“I can see a time when I’m just tired of talking about transitioning.”
“You’re not already?”
I am. It’s this thing that took over my life and, for a while, it was all I had to talk about. People would ask how I was, and it was all hormones, the fight over my documents, uncertainty over my voice and general bits and pieces about how I feel in my new role. How I felt, what I was doing next, what barrier I hit, how the medication was changing me. As boxes are ticked, it matters less. I have less to say about it, but it’s still an expectation that I talk about it, especially with people I meet.
Among transitioning transgender folks, saying where we are in our transition is a ritual greeting. Name, rank and serial number, if you will. Some get it down to a line: ‘I’m J- full time 4 years, 2 years HRT, 1 year breast augmentation.’ It’s an automatic sharing; the first thing we discover about a person. Once that ice is broken, we exchange how much (or how little) support we have from friends and family, which possibly gets accompanied with a coming out story.
From there, the conversation will usually wind around various components of transition: what needs doing, how much we need, what we reckon we’re happy with - what we don’t want. Why. Who we need to come out to still, difficulties at home or work. Logistics of the gender clinics here in the UK. If not in the UK, queries about what services are about and how easy they are to get at. Suggestions on how one might proceed, given the new understanding of where we are and what services we have to work with.
"IT’S A COMPLICATED, TIME CONSUMING PROCESS THAT TAKES OVER A LIFE."
It’s a complicated, time consuming process that takes over a life. It’s only natural that we spend a lot of time exchanging notes - not only is it long and drawn out, there are many pitfalls. Services expect certain responses and delay us if there are certain complications. We share with each other what might create barriers and how to navigate whatever system we’re moving through. Or we just moan about our given obstacles in exchanges where the systems are different. Venting is important.
Conversations with cisgender people often revolve around the systems as well: the polite people are curious about the experience, the struggle. They want to know all about it, and it colours their interaction with a transgender person, even if it doesn’t really change the gender treatment of that person. They’re particularly interested in our unique perspective; ‘You’ve seen both sides!’
A sentiment I find true in some ways and really not in others. It’s rather a lot more complicated than just seeing both sides: I was never a man. I was treated like one; people applied those expectations to me and my reaction was one of discomfort. I don’t think men find their place in society upsetting, but I have to nod and say I do have a slightly different perspective on gender dynamics than cisgender people. I wish I didn’t, and that makes discussion on the topic problematic.
There is so much more to me than my transition, even if it is a major undertaking like a degree course or building a house. It’s impossible to get away from it, even if it’s just this thing we’re doing. It’s my side job: that thing I fit around the rest of my life. I’m a writer (almost). I love my beer, I play Dungeons & Dragons. I’m a psychology student. I work at a charity supporting LGBT+ people, emphasis on the T. I’m in love with my fiancée. These things loom on my consciousness more than my transition. They’re more important to me.
Lately, when I meet a new transgender person (or anyone, but transgender people in particular), I make it a point to not talk about my transition. I’ll tell them about that other stuff: what I do, my interests, how life is going generally. I’ve noticed it stalls the conversation - they didn’t get my name, rank and serial number. They will often carry on by observing the ritual of trading transition details despite the fact that I haven’t done that, and then they’ll prompt me by asking questions. Some will even go so far as ask me if I’m transgender even if it’s plain from the context of our meeting that I am.
"CISGENDER PEOPLE DON’T SEEM TO WORRY ABOUT THAT, BUT THEY HAVE CISGENDER ASSUMPTION ON THEIR SIDE, AND THEY’RE NOT IN THE HABIT OF DISCUSSING THEIR GENDER IDENTITY AND EXPRESSION."
Cisgender people don’t seem to worry about that, but they have cisgender assumption on their side, and they’re not in the habit of discussing their gender identity and expression. The conversation will usually turn to my transness, but only after I say something in conversation that prompts it. I don’t mind that. I’m not sure why it matters that it isn’t the first thing to come up, but it does. Being transgender just isn’t the first thing I want to discuss, even if I’m perfectly comfortable discussing it - I even encourage it. It’s important to me that I express my transness, even if I don’t want to get into the details of my transition.
That transitioning is actually a small part of being transgender despite the scale of the project is probably why. Social issues that rise from transphobia and gender conformity are important; a much larger part of being transgender. Being transgender, in itself, isn’t actually a problem. Actually, the treatment transgender people suffer from society is what causes the many mental health issues we face. I’m visibly transitioning because I’m not done, but the goal is to be visibly transgender; to normalise that fact about me. To make it unimportant.
There’s an irony in having to make it an important fact about me in order to make it unimportant. Getting away from the discussion of transition itself is a small way of biting back at the attention it gets, but it’s also just boring. I’ve been talking about transitioning, my own or other people’s, non stop for just over a year. It’s time to move on and find some new territory - a transgender space that isn’t about transitioning. If the start is to get away from the ritual of trading transition notes, then perhaps we should.