By Gabriel Coppersan
Since I came out as trans, and now feel a part of “the trans community,” I have found that there’s a funny paradox about the very idea of a singular community of trans people: transgender people have very different journeys, so much so that they’re often not even comparable; and yet we have similar struggles. What people usually associate with the word “trans” in the media—whether from being exposed to personal narratives of young teens highlighted on morning TV, or transgender celebrities on the red carpet—are just the tip of the melting pot that is an inexplicably diverse community.
Contrary to popular belief, the very term “transgender” is itself an umbrella term for many different identities. It’s not just about transmen and transwomen—there are also folks who identify as non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, or somewhere between or even completely outside of these categories.
Having taken testosterone for almost two years, there are several realizations I’ve had about the process of transitioning that I didn’t know when I first discovered myself as trans. I wish I’d known these things, though I’m ultimately grateful for the process I went through. That said, I think this kind of information and support is essential for people who are new to the journey. With that, here are five things I wish I’d known before my transition.
1. Your transition is for you and you alone.
Before I came out as trans myself, I wasn’t aware of how nuanced the term itself actually is. Now I know that some folks who identify as trans may appear as cisgender since they aren’t interested in changing their appearance; some folks may identify as cis, but will sometimes do “gender-bending” things like cross-dressing even while they aren’t questioning their identity. What I mean by bringing all this up is that identity is complicated, especially gender identity. Whatever you choose to do with your self-expression is for you and you alone. Of course, society gets in the way of that being easy or simple. But the decisions are yours.
In the case of trans folks, I think there’s a common assumption that identifying as trans means you necessarily want to transition medically. People think it’s OK to ask things like “How far are you going to go?” or “When will you be done transitioning?” as if the journey is linear and uniform for everyone. That’s just not the case.
Whatever you plan to do in your transition, whether that involves hormones, surgery or even legally changing your name—or none of the above—is your decision. Make sure whatever decisions you make are things YOU want (or don’t want), and not based on what people expect you to do because it’s what they heard or seen in the media, or wherever else. The bottom line is they are NOT you.
2. You will find out who your real friends are.
Looking back on my transition, it was a real experience of “filtering” people in my life—separating the good, the bad and the ugly.
Your transition can really bring out the best in your friends, family and other loved ones—and the worst. You may have believed the worst was over after some “friends” came out as openly transphobic and blocked you on Facebook, but you aren’t out of the woods yet. People who were initially supportive of your transition may come to find that they either don’t like the changes—perhaps they say they go against their religious beliefs, or simply can’t see you as anyone other than the person they have always known. Depending on who they are, you might give them some room to process, and even acknowledge that you get it. But if they aren’t getting with the program, you might have to cut all ties.
3. Be prepared to stand up for yourself...by yourself.
During the early (even late) stages of transition, you might find yourself fighting against the world alone. I was lucky to have emotional support from others in my life, but I still conditioned myself to be my own strongest advocate, and felt more empowered by making this decision for myself as a result. Whether it is fighting for adequate medical care, having gender neutral bathrooms at your school or just simply reaching out to HR about your situation at work, it’s best to prepare to do it all on your own. It sounds cynical, but it’s practical and actually, to me, an act of self-love and self-care. None of this means that people won’t step up to support you; but it does mean you can’t assume they will. Better let yourself be surprised than underprepared for the logistical battles you’ll have to endure.
4. People who are not transgender themselves can get invasive.
Humans are curious by nature. This is often an attractive quality. I found that when I came out as trans, people were interested in learning more. That impulse is something you’ll have to learn to expect, and accept, from other people. But it’s essential to recognize the difference between supportive curiosity, and invasiveness.
As I mentioned before, there will be times where people will let curiosity get the best of them and we ask questions you really shouldn’t ask someone, trans or not. Don’t be afraid to shut those people down because asking, “Are you getting THE surgery?” is the equivalent of asking a woman if she is getting a tummy tuck or a face lift: it’s rude and none of their business.
5. Even with the transgender community, transitioning can be a lonely experience.
There is no right way to transition; what one transgender person needs may not be what you need. At times, even while being supportive, other transgender people may make you feel like you’re not trans enough or say that you need to fulfill “x, y and z” or else you’re just a trans-trender. Don’t listen to them. You are enough.
Every person will have their own realizations about identity—in family, love, friendship, career stuff, and more. None of these realizations is necessarily specific to the “trans experience,” as they are ultimately about self-assurance and knowing your needs and boundaries. If you have your own realizations looking back, I’d love to hear from you!
Gabriel Coppersan is a transgender man who started his medical transition at the age of 22, just after graduating from Hunter College with a BA in Psychology. He started his blog, Dear Cis People, with the original intention of just voicing thoughts about issues and experience that are relevant in the transgender community. After writing just a few posts, Gabriel started blogging more seriously, as readers began reaching out. Aside from writing, Gabriel makes videos on his YouTube channel about his personal transition and life updates, along with coverage of transgender topics, and issues related to mental health.