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All other things being equal

I’ve said many times before that I don’t believe in second-guessing anyone’s decision to transition. But there are many trans people out there who are still figuring things out, and looking for advice. This is for them, and for anyone who might be in a position of advising them.

I wrote years ago that we can divide trans people into five groups. One group would commit suicide if they didn’t transition, another would commit suicide if they did transition. There are people who might not commit suicide if they didn’t transition, but they’d still be pretty miserable, and people who would be miserable if they did transition. Then there are people who could make it work either way.

I would put myself in the “transition optional” group, and I’ve argued before that it’s probably the biggest group. Note that this grouping is not meant to indicate some essential or immutable qualities. They are states of mind, and people can and do shift from one state to another based on the circumstances in their lives.

There’s something that I think needs to be said, and I don’t think I’ve ever said it before: If you don’t have to transition, it’s not a good idea to transition. Medical procedures (hormones and surgery) will disrupt the functions of your body and leave it more vulnerable to biological and social challenges. Being visibly trans invites harassment and discrimination. The process of transition can alienate friends and family. These social factors may not be fair, but they are there.

Some of you might be thinking, “well, yeah, that’s obvious,” but there are a surprising number of people who act as though transition is always a good idea. Zinnia Jones famously created a site called “Should I Transition?” with one word on the page, “Yes,” indicating that if you’re asking the question then your destiny is to transition. For people like this there are no possible downsides and no false positives. And if any of them have read this far, they’ve probably marked me down already as an Enemy of Trans People for suggesting it.

So let me put my position out there: Should you transition? Only if you would be miserable otherwise.

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  1. Hi, My feeling is that this way of looking at things as an all or nothing choice is becoming out of date. Increasingly I meet people who are openly trans in ways which don’t fit this model. For example they mix both roles, or adopt an intermediate non-binary identity, etc.

  2. I tend to agree with the above comment. Gender incongruence, gender identity, and gender dysphoria are really complex things that unfortunately haven’t been studied enough. I definitely appreciate your blog talking about alternative ways of dealing with it, but I do think the old model of transitioning is on track to becoming obsolete just like the concept of the binary gender system. In reality, transition begins at a tipping point of no return and continues until a transgender person reaches the point they are most comfortable with weighing the benefits and costs of additional steps. It really is a la carte. Granted, in our current society, taking HRT does generally force a lot of a legal and social transition, but it doesn’t always. The reality is that even those that don’t medically transition, do take transitioning steps to improve their mental health and reduce the distress.

  3. I tend to disagree with you both. Sure, I know a lot of people who have transitioned to “nonbinary” identities, but I have yet to meet anyone who’s satisfied with that, or free from dysphoria.

    Ashley, the First Principle of this blog is that Nobody Really Knows What’s Going On, and that includes you. No, you don’t get to come on here and make unfounded generalizations from your friends’ experiences prefaced by “in reality…” In reality you have no clue. I deleted your second comment presenting unfounded speculation about biological underpinnings as fact. Please avoid this in the future.

  4. Fine. I might have overplayed my argument and inappropriately extrapolated my own experiences too much, but there’s no need to be rude. Pick on my arguments and use of language all you want, but personal attacks are unnecessary. As someone who suffers from gender dysphoria and has been trying hard to avoid transitioning socially or medically, I do have insight into this condition and how it’s manifested for me. In other words, I do have a clue. If you’re so quick to delete comments and police discussion, what’s the point in the comment form?

  5. I just wanted to say I’m so glad I found your blog. I’m an author who writes a suspense novel series that uses fiction to show the reality of what it’s like for kids who live on the streets of Chicago. Right now I am battling with how to authentically portray what it’s like for the many LGBTQ kids who are on the streets because of their gender identity. One of the ways I am doing this is by having one of my main characters be Avril, who identifies as transvestite not because she wants to transition to female, but because, in her view she looks “damn wearing makeup, a wig, and one damn expensive pair of Jimmy Choo’s.” It is important to me to have her come across as real, and not like some caricature as envisioned by a straight white woman who does not have a clue (in other words–me!). By reading your thoughts as shared here, I hope to to come close to achieving that goal. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Debra, I’m glad you’re trying to write realistic characters, and I’m glad you’re writing about transvestites. I hope my blog will be helpful for general information. But I’m not a kid any more, I’ve never lived on the streets, and I only lived in Chicago for a year. I doubt any street kids now would use any of the language I use. I hope you talk to some people who are closer to the kind of kids you’ll be writing about. Good luck!

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