by a trans-woman who was saving almost 100 USD a month by subsisting on instant noodles and multivitamins. Not something I’d suggest, but it worked for her in saving up for SRS, so who am I to argue, really?
So yeah, find ways to save that work for you, and stick all that extra money somewhere risk-free where you can’t get your hands on it easily. Fixed-savings, 32-day notice accounts and the like have served me very well in this. Even better, if you are able, try and generate additional income through extra shifts or a second job, or by starting a low-investment business of your own part-time, or by contracting your skills out. Be creative.
Leading on from point two, start feeling out the people who support you financially. Find out if your employer has official procedures for dealing with trans people, and whether they have past experience with transitioners. Most importantly, find out what your rights are, so that if you are dismissed unfairly, you know how to fight it. If you’re still living at home with your parents, or they’re supporting you while you study, try to get a sense of whether they will be willing or able to support you in your transition, and more importantly, whether they will continue to support you, full-stop. All too often people start to transition without a contingency in place, and then to boot they’re fired or get kicked out, and they end up on the streets. Don’t let this be you.
Network. You can’t do this alone. You might manage the transition thing by yourself (if you’re really brave, lucky and persistent) but somewhere along the line you will need support. Your money will run out, or you’ll hit a legal or administrative brick wall, or you’ll need a lawyer to help you hang on to your job, or you’ll just need somebody who can listen. So start making allies. Build up your friendships, focussing on people you can reasonably expect to at least be tolerant of your situation. Engage people where you work or go to university/school/college, get active on internet forums and chat. Be the helping hand and the shoulder to cry on. It may sound extremely cynical, but as much as you need to build up financial capital, you have to build social capital as well, because the world is built on relationships.
Now, if you are really sure about somebody, you know them and trust them, you might consider coming out to select people now, but I’d advise against it. Even if they are the dearest friends in the world, they will subconsciously gender you according to your appearance, and coming out so early only makes it more difficult for them to bridge that gap between their perception of you and what you are telling them. As you gradually feminise, the disconnect will become less and less acute, so that, by the time you do tell, the mental leap is that much smaller to make, and they are likely to have less of a problem processing it.
The same does not hold true of Significant Others though. Remember that, unlike family or friends, you have a responsibility towards your spouse or partner, and to your children. When you enter a relationship as a spouse or a parent, you commit to put their needs ahead of your own, and if you’re going to transition, they need to be a part of that decision. A spouse who suddenly discovers that her husband has been on HRT for 6 months and is well on the way to transition will feel very deeply betrayed, justifiably so. SO yeah, if you are in a committed relationship with somebody, it is your duty to come out to them first, before you take steps down the road to transition. You’ll have to negotiate a compromise that suits you both, and unfortunately that might include separation or even the end of that relationship. It is much more likely though that you will be able to minimise the hurt caused (to yourself and your partner/children) and to salvage the relationship in some form if you are upfront and honest about what you need to do, and involve them in the process.
Now, parents are a special case in this. On the one hand, having their support early on can often make a huge difference, psychologically as well as procedurally, but on the other hand, if you’re still dependant on them, a bad reaction on their part can literally end up destroying you. So yeah, when to tell your parents is a tough call you need to make yourself. If you are dependant on them though, my advice is that you treat them in the same way you would an employer – build a contingency plan first.
Start working hard at losing weight and muscle. Even though you might not be overweight, what muscle and fat you do have is laid down in a distinctly male pattern, and HRT won’t change that, it will only cause NEW muscle or fat to be deposited in a more female pattern. Even after almost two years on HRT, I’m still carrying a bit of male-pattern weight around my middle that stubbornly refuses to move and I have a fair amount of upper-body muscle left, despite working really hard at it. That said, I used to weigh about 25 kilos more than I do now, so I’ve done well thus far – being on anti-androgens and turning vegan really stripped the muscle off big time. Other approaches such as a palaeolithic diet or Adkins or the like are good for losing fat, but not so good at losing muscle – for that you need to cut your protein intake way down. Vegetarian or occasional Piscetarian also works well, though more slowly.
To lean out your physique and gain a more feminine shape, take up yoga, belly dance, street dancing and/or aerobics – join a class or invest in/download some videos or whatever, but get into an activity that places an emphasis on tone, flexibility and grace over strength and endurance, for example.
Educate yourself on the WPATH and alternative/modified Standards of Care (SOC), local laws around name changes, gender change and stuff, and the details of HRT, SRS, FFS and all the other aspects of transition. Besides wanting to be confident and well-informed when you approach potential service providers, it’s also vital to know this stuff, because often your service-providers won’t, and it will be up to you to educate them or fill in the gaps where they aren’t able to do the job properly. Also find out where you stand with everybody as soon as possible. Find out whether the service provider has past experience, what his or her process is, what version (if any) of the Standards of Care they follow, what changes they’ve made to those Standards of Care, what their requirements are for specific referrals, etc. Get it in writing if at all possible. If you’re already seeing a psychiatrist or an endo or whatever, clear these things up as soon as you can, either by asking explicitly (remember, tact and delicacy are your friends) or failing that, figuring it out from past interaction.
Observe women. Read about women. How women move, interact with one another and with men, how they react in different situations – most of that is socialisation, stuff girls learn from moms and aunts and peers and so on as they grow up, though alot of it is informed by evolutionary psychology. We don’t have the benefit of that socialisation, so we have to make up for that lack by knuckling down and studying, at least initially, while we’re still presenting as male and interacting with the world as such.
More specifically, really educate yourself on body-language and feminine movement and the like. The subconscious queues you drop during your interaction with people makes a huge difference in how they perceive you.
Good books are to be had from the library or online, and you can infer alot by careful observation as well: To start off with, keep in mind that the key difference between a male and a female is that a male expands to fill the space around him, while a female contracts into her own space. So a guy will sit with his legs spread, his arms out and open. He’ll lean forward when sitting down or walking, leading with his head and shoulders, while a woman will lead with her hips, keeping her head and shoulders back. Guys tend to turn their hands and shoulders forward, while women pull their shoulders back, tuck their elbows in and lead with their thumbs or wrists. So by simply consciously turning your hands so that your thumbs are pointing slightly forward and out to the sides, you will already hugely alter your movement and presentation.
Start working on your voice. There are some excellent resources freely available on-line. Whether you end up needing to go to a speech therapist will be up to you – some people snap the techniques almost immediately from watching videos on-line, others are absolutely useless on their own, and most of us fall somewhere in-between. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the cost and time.
Start a good grooming routine. Buy or download a good book on female health and beauty (I own a few I can highly recommend: Mary Quant’s “Classic Make-up and Beauty”, Horst Rechelbacher’s “Aveda Rituals” and the Lorenz Books “Haircare, Skincare, Make-up and Fitness”). You’ll gradually want to start a facial routine, learn to look after your hands, feet and nails, get into the habit of using a skin lotion or creme, start growing out your hair and really looking after it. Part of this is finding a good hairdresser, and explaining that you want to grow out your hair – it’s important to go for a trim ever 3 or 4 months to take care of split ends and keep your hair healthy.
The caveat with hair of course is when you don’t have much of it. Unfortunately probably the most visible damage Androgens (especially DHT) inflicts is Male-Pattern-Baldness. While you MIGHT be lucky and find yourself growing some of it back once you start HRT, or have some success using restorative products, the reality is that hair tends to be gone for good. So when you do start going Part-Time, you will have to invest in a good, professionally fitted wig, and later on either start using a weave (a semi-permanent hair-piece that is blended in with your own hair – once it’s been “fitted”, it’s treated like natural hair. You go back to the hairdresser every couple of months to have it shaped and adjusted and stuff) or go for a surgical procedure known as a scalp advance, where the surgeon actually redistributes hair from other parts of your head to fill everything out a bit.
The preparation period – saving money, reading up on the SOC and HRT and legalities and stuff, building a network of friends and allies, establishing new habits and finding a good electrologist and therapist and the like – it can be helluva frustrating. It’s legwork, it’s slow, boring and it doesn’t seem to be movement in the direction of where you want to go, but it’s really, really necessary. The time you spend now on building up resources, working on body-language and voice and movement and just on observing and reading about how women interact will stand you in very good stead in the long run.
Up tomorrow, “Phase Three: Ch-ch-ch-changes”, where all the preparation, hard work and patience gives way to the mad roller-coaster of emotional instability, a crazily changing body, and weird looks from strangers. Yay! ^_^