Transition or Die
I’d like another option, please
Author’s note: since writing this article, I have accepted myself as a transgender woman. I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time, and I’m grateful for the early support groups and Internet forums that once made me so anxious about the need to transition. Coming to terms with who I am was an important step in my journey.
Six months ago, I went to my first, and maybe last, transgender support group. I was struggling to make a decision about whether to try cross-sex hormones and needed to get out of my internet bubble to see what the real world of transitioning and gender dysphoria is like. As it turns out, the real and digital worlds aren’t all that different.
I introduced myself, saying it was my first time and that I wanted to listen, not speak. Someone told me it was okay to ask if I didn’t recognize any words they were using, and I just nodded, even though I was quite sure I knew all the terminology. Obsessive research does have that benefit. Then I sat and listened while everyone talked about how close they came to death.
When it was over, I felt worse than when I came in. Negative, depressive thoughts swirled in my head as I drove home and for several days after.
These are not my people. These people are suffering. I don’t belong here. I’m an imposter. What they’re going through is worse than what I’m going through. I don’t have what they have. The cure is worse than the disease.
It felt like I was trying to appropriate a culture or an experience I hadn’t earned. Maybe I was a transtrender. I needed to go back to dealing with my depression and leave all this gender stuff alone. Hormones did not seem like a good idea anymore. In my pocket I had a referral for an LGBT patient advocate, but I did not feel like I was any of those letters.
The problem, I think, is that I’m not suicidal. But apparently I will be, if I wait too long. Everyone says so. A few others at the group were questioning whether to transition, or detransition, and they were warned against trying to repress their gender dysphoria.
This is the same thing I was hearing inside the internet bubble. I’ve read hundreds of forum posts from people asking if they’re really trans, or if they should transition, or whether there was some other way to cope with these feelings, or if they could just take hormones and not come out socially, or if there was any story, even just one, of somebody who did not transition but still found happiness. They all got roughly the same response.
It doesn’t get better. These feelings will increase over time. Someday you will break. We thought we were strong too, but we ended up transitioning. Delaying only makes it worse. It was this or suicide. We thought we could keep our transition private, but the need to present publicly became unbearable. It will happen to you too.
I call it the Transition or Die response, and it terrifies me.
Those cannot be the only options. There must be at least one example of someone with gender dysphoria who transcended it. A Buddhist monk, perhaps. But wherever that person is, I can’t find them. All I can find are non-transitioners who are coping and helping others cope.
I do not want to cope. I want to be happy. I want the dysphoria, if it won’t disappear, to become like my autistic symptoms: a personality trait, not an affliction.
There’s still hope that my problem is with selection bias. Asking a transgender support group or internet forum if you should transition is like asking an insurance convention if you need insurance. It could be that I just haven’t found the right resources yet.
I’ve certainly tried. There’s no shortage of contradictory views on the internet. A few scientific blogs have been very helpful in getting objective, non-anecdotal information. Gender critical forums make for good opposition research. General men’s forums, in the rare case when someone asks about gender identity, are enlightening in showing how little the general population cares about this issue.
But what I’m still missing is a voice saying that there are other options, any solution besides transition. I have to assume that such a solution doesn’t exist. My choice now is between suffering with this thing that people talk about like it’s a degenerative brain disease that will eventually drive me mad, or taking drugs for the rest of my life and living in a way that doesn’t feel at all desirable while bringing down scorn and ridicule on my head in the process.
I know this is the depression talking. Things are never as hopeless as they feel. Those same messages from the trans community saying dysphoria doesn’t get better are always followed up with affirmations that things do get better after transition. If only they didn’t also come with warnings of lost families and discrimination.
In the meantime, I did start on hormones. The fear of not going on them eventually overcame the anxiety of experimenting with transitioning. It took about a month after that support group experience to realize that was what I wanted.
I still don’t think what I’m doing counts as transition. In my mind, that word is tied to the social aspects, not the body. So as of now, in the choice of Transition or Die, I guess I’m still mostly on the Die path.