Self-acceptance

Self-acceptance and coming to terms with your feelings are the first order of business in transition. If you are not emotionally grounded from the onset, you are going to have a difficult transition. Transition is a minor issue in comparison to self-acceptance.

Many transsexual women face harassment and ridicule, sometimes even since childhood, because of what society considers inappropriate gender behavior. To distance ourselves from this, we sometimes take self-loathing to extremes like substance abuse or even suicidal tendencies. In lesser cases, we may just place ourselves in a "gender hell" of our own making-- by doing things expected of men like marriage, children, or hyper-masculine activities and occupations.

As we come to terms with how we feel and what needs to be done about it, our self-esteem can take a huge beating. Why did I wait so long? How will I deal with getting out of my male existence? Is this really going to make me happier?

These aren't easy questions. Add to that the fact that most of society is not that accepting of transsexual women. Early attempts at exploring one's femininity can range anywhere from freeing to devastating. You may face the anger of loved ones, coworkers, even strangers.

All of this can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. It's hard to stand tall when you're being beaten down by others. But the worst thing is that many of us end up being our own worst critics.

It's vital to have self-acceptance to get through transition and beyond. There are many ways to improve this-- think about all the worthwhile things about you. Sometimes you may need the validation of a therapist, friend, support group, job, etc. Perhaps you can do it on your own. However you can get there, get your self-esteem firmly implanted in your head. Ultimately, only you can feel good about you. It's all up to you.


Scorpia's outstanding advice

Scorpia is a young, attractive post-op TS woman who is lovely enough to do modeling. For many, that sounds like an ultimate goal, or that she has it totally made. However, she has eloquently expressed the difficulties that still exist for transsexual women, even the ones able to blend seamlessly into society.

Scorpia has been generous enough to let me share her thoughts on self-acceptance, which I think are superb. Her post came in response to a discussion of "passing." I had been going on at length about how much easier your life can be if you are accepted as female, but I neglected to point out what she did: being accepted as female means nothing if you aren't happy with who you are.

I've edited her post a bit, but her sentence below is probably the most important thing about transition to understand:

Being a TS is something that you have to deal with all the time, and for the rest of your life, regardless of what you look like, or whether you pass or not.

[editorial note: I have left the terms "pass" and "passing" in the reader contributions, although these terms are problematic, as I discuss here.]


It is whatever makes you happy that is important, and for me it was definitely SRS. Believe me, I could probably do fine with small breasts, or with having a little bump on my neck, but NEVER with having male genitalia (EVEN if that part was invisible to people.) For others, it might be SRS and facial surgery; and some others, in fact, skip SRS altogether and are just happy with facial or no surgery. My point was that what makes one TS person happy is not what makes you, me or Andrea happy - we are all different.

I had my SRS a day after another TS had her own. This person was almost 50, she had been married as a male with kids (one or two of her kids were in fact older than me), and she looked, and acted, like a man. If you had looked at her you'd be like, she needs facial surgery, there's no way around (oh, and a course in female etiquette wouldn't hurt also). But she seemed happy just the way she was - she didn't care about the fact that she could never pass, she just wanted to have SRS to feel complete and content. At the time it just seemed very unreasonable to me for someone to have SRS looking like that, but then I thought who am I to judge. I could never understand how she managed to be so comfortable with herself, even when people were staring at her ALL the time. I don't know how she did it, but now I believe that being comfortable with yourself (or accepting yourself) is a gift - the majority of us don't have that gift.

She, like me, set out for SRS as her first priority - I see nothing unwise about that regardless of what you look like. It is about what makes YOU happy; you're not doing it for other people. If you are comfortable not passing, then so be it. If you are not comfortable that way, and wanna have facial surgery then go for it. Again it is whatever makes YOU happy. I just don't like it when some people create all these "rules" to follow like they were written on stone or something (remember that stupid book about dating called "The Rules"?), and seem unaware that people are different with different needs and priorities (and this is not directed against you Andrea, I do like your style. I am speaking in general - I just think what works for one person does not mean it will work for another no matter how perfect one thinks his/her path or "technique" is. When I say I like your style, I mean that literally - it is YOURS which may or may not meet other people's needs. Of course, for the most part, it IS very helpful and informative, and I do appreciate all your efforts.)

BTW, this may seem as an aside, but I want to add that being a TS (i.e. everything associated with being a TS woman) has been extremely psychologically/emotionally damaging for me. And right now I am STILL NOT fully comfortable with or accepting of myself, even with my looks. Because of my height and looks I have been able to do modeling work as a female, believe it or not, but the fact is: it is NOT about having good looks, or what you might be able to do with them.


Being a TS is something that you have to deal with all the time, and for the rest of your life, regardless of what you look like, or whether you pass or not.


Many TS's make the inestimable mistake of thinking that after SRS, or Ousterhout-type facial surgery, you will be happy, because you've finally "solved" all of your problems. Don't get me wrong, you WILL certainly be happier (SRS certainly made my life much easier, and I AM much happier) but never forget that you are STILL a TS person!!! And if you were not comfortable with THAT fact before surgery(ies), you will never really be comfortable or fully happy afterwards.

Sure, for a while you will be thrilled being able to take a shower at the gym or to have a sexual relationship with a man or woman (or in the case of facial surgery, passing and probably getting attention from men and women.) Just know that there is another side to this. It is NOT going to be any easier coming out to a potential partner or a close friend. You will always be carrying that "secret"; and no matter how feminine or beautiful you look, you are most likely to feel inadequate even next to a very plain, but genetic female (that is if you were already uncomfortable with yourself before surgery, and I find that most TS's are.) You will probably get genetic women telling you that they wished they looked like you, but YOU still wish you were one of them, regardless of what you look like. True, the grass is greener on the other side, but for TS women, I believe, we have to deal with double the amount of pressure (that is of 1. simply being women, and 2. being, particularly, transsexual women.)

Like I said before, SRS has been the wisest decision I have ever made, and I AM happier than ever before, but now I realize that surgery or no surgery of any type - with Jerry Springer, et al, and all the misinformation and mythology heaped upon TSism (oh, and the fact that shrinks usually end up making things worse for us and not easier AT ALL) - we really don't have much of a chance being accepted in this society (let alone ANY society) in the next hundred years, if ever. And this is all for what's worth - it is up to you and everyone else to decide how you want to live out your lives, but I just think anyone who thinks that surgery or electrolysis, or any type of *physical* alteration/enhancement is like the ultimate "solution" for his/her problems, should focus more on his/her psychological and emotional health, accepting his-/herself for what it is, and be more realistic in his/her expectations (this is something, I believe, that shrinks SHOULD help you achieve during the initial process, but they DON'T. You end up going through all the emotional crises and heartbreaks before you eventually learn the hard way.)


Arianne's thoughts

Arianne van der Ven is a mental health professional who has written me a couple of very good letters about self-acceptance and being accepted as female.

About passing, as a shrink now.

The received wisdom in our community is that passing is a state of mind that comes automatically with self acceptance. But as a shrink I find that way too facile.

Every psych primer tells us that an essential part of self acceptance, is self-efficacy. Self efficacy is our sense that we can convey who we are, work with others, and do the tasks assigned to us well. Passing is an essential part of our self efficacy, an intrinsic part of our own experience of ourselves. It is not forced upon us by society. As long as our experience is open to the real world, self acceptance and passing are partly circular experiences.

Those of us who do not pass will have to rely on an inner voice for their self acceptance, a voice that exists for them alone. For their self-efficacy they may have to rely a tight circle of TG friends, and maybe the admirers in their local TG bar. Again others become masters of blocking out all the painful signals that they do not pass, or by politicizing societies responses, or even yelling at you on a support site for TGs. There are so many angry TSs.

The assumption that self acceptance is fully achievable through listening to your inner voice, assumes that human experience is essentially a private affair. But human reality is a always a shared reality, not just my reality. Human reality is like playing seesaw. Who did you watch while playing seesaw as a kid? You did not watch yourself, or you would have fallen off. You watched the other person. His responses and actions made your reality. Human experience is intentional, what we do has a meaning that is validated or not by other's responses. To do without these responses is to be alone, to be outside the game of human reality, and to return into your inner woods and streams to find some piece there.

I like the term "coming out". I also like the coming out models that have been created for gay and lesbian people (such as McDonald's). These models always end with a reintegration of the new self with others, and a rebirth of our capacity for endearment and curiosity after a period of self absorption.

Of course, many TGs will say these models are flawed because MacDonald does not talk about gender, he talks about sex. He talks about a private identity, and not a public identity. Gays can reintegrate because they can always refrain from discussing their private life. But non-passing TGs cannot. Unless we pass, we may never leave this period of self absorption, never forget about ourselves. We may not be able to watch the children play, without wondering whether they'll read us when they look up.

But I believe in the reintegration model and that reality is shared, just as much as I believe that passing drives a wedge in our community between haves and have nots.

Two last caveats.

1- Some people told me that going to Ousterhout is like putting on a disguise that says: I am not transgender, I am a biological woman. But I feel that by passing beter I will not gain, but loose a disguise.

2- You know as well as I do that it is possible to pass and still not accept oneself for who one is. I know quite a few hermit beauty queens in Amsterdam (where surgery is free, but self acceptance not). Self acceptance is still the key, not to something as mechanic as passing, but to real relationships. And that is the best goal I can imagine.


Wendy's thoughts

Wendy is living stealth and plans to keep it that way. Here are excerpts from two excellent posts she wrote on post-transition issues:

I transitioned a few years ago (three I think), I have had some cosmetic surgery, and had srs last year in Montreal. I work in designer fashion as a sales associate; my employer does not know about my past. I am constantly in contact with women in various states of undress- and they obviously do not know either.

I wear extremely expensive clothes (work around $1000 dresses and you get over the sticker shock), am constantly complimented on my figure, and am liked and appreciated by my female co-workers. My friends are all genetic females; I have little or nothing to do with the gendered community. So I've arrived, I'm done, it's all over. NOT!

In my opinion, one is never done with this process. We are saddled with a basic insecurity, and a past we often dare not discuss. The question "Do they know?" is never far from the front of my mind, although I know that is foolishness on my part. I had a date the other night with a guy who once hitched a ride on a submarine when he was in the Navy, and he proceeded to tell me all about it. I spent three years on the damn things, and found myself biting my tongue on more than one occasion. My point is that you simply must change. Normal life is an evolving process, so change is nothing new to anyone alive.

I cannot overemphasize the point that has been brought up time and again- this is an inside job. It isn't so much what you look like (though that cannot be dismissed) it's who you are, who you think yourself to be. Simone de Beauvoir, in her landmark work _The Second Sex_ says "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine." She goes on to state "Woman is a female to the extent that she feels herself as such...It is not nature that defines woman, it is she that defines herself by dealing with nature on her own account in her emotional life." Perhaps it is incumbent on those who have grave doubts about their situation to ask themselves "Who am I really?"

I ask myself that question constantly- I have only recently seen myself as female in my dreams. I am getting comfortable with my appearance, although I would like to do more to improve it- but then wouldn't a lot of genetic females do that given the chance? I am confident and self assured on the surface, but I am aware that I am standing on a house of cards of sorts- one "That's a guy!" and I would be devastated- but I would get over it. I really don't have an alternative. I have redefined myself, and that has had as much impact on my passability as any surgeon's knife.

I am very hung up on the passability thing, perhaps to the point of neurosis, but then I need a monster under my bed- keeps me on my toes! (grin) There are indeed some physical hurdles that are difficult to overcome, but I think that with total determination and focus- not to mention a lot of money- these limitations can be overcome. You simply have to want this more than anything else. Got a situation in your life that obstructs you, like an uncooperative spouse? Leave. You really have no choice. Everyone knows you in your small town? Move. Be prepared to lose your friends, livelihood, and family, for this process may indeed cost you all that. How bad do you want it?

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For most of us, many years are spent in a life that does not reflect our true selves. Nonetheless, living that life leaves its mark- an indelible one. The past cannot be changed, but it need not become an albatross around our necks.

According to the Standards of Care, the RLT process is designed to

  • a) determine one's suitability for surgery, and
  • b) teach socialization skills.

It is "b" that concerns us here (I know, there are probably c's, d's, etc.). Now I think it is unrealistic in the extreme to expect the habits of years to melt away in but one. That simply will not happen, hence my previously stated opinion that this is an ongoing unending process. But the process has a beginning, and the transition phase is the manifestation of that.

Initially support groups are of paramount importance. For me my life revolved around the local group's Saturday meetings. It was the opening of the door, a door that exposed a long corridor.

Entering this process I made the choice not to bring my past with me- in terms of employment and social circles. I simply left all that behind me. I felt that it would only hold me back. I made the right decision- right for me anyway. Transitioning was the hardest thing I have ever done- the mental wear and tear is soul shattering. Think about it- in a relatively short time one must learn what women are given a lifetime to learn. Add to that the stress of rethinking the way one regards one's self, top it off with a chemical cocktail and one experiences what true stress really is. The last thing I wanted or needed to add to that mental state were constant reminders of a past I wanted to leave behind.

So I learned, and struggled- you've all been there. Learned to keep my mouth shut, learned what it is like to be a second-class citizen (feminism aside, society at large views women differently than it does men- right or wrong that's the way it is). I learned to speak differently, to move differently, to behave differently- all the while not _feeling_ all that differently. And that really bothered me. It still does, although I am coming to terms with it- maybe it's going away, I don't know. But I am becoming more comfortable with me. I have changed, probably more than I realize.

Funny thing about the SRS- it was such a dominant thing for so long, the getting it done. But now it seems like it was much ado about nothing. Perhaps the effects are more subtle than I realize. I can't imagine not having done it, but I am more than a little curious that I didn't emerge from it feeling drastically different. The only conclusion I can come to is that it was but another step along the way- admittedly a big one, but just another step nonetheless. I would like to hear some comments regarding this.

Anyway, I suppose the point I'm getting at is this- for me to do this it was necessary to become a new person- someone who thinks, acts, and feels much differently than the one I was before. I am admittedly a perfectionist, and I have little patience with those who whine about their lives while doing little or nothing to change what is apparently a bad situation. At the outset what seems to be an impossible situation can be made manageable, but it is a very proactive process. Going through this has made me a better person- it made me take a good look at myself. Attitude is everything. Even when things are bad, I have come to realize that bad times can be overcome if I am willing to work through them.

Four years ago merely walking through a department store would have been a thrill for me. Today I work in one, just another one of the girls. My department manager is 34 years old and just had a baby. She also was recently diagnosed with fourth stage lymphatic cancer. And you think you have problems, Karen?

I'm afraid I haven't really made myself clear concerning the subject line. For me it was necessary to change everything about me that I could- to recognize the facets of my personality that were at odds with my aims and to change them. All I ever wanted was a quiet, normal life, and I by and large have that. My happiness depended upon disappearing into society. For others this may not be their aim, and I respect that. I never wanted to be a transsexual- I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I wanted to be a woman, and I am well on the way to being just that. And for me that means redefining myself on the inside as well as the outside. The outside part is easy- it's a technical and financial process. It is the inside part that is hardest and most important.


Additional thoughts from me

Like Scorpia, I know visibly gender variant women who seem totally fine with that. One woman says, "If people can't handle me, they're the ones losing out on a chance to know a great person." She has a kind of strength I could never muster. I could not stand the kind of stares, comments and laughter she takes on a daily basis. The crap I was getting when I was not regularly accepted as female was starting to affect my self-esteem and ability to have a "normal existence."

Conversely, I know some beautiful and miserable transsexual women.

Ultimately, it's about self-acceptance. It's the first thing I recommend working on in transition.

It's actually the most important thing. We're all transitioning to be happier (or at least less sad). But there are some things which transition will not improve. In fact, transition brings about many new problems.

Transitioning always comes at enormous personal sacrifice. There are wondrous moments of joy and relief, but these come at a high cost and can be accompanied by feelings of inadequacy and longing to be a non-transsexual woman instead of a transsexual woman. But in the end, you need to come to terms with both. You are a woman, and you are a transsexual. Both are things you can be proud of, no matter what anyone else tries to tell you.

Being transsexual woman is never, ever easy. And it's never, ever over. You are going to need self-acceptance to live with the difficulties of being a transsexual woman. If you can achieve that, you're well on your way.

Affirmations

A generous reader created free audio files for those who feel you could benefit from visualization and self-actualization exercises.

Whatever you do, be sure to reach outward as well as inward when looking for help and hope. It is very easy to close ourselves off and feel that we are different, but it's important to reach out to those both in and outside of the community for a balanced perspective and positive outlook on all this.