Transitioning is the biggest and most important milestone for many, if not most, transgender people. It is taking the step to become who you really are, and take control of a life that you may have felt you were unable to steer. Have you ever stopped to consider though, how selfish the nature of transitioning is? I don’t think it’s maliciously selfish. However I think every transgender person should keep this in mind and what it means to those around you.
I truly came out to most everyone in my life early last fall. Some people are still learning, but most everyone I see regularly knows, and have been around me presenting as a female. See, I’m not quite full-time yet. But I have come out at work and I am working on that as well.
Having a lot of close friends who have been enlightened as to my nature has brought a lot of questions. I think that’s to be expected that people I care about want to know the who, what, where, when, why, and how. I’ve never thought much about it either. I’ve told them that they can ask anything they want. However, I also tell them that if they ask something I’m not comfortable with- I will not get mad, I will simply explain why it’s not a question I am willing to answer. Except my girlfriend- she gets to ask whatever she wants and deserves an answer. Occasionally they ask something a little personal, but for the most part they respect me enough to keep it fairly basic. To their credit they also generally always gender me correctly and use the right name depending on how I am presenting at the time. Occasionally they slip up and will let out a her or him at the wrong time, or use the wrong name. But I don’t get bent out of shape about it.
However, I’ve come to realize that this is not the norm in the transgender community.
Since becoming a part of the community, online and offline, I have found that a fairly large swath of transgender people are adamant about proper gendering at all times. And many do not like questions.
I’ve been called a unicorn, because I seem to buck the norm in that sense. Those around me have told me how scared they were to mess up or ask a question and how much they appreciate my patience. And I think that’s at the core of why I say transitioning is selfish.
When you transition, you are doing something positive that is just for you. You are becoming who you are inside, and showing your true self. And that is a wonderful thing. And hopefully, on a less selfish note, you are giving those around you a happier and more balanced person to have in their life.
Transitioning Doesn’t Just Affect You
What I think is often forgotten though, is the impact that our transition has on their life. It can seem out of the blue to those we love- suddenly they are expected to forget and break the habit of referring to us as our birth name or the pronouns that go with it. They are supposed to just accept that you are different now, and not ever be uncomfortable trying to adjust, or look at us a little too long taking it all in, and never EVER mess up by misgendering.
Having someone transition that is close to them can be a jarring experience, especially the first time it happens. They may know about Caitlyn Jenner or LaVerne Cox- but aside from that, they may barely know the difference between a crossdresser, drag queen, transvestite, or transgender person. Let alone know that transexual or transgendered is incorrect.
We put so much pressure on them to never mess up and instantly accept us, we often dismiss the effect it has on their life. Sure, you want your mom to accept their “new child” without question. And sometimes they do. But consider that they may have to go through a “mourning” period to get used to the idea that their child, as they knew you, is gone- or at least changing. Their memories of you running around as your birth gender get confusing as they suddenly see you presenting differently to the child they raised.
Friends that might have called you bro or dude- suddenly feel tongue-tied, unsure of how to refer to you or what is okay to say. They wonder if they should still talk to you the same way they used to.
Most impactful though, is a spouse or partner. Unless they are already bi-sexual or pan-sexual, you are presenting confusion in their life as to their sexuality. They wonder if it makes them gay or straight to be with you. They wonder how transitioning will change the person they fell in love with. It’s a whirlwind. Not to mention the betrayal that many partners experience from feeling they were lied to and a huge secret was kept from them.
Yes, transitioning is stressful and full of growing pains for transgender people. However, as allies or potential allies, it is our responsibility to be patient with those we love. If they are trying and supportive, forgive the occasional misgender or use of a “dead name”. Sure, it can hurt us to hear it- but scolding an ally for an honest mistake can make them skittish and fearful of how to talk around you. Terrified they will mess up. Understand that when they say, “you look even better than I do.” or “You are better at makeup than me.” or “You totally pass.” They don’t mean it as malicious. They are trying to compliment us, and they don’t know better. We don’t have to just accept it, but we can guide them and help them grow.
If we are to win hearts and minds and build a place in society for us, we have to often be the bigger person. We have to educate those we love when they stumble and tell them why something was incorrect, or insensitive.
Transitioning IS selfish. We are doing it solely for ourselves. However, with understanding and patience it can be a positive selfish act. Believe me, it will make your transition easier when you can make those around you more comfortable. You don’t have to hide who you are, but you also don’t have the right to expect perfection and immediate acceptance from a world that is still waking up to us.