Health Mental Health

Where are you on the transition spectrum?

Anyone who has worked to change their gender identity has gone through periods of self doubt. There are very few, if any, people who undergo a gender transition and feel immediately and completely sure of their decision 100% of the time. One of the hardest and most insidious forms of doubt comes from comparing the self you are and want to be with an external ideal of the gender you are moving towards. Sometimes, this is from being unable to change the parts of you that you want to leave behind; other times, its feeling like a fraud because you want to keep some of the ‘guy’ or ‘girl’ attributes you like.

As a trans person in my 30s, I struggled with this a lot (and still do from time to time). There was a tension between the ‘male’ parts of me I had grown to love and the external ideal of what it meant to be a ‘woman’ or ‘feminine’. Sometimes, it felt like a binary choice – either completely change everything about me to match a ‘feminine’ ideal, or I was a fraud.

I love trucks, woodworking and building things; not traditionally feminine activities (at least as I was raised). Emotionally, I am warm but a bit a reserved (thanks dysfunctional Aspergers family!) For a long time I felt torn; in order to be a real woman did I need to give these things up? Did keeping them as a part of my life somehow make me less of a woman?

Are you struggling with doubt? First, let me tell you that doubt is ok, and doesn’t mean you are on the wrong track. Second, whatever you decide is right for you, you’ve still ‘transitioned’. Third, you are a beautiful, whole person just the way you are. Any changes, however small, you choose to make to yourself in order to improve your mental health are significant and important.

There are many types of transition

Transition is complex, unique and individual, just like genders. In the same way we now recognize that people integrate different parts of gender into their identity, we also can accept that transitions fall into a broad range of experiences.

Why is this important? As you progress on your own gender transition, it is easy to get caught up in the same pattern of comparing yourself to an external ideal, just a differently gendered one. There is no ‘perfect’ female you have to be, just like there is no perfect ‘male’ ideal that you probably felt unfairly judged against.

I believe in a very broad definition of a gender transition: changing any part of your external appearance or actions to better align with your internal identity.

This can mean a lot of things. Some people embrace transition as an opportunity to completely change who they appear to be on the outside, including their names and gender pronouns. Others take a less aggressive approach, changing some parts of their appearance but ultimately keeping the majority of their current identity. Whatever you decide to do, there really is no wrong answer: transition simply means bringing your outward self into better alignment with your inner self.

It’s the journey, not the destination

The most important benefit from transitioning, I believe, is the process rather than then end result. In order to begin a transition, you first have to acknowledge to yourself and others that who you feel like on the inside is different than the person perceive you on the outside. Next, you have to have an affirmative picture of what you want to be to better reflect that person on the inside. Finally, you have to put it into action, and actually go through the process of evolution and change.

Each of these steps requires an enormous amount of self-reflection and growth. Regardless of where you end up, you’ll have done a lot of hard work engaging with and accepting who you are.

Its important to discover what is driving you from the inside. What is it you like, what is it you want? What attributes are you looking for, what makes you happy?

Finding an answer, any answer, that works for you is what matters, not meeting some external ideal. Ultimately, gender transition on its own isn’t going to make you happier; the hard work of identifying, accepting and embracing who you are as a person is what leads to happiness.

The gender transition spectrum

In my work as a coach, I find there are generally 3 motivations driving people who are exploring a transition.

  • Gender curiosity: wanting to explore alternative aspects of gender, primarily to decide what you like and don’t like.
  • Gender affinity: already identified aspects of a different gender you like and want to move towards. Think of the things about your identity (or desired identity) that give you pleasure and make you happy.
  • Gender dysphoria: specific aspects of your current gender identity or body that you want to move away from. These are the things that cause you distress that you want to change or remove.

Rather than isolated categories, you can think of these as different parts of a broad spectrum of motivations. Some people feel dysphoria much more strongly, but without affinity for a different gender; these people tend to move in the non-binary/androgynous direction. Others feel a strong sense of affinity without overwhelming dysphoria; they tend to transition later in life. Finally, those that feel strong dysphoria and affinity to another gender make a full transition earlier in life.

Each one of these is valid, and many people experience different aspects of these motivations at some point, or all together.

Practical implications for your transition

Though theory is nice, I’ve found there are a few tangible benefits this approach can have for making sense of, and peace with, your transition experience.

  • Name it to tame it – the old therapist saying actually has some value. Having a framework through which to view and structure the blob that is ‘transition’ can be really helpful in both understanding which motivations are affirming/positive vs dysphoric/negative.
  • Be free to be creative – because every transition is different, and every person’s collection of dysphorias and affinities is unique, transition can mean whatever you want it to.
  • Take it slow – figuring all this stuff out takes a lot of time. In my own experience, over time some things I though were dysphorias turned out to be more subtle. Likewise, affinities turned out to be short-term preferences rather than long-term needs.
  • Do what makes you happy – do and be the things you love, regardless of how you think others will categorize them, and whether or not they fit into a particular ideal. The goal is to be happy, not confined.

Lastly, you are perfect just the way you are today, and you will be perfect no matter what you decide to be in the future.

I’d love to hear, does this map to your experience of transition?

By Abbey

Investor, technologist, coach.

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