“What’s A Girl Gotta Do To Get A Vagina Around Here?”: A Transwoman’s Guide To Transition, Part I
The first of this two-part series looks at what transgender means, and how to decide to transition. Part two, which we'll post tomorrow, is about what's actually involved.
This is part one of a two-part series; you can read part two here.
I came out to my friends and family as transgender a few months ago, and have begun the process of changing my body so that I can live my life as a woman, socially.
I was surprised right from the start by how little those closest to me knew about gender transition. Many seemed to think that it was the simple matter of getting a surgeon to take a scalpel to your junk.
In reality it’s a tad more nuanced and is actually a lot closer to going through puberty… again.
So for those who want to know a bit more – or are thinking of jumping on the trans train to identity-ville — here’s a step by step guide to transition, which will be split into two parts. The first part is about how to decide to transition; the second will be about what’s actually involved.
Oh, and before I get into it: since I’m a transwoman, much of this is going to focus on male to female transition. I will try touch on a bit of female to male stuff too but I’m sorry if you feel left out, transdudes.
Step 1: Are You Transgender?
If you’re going to change your sex, you’d better make sure that you’re actually transgender and want to live the rest of your life as your identified gender — because a lot of these changes are irreversable.
Contrary to popular belief, transexuals don’t change their gender; they change their sex. Much of the tabloid coverage of Bruce Jenner’s alleged transition in recent weeks has used phrases like “Bruce is transitioning into a woman” or “Bruce wants to be a woman”. While it’s convenient, this type of language promotes a false narrative: that a transwoman is a man who decides to become a woman, or who wants to be a woman. This is incorrect. Transwomen are women — we just got the bad deal of getting born with dude parts.
I spent the majority of my life acting like a guy, and trying to convince myself that I was a guy. The truth is, though, that I have never felt like a guy. Most transwomen know that they’re not dudes from a very young age. And from a very young age they experience horrible feelings of dissatisfaction with the gender they were assigned at birth.
I’ve come to learn that this collection of feelings is known as gender dysphoria.
It’s very difficult for me to describe how gender dysphoria feels to someone who hasn’t experienced it. These days I start by explaining that dysphoria is the antonym of euphoria. So, you know that sense of everything being okay and good and at peace and in place and comfortable? Yeah. Transpeople feel the opposite of that, a lot, about ourselves.
It’s a completely overwhelming sense of wrongness and unease. And it’s not just about the way our bodies look and operate, but about how the hormones in our bodies make us feel, how we move through space, how people look at us and how we interact with the world. It’s all-encompassing and pervasive and it’s a rotten, rotten feeling. It waxes and wanes and there are times when I’m unaffected and there are certain things that can trigger it. For me, it’s things like hearing the sound of my voice, and the act of shaving my face (interestingly I find it easier to cope having a beard than being clean shaven). Sometimes it’s tolerable or easy enough to repress but, man, when it hits hard…
It was a massive shock to me when I discovered that cisgender people – those whose experienced gender matched their assigned one — didn’t have these feelings, and that, to them, the concept was completely foreign. The fact that it has been so difficult for me to explain these feelings to cis people was proof, to me, that I actually was transgender.
If you suspect that you’re trans, reach out to a queer friendly GP, counsellor or a gender community group in your area. There are some links at the bottom of the page.
Step 2: Do You Want To Actually Transition?
So, you’ve accepted that you are trans. Hurrah! Go team identity! But then come some other big questions: What do you want to do about it? Do you want to tell people? Do you want to behave differently? Do you want to transition medically?
Living your life in the gender you identify with has its benefits, but it comes with all sorts of sacrifices that need to be considered. You might lose some friends, or the support of your family. You might find it hard to keep your job or find a new one.
One of the biggest changes that transwoman have to deal with is the fact that they will be giving up their male privilege.
It’s no secret that guys (especially white guys) have got it pretty good in this world, and if you’ve experienced your life to this point as a dude you’ve probably taken a lot of that privilege for granted.
So, be prepared for the fact that you’re not going to be number one anymore. You’re not going to feel safe at night or alone on the bus. You’re going to lose a lot of muscle mass so you won’t be strong enough to defend yourself if you’re the target of violence. You’ll be overlooked for jobs in favour of men; people will take your opinions less seriously; you’ll be dominated in conversation; you’ll be stared at and scrutinised at a level that you’ve never considered before. And you’re going to have to get used to wearing clothes with tiny or non-functional pockets.
That’s not to say that you have to be happy with the current state of gender affairs, or that you have to accept them. But it’s important that you know about the state of play. And the pockets.
It’s not all bad though. There’s a bunch of female privilege that transwomen do get to enjoy. You’ll intimidate people less, strangers will be warmer to you and will want to have conversations with you, and you can play and interact with kids without people thinking it’s weird. Also, people won’t be surprised if you show your emotions (though they will question your judgment because of it), and you get to wear all the pretty things.
As for you, transmen, you lucked out. You just moved to the head of the class; enjoy your testosterone, farts and taking up the whole seat on the train.
On top of the change to gender privilege you’ll also need to consider the potential loss of cis privilege. If you can pass as cisgender, all power to you — but you should consider what it will mean if you’re noticeably trans. You’ll be an even bigger target for harassment and assault; you’ll be stared at; you’ll be scrutinised when you use a public toilet, and it may be very difficult to be accepted in your new gender role, even by those who are close to you.
Plenty of transpeople make the decision not to transition. Sometimes they put their career or the wishes of their family first, and that’s fine. Plus, there’s all sorts of ways to identify as trans without transitioning medically. Some people even find that they’re happiest living between genders, or living without identifying as either gender.
But others, like me, choose to transition medically.
Step 3: Do you want to transition medically?
So, you’ve worked out that you’re transgender and you that you want to transition. How far do you want to go? You’re in control of your destiny and your body. Transitioning is, ultimately, about allowing to live you life how you want. So: what do you actually want?
Imagine that transition is a train ride.
You pass a bunch of stations along the way. You can stop and spend time at each one, stay on board the train, or get off the train at a particular stop and travel no further.
Is it enough to just declare your gender, and then get on with your life? Maybe you’re okay with painting your nails and growing your hair long? Maybe you want to train your voice so that you speak differently? Do you want to take hormones? Get hair removal? Hair transplants? Do you want genital surgery?
There’s no right or wrong way to be trans; ultimately this whole process is about changing your body so that you can live your life comfortably. Transitioning is all about taking off the mask you’ve been wearing for years and letting people see you as you see yourself. There’s not a lot of point to it all if you feel like you have to put on another mask to replace it.
Medical transition can be a long and intense process, and like I said earlier it’s a lot more nuanced than cutting off your ding dong. We’ll look at some of the specifics in part two of this article, which will be posted tomorrow.
For now, here are some links for gender community groups around Australia.
NSW – The Gender Centre
VIC – Transgender Victoria
SA – Carrousel Club
ACT – A Gender Agenda
TAS – Working it Out
WA – Freedom Centre
Nicola Fierce is a pseudonym. Nicola is a transwoman in her thirties who is in the middle of transition. She currently lives as a somewhat famous man. This will change when she’s good and ready.