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Transition Is Incomprehensible

We have no understanding of the reality before we’re making changes, so why do we do it?

Two years ago today, I came out to my family. I told them I’d like to trial a name and pronouns, but I knew at the point of asking that it wasn’t a trial. I asked them if they could try to, ‘Treat me female, whatever that means.’ They agreed. As outings go, it was pretty smooth. The easiest part, really.

There was an honesty in my request that I hadn’t considered before. By saying, ‘Whatever that means,’ I was admitting I didn’t really know what I was asking. I didn’t understand how it would work. I wasn’t sure how it would change me or my life.

I was a drama geek at school; the topic of playing other genders came up frequently. My favourite way it was put to a class was in high school, when my drama teacher Paul came out and said that nobody can be another gender. When asked to play a role that isn’t written for your gender, you can only mimic and caricature - actually assuming the role is impossible.

Paul’s words stuck with me for years, but my personal context for them wasn’t really made clear until much later. I was playing a role: mimicking, caricaturing. Hiding isn’t something I did, exactly. My life was made difficult by my inability to embrace the expectations and attitudes that were projected on me. To be fair, that’s still true so I guess it wasn’t to do with gender after all.

For a while, I called it pretending. These days I describe my state all those years as ‘perceived male’; I don’t think I was pretending. I wasn’t being anyone but myself; I had a dissonant streak that I’ve resolved. I’m still the things I was: wilful, opinionated, mouthy, free thinking. Stuff women are punished for being, but I live by my parents’ example. The perception of me has changed. I haven’t. I didn’t pretend, I was perceived male and I didn’t do anything to explicitly undermine that perception.


Except that I have. How can I not? The change of role in society permeates every level of one’s interaction with the world - of course it changed me. It continues to change me. But I had no real understanding of that two years ago today, nor do I understand what changes are to come. It’s just happening, often beyond my own notice.

Two years on, a few things about my change are ingrained; they would be difficult to reverse. I wouldn’t want to, but I didn’t know that before I started. Hormone blockers have likely damaged my ability to make sex hormones of my own at this point. Even if I did want to go back, I would be dependent on synthetic hormones for the rest of my life. I’ve trained my voice and it would be a lot of work to go the other way. Any existence, from this point forward, would be beyond my comprehension. Good thing I’m comfortable in my gender.

Much of the transition process seems to be about being OK with the things we can’t know. There isn’t any way of knowing how we will be treated as we move through the world until we change and we expect people to treat us differently despite that. We can’t know how hormones will make us feel, we just take them and see. We can’t know what surgeries will do for us, but we do them anyway. At the end of the day, we look at what we have, perceive a change, and go for it. We hope for the best. All we really know is that anything is better than where we are before we start.

There is worry at the unknown, even if it’s an unknown that we are more comfortable with than the given circumstances. In many cases, there are social, financial, and emotional costs we may understand but are rarely prepared for. Anxiety runs high, often in ways we can’t explain. But we do it anyway.

What’s particularly interesting about that is how often making the changes gives a positive result. One might think that, given the absolute inability to understand what we’re asking for, people would stop the process or detransition more often, but they don’t. One might believe that the threat we face from cisgender society as a whole would deter folks - and believe me, it scares many into silence. Including me. But we do it anyway.

All I wanted was to be treated female. The male role was painful to me and I needed to end that perception. I needed to be perceived female. Now I am, and I look back to realise I hadn’t a clue. What a second year tells me is that I knew I didn’t know. I asked to be treated female, whatever that means. I still don’t really know what that means, even though I have direct experience of it for a couple of years.


Perhaps not knowing what transition really means stops a lot of folks from having a go. Maybe, that fear keeps us from stepping towards the space we’re most comfortable. Sometimes, it’s the devil we know.

Dealing with the devil we know until we can’t is consistent with another truth of transition: nobody does if they can avoid it. It’s disruptive, it’s dangerous, and it’s incomprehensible. Nobody wants to make that play. It’s the move of the desperate or hopeless. The only person that takes a chance like that is someone with nothing to lose.

Hindsight tells me I had nothing to lose, but I wasn’t aware of how bad things were until I got away. Hindsight tells me the changes I made were remarkably positive, but I had no way of knowing that. I just knew I wanted things to change and it worked out. Hindsight validates my choices. In transitioning, the ends end up justifying the means. We can’t ever know what the end will be.