Being trans: Transitioning, The Final Piece of the Puzzle
So, I've exploded like confetti out of an identity crisis, braved the jump of coming out and I've persuaded some people, myself included, that my identity and who I am is worth fighting for. After this rollercoaster ride begins what you think is the most important part of this unique journey: transition.
Transition is not one process. It is not one time in your life that happens and disappears. It is not one day of being one person and emerging at sunrise a different beast altogether. Transition is many processes, some small, some not so. It's hard and it's long. It's painful and emotionally draining. Transition is a time of exploration and, if managed correctly, a time of great freedom. Not that there actually is a correct way to transition. As with most of this process, it is unique to each individual and that is very much how it should be.
Social transition. Often the part which involves the most changes, the most effort. Everyone's mind immediately drifts to medical stuff, like hormones and surgery but that tends to be, for a variety of reasons, one of the final pieces of the puzzle. Social transition, however, is a good starting point. Who are you socially? What is your name? Or nickname perhaps? What clothes do you wear? How do you talk? What words do you use? How do you walk? How do you smile? These questions barely scratch the surface, but I'm hoping that they give you an idea of how vast our social experience, as humans, is. When you transition, you are not changing who you are as a person, what you like and dislike, who your friends are, your sense of humour, etc. you are still very much you. What you do is you change your social presentation to more closely match your identity. Sounds simple enough, but even the simplest of steps is not without some sort of resistance.
When you first change something, there is pressure to really change it, to make it blindingly obvious to anyone that glances in your direction. Social pressure is put on trans people to fit a certain label. Trans women are expected to be very feminine, wear dresses all the time etc. the idea being that you identify as a lady and must do your utmost to prove it to the absolute extreme with your social presentation. The truth is that, much like all girls, trans girls differ in what they like, how they dress and how they talk. Just because a trans woman only wears t-shirts and jeans doesn't make her any less of a woman than a trans woman who only wears dresses. The same can be said for trans men. They should not have to be built with muscles that have muscles of their own in order to be seen as 'man enough'; you get the idea.
Non-binary trans people face more obstacles in the transition process due to these exact reasons. Presentation is an expression of identity; it is not proof of nor entirely reflective of any identity. Sometimes it can be more difficult for non-binary people to know exactly what to change, as they can't just default to the opposite of what they're used to. They still deserve as much support and love as everyone else, and of course their identities are equally as valid, even if their presentation comes across as different or contradictory.
Changing pronouns is always a sticking point, unfortunately. Pronouns are important, so important that the only time you should intentionally use the wrong ones is to ensure someone's safety (e.g. In front of family members who someone is not out to, or in an unsafe environment such as an intolerant workplace). Not liking someone, not agreeing with someone, no matter how badly, is never an excuse to use incorrect pronouns. Just like cisgender people, there are many trans people and unfortunately, as is the way, they are not all angels or particularly nice people. Despite this, there is never any reason to invalidate someone's identity by misgendering them, never. Pronouns are not a weapon to be wielded that can be turned on trans people whenever they do something wrong. We are human, we make mistakes, but as we are human, we also deserve basic respect. When unsure about someone's pronouns, just ask! (Don't over complicate it, just ask "What pronouns do you use?"). If you can't ask, because the person is in outer space or between dimensions, then just use they/them, 'they' is neutral and won't offend anyone (yes they can be singular and is grammatically correct: e.g. "It's my cousin's birthday today." - "Oh, how old are they?").
The consultation into updating the process for legally changing gender has recently finished and the results are being reviewed. To say that the law is outdated is an understatement of epic proportions. Spousal consent is required to legally change gender, as is evidence such as bank statements, utility bills, photo ID, that date back at least 2 years showing proof of transition. (Something that young people are unlikely to have in the large quantities needed) You must be 18 and have had medical treatment for at least 2 years. You then must go to court with documents from your doctor and argue the case to legally change your gender in front of a judge and an "independent panel" (i.e. Not people with any relevant knowledge about trans people). This often involves insensitive questions about your genitalia, sexuality (which has nothing to do with being trans!) and plans for treatment such as surgery (private and personal details that are between a person and their doctor). Without a legal change of gender, trans people can be sent to single sex prisons of their birth sex, even if they have had hormone treatment and surgery; they can be denied help from sex-specific domestic violence support services, and are not applicable for the correct option of maternity or paternity leave from work should they have children. Legal transition is important, but only a very tiny minority of trans people go through with it due to the challenges it poses. (Hopefully this will change with the recent consultation by the government).
The medical aspect of transition is often overly focused on. In reality it is often the last thing people get round to due to the long waiting lists (in excess of 18-24 months from referral, e.g. I was referred in March 2017 but am not actually going to start getting my treatment through the NHS until at least 2020 because by the time I was seen by Adolescent services I had almost reached my 18th birthday and was no longer able to access care through them). Hormone treatment is like puberty, but the right way round this time. There's an indescribable feeling of happiness when they start kicking in (around 2-4 weeks into treatment). You finally feel anxiety over your body lift and your mind feels at peace. No physical changes have happened yet, but your brain feels balanced and right. You are finally a tiny piece of you. Something you can feel and rely on, it will now forever be part of you and it feels amazing. Surgery is not something most trans people pursue with urgency - usually the changes from hormones are satisfactory enough, and there can be other barriers such as cost, or the risks of major surgery. Some trans people do and some trans people don't, which is something I've said a lot throughout.
Being trans is unique, it's emotional and it's a long journey, it feels as natural to me as having brown eyes, as the sun rising every morning and setting every evening. The society we live in makes being trans hard, hopefully one day we can make sure that is not the case. I am more than trans, people are more than their characteristics, at the end of the day, we're all human. We have the same love of friends and family, the same desire for safety and a job that we love, it shouldn't matter who you are, what your name is or how you dress, common humanity is just that, common to us all. Trans people are just part of the vast, vast diversity that makes up our species, and that is something to be celebrated.