Transitioning early in life: Cheryl's advice

(ed. note: I've changed her name to protect her privacy. -A)

Cheryl went full-time in college. She sent the following advice to me in 1999, when she was 21. See my comments following her advice.

Well if you don't know by now I'm attending a college located in the middle of nowhere with the nearest large cities being Indianapolis and Chicago area. There is a small community of TSs, but that doesn't help someone of my age since the members are 35+ yrs old. As far as I know I'm the only TS student with one pre-op TS, Michele, who is a technician at the school.

Housing & Roommates

In my opinion, the two most important things to be aware of in college is where you are living and who your roommates are. The majority of people tend to live in the dorms. This is not the place to transition. When you sign the housing agreement, you are bound by it to stay for the Fall and Spring semesters. This type of housing works fine if you are still entertaining the thought of transitioning. If you have begun hormones or will be before your agreement is up, keep in mind that they work very quickly when you are young and being in a men's dorm you will draw attention. This is especially true when spring comes around and hiding yourself becomes more difficult.

Please learn from my mistake. I'm in a guy's dorm until late spring, with a roommate I do not wish to come out to, and very quickly drawing more attention because of my face and body. Not a very good situation to be in! My recommendation would be to live in an apartment during transitioning. This doesn't offer the quiet environment and comfort of the dorms, but you gain the ability to crossdress freely and draw less attention from the tenants.

This is where the choosing of roommates becomes an important issue. My recommendation is to not even attempt transition in your freshman or even sophomore year. This is the time where you have to meet new friends and decide who you can trust; these are the people you will want to live with. Keep in mind though, your best friend might not always turn out to be the best roommate, I've seen this happen. It would be great to live in an apartment alone during your transition, but living alone is very expensive and even if you can afford it, the extra money would be better spent on things related to transitioning. The most important thing when choosing your roommates is to remember that depending on your transition timetable, they will probably have to be told about your situation. You need to pick people you believe will support you and maintain your privacy.

The only other TS student I have known about on my campus had this happen to him, I learned about this from the a school therapist I had seen. His roommates found out about his crossdressing and basically kicked him out of the apartment threatening to tell the campus. Needless to say, her was forced to leave the school about two years ago. This is part of the reason I am hesitant in telling my friends as of yet.

Money

The other big issue is money. There are many ways to earn money in college. The amount you earn depends on the type of work you choose. Fast-food places, bookstores, school related employment are easy no-experience required jobs which are available usually at your convenience, most places allow you to create your own work schedule so as not to conflict with classes. These are good jobs for quick money, but the pay is rather poor and usually you cannot work too many hours.

The other type of employment is co-ops and internships. These are jobs offered by companies in the fields you are studying. Co-ops are positions offered by companies in conjunction with the school to give students work experience in their fields and at the same time allows the student to receive credit for the work that they are doing. This is a program that the student must enter, usually beginning after their freshman year, but varies depending on the school. The student then alternates semesters of work and school including summers. The most important thing about this program is that you gain relevant work experience, you begin after your freshman year, and the pay is usually equal to the starting pay of someone with a degree in your major. Although this is a worthwhile program, it will extend your stay in college at least a year. This is the path that I chose to follow.

Internships are slightly different. Many companies offer internships only to upper classman. Also, you do not gain any school credit for your work. The pay is usually very competitive and most internships are only for the summer. The difficulty is obtaining an internship, since your school will probably not help you too much in this area as they would with a co-op.

The only down side to co-ops and internships is that unless the company is near your home, you will have to be living on your own which means there will be expenses that cut into the money you are making. This is the reason why companies are willing to offer high wages. Keep in mind though, if you live with only the basic necessities you will end up with a fairly large amount of money when you return to school.

Going full-time

Now, the issue of whether or not to live full-time while at school. This is a very touchy area. If you are completely sure that you can integrate as a female by all means go ahead. For the rest of us, college is a great time to do electrolysis and to experiment if you feel the need.

Most people, aside from the all-important roommates, will not care about you unless you are trying to pass and aren't doing it very well. That is asking for trouble in this type of environment. In my experience, going to classes with a reddish face from electrolysis will draw less attention than you think. The biggest thing is a good cover story to keep the roommates satisfied if you haven't told them yet.

Since most of us will not be able to afford SRS and cosmetic surgery until after college, this should be the time to get all the other important things out of the way. By this I mean, electrolysis, growing out your hair, voice, mannerisms, therapy, and hormones. In my opinion, hormones shouldn't be started unless you are sure you will be able to pass after you graduate most likely without any facial alterations since you might not be able to afford this. I cannot recommend this, but in my case I began taking a low dosage of hormones since I was 20. Basically what this did was help me mentally, preserve my teenage face, and keep facial hair to a minimum with extremely minimal breast growth.

What you must keep in mind that in your final semester you will be going to interviews with companies. Your presentation will be very influential in obtaining a job. Looking like a guy in drag will not get you a job, neither will looking like a guy with breasts. You must be sure of what you want after right after graduation. Will attend your first job as a female or male? Will you pass enough to pull it off? Or, should your first job be as a male, until you have enough money for surgeries? How will you hide any physical changes which have occurred? These are the questions you need to ask yourself.The issue of outward appearance is not very important in college. There is no dress code and people don't care what one dresses in. Androgyny is probably your best bet if you do not wish to look completely male. This will also go along with growing out your hair. I usually attend class, in oversized sweatshirts and either jeans, jogging pants, or break-aways. This doesn't draw attention to me and it's better than wearing something like a shirt and khakis.

Parents

Telling your parents is probably the most difficult thing in transitioning. Fear is a great inhibitor. Most importantly there will never be a right time to tell them, the idea of "a perfect time to tell them" is a myth that is propagated by your fears. Unless you truly feel you will be kicked out of the house or have their financial support be pulled, you should tell them as soon as possible. I waited many years because I feared that my parents would stop paying my tuition. When I finally told them, they weren't happy with my plans and are totally against transition, but they do still love me and do want me to finish school. They have also been helpful in many other ways.Well there are a few things to keep in mind before telling them. Reactions vary, but if you examine your relationship to your parents and the type of people they are, you may be able to guess their reaction. Remember that the love from a parent is the strongest love there is. It will help them overcome your situation, not on the day you tell them or a week after, but hopefully in the long run.

Now, why should you tell your parents? I have found that there are two very important reasons for telling them. The first is to easy your state of mind and finally have a truthful relationship with them. Keeping a secret of this magnitude puts a large strain on your mind. Doing well in college is very important and requires you to be working on all cylinders. I have discovered that after telling my parents I am much more able to concentrate and focus on school. I still have the problems of transitioning, but one very large monkey is off my back. I now know that if I have a problem I can now openly speak to my parents about it without having to fabricate lies.

The second reason may not apply to everyone. If your parents decide to support you and they have insurance, you are still covered by it as long as you stay in school. If you can find competent doctors willing to maybe bend some rules, insurance can do wonders for you. You may be covered for therapy and hormones, although SRS and cosmetic surgery are a very long shot. In my case my parents insurance is covering therapy and will cover hormones and medical bills as soon as I can get them from a doctor covered by my mom's insurance plan. I am very happy about this because to this point, I have been paying for hormones out of my own pocket, although blood tests have come through the student health center at school which is free. Anyway, that was extremely expensive. This was money I could have saved to be used for electrolysis or surgery. Again, this may not apply to everyone.

Therapy and Support

Support groups and therapy are not hard to find as long as you are in a larger city. For those schools which are located in isolated areas of the country, like mine, this may be more difficult.

As for support, most schools have a gay and lesbian community with one or more organizations to support them. Most likely they are also accepting of transsexuals. The only problem is, you might be the only transsexual on campus, they tend to group crossdressers into the TG category too. In my case I am the only "true" TS student in this school that the organizations or I know of. The good thing about these organizations is that they will support and fight for your rights if necessary, but remember that this will draw unnecessary attention to yourself since a TS is more unique than some who is gay. What this means is that you should choose wisely what you will do during your transition and try to be as stealth as possible. The down side is that again, you may end up being the only TS in the school and talking to people in the organizations might not get some of your issues resolved.

You may need to look outside the school if a support group is what you are looking for. Keep in mind that being of college age, you will most likely be the youngest person at the support group. The older members of the community seem to be the ones that attend support groups more often than the younger members.

Therapy is a different issue. There are many reasons to seek therapy. Most TSs seek out a therapist to obtain hormones and letters of recommendation for SRS. Another important reason to seek therapy is to resolve any doubts about yourself and to come to terms with who you are. This is an important issue to work out before you decide to alter yourself through hormones and surgery.

The student health center provides counseling and therapy for students. In my school, you are allowed one free visit to a psychologist per semester and 7 visits to a counselor per semester. This is great if you have issues other than being TG, not to say that the therapist cannot help you with something like depression which is related to being TG. Unless you are extremely lucky, the counselors and psychologist at your school will not be qualified to treat your case. They are mostly trained to handle things like depression, anxiety, drug habits, etc. The psychologist I saw at my school was very honest with me and said that he couldn't help with my TG problem, but did offer to find me help outside the school and also helped me to get over my depression. To obtain therapy you will most likely have to search for a qualified therapist in a nearby city. This is where your parents insurance would be invaluable sine therapists tend to be extremely expensive.


Andrea's comments

College can be the perfect place to transition if you do it carefully. I'll be adding more on this eventually, but if you are in college and you know you want to do this, I strongly urge you to get going now!

Gay and lesbian groups on campus can often be a place to get some much-needed support and even find roommates. Check them out! I'm not a big fan of TS support groups unless the group has people your age. Most younger TSs don't have especially good experiences with these support groups.

If you want to find a therapist or sympathetic doctor on campus, school counselors can be a good place to start. They are ethically bound to keep your information confidential.

Telling parents is as crucial for young TSs (especially if you still live at home) as going full-time is. How you handle it will make a huge difference in how smoothly things go. You must prepare carefully. See my advice on coming out to parents in this section.

The other big turning point is going full-time. You must do this based on a thought-out but flexible timetable. As Cheryl notes, you must be at a point where your appearance will not have an effect on your ability to get a job. Ask yourself: Do you (and be honest) think you could interview and get hired in female mode without being clocked, or at least without your transsexual status being an distraction or a negative for the person hiring you? If not, it might be wise to wait to interview in female mode until you can function in society in a female role. See my section on employment issues for details.


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If you transitioned in your teens or twenties and have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.