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Four transgender paths

I’ve written before about how important it is to separate transgender feelings and beliefs from the actions we take in response to those feelings and beliefs. Some of these actions are spontaneous and impulsive, but many are deliberate and goal-oriented. Everyone’s trans journey is individual, but I think there are four main paths that people take.

Stanley Park 038-001The best-known path is that of out transition, followed by celebrities like Laverne Cox and Chaz Bono. This path leads to the goal of a different social gender classification, and also social classification as transgender. It involves actions to transition, like body modifications and legal gender changes, and also actions to be or remain out, like declarations of intent to transition or disclosure of past transition.

The second path is the closet, which may not seem like an active path. It leads to maintaining the gender that was assigned at birth, as well as a social classification as “normal” – not trans, and usually not gay. But people who choose the closet actually have to do a lot to maintain their “normal” status: joining secret clubs, constructing elaborate stories to explain their shaved bodies or trips to Provincetown, building literal hiding places for their clothing.

A third path is stealth transition, which aims for a new social gender classification but to keep the status of “normal” and not transgender, and involves the actions of transition plus those of the closet.

The fourth path is the one I have chosen. I reject repression, and I have found that I do not need the closet, but I have also decided that transition is not for me. My goal is to be socially classified as transgender, or maybe a transvestite, but not to permanently change the way that others see my gender. The only actions that I need for this goal are the “eternal coming out” – because even though I put up a web site in 1996, not everyone has read it, so I need to keep letting people know. And this path has worked very well for me. The vast majority of the stress that I felt as a teenager in the closet went away as I accepted myself and came out.

I know that I’m fortunate to be able to follow this path, through the acceptance of my family, friends, co-workers and customers. Some people choose the closet, and others truly have no choice.

You don’t hear a lot about those of us on the fourth path. It’s a bit harder and lonelier than I thought it would be when I chose it back in 1996. But it’s here. It’s not repression, and it’s not transition. It’s another way of dealing with the trans feelings, and it might work for you. Please respect it.

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  1. Dear Andrea,

    As I’ve been commenting to you I’ve been trying to sort out my own feelings and I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice. This is probably not the ideal post for this discussion but I hope you don’t mind.

    I defined myself as transgender based on ny persistent fantasies, desires, and envies of females since I was in pre-school. And with that definition I’ve been exploring it further, buying some clothing (although as yet not enough to fully dress) and considering attending a local support group meeting. It’s been exciting to freely perform those explorations, gender fogging on a small scale I suppose. But lately I’m becoming ambivalent. So that’s why this post of yours was very interesting for me.

    According to Wikipedia, to be transgender means one must not identify with their assigned sex’s gender. But, try as I might, I’m not sure this applies to me. I enjoy some aspects of being or thinking feminine but I need more clarity.

    In your journey, where do you fit in these considerations? I wonder if, for example, you consider yourself TG but don’t fully feel your gender is female and therefore your fourth path feels most appropriate for you? Maybe you have a post(s) that cover this, but there so many!

    Thanks very much for whatever light you can shine on thus.

    BTW: I wish there was a way for me to selectively “follow” one or more of your posts, that I would receive an email when, for example, a new comment was added. As it is now, when I post a comment I have to remember to check back, recall which post(s) I commented on, and navigate to them. Not as reader-friendly as I think you want.



  2. Emma, if you want to follow the comments for a post, look right under the post text for the RSS feed and put that in your reader. You can also subscribe to the RSS feed for all comments, which you can find in the “Meta” section at the bottom of the right column.

    Here’s a post that addresses your question: I don’t identify with a particular gender because I value skepticism. Trans women who have an unshakeable belief that they’re “really a woman” may find that that belief helps ease the emotional stress of transition, but they may not. I don’t think such beliefs are absolutely necessary for a successful transition, and I don’t think people who have such beliefs absolutely need to transition.

    The best way to decide whether you should transition is to imagine the best possible transition and the worst possible transition, and then imagine the best and worst possible outcomes if you don’t transition. Which is most likely? Which are you most prepared to live with? Ideally, this should be done when you’re out of the gender fog (at least two weeks after the last significant gender event).

    I hope that helps!

  3. I’m trying to figure out where my experience fits in relation to your “paths”. Perhaps it’s not in the domain your paths are trying to accommodate, because I don’t identify as trans, but I do experience gender dysphoria. I found your blog while looking for stories of people who deal with gender dysphoria without transitioning and without holding that they “really are” a gender different from their assigned gender.

    If I am within the domain that you’re trying to cover, I’m trying to figure out whether I fall within your “closet” category or not. I suspect not. I do “maintain the gender that was assigned at birth” (female, in my case), but I’m not so sure I maintain a social classification as “normal”. I’m not explicit about my gender dysphoria to the world at large, but most people who become friends hear about it sooner or later. I mostly wear men’s clothing in my daily life because that’s what makes me more comfortable (easier to get away socially in that direction than in the other direction…). I imagine most people who encounter me notice this, though very few comment on it. I sometimes get read as male by strangers, which produces neither euphoria nor dysphoria. I don’t do any secret transgender stuff – hiding clothes, joining secret groups, etc – unless you count talking about gender stuff only to people I more or less trust as doing secret stuff. Basically I just try to get on with life while managing my dysphoria as best I can, which for me includes not episodes of presenting myself as a different gender, but ongoing nonstandard gender expression – without trying to be seen as male or as trans or explicitly coming out to the world at large.

  4. Thanks, Seren! It can be different for people on the “masculine spectrum.” As you say, it’s often easier socially for a “woman” to wear men’s clothes than for a “man” to wear women’s clothes, which is why those of us going the other way often do it in private.

    How’s this for a test of whether you’re “in the closet”: Would someone in your workplace who has similar feelings be aware of you as a source of solidarity or sympathy, or as an example to follow?

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