Talking to a few other trans women recently, I began to realise something that's unshockingly personal for each of us is the things we find comfortable socially, when, and in what order during our transitions.
I thought it might be interesting to list all of the things I was uncomfortable with and then became comfortable - and at what point.
"Amount of time into HRT" doesn't seem to be a good measure here, so what I'm going to do is divide my transition into periods:
It doesn't seem like much I guess to some people, but a handful of things slowly became comfortable to me in these few months.
- Coming out to friends. This was something that I had to train myself into. How do you even begin? "So, I'm trans." And what in the cases where they don't know what that means? It took me a half-dozen attempts to begin to feel even slightly comfortable with this, and even then it was mostly affected by how comfortable I was with the person I was coming out to.
- Coming out to doctors. I'm currently seeing, technically, one GP, one endocrinologist, one psychologist and two haematologists for various things. I had to come out to each one early on. Then there are the nurses at the Red Cross for my blood donations, too. Fortunately, all the medical professionals I've interacted with here in Australia have been amazing. I'm sure not all are, but my luck (and research into picking some good people to see) made this easier for me than it might have been otherwise.
- Ordering women's clothes online. This may sound like an absurd thing to be nervous about given the literally zero human contact involved, but I had spend my whole life up to this point desperately trying to ignore / bury feelings of being 'in the wrong body' that I still harboured this irrational fear that somehow a random person would "figure it out".
- Saying, "I am trans". Even to myself. Before I'd even gotten comfortable coming out to people I had to accept that this was me. Accepting the label was helpful, but tough. It'd take longer before I stopped feeling secretly a bit ashamed of it, too.
- Just going out generally. For me personally, losing my absurd coping mechanisms of acting hyper-masculine (it only worked as long as I wasn't accepting WHY I was doing it) was a huge problem. Many trans people I know were pretty comfortable with themselves before - often seeming a 'bit camp' to others and shocking few people when they came out as trans. Not me. So my toxic strategies for dealing no longer worked, and I had to re-train myself to go outside despite the fear of having dysphoria-related panic attacks whilst out with friends, at bars, etc.
Early HRT / Pre-Going Public
- Going out. (Yes, again.) HRT hit me like a ton of bricks. Don't get me wrong, I'm lucky and pleased as hell that it did - within a month people were commenting on my face seeming different - but it brought a lot of discomfort with it. Not just physically (oh GOD my breasts were sore, even back when just saying that felt weird) but socially. I knew I was looking different... but saw my body every day and could never tell just how I had changed. So I kept being nervous that people I hadn't come out to would notice, and even a bit of discomfort around friends that knew, knowing they'd be watching me closely as they knew I'd started oestrogen.
- Coping with breast development. Not all trans women develop fast, same as not all cis women develop fast. I did. It wasn't even fat at first - it was mostly actual mammary glands and related stuff (look at a cross-section of a human breast on wikipedia if you don't understand what I mean). This meant that before I was public, I took to wearing very tight women's sports crops under my t-shirts to... well... hide what was going on. Which meant even after I'd kind of gotten used to the rest of weirdness of going through HRT in stealth, I began paranoid people would notice "a guy wearing a sort of bra thing". FYI? Nobody ever did.
Going Public / Presenting More Female
- "Looking weird". I knew I was beginning to look androgynous - even feminine. Which was good, but it took until going public before I stopped caring so much if people thought so. I felt less fear about the things that had bothered me before coming out. I started wearing training bras and, even though I still wore pants I began to wear low-cut or at least babydoll tops, as they begun to fit better than typical baggy masculine t-shirts.
- Introducing myself as Elissa. Not everyone who transitions change their name. I did, for a number of reasons, but at first, given the name I'd chosen was quite feminine-sounding, I had trouble coping with slight nervousness at this androgynous-looking person who still looked more or less "male" introducing herself as Elissa. But every time it got easier. And easier. And easier.
- Using female pronouns for myself. This may not make sense to people, so I'll explain: despite being trans, I and most other trans people I know didn't, despite the popular phrasing, "always know". I didn't "think I was a woman". Not in that sense. I occasionally made mistakes and walked into the wrong bathrooms (yes, really), which might give you a sense of the level on which this kind of thing operates. Very subconscious. But despite this, training myself to not feel awkward referring to myself with feminine pronouns and descriptors was strange, and took me a good six months to stop giving me a twinge of concern that someone would "correct" me.
- Shopping in the women's section of clothing stores. This... actually was a lot easier than I worried it'd be. I very quickly found it just felt right, and that mattered so much more than any concern of people looking at me funny for being there.
- Telling people I'm trans. This felt easy early on. In fact it felt good to get it out of the way. I knew I didn't really "pass", and wasn't sure I ever would - and hated that it was a thing that concerned me. So I liked just saying it if I was talking to someone for any length of time, so there was no weirdness. I kept imagining they'd be kinda suspecting it, even if sometimes they were genuinely surprised to find out. But I still had to get used to it.
Often Passing / Presenting Femme
- Wearing Dresses. This was a big one. I didn't do this for a long time. I bought a few early on, but felt disenfranchised and upset that they didn't look good on my (at that stage) masculine body. But at a certain point, around the point I found I stopped fitting into old pants, I began to realise that I felt comfortable in dresses. Very comfortable. Now, I'm more comfortable in dresses than in any other clothing I own. I rarely wear anything else.
- Bureaucracy. Gawds. Changing my name was nerve-wracking as hell. So were the numerous other things I had to do to change my name with companies I had accounts with. It wasn't fun, and it was nerve-wracking. But at a certain point, once I was wearing dresses and gendered correctly more often than not, it got easier. I've got two bits of bureaucratic junk left to manage, but I'm mostly putting them off because of laziness rather than nervousness. Not that dealing with big companies or government organisations is ever going to be anything but painful, though...
- Small gendered bathrooms. I mostly go to small bars or restaurants. But it still took me a long time to shake the fear that someone would have a go at me for using the women's restroom, even when it was just one of a few tiny independent stalls, with no common gendered area. Once I began to be gendered correctly, it felt okay. I did it more and more often.
- Telling people I'm trans. (Yes, another one appearing twice!) Early on, it just felt like admitting what I figured people already suspected, whether or not that mattered. What was important then was what I felt. What I worried about. But once I began to be gendered right, it became uncomfortable... all over again. "Do I need to tell them?" "Do they suspect anyway?" I almost felt like it was re-learning something I already knew. But I still do it. I don't tell randoms, of course. Not everyone needs to know my medical history. But if I'm chatting at a party and subjects come up where this matters, I don't hide it now. I've gotten used to just coming out to people. Again. And again. And again. I'll be doing it for the rest of my life, and I accept that now.
- Flying. Like, on a plane. Going through security. Sitting next to strangers. That stuff I avoided for many months until I began to just lose the fear of being constantly misgendered or given weird looks from people. I didn't do it until 11 months into HRT and having been public for about 8-9 months.
And things that still make me nervous...
- Large gendered bathrooms. Yep. In a sense this is the one last thing left to manage. I've done it twice now, and always with friends - and it's bizarre that it's such an issue for me. I can do everything else feel comfortable I will be gendered properly, or failing that I can deal with correcting people. But bathrooms, thanks to the shitty debates (mostly in the US) have done such a solid job of fear-mongering that I still to this day find being in a large bar or public place's restrooms nerves-inducing.
- Flying overseas. Yeah. Haven't done this yet. I've still yet to get my passport gender marker changed - something I can do in NSW, fortunately, even without lower surgery. But going to the states for the first time since transitioning is going to be... shit. Very tough. Scary as fuck. But I'll do it. I don't want fears to dictate my life. So I'll manage it.
- Taxis. Yes. Really. Ubers don't bother me so much as the destination is pre-configured, but at night getting into a cab and knowing that the driver is more likely to gender me based on voice rather than what I look like is... pretty nerve-wracking. I'm still dealing with that.
- Dancing. Yep. I'm still getting used to my new body. And it really does feel new. Weight sits different. Muscles have dropped away and come back in other places. I still bump into friggin' walls sometimes. So dancing is waaaaay high on the list of "things that'll take me a while to become comfortable with". Fortunately, a super awesome and attractive person I know has been goading me to learn to tango with them...
So, I think that's it for the most part. These are the things I guess I considered to be the main hurdles. Things left to do. At least the social ones.
There are a ton of reasons I did things in this order, or became comfortable with some things before others. Some are physical factors - I look a certain way, and that's helped me with a lot of things. As I found out, the difference between someone who is often cis-passing and someone who isn't coming out to people is often quite different.
I'm quite glad it all went as fast as it did. It was an intense year and constantly felt like I was working on some social hurdle or other. But things have generally gone well, and I am now in a place where most social things that were horrible for me last year and in the years before are now coming normal.
My life is becoming one I'm comfortable with.