This blog post was inspired by a very well written story in the July 2nd edition of the Vancouver Sun, about transgender youth and the difficulties they face.
Besides being pleased that the reporter was able to get the pronouns correct throughout the article, which doesn’t happen as often as it should, this article got me thinking a little more about that recurrent whine of mine that I wish I wish oh how I wish, I had transitioned when I was younger.
When I was younger, the calendars read 1960’s and 1970’s, and in those days you would never have seen an article written with this much respect and compassion. It would only have been written with some sordid, sensationalist angle, and thus any youth who happened to read it would see that to be transgender (transsexual was the term used then) was to be a freak and a target. And what young person struggling to cope with all these feelings of difference and isolation already would invite more of that? So, realistically, transitioning when I was younger was something I would not, and did not, even have considered. Not then.
Today, things are different, not perfect, but much better. There is more understanding, more support, more connection for transgender youth. And so I gaze at their unmarked faces, smoothly morphing into their true gender with the help of timely hormone therapy, and my happiness for them is tinged with a bitterness that I really wasn’t given those same opportunities and have lived the greater half of my life as the wrong gender.
But the Sun article made me realize a few things and the more I thought about it the more I could also see the advantage of transitioning later in life, at least for me. When I was young I was immature, more immature than my peers. That was partially from being so isolated and not feeling like I fit in, so I escaped into my own head, where growing up was not really all that necessary. I had no friends, really. I felt tenuous, invisible and easily lost. A lot of marginalized youth feel like that. Add to that the financial dependence on family, the lack of a long work history, possible lack of independence of any kind, and the risks of transitioning as a youth seem almost as perilous to me now as it did to me when I was young. A recurrent theme of youthful transitioning is conflict, and possibly exclusion of family, possibly loss of friends when peer connections are most important, and bullying, isolation and discrimination. A young person’s word isn’t always respected as much and they may be doubted more when they proclaim their identity. Add to that a general lack of life experience and the wisdom that comes from being in the world for a longer time, and it is evident that transitioning as a youth is a very difficult thing.
On the other hand… they usually look great, their bodies don’t morph entirely into some horrid opposite-gender thing, and they have a lifetime ahead of them to live as themselves. Those are the things I envy them for, but now I have thought more of the difficulties and compare it to my own path, I can see in some ways it was better for me to have transitioned later in life.
What is not better, is that I spent so many years feeling unhappy and lost, not real, and not even knowing exactly why. I spent many years abusing drugs and alcohol to numb myself. What is not better is that, while it took decades to really settle in, my puberty produced distinctly male characteristics that are difficult to overcome. What is not better is that I lived those years not understanding what true joy and feeling real, what a sense of belonging felt like.
What was better for me though, was that I was mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually more prepared when I finally transitioned. I had independence, I had experience, I had a long-term relationship that anchored me, I had long-lasting relationships with people who I had shared life’s ups and downs with. I had roots in a community. I had employment and an extensive and varied enough employment history that I knew how workplaces functioned. I had survived a lot of loss and grief, and learned a lot about how people are. All of this made me much more prepared to face any difficulties when I transitioned.
My transition has been fairly smooth and very life affirming, and I believe that has a lot to do with who surrounds me in my life and how I have learned to understand the society around me. In my teens, even my twenties… all of that would have been tenuous at best. It could have been disastrous for me back then. I was so weak and wavering, so unsteady on my feet.
I may have days where I wish I wish oh how I wish I would have done this sooner, with my whole life ahead of me, but everything happens when you are ready for it to happen.
Besides, transitioning has brought me a second puberty and I feel so young these days that it’s like being twenty all over again. That would have been wasted on someone who already was twenty.