So... how do I trans?
March 9, 2015 12:45 PM   Subscribe

I'm 30 this year, and I've known something's up with my gender identity since... well, since ever. Over the past year or so, I've come to realise through a lot of reading, thinking, talking that I'm male-to-female transgender. My feelings of dysphoria aren't going away, and they're getting worse, but I'm not making any practical progress towards transition because Life Stuff keeps happening and giving me an excuse to put off scary stuff. I need to do something about this, but I'm struggling to find practical resources for transitioning women around my age.

This is a question I've been deliberating about asking for a while now - I was thinking of asking anonymously, but decided against it because I don't feel like hiding in the corner about this anymore. It's not like I'm hiding it. I asked an anonymous question quite some time ago about my gender, basically saying "I don't feel male, am I trans?". Since then, these dysphoric feelings I've had since I was young haven't gone away, and I know I am trans, but I'm no further on in the path to transition.

Life keeps getting in the way - whether I've got to find a new job, or I'm moving house, or there's a family crisis, or something else. It's not earth-shattering stuff, it's the kind of stuff everyone deals with in life, but when I've found myself a new job or completed my house move or sorted my family crisis, I'm still trans, but I've done nothing more about it, I've just pushed back what little progress I might have been making. It's frustrating and makes me feel like my life is on hold, and sometimes I wonder if I'm spending time on other things to put off big, scary changes.

I don't like to use issues like this as a scapegoat for other problems in my life because that's unhelpful and shitty, but I do genuinely feel like my gender dysphoria is exacerbating, if not causing, other issues with regard to finances, employment, personal relationships and so on. I don't know if the analogy makes sense, but it feels like I'm wearing gender glasses - I can't look at any issue in my life without seeing it through this fog of dysphoria which makes everything seem more shitty than it really is. I'm doing reasonably well regardless, but I can't help but feel that I'd be doing a lot better if I wasn't having to... I don't know, swim through treacle at every stage of my personal development. And I wish I wasn't constantly feeling like this one thing in my life isn't quite right, no matter how well everything else is going. It hurts.

I'm out to many friends, and my parents know something is up. We've never been an emotionally close or intimate family, but they know I've got a greater-than-normal interest in gender and trans issues. But my progress towards transition has totally stalled, because I have no idea what to do. I still present as male, I still cringe when I see myself in a mirror, I still sit up late at night wondering what on earth to do about all this, I still cry. A lot. I know where I want to be, I just don't know how to get from here to there. I feel like a total phoney and like I'm crap at being trans, and quite often I find myself crying and thinking "you know what, I've got this far, would it be so bad to just pretend to be male for the rest of my life?". But that's not what I really want.

It feels like there's a lot of help available online - but sometimes I feel like there's just too much information out there and it's a job to filter it all. There's plenty of help for people who are under 25, but I'm 30 this year and kind of feel like I'm expected to just work all this stuff out myself. What 'real-life' stuff is available semi-locally is sporadic - the biggest even vaguely relevant local event is Leeds First Friday, which... just isn't really my thing. I'm a quiet, shy person and not into big nights out regardless of my gender expression. I much prefer a hike on a Sunday morning to a big Friday night on the town!

So - what do I do? How do I go from being someone who's sure she is trans, who knows she wants to transition but is shy and frightened, to being a girl on the outside as well as the inside? I should clarify that right now (and in the foreseeable future) I've no interest in surgery - having a penis doesn't bother me one way or the other! I want to take other steps to make my appearance chime with how I feel on the inside, though - I'd like my increasing hair loss (from the stress of all this, no doubt!) to stop and I'd like to start presenting female in public, instead of fooling around with makeup and clothes in my house like a scared teenager.

tl;dr: I'm transgender (male-to-female), but feel stuck in a loop with it. I've been able to accept it within myself, but my path to transition is unclear and blurred and other stuff in my life keeps distracting me and setting me back. I want to fix this, but finding myself confused by all the information available. I want to get out of this negative loop and move forward, and find practical resources to help me do so. Information can only take you so far. And I'm scared.

On preview - shit, sorry this got so long! I hope it makes at least some sense and I am happy to either receive MeMail or post follow-ups if anyone wants clarification or further information. I'm in the UK, if this matters. :)
posted by winterhill to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
It's great that you have talked about this with friends. Do you have a particularly good friend, a close confidant, that you could go out with and present with out and about? Just something very small and simple, your friend could come over to your place, and you could go to the local coffee stop and just grab one drink and then go home. Twenty, forty minutes, nothing too intense? OR, even better - you like hiking. So get some cute hiking clothes and a pretty scarf to hold back your hair and then go hiking with a friend. You're doing something you love, you're outside, you're with a friend, you're dressed the way you want to dress. Or do something different - something that is YOU, that YOU will enjoy, but do it with a buddy by your side and do it while presenting. If you don't like bars, presenting is not going to make you enjoy bars. So don't go to a bar, don't go to that First Friday thing. Just do you.

I find myself crying and thinking "you know what, I've got this far, would it be so bad to just pretend to be male for the rest of my life?". But that's not what I really want.
Hey - look how far you've come. You know what you want now. That's a huge step. Now you know. You are the farthest along you've ever been in this journey. Perhaps another thing that may be helpful is sitting down and thinking about all the progress you've made - rather than feeling like a "total phoney" it might help you to feel like a total fucking success - which is, in fact, the case. Because what you are doing is difficult and so scary and so trying that many, many people haven't even gotten to the point that you're at right now. I have a lot of pride for you and I hope that someday you can feel proud of yourself, too. What you're doing is not easy. It's a long process, not one or two events. It's going to take time. Recognizing that it takes time, being gentle with yourself about how long it is taking, celebrating your successes and being NICE to yourself, surrounding yourself with people who love you and support you and who want you to be happy... I think that these things will help you a lot in your transition.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 1:15 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

I'm not saying this in a proselytizing way, but I am trans, have been trans since I was 19 (so 27 years), and I am not interested in transitioning and do not plan to transition or take hormones or do anything else on the transsexual spectrum. Sometimes I present androgynously. Sometimes I do not. Sometimes I "cross-dress" in contrast to my birth and socialization gender. Mostly I am just me and do things I want to do and approach the world the way I want to.

I know that feeling stuck sucks. But also remember that the transition from one end of the spectrum to the other is not always the only answer, and there is no schedule but your own.

So again, I'm not saying you're one of me (because I am also intersex so I already have hormone and other weirdness), but I am saying that my life, my journey, my lack of clear end goals is not a problem for me and implies that this may also work for you, should you be interested in not having clear destinations in your "journey" as well.
posted by kalessin at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2015 [9 favorites]

If you're something of a homebody, something my ex used to do at the stage you appear to be at right now of 'wanting to go out as myself but not having anywhere to go' was that she'd dress the way she wanted, put on a big coat and we'd go to a grocery store or shopping centre in another neighbourhood so she could just walk around the store (having taken the coat off once we got to the store) and get comfortable in her own skin in a place where people were doing their own thing. It was pretty basic, but if you have a friend you can reach out to, it's definitely worth a go. Sometimes she'd go full fledged with makeup and a bra, sometimes just androgynous girls' clothes, but it helped her get the confidence to start crossing it over into other parts of life.

That all being said, you're not alone in being trans with no end goal. I'm non-binary, but man, when I figured that out about 8 years ago, there were seriously no resources. Even when we (the burgeoning non-binary community starting to find each other in corners of the web) tried things like making a wikipedia page for our identities, wiki would take it down. For a lot of us, we just try not to worry about ten years from now and work only on the goals that will make us feel better tomorrow or next week or next year.

For example, your hair loss is a thing you have identified as a problem for yourself. A 'tomorrow' goal could be to look at wigs online and get yourself one (if you haven't one already) for your own comfort. A 'next week' (or other short-term measure of date) goal you could set yourself could be to sit down with your doctor and discuss treatments for hairloss. A further reaching goal (a year if you're nervous) could be to sit down with your doctor and (if you are interested in hormones) discuss hormones, as many mtf folks find that hair loss stalls or is reversed when they start hormones.

Frankly, I think that, while yes, it sucks for anyone not to have an end goal of a process or 'thing' in their life, the most important goals are the short term ones that will start making you happier now. The longterm will take care of itself if you take care of you and the short term, in a way.
posted by NotATailor at 3:14 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am so happy to see you post this. Congratulations on getting this far — it may not feel like a big accomplishment, but it is a big accomplishment, and hopefully it's not too weird if I say I'm really proud of you.

So when I was at the point you're at now — terrified to present as female in public, convinced I was hideous and immobilized by shame over the whole thing — there were two things that helped.

One was just holding my breath and taking some baby steps. I came out to a few friends. I went to a trans meetup in boymode, just to meet other trans women face to face. I started buying my T-shirts and jeans in the women's section. (Pro tip: literally nobody will notice if you do this.)

If you look at all those baby steps together, it can be overwhelming. But one of them at a time is manageable. You can set yourself very small goals. ("I will go to a meetup and say hello to at least one person before I leave" might be a good one.) Even those small goals might be terrifying. But you can do it — and the more of them you rack up, the more you start to feel like "YEAH, I can DO this!" It's like leveling up in a video game. You can't tackle the big stuff right away. You have to ignore it for the moment and grind through the small stuff to build up experience points confidence.

And in fact, like kalessin says, you're never obligated to do the big stuff. Each small goal is its own project. It's easy to feel like "Oh no, but if I meet up with another trans woman in person, then the next step will be joining a regular meetup group, and then the next step will be going out with them dressed as a woman, and after that the next step will be coming out to my coworkers and I'M NOT READY FOR THAT." But it doesn't work that way. Meeting one person doesn't obligate you to take any of those other steps. It's just one step.

Okay. So that's one thing that helped. The other thing that helped was finding online spaces where I could socialize with other trans women. Finding spaces like that is tricky — they are often private, to avoid creeps, and those that are public tend to be kinda low profile — but once you find one or two it's easier to find more. There's a trans-people-from-MetaFilter community on Dreamwidth (memail me for a link if you don't have it already), and a lot of people in that community are also plugged into online trans groups elsewhere (private IRC channels, or low-profile message boards, or etc) so one place to start might be to post a question there asking for pointers. Another good place to meet trans people is on twitter. (I'm on there as @leahvelcro.) It is totally normal on twitter to start following other trans women whose stuff you see retweeted or who you see your friends interacting with or whatever, and usually people (who aren't, like, Internet Celebrities) will follow back if you mention being trans in your profile.

All of that online stuff might not feel like a Step Towards Transitioning. But, like, it's actually super-helpful to hang out with other trans women and just talk about the weather or what's on TV or whatever. It's a way of convincing yourself that trans people really are just ordinary people. But also, indirectly, it does help with transitioning — because it means hearing lots of concrete details about how other trans women are approaching their transition, and seeing the tiny baby steps they're taking, and it gives you a lot of sympathetic people who will offer support when you're getting ready to take a scary step yourself.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:48 PM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

Here are a few things you can start with - some of them you can do immediately but others will take more time. Some people take the approach of doing things slowly over time, and changing things when they feel comfortable, but other people like to do as much as possible all at once to sort of get the whole thing over with - both are perfectly valid (and anything in between). I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff, but this is just what comes to mind off the top of my head:
  • Asking people you're close with to start referring to you with a different name / pronouns, in private and/or in public
  • Start wearing more feminine clothes - going from androgynous looking clothes from the men's department to androgynous looking clothes from the women's department is a relatively easy transition, but you might want to start with just wearing more androgynous men's clothing. You can jump straight to super feminine if you want, but if you show up to work tomorrow in a dress people might be sort of surprised.
  • Changing other aspects of your appearance - makeup, wigs, bras, etc.
  • Changing your name and pronouns with everyone
  • Changing your name and gender markers on all sorts of legal documentation.
  • If you're interested, going to see your doctor about starting hormones. Testosterone blockers should prevent further hair loss, but there are other medications you can take instead of or in addition to those. It can take a while to start HRT, so you might have more luck starting other hair loss treatments, but either way you should probably go talk to a doctor.
  • If you're sure you want hormones, don't want to have to wait for approval, and are okay taking the risk, you can order them online without a prescription. It will cost a lot more money and isn't as safe because you're not being monitored by a doctor, but it is a way to get them. Sometimes if you go to a doctor after having already started on your own, they'll be willing to give you a legitimate prescription without making you jump through all the hoops you'd have to otherwise, but not always.
For the most part advice for people 25 should be the same as advice for people 30. This subreddit looks like it has some good resources on the sidebar, and you can ask other people in a similar situation for advice, but I haven't personally used it so I can't guarantee anything. There's also this one and this one for if you have a question less location-dependent.

There's almost never a perfect time to do it, but if your dysphoria is getting worse you should really try to do it as soon as you can. Each step doesn't need to be a huge life-changing thing, and if you put everything off until everything else in your life is going great it'll never happen, and at some point you'll just end up completely miserable and unable to function, or you'll have died of old age. For me, transitioning fixed a lot of other problems in my life, but not everyone else has that experience, and it's not like I'm perfect now. Some people's lives get worse, some people's get better, some stay the same, there isn't really any way to know until you actually try it, but I do personally know multiple people who have had seemingly unrelated issues completely go away, and they've been able to go back to school, get a new job, go off all their psychiatric medication, stuff like that.

Very few things are permanent, so it can be really helpful to just sort of try stuff out and see how it makes you feel, and then if you don't like it, stop.
posted by CJF at 4:09 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

My former roommate started transitioning when she was 32 or 33. I met her about a year after, and if I hadn't known she was XY I never would have guessed. (No one else does either.) Hell, once I caught myself wondering whether our periods would sync up now that we lived together before I remembered. 30 definitely doesn't mean you can't transition just as successfully as someone younger. She also hasn't had any surgery (save a trach shave), and, while she does mean to get around to it eventually, it hasn't caused any problems at all in her presentation.

Perhaps even more importantly, she's so much happier now. You are almost certainly dead right about the effects the dysphoria is having on you. Before she started transitioning she was clinically depressed, more retiring, and way less energetic. Now she's a freaking dynamo. It can be done, even after 30, and it is worth it.

I have another trans friend who, like kalessin, isn't taking hormones or getting surgery of any kind. She changed her name and her pronouns, but dresses more androgynously than anything else. She went back and forth on transitioning for years because she too only saw the one path modeled, and it wasn't what she wanted. Sounds like you already know there are options, but I did want to underscore it.

If you haven't changed your name and pronouns with the friends you're out to, I think that would be a major first step. Being addressed as who you really are by the people who care about you is, from what I am told, an incredible relief, and that ongoing affirmation of your identity can make a huge difference. And finding people on twitter really seems to help too. Knowing you're not the only person going through this stuff and being able to share experiences with others is important.

And give yourself more credit than you are for having come this far. You say you're no further on in the path to transition, but that's not true. You know you're trans now, and you didn't always. You know you're ready to start transitioning. Those are the most important steps on the path, because there is no path without them. You've also taken the next big scary step, which is coming out to the people you're close to. That's a lot.
posted by Because at 4:57 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

You have done the necessary and difficult soul searching to determine you're trans.
You have come out to friends.
You have dropped clues to your family.
You are asking for help on how to continue.
It doesn't seem to me like you haven't taken any steps towards transitioning.

I'm 32, and sometimes I participate on an online forum for CDs and trans people where the average age is much more than 30. You are not alone. In that or other communities you will find lots of us that have gone or are going through the same problems trying to balance what is important for us in our lives.

Also, not having a plan isn't bad in itself. For me, I just let life push me into the right time for different things, or even doing stuff I had thought I wouldn't. But since it IS troubling you, other than talking with others in these online communities, I'd also go see a gender therapist, who can help you lay out a plan that works best for you in your circumstances and with your priorities, as well as helping you deal with all the waiting that will be involved. The NHS should cover a gender therapist for you.
posted by Promethea at 7:45 PM on March 9, 2015

One tangible thing you can do is take yourself for hikes on Sunday mornings. In skirts.

Hiking in a skirt is great! And you probably won't see very many people. And they likely won't care what you're wearing. So it could be one nice way to up your comfort level.
posted by aniola at 10:22 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

First of all, congratulations on having got this far, like everyone else has said. I know it might feel that 30 is old to start transitioning, but it's really not that old. I have a friend who's transitioning in her forties and very excited about it.

I noticed from your profile that you're in the UK. This is the clearest advice I've found about the early steps of medical transition on the NHS -- some of it won't be relevant because it comes from the point of view of an AFAB non-binary person, but a lot of it probably is.

I'm sending you good vibes and I'll keep an eye out for other practical advice for your situation. This is totally a thing you can do.
posted by daisyk at 12:31 AM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Only one piece of advice, from a 53-year-old who has yet to begin any real part of transition .. don't put it off. It only gets worse.
posted by dwbrant at 7:47 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I should add: the best thing I've done is to begin seeing a therapist. The very best.
posted by dwbrant at 7:48 AM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, therapy is fantastic if you can find a therapist who has a clue about gender shit. That's easier some places than others, and I still sometimes hear horror stories out of the UK about clueless therapists refusing to refer people to a gender clinic because they haven't acted Trans Enough 100% of the time, though I gather it's not as bad as it used to be.

But if you can find a therapist who you do trust (and this is another thing it's good to ask trans people in your area about) it is well worth it to do some therapy just for your own sanity and happiness, regardless of whether or not it's going to be required in order for you to access medical transition.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:51 PM on March 11, 2015

> I still sometimes hear horror stories out of the UK about clueless therapists refusing to refer people to a gender clinic because they haven't acted Trans Enough 100% of the time, though I gather it's not as bad as it used to be.

Just a quickie, really, in case others find this thread in the future - from what people have told me, and from what I've read, I'm pretty sure that the requirement to go and see a therapist before being referred to a gender clinic is all but gone. You now have the right to ask to be referred to a GIC by your GP - some will still try and send you to the local mental health team first if they're not up with the latest guidance, but you can refuse this. Relevant link.
posted by winterhill at 8:52 AM on March 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

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