Transitioning early in life: Shelly's advice

(Editor's note: I've changed her name and removed some details to protect her privacy. Words in blue are revised by me, but [brackets] are part of the original letter and are not indications of editorial changes, but rather of the author's style.)

Shelly sent me the following coming-out letter in May 2003. Previously, I probably would not have put this up because Shelly is a little older than the intended audience of this section, but the issues she's been dealing with are sometimes issues for younger people. I am working to expand this section to include many different ways that younger people begin transition, especially from underrepresented ethnicities.

In addition, some of us may not be completely sure if transition is right for us, or we may have other issues we need to work through before we get to where we can deal with transition. It's important to think hard about the questions and to take a good hard look at what is right for you.

Having said that, here's a great story from someone who felt hopeless and has finally found a way to start working toward her dreams. As always, the first step was reaching out to those who could help her. Writing a letter like this can help you to collect your thoughts, and then you can be there when you read it to your parents, or you let them read it while you're there. It's really hard to do this, which is why a letter can make things a little easier.

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Dear Andrea,

Very warm welcomes. It took one year of psychotherapy, identity management, and numerous LGBT support groups JUST to be able to realize the beginning of a transition process.

Before this one year, I was trapped by 16 months of substance abuse; two nervous breakdowns (for "identity crisis") and a hospitalization at the emergency room for attempted suicide.

Running searches on the web gave me your invaluable pages. I'll toss into the "offering plate" whenever and wherever I can. Its tough as hell to become a reentry student preparing for a new career.

I'm 26 with a birthday in December coming up... and my new career is in the culinary arts. =) I do not know if the following coming out letter [written for my parents] would be a good idea or not, but the end result of it was I got extended support from my mom's side.

[letter to parents]

May 22, 2003

I had to write another letter. If one would think “we have covered everything already” then I consider the person very, very wrong. This letter is not about “coming out” per se, it is about the three years of self-torture, self-abuse, and internalized fears that I have suffered enough. I am personally unable to tell this story. My truer identity, Mz. Shelly must tell her street stories from November 16, 1995 to present:

From the time period encompassing 1995 to 2000, I made no emotional progress. In fact, I even went “backwards” by setting aside my personal needs for the needs of the family (bounded by Hispanic culture). At the closing of Senior High School (from 1991 to 1995), I was very much afraid of socialized settings. My biggest fears was simply ‘intermixing’ in a crowd of people because I was “stared down” by classmates. I was developmentally slower than the rest of my class for taking Basic English classes combined with speech therapy. I couldn’t spend time in finding my sense of self because of the following events from 1995 to 2000:

November 2000

I joined the rave and dance subculture in hopes of finding socialized acceptance of my “Questioning” identity crisis/management as potentially LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender, or Questioning]. Back then; I had the appearance of a Narcotics Police Officer looking for drugs to shut down parties.

This message was clearly communicated to me after that night. I was socially rejected for trying to hard to be like them. Three months later, I decided to do their drugs in hopes of acceptance.

February 2001

I’ve done ecstasy for the first time. I knew exactly what was about to happen due to three months of “research”. Even high, I felt un accepting of myself or my surroundings. That is, until I decided to “occasionally do more drugs”.

February 2001 – June 2002

Sixteen months of drug use. I learned how to become a drug addict by “controlling my usage” and allowing others to share their drugs with me (oral drugs, not intravenous). My primary reason for using the drugs was to dull my feelings about “coming out” toward the family as transgender.

THE FEAR GAME (08-2001 to 06-2002)

In terms of the “coming out [of the closet]” process, I have already described such hellish way to come out on campus. I thought I had my friends and support, but I guess that wasn’t the case. I was constantly fed Christian versions of “you're going to hell” that were grossly inappropriate from even trusted counselors on campus. This is what led into that crazy night of November 5, 2002.

The primary reason why I decided to “come out” by letter is simple: I am certain that you would read through every last word that I have cared so much to write. If I were to come out by person, I would get interrupted by various questions such as, “are you sure?” “You’ve chosen a hard life” “People will not understand you” and crap like this. I am not saying that these statements have no substance; however, as this paper proves, I HAD a most difficult life in readjusting.

When I kept saying, “It already happened” I was talking about this. This meaning, I’ve already been raped and molested on the street and subjected to massive abuse at college. I’ve already been stared down and in my view laughed at because “no man can ever be a girl.” People are absolutely narrow minded to even define a gender based on what is [or is not] between a person’s legs.

I know you hate hearing this especially from me; however, in my exact same mind I am carefully weighing the devastating effects of not telling you only to “find out” by someone else and then getting very angry leading into kicking me out which also leads into distress. I’ve already been there. It resulted in attempted suicide. That date was August 7, 2002.

NEGATIVE STREET EXPERIENCES

Because of the perceived lack of familial support, I explicitly searched the streets of Los Angeles looking for an “accepting second family”. In the month of May 2002, a 48yo man looking to “date” seduced me. I was raped; threatened by handgun [even though no handgun existed]; ordered to comply with actions else I feared battery and physical assault on top of that. I was injured for two days but failed to report the crimes because I believed the Police Department would have placed the blame on me because I was homosexual.

In the same month, an older man again seduced me. That led into a “single night date” till 3:30am in the city of ___. My reward? I was off the street for the night and given a t-shirt.

I was simply living on the street due to internalized fear that I would get kicked out of the house by “coming out” as a transgender person.

A PLEA FOR HELP

Almost all transsexual youth and young adults go through rather traumatic experiences in hopes of identity management and acceptance from the transsexual’s support network consisting of friends, family (local and extended), and community. Due to the AIDS epidemic of 1981, it was made clear to the heterosexual community that “Those queers started this, now let God burn them all to hell”. I am not responsible for 1981. I was five years old back then. What possibly could I have done to inflect such unwarranted statements simply because I am not heterosexual?

REALITIES TRANSSEXUALS FACE

1. Parental Abuse, Neglect, Abandonment (your not my son/daughter, s/he’s crazy), or refusal to discuss LGBTQ Issues.
2. Homelessness (either runaway or throw-away) because of sexual orientation/gender identity (Living on the street)
3. Prostitution / Sex for Survival (or perception of such; I was subject to this crap but refused to take the ride)
4. Substance abuse (Using and dealing drugs to dull feelings)
5. Isolation and Depression (try five years)
6. High risk for suicide (yes. Six times.)
7. Victim of Sexual Assault and rape (Been there – not reported)
8. Harassment at school and work (August 2002, losing friends)
9. High School and College Dropouts (February 2003. Dean told me)
10. Illegal Hormone Usage (because parents doesn’t believe the youth is transsexual so youth will go to Mexico and get it done)
11. Injection of Silicone or Oil to Feminize the Body (Kind of like performing an Illegal Abortion because to hide the fact the woman got pregnant in the first place)
12. Lack of Legal Protection (Its on the books, yet most transsexuals do not know about the laws)
13. Medical Care not rendered (some insurance carriers consider sex-reassignment surgery and hormone replacements (HRTs) to be ‘cosmetic’ and not viable treatments for Gender Identity Disorder (GID) (Insurance code 302.6) such statements are false
14. Lack of knowledge by primary care physicians about transgender youth.
15. Lack of awareness of HIV/AIDS and the transsexual
16. No current information (widely published) about transsexualism and its transition process(s) for family and loved ones
17. Lack of adequate training for mental health professionals about transsexuals in transition.
18. Transsexual / Transgender youth face the highest risk for suicide, prostitution, hate crimes, intolerance simply because we are in the closet (still). History is sporadic and disconnected at best; completely non-existent and denial at worst.

REALITY SHOTS

So we do not exist in the heterosexual world. We’ve already been subjected to massive abuse, rapes, murders, and discriminatory practices. This is who we are; it’s not about playing “dress up”. It is about living in the life of the more appropriate gender than what we were assigned with.

Just as a gay man or a lesbian woman cannot be “forced to act heterosexual”, neither can a transgender or transsexual person because such lines of thinking focuses solely on behavioral patterns and not a person’s orientation. A behavior can be fixed; a person’s physical, emotional and spiritual attraction to another person cannot.

Gender identity and expression encompasses the human soul and sprit: As such requires taking into account the “wholeness” of a human being. Such approaches demand a holistic (or humanistic) treatment that inventories a person’s character.

Every year, five hundred thousand American youth attempt suicide, if that figure is not startling enough; four thousand (4000) actually complete such task(s). The California Assembly introduced and passed Assembly Bill 537 (better known as the Student Safety and Violence Prevention of 2000), which explicitly includes a person’s “perceived sex or sexual orientation” is protected from discriminatory practices.

A TRANSEXUAL’S PLAN OF TRANSITION

A transsexual (TS) cannot reasonably request that his or her “gender past” is not known. Every day, a TS interacts in the course of ze’s (ze is a gender-neutral word as the letter “Z” denotes a replaceable letter from (h)e to (sh)e) life. Therefore, a person from ze’s “gender past” can reappear into ze’s reassigned gender and must address those issues on a case-by-case basis.

Every day, a TS continues records at employment, housing, financial institutions, creditors, law enforcement and social service agencies (such as the Department of Motor Vehicles), etc. In an ideal sense, a transsexual completes a legal name change (LNC) and updates ze’s records using a signed judge’s decree as evidence of such name change. If it were that simple, a transsexual would simply get all ze’s records updated after simply appearing in front of a judge.

Psychological Barriers for a Transsexual

Although there are no guidelines for mental-health professionals that prevent a transsexual from starting ze’s transition, [the] gay civil rights history seems to provide us with several clues:

1. The Department of Defense citing that homosexuals are “unstable, unsuitable persons”
2. Feeling personally blamed for the 1978 “Gay Related Immune Disease” (GRID).
3. Constantly told that ze’s actions are illegal and immoral
4. That ze’s “gender presentation” is simply a behavioral problem that can be fixed by “change therapy”
5. The political process of “coming out” as transsexual
6. Transsexuals subjected to erroneous sex crimes that doesn’t happen

These psychological barriers are answered in time that a transsexual realizes the following:

1. The Department of Defense made such comments during the cold war where “secrets” of a man’s intelligence position(s) can be discredited once one found out he was homosexual.
2. If ze’s date of birth is after 1978, then ze was not responsible much less subject to creating the GRID/AIDS problem.
3. Ze reconciles that the entire world is not heterosexual and requires a cultural change to include TS into the heterosexual world.
4. Ze reconciles that if dressing in an opposite gender is “behavioral” then ze would have stopped dressing on ze’s own. If ze continues dressing in the opposite gender, then ze’s “gender presentation” is truly that opposite from birth. (This provision is also known as the ‘real life experience’)
5. Ze must be comfortable with ze’s gender presentation. If ze is not comfortable, ze must continue the coming out process and integrate ze’s new gender into ze’s current heterosexual world.
6. Ze realizes that its part of LGBTQ history that police departments set up stings in order to target this sexual-minority group. To prevent the filing of ze’s supposed “crimes” ze must become familiar with non-discrimination laws and take full advantage of them. When any individual requests a petition for change of name, the court specifically asks the petitioner whether or not ze is required to register as a sex-offender pursuant to Megan’s Law. The court will run a computerized check against the state’s sex-offender’s database to see if ze must register in ze’s new name.

The Transsexual’s Decision to Begin Transition

After ze fully recognizes the fact of difference and ze’s difference in ‘gender presentation’ the transsexual makes a decision that it is time to transition between genders. Through emotional preparation and psychological intervention, a transsexual documents three months of serious discussion and consequences for “coming out” as transsexual.A Transsexual’s timeline

As the political “coming out” process continues, ze must decide who needs to be told about ze’s transsexual status first. Usually, ze considers the following factors:

1. Is ze is comfortable with ze’s sense of self and identity?
2. Does ze have the family support if ze is at home?
3. Is ze in a line of work that is more accepting of transsexuals?

There are other factors that a transsexual considers besides these simple three. Personal factors, relationships, and etc. are evaluated specific to ze’s needs as no person can tell ze how one would react after coming out. For me specifically, Mz. Shelly, she has considered the following factors that make the decision to transition viable:

1. Shelly is 100% comfortable with the general transsexual process
2. Shelly has support from her mother’s extended family
3. Shelly has support at her place of employment (even one of her supervisors is transgender)
4. Shelly is in a college major that is more accepting of transsexuals (Culinary Arts)
5. Shelly can comfortably use the time allotted in the culinary arts program (2.5 years) for almost her entire transitional process.Mz. Shelly M's transgender timeline

Based on the above questions and factors that have direct bearing upon the decision to transition into becoming a female, Shelly has employed the following timeline:

Pre Coming Out (1995 to May 2002)

1. Sexual identity management and exploration
2. Realizing the difference and attraction
3. Identity self-awareness and expression

Coming out (May 2002 to May 2003)

1. Identifying as part of the LGBTQ community
2. Acknowledging same-sex attractions
3. Acceptance and self-disclosure
4. Identity management

Coming to Terms with Decision to Transition (May 2003)

1. Coming out as transsexual to work supervisors
2. Reassessing identity with close college friends
3. Attending coming out support group
4. Defining emotional coping skills (through Sunday NA)

The Transition Process (May 2003 to December 2003)

1. 6/2/2003 to 7/31/2003 Summer Work Session
2. 6/11/2003 Psychology Exams
3. 6/16 – 7/31 Summer Academic Session
4. 6/2 – 8/14 Join Medi-Cal. Get PCP referral to treat Gender Identity Disorder (302.6) through Hormone Replacements
5. 7/31 – 8/14 Summer Break
6. 8/14 – 10/14 1Q Study (Start Dressing in Female Clothing)
7. 10/14 File Petition to Change Name, publish order to show cause at court hearing
8. 12/12 at 0830am Hearing to Show Cause for Name Change; decree signed

NOTE: For the fall 2003 academic term, I qualify for a federal pell grant. Such checks are ordered by 8/8/03, 10/17, and 12/5 (approximate dates). 1st week of school, 9th week and finally 15th week. My legal name change into Mz. Shelly M will take place AFTER my fall 2003 pell grant has been paid.

Procedures after decree is signed

1. 12/12 Make DMV Appointment for new ID card
2. Take decree to Social Security for updated SS Card
3. New DMV ID comes in mail (around 1/27/04)
4. Update student records at city collage
5. Update Human Resources records
6. Update Checking Account and order new checks

Additional Procedures

1. Live Spring 2004 as female; continue schooling
2. Provide Gender Identity Disorder (GID) paperwork if requested

Although I realize that I wouldn't "pass" firsthand; however, while in the culinary arts program, that gives 2.5 years to live as female and learn. This strategy would enable me to pretty much "fly under radar" except with my family and at school. In terms of finding a executive chef's position, I'll windup relocating over to Las Vegas, NV where my sister lives!! =^.^=


Andrea's comments

While I don't agree with every opinion in Shelly's excellent letter to her mom, I do feel that we are at higher risk of a lot of problems, which is why we have to work together to support each other in the face of society's disapproval. That means taking positive steps to prove them all wrong. Your success will be an even sweeter victory when it happens despite all the naysyaers!

Sometimes explaining how hard this is can be a good way to get your parents to understand. You have to think hard about what your parents think, though. My parents would have freaked out if I came out with this letter, because they would start to fear the worst and might have moral issues with some of this stuff. For some people, it's better to point parents to positive role models and women who live in the mainstream. Still, if your parents understand the realities we face, they may want to help you avoid all that. Personally, I recommend talking about how most of us end up having happy lives, but much of that depends on the support we get. Many of the women who end up having problems have little or no family support.

In addition, many parents would not want you to be out on the street or putting yourself in danger rather than tell them what's going on. However, everyone reacts differently to our news, so it is extremely important that you plan carefully when you come out, especially if you still live at home. If you live at home, this is probably the "make or break" moment, so have a good plan in place, including a place to go if your parents freak out.

I'm not going to give a lecture on drugs, because that would be hypocritical of me. However, if you are using drugs to escape something or avoid something, you are headed down a very dangerous path. I spent my share of time in the club scene, and it can be great fun, but there are a lot of kinds of people in a scene like that, and some are pretty damaged or dangerous. Have fun (you're young, after all), but don't let the stuff consume your life. Otherwise you'll turn 30 and wonder what happened to your 20's, and you might have blown money that could have gotten you done with everything on drugs. Moderation in all things is the best route, if you ask me.

Usually parents will not be completely accepting or rejecting on the spot, you'll probably need to talk to them several times before they completely understand. See the section on coming out for details.

A plan like this is very important. You can't hit a target that doesn't exist. Vague fantasies about wanting to do something rarely materialize. You have to make your dreams real by setting down a serious plan. Otherwise other things will start to take over you life, and you'll get distracted, depressed, and lost.

We face a lot of harassment when we are young, which can leave us feeling very disoriented and disconnected. It's tough, but try to reach out to people who can help you. Find someone in your area who has done this, and follow their lead. Read sites by women who have done all this, and come up with a plan. Don't relent to the people who tried to convince you that you were worthless. Prove how wrong they were! You are an amazing person with so much to offer!

Thanks to Shelly for sharing this personal note to her parents, along with her timeline and message of hope!


Send me your thoughts, links, and advice!

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.