How not to kill yourself: A handy guide for if you’re trans but can’t transition.
When transgender teen Leelah Alcorn committed suicide, one of the things she said really got to me. She said, “I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life.”
Hi. My name is Dan, I am 34-years old, and, with no healthy way to transition, I am, effectively, living Leelah Alcorn’s worst fear. Like Leelah, I was brought up in a religious household and, like her, I have a mother who is completely incapable of accepting the fact that I am transgender.
Yes, despite the fact that I have not been able to successfully transition permanently, I still consider myself trans.
Beyond the stereotypical unaccepting family, my story is atypical so far as I know. I actually managed to transition for about two years in my late twenties. Those were difficult but rewarding years. Towards the end of my second year I “passed” (please read this word with as much scorn as possible) easily. For the first time I felt happy inside of my own body some of the time.
Two things happened in rapid succession that brought an end to my transition:
1) I lost my job
2) I got sick. Very sick.
For a few months no one knew what was wrong with me. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. This was a problem for several reasons. The biggest was that I didn’t have healthcare so I couldn’t really afford to deal with my illness on my own since the Crohn’s drugs cost over $1000 a month. The second was that all the medication I took for transitioning was physically taxing on my body and making my Crohn’s flare-ups worse.
So, I had a choice: die broke, or detransition and move back in with my parents. I didn’t want to die, so I opted for the latter.
Detransitioning is not something I recommend if you can avoid it. It is so emotionally taxing I don’t even have the words for it. And it happens fast. Within a few months, I looked exactly as I had before I’d started. If anything, I was even manlier because now I was older.
I hoped that someday I’d get to try again. But this is where my story becomes even rarer. I did try. Recently, even. Turns out that, somewhere between my late twenties and mid-thirties I have developed a severe allergy to every single medication used for transitioning. Even estrogen pills make me break out in hives. Asthma that I hadn’t struggled with for years suddenly became unbearable. I’m on a new battery of medications for that now in addition to what I already take for my Crohn’s.
And despite having stopped taking any transitioning meds, I can’t seem to get better. It is, in short: a terrible, terrible mystery.
I’m not writing this so you’ll feel bad for me. I’m writing this because, despite the many bad days I have had, I still have not given up on my life. Maybe I’ll find a way to transition late in life, maybe I won’t. But I won’t know for sure what will happen if I take my own life.
Even though my circumstances put me in a small minority, I know there are plenty of people out there who are afraid they’ll never be able to transition, people who have had to detransition for other reasons, and people whose transitions have simple been extremely difficult.
It’s funny. 2014 has been one of the most trans visible years ever. There are so many of us out there living the lives we want, creating art, and letting the world know that the transgender community is here to stay. And they’re being accepted! But as wonderful as that is, there are days where my inability to transition turns the triumphs of others into a magnifying glass on my own failure. It makes me feel isolated and completely alone.
But I am not alone. I know you’re out there, too. And I hope you’re reading this. Because ever since Leelah Alcorn took her own life I’ve found myself wishing I’d written these words sooner.
Not being able to transition this very moment does not mean you never will. I’ve heard so many trans people say “If I can’t transition now, I’ll kill myself” and, as much as I relate to that feeling, I don’t think it has to be true. In fact, I believe that statement initially became commonplace less because of the need to transition and more because saying that was something that finally convinced gatekeepers standing between us and our happiness to finally move out of the fucking way.
But the thing about saying something over and over again is that uncertain words can become absolute truths. Leelah Alcorn and so many other trans men and women have come to believe that life without transition is not worth living. If I may be so bold — we have trans folks doing their thing on the grand stage of life now in larger numbers than ever and I think they tell the story of why transitioning is the healthy decision better than threatening suicide ever could.
As for not transitioning, I won’t lie: it is not easy. If you can transition, you should. If what’s stopping you is fear of what other people will think, then trust me when I tell you that other people’s feelings can’t hold a candle to your own. Those two years I did transition were some of the happiest of my whole life. Despite all the negative attention I received, I felt more powerful and more alive than ever. So, just to be clear, if you can transition, do.
But if you can’t, whether in the short term or the long, don’t give up. You are not alone. And your life is still worth living. Here are some things that have helped me survive the hard days.
- Never deny that you are trans. Don’t keep it a secret from people, don’t tell yourself that your forced inaction means you don’t count. You are trans and the questions about yourself, about gender, and about how our roles define us will make you a smarter and more empathic person, no matter what happens.
- Keep in contact with other trans people. There will be days where blind envy will make that hard, but that’s okay. There will also be days where you will be able to help each other through the struggles you’ll always share. And there will be days, too, where their successes will bring you genuine joy.
- Remember that you are not defined solely by your transness. You are probably passionate about other things, too. For me it’s writing, reading comics, and rewatching the terrible DiC Sailor Moon cartoon. Some days you’ll just feel passionless, and that’s okay. But, honest, watch some Sailor Moon. That girl knows what’s up.
- Leave your house. Good grief, even if there’s no reason, just go outside for a few minutes every day no matter what. Breathing in the stagnant air of your house will make your both physically and mentally unwell.
- Find a partner. Being trans does not make you unlovable, I promise, But you have to find someone who is going to be able to really listen when you’re struggling with dysphoria. They don’t have to 100% understand what you’re feeling, but they have to be present and accept that this is who you are.
In the end, I may never be able to transition, but I do live in New York City, write professionally which is my passion, have talented friends and am married to a brilliant partner. There are days I feel trapped inside this faulty shell I was born into, but there are also days where I’m so happy to be alive that it hurts. And some days, even without the help of hormones, anti-androgens, or surgery, I still can eek out a little bit of pretty.
And I believe that no matter how dark a time you may be going through right at this moment, you will still have happier days ahead, too.
More than anything, though, I know this — we are not alone, you and I. And, even on our worst days, if we remember that, we’ll get by.