Transitioning early in life: Veronica's advice

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

Veronica began transition just after college and went full-time in graduate school. She sent the following advice to me in 1999, when she was 20. She has written some smart and fantastic advice for young TSs, which I include in its entirety below. Emphasis is mine, and you might want to whip out the Webster's for some of the bigger words(what do you expect from someone smart enough to graduate from college a year early?). See my comments following her advice.

Begun

The prospect of being a young woman and not just a woman someday excites me. Before being swept into the endless ocean of middle-age, I want to experience something special, a period of life I would have had as a biological woman but one the majority of transsexuals are past when they begin their transformation. I chose to begin my transition at twenty-one having found myself for the first time in my life truly in control of my own destiny. After three years at a prominent midwestern university, I graduated early and there-by liberated myself from the host of social pressures which had canalized my life to that point. If you are a young transsexual reading this advice, then please take control of your own life. We are all beholden to outside pressures, but few discomforts outweigh the emotional, psychological and spiritual liberation of the transition to a female life.

When to begin?

As I just stated, I waited until I graduated from college to begin my transition. In hindsight I wish I had begun hormones a bit earlier, but I eventually took other measures to expedite my transition. In my opinion there is little to be gained by a transition in media res at college or even high school. Most transsexuals have a certain degree of emotional fragility and school can be a very bad place to come out.

Harassment, physical or psychological, might be too much for many transsexuals to deal with, especially given our young age. Of course transsexuals can face prejudices at any age and in any forum, but no one is hopefully so jaded as to forget the special insensitivity which abounds in places of learning. If you successfully transitioned in high school then you are truly a goddess and hopefully changed your name to Athena or Brunhilde or something.

I went to one of the more liberal universities in this country, but no matter a school's broad reputation for tolerance there are bound to be packs of meat-head guys and fraternity he-men who would love to make your life miserable, especially if infused with some liquid courage. Another bad place to come-out or even cross dress would be a dorm. Some people are simply freaked by TSs and they might find some sympathizers to an argument that one's TS lifestyle disrupts their own studies ("studies" is a word which unlike "life" a school's administration will never ignore). Unlike homosexuals, transsexuals are not a large or vociferous enough a group to ensure an administration's sympathy and protection. Of course this depends on the school, my alma mater the University of Michigan would have poured the wrath of God upon someone harassing a homosexual, transsexual or any similar individual. With this after-the-fact protection would come a lot of unwelcomed attention from both the scholastic and local media. I for one keep a low profile now and certainly would have done so had I transitioned in college. An option for those who believe themselves truly ready is to go androgynous rather than femme. Wool skirts are my favourite article of clothing, but Adidas soccer pants would probably be more appropriate for one trying to be inconspicuous while in transition.

Hair - a brief interlude:

Hair to me is the most precious thing in the world. If you have the means, begin your transition before you even start to lose a single hair to male pattern baldness! Smother in its sleep one of the ugliest monsters a transsexual can ever face. Hair is meant to be full, long and played with. Grow your hair out in high school or college. It will desensitize people to its appearance and make yourself feel SO much more feminine.

Feed your brain

If you are reading this then you already recognize the vast amounts of information available on the internet. College, however, is an opportune time to explore areas of knowledge which might bolster your understanding of sexual reassignment. Courses in biology, chemistry and psychology will all contain information relevant to the hormonal and mental aspects of the transformation. One course which I took and found invaluable was in the Physical Anthropology department. Their course on osteology introduced me to the skeletal system and made me appreciate the differences between male and female skeletons, particularly in the cranium and mandible (jaw). This knowledge proved powerful when seeking facial feminization surgery. Personally understanding a surgeon's technique was much less important to me than fully grasping the fundamental need for an alteration. Most people would be hard pressed to articulate the exact bony differences between men and women; to understand these differences will require some amount of education whether personally-directed or done in a formal academic setting.

Society, that pesky reality:

Social reorganization is an arena where the advantages of youth can help ease and even expedite the transition. The years following high-school and/or college are a period of natural change. We meet new friends and lose old ones. Fresh interests are explored which previously were just fancy and many old passions wither. Careers begin, often more than once. In short it is a perfect time to under take the physical and social reformation of one's self. Take advantage of the fact that most people do not expect those under the age of twenty-five to be shining examples of consistency or responsibility. My parents took the news of my transition much better now than they would have in five years. Looking or acting "weird" (i.e. those awkward moments when you cannot really pass as a girl but you're too effeminate to be a regular joe) while relatively young is less-likely to bring notice than similar actions in older transsexuals. This is true if for no other reason that many of our peers are more-accepting of diversity and/or less concerned with social conformity. Living and working in a youthful, Bohemian area may make your transition a lot easier (I live in suburbia and isolation has become a new theme in my life).

A bit more to consider:

A child, a wife, a business, et cetera are obligations that cannot simply be set aside with alacrity. Make the decision to transition before any of these are realities of your life. Quitting your job at the Seven-Eleven will be a hell of a lot easier than leaving a career-tract business ten-years from now. Personally I am not even going to go to graduate school until I am completely finished with my transition. My professional success will be determined by the quality of my work and the interpersonal interactions in graduate school. To entre before completing my transition or to transition after all my schooling would damage my chances of a successful career. A firm may not be keen on hiring you or even retaining you if you suddenly flip sexes on them (this is unfair, generally illegal, but nonetheless a harsh reality). If you can entre your career as a female, then one's transsexualism should never be a relevant issue. Likewise if you finish a transition by your late twenties there is no excuse for not being bale to start anew in social circles. So many non-transsexuals are lost and transitory at this age that our own transition does not stand out so starkly. This may be generational, but those under forty deal best with transsexualism, homosexuality, et cetera. Thirtysomething transsexuals, while in this group are more likely to have interactions with and be social or professionally dependent upon those over forty. A twenty-three year old hireling deals with a supervisor likely only a few years their senior, not the crusty old senior vice president a ten-year employee answers too. Being young sucks in a lot of ways, but its desultory nature can be a tremendous advantage.

Biology - another rude interruption

Read up on the biological realities of the transition; they can be quite different for transsexuals under twenty-five. One factor likely to be over-looked in the information you stumble upon is the healing potential of younger transsexuals. I just underwent a complete facial-feminization surgery under Dr. Ousterhout in San Francisco. He did my chin, trachea, lip, nose, brow ridges, and nominally advanced by scalp. In other words just about everything he can do to patient. Perhaps I am just a freak-of-nature, but compared to the other patients, many of whom underwent less surgery, I did smashingly well. I never needed narcotic pain killers (not even right after the surgery!), I had only minimal bruising around my eyes (compared to some real shiners on the other girls) and my healing proceeded at a rapid pace. I had a good ten years on any of the other patients and it showed. The salubrious truth of simply being young logically extends to hormones, electrolysis and of course SRS. Given the social risks of transitioning, a young, healthy body can render undue concern about the mechanics unnecessary. Still young transsexuals should take the same precautions with hormones and surgery as anyone.

The down side (very brief)

The "disadvantages" of youth lie primarily in the reactions of others. The prejudices against a young transsexual can be immense. No matter your personal preparation and sincerity there will people who consider your decision a sign of youthful temerity and a troubled mind. The ready courage we can display is too often assumed to be enervated by innate capriciousness. Granted a lot of the things I do in life are rash and impetuous. I spend too much money, I drive too fast in snow, or I open my big mouth at all the wrong times. Such is life, such is youth. If, however, there is one intransigent decision in my life it has been to pursue sexual reassignment. I spent the better part of my collegiate years educating myself about transsexualism and engaging in that intense introspection necessary for so momentous a reckoning. In the end I had found peace with myself and had accepted that the needs and reactions of others must be subordinate to my fundamental happiness. Believing in your worth and rights as an individual is self caring not selfishness. Never let someone tell you that thinking "only of yourself" is inherently wrong. The person telling you that is indeed the only truly selfish one. It is a lot easier to recognize and act on this truth at a young age when it is still in fact your reality and not your memories.

The bottom line:

George Harrison (yes the coolest Beatle and the best solo musician of the lot):

But it's gonna take money

A whole lotta spending money

It's gonna take plenty of money

To do it right child

So my final point is the harsh reality of money, you will need to somehow, in some way finance the transition. Look at Andrea's advice and determine the exigencies of your own situation. Being young and less-entrenched in a certain socio-economic sphere (personal rather than parental), young transsexuals might be more willing and able to work lower-paying jobs which allow gender flexibility.

If your parents have money, say or do anything to get them to help you. Seriously, pride and honesty may not be the best policy when getting funds. I do not mean to openly pursue illegal activities, but bending the law and people's wills to your advantage may have an immeasurably positive effect on the direction of your life.

Living part of your twenties as a young woman is priceless, do what must be done to make it a reality.


Andrea's comments

College can be the perfect place to transition if you do it carefully. However, some choose to wait out of fear that it will cause them problems on campus. That's cool, and in Veronica's case it worked out. Personally, I think waiting is generally not a good idea. If you know in your heart of hearts that you want to transition, I say cast fear aside and start making a plan based on realistic expectations and a positive attitude.

Hair loss can be eliminated these days. Wigs are something you definitely don't want to deal with. If you even *think* you might maybe transition, start using Rogaine and Propecia now.

Going to a liberal college, living in a liberal part of a big city, or working in a loberal environment will probably be to your benefit. Take this into mind when choosing colleges, jobs, and places to live.

Many TSs make decisions to try to distance themselves form their feelings or to make men of themselves. Do not fall for this trap! If you are reading this, do not get married, do not join the military, do not join a conservative church. You may end up paying dearly for these decisions in lost time and massive amounts of heartache.

If you are young and you know you want to do this after extensive inner reflection (and you'll know if you *know*), don't let fear or the naysaying from others deter you. I can't tell you how many late-transitioning women let someone talk them out of it, only to start again many years later with all kinds of other issues to face, including the loss of their youth.

Money is indeed a big deal. Many of us won't be lucky enough to get help from our parents, but if you can get it, take it. Like Malcolm X said, by any means necessary. See my sections on financing transition and on employment issues for important tips.


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.