Fighting the Transitional Pull
People like commonality. Perhaps it’s comfort, but we are attracted to, biased towards, and are reluctant to leave like groups. I’m no different. When I first came out, I sought out others. Now that I find I don’t live in that transitional space and many of those associations fade, I struggle to find space for everyone.
A generation ago, transgender people were expected to cut off all ties and leave their lives behind. The understanding was that transition cost the person everything; they could take nothing with them. I imagine some transgender people did manage to keep some of their old lives — I know that by the mid nineties, some did — but the vast majority did just throw a torch behind them as they passed through the gate.
I don’t feel that pressure in the same way. Much of my job as a support worker was focused on helping transitioning people bring their lives along with them. Obviously much is still lost, but the work felt more like a salvage operation than a funeral. In my own transition, much of my life changed overnight but quite a lot didn’t: my past isn’t so disconnected from my present.
> "I REACHED A SPACE WHERE I KNEW SOMEONE’S TRANSITIONAL STATE BETTER THAN I KNEW THEM."
When I first started to pull away from transitional spaces, I complained about how we all seemed to customarily exchange medical notes. We would say how far along we were, talk about hormone treatments, the state of our genitals, the feelings around that. My mum said to me at one point that I was really open about some of that stuff to the point of it being somewhat uncomfortable. She was right: it is uncomfortable. I reached a space where I knew someone’s transitional state better than I knew them.
That was the turning point for me, and some of my closest friendships solidified in that time because I stopped talking about transition. I started talking about me, about them, about life. Transition is a topic, but it wasn’t the topic.
By the same token, others moved on. Most just faded into the periphery. Some direct confrontation but the theme was the same: without transitioning to talk about, we had no real commonality. People like grouping with like people, for better or worse.
The closest friendships largely endured, but my new boundaries make it a challenge. Once, I’ve had to confront a friend about outing me by association to another transgender person. It was an easy mistake: a comment about my treatment experience that was relevant to the exchange. Six months ago that would have been ok.
A bit later, I had friends over for an evening and the conversation turned transy. Surgery, hormones and passing, oh my! And I kept quiet. I was cooking so it was easy to occupy myself in the kitchen, but I lingered longer than I had to. I didn’t want to participate. A year ago, that would have been a conversation I would have joined without thought.
Of course, some of those friends either just had bottom surgery or had a surgery date looming, so I expected something to come up about it. The scope of the conversation was the problem, not the subject. I was happy to discuss someone having surgery in their context without being included. If someone needed to do something because they just had surgery, I was happy to chat about their needs because they’re their needs. What kept me from joining in was the implicit inclusion. I was afraid that if I said something, I would suddenly be brought into that context.
I know I was moving away, but I didn’t expect this. My boundaries are tighter. I wanted to tighten them, but I didn’t expect it to be such a change. But I’ve learned to just go with what feels right, and it feels right to not be out by default, even in the company of transgender people. If feels right to not discuss my genitals, even if it’s only by association.
I’m not in that space anymore, but I love my friends and I want them to be comfortable speaking their minds around me. I’m not open about this stuff as it applies to me, but I want to be there for them. I want to be a supportive outsider.
> "I’M NOT THAT CIS FRIEND THAT IS WATCHING WITHOUT A PERSONAL CONTEXT AND THEY KNOW IT.”
Of course, I am objectively not an outsider so it stands to reason that people don’t treat me like one. I’m not that cis friend that is watching without a personal context and they know it. I’m asking to be treated like something they know I’m not, which sounds like a deception but really, it’s just necessary for me to exclude myself right now. I don’t know how permanent that boundary is, but right now I don’t want to be included.
My cisgender friends seem to be better at adopting my new boundaries. That makes sense. After all, transitional language has no lingua Franca and cisgender people don’t dwell on transitional spaces. Their fascination can be a problem. I’m sometimes asked to weigh in as a transgender person and I have to basically feign ignorance or just point out the awkward position I’m being placed. Not so long ago, I wouldn’t have felt awkward about that.
A generation ago, there were transgender networks and meetups. Support groups and safe spaces. But there was little to no space in society for transgender people. Now, we have that space but it’s difficult to leave it. Before we had the woodwork or nothing. Now we have out and proud or nothing.
Out and proud or nothing is better than nothing, but my boundaries don’t seem compatible with either state. Before, leaving the transitional space meant leaving the old life behind. It was just an understanding. I don’t have to do that now, but I have nowhere to exist if I don’t.