I see this a lot, especially on trans groups and on tumblr. People who have not engaged in any medical interventions that they may be hoping to someday pursue. The implication is that they are in a stage where everything that will make them who they are is yet to come.
I want to break this idea.
Transition is not something that is solely distributed by the medical system.
Transition is a process of self discovery and expression.
Transition is a process of learning to know and love yourself.
Transition is a process of finding ways to feel determinately you.
You can be trans without medically transitioning.
You can be trans and not want to medically transition.
You can be trans and not have access to medical transition.
Your transness is not determined by the amount of medical interventions you have accessed.
Trans people have always existed.
We have used many words to describe ourselves.
We have existed the world over in almost every time and place in recorded history.
We existed before the stories started being written down.
Trans people existed before medical interventions did.
Most of the trans people who make up our ancestry of path didn’t have a medical system to serve as the arbiter of their realness.
Some of them modified their bodies.
Many of them did not.
You understand your self to be trans.
You see that your body and identity and presentation may change.
This is all labour that you have engaged in.
It is a big part of transition.
You are not “pre” self exploration.
You are in it.
You may even feel as if you are drowning in it.
You are not “pre” internal struggle of learning who you are.
You have tried on names.
You have tried on pronouns.
You have looked in the mirror from different angles and with your eyes half open, letting your heartbrain fill in the details of something that isn’t visible to others yet.
You have gazed into, maybe even explored, the “other side” of the clothing store.
You have contemplated who a grown up version of yourself could become.
You may have tried to bind or tuck, even if at home, alone, in secret.
You may never do those things. It doesn’t make you less trans.
Trans is a beautiful range of identities and expressions that involve creatively transcending the expectations we were born into.
It doesn’t require hormones.
It doesn’t require surgery.
It doesn’t require electrolysis.
It doesn’t require passing.
It doesn’t require a diagnosis.
Some of us may pursue some or all of these things.
Our choice to do so or not is exactly that, our choice.
Choosing to not pursue such things doesn’t make you less trans.
Look forward to growing more and more into your self everyday.
Recognize that this process will be fed.
It may be fed by medical interventions.
It will also be fed by watching movies with characters that you see yourself reflected in.
It will also be fed by reading books that articulate a part of your experience you hadn’t found words for.
It will also be fed by trees and gusts of wind and forest creatures that see you and respect your unique and beautiful self.
It will also be fed by nurturing relationships with other people who are learning to live and love as themselves.
It will also be fed by good nights’ sleeps.
It will also be fed by clothes that fit just as you need them to.
It will also be fed by your body moving ecstatically, translating music into movement.
It will also be fed by the patience and generosity you can grant your younger selves.
You will continue to grow into yourself.
It will be a process.
Sometimes it might hurt.
Sometimes it will involve other people.
Sometimes it will be something you do alone.
I look forward to seeing you continue to grow into yourself.
You have taken beautiful steps towards your authentic and genuine self.
Do not discount this.
I am proud of you.
This post has been getting a lot of feedback and I want to thank all of you for sharing this amongst others you know for whom it will have meaning. Please also take a look around my site, including checking out the Resilience Building for Trans Folks online course– there will be a fresh round starting in May. Looking around you can also find more about my online and in-person education offerings, one on one coaching support, and more. Thanks again to everyone who has shared this and send such sweet feedback about how it has landed. My site is going to be re-launched with a new design and domain next month- stay tuned for lots of new great stuff.
Learning to love living in this body I live in has been somewhat of an epic and ongoing quest. In the lead up to this weeks’ focus in Resilience Building for Trans Folks and Our Allies; “BODIES”, I wanted to tell a bit of the story of how I learned to live in, tend to and work on loving my non-binary, trans, pain ridden, movement craving physical form.
When I was young I played lots of sports. I was a C-team athlete, showing up early to run cross-country jogs before class and taking off afternoon classes to run races for participation ribbons. The only time I ever got a numbered ribbon was when another person I was racing foot faulted into another lane disqualifying two of the runners who placed ahead of me. Thanks to free in-school athletics, many volunteer teachers and parent coaches I had the opportunity to learn the love of sport through my childhood. This started to shift later in elementary school when the only teams that could find the adults to help them play were the teams that could win. Coaches weren’t lining up to volunteer with teams of kids that rarely won. Looking back it seems even more unfortunate than it did at the time; maybe the rush of winning and trophies was a bigger pull to volunteer with children’s athletics than creating opportunities for young folks to move and play.
By the time I was in high school it had gotten complicated.
I played football in a community based gender integrated league, which in 1996 looked like me and 2 other girls, one on each of three teams. Out of a league of probably 150 young people, there were 3 of us. I played center line – offensive and defensive.
Chipped nail polish and muddy knees: victoria pee-wee football most improved player 1997.
even in football gear, it’s always been a drag
I am not built like your typical linesmen. Never have been. At the time, I probably measured out to 6’ 1 or 2” and less than 120lbs. I had growth spurted my way through my full reach of height before ever filling out. To be totally real I never really did. I was a stick but I also loomed a foot over most of the boys I faced on those lines. They hadn’t reached puberty yet and they were children, being faced down by a budding woman in football pads and helmet. That said, by the time they hit puberty, I was done. My mom was probably right that I would have been seriously hurt if I kept playing. The guys had grown a foot and a half over summer vacation and many of them were filling out to the build of brick house fridges. Their bodies were experiencing an influx of testosterone I wouldn’t see for another decade. We were growing into our adult forms and I was in need of a shift in activity partners.
At the same time I was dancing with an instructor who was very particular about who could train to perform and who couldn’t. I had recently relished the permission I got to cut my hair. My long blond locks made a fairly rapid transition through bob to short bob to mushroom cut. She was clear with me that I would never cross the stage on one of her shows without at least a wig; to her perspective, girls danced girls parts, and long hair was a mandatory aspect of her girls part.
I was too “girl” for football and not “girl” enough to dance.
It seemed by the time I was 15 it was “too late” to try new things. All manner of movement, dance, and athletics had gotten competitive. There were only enough spots for the best. Try outs reminded me of the ways that I was never the fastest, strongest, most graceful. PE classes trained us to be constantly comparing ourselves to each other.
The constant interweaving of losing and movement left a bad taste in my mouth. It was a lynch pin in the messaging that came down the line to the slow kids, the clumsy kids, the chubby kids, the ones with asthma and the ones who didn’t have enough money to buy shoes that would actually fit properly:
You can’t do this.
Don’t bother trying.
Your failure is your fault.
You are lazy.
You are useless.
You are ugly.
You are undesirable.
You are unlovable.
When I left high school I went on a one year exchange program to rural Denmark. It took me a few months to have any idea what anyone around me was saying, so meals were not punctuated with the same conversation I was used to. I was away from home, the foods I was used to, the neighborhoods I was used to exploring, the people who knew me and loved me. I did what I could to take in the culture, which of course, while the pieces of language are still coming together could largely be defined by food and drink.
So I drank.
I drank beer or wine with almost every meal as it was offered. I relished the additional meal, kaffe afternoon coffee; an opportunity to eat another 4 or 5 open faced sandwiches and pastries between school and dinner. I experienced what I later heard called the freshman fifteen, the weight gained when experiencing the shift of leaving home for college. I gained 30 pounds in the first month. I have pretty much never gained weight without height, before or since, and have loved enough healthy fat folks to be critical of weight gain as a measure of pretty much anything other than gaining weight. My host family however, concerned, enrolled me in an aerobics class. I didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t fun. I never made it through one whole class without passing out on my mat.
But outside of the exercise class I was finding my own approach at tending to, exploring movement in, and celebrating my body. I had my own room for the first time in my life. I was listening to Paul Simon’s Graceland on repeat and dancing naked in front of the mirror. And almost every weekend I would hit the nightclub dance floor with my friends and dance myself into a sweat.
My body was ecstatic in the ways that it transformed beats into flow. I couldn’t get enough.
I started biking. I had ridden bikes around my neighborhood as a kid, to the beach and friends houses; but in Denmark, a land of off-road cycle routes and a culture that respects 2 wheels on shared roads at least as much as 4, I really started to ride.
I went on my first overnight cykeltur bike tour with another exchange student friend from Colorado. As we pitched our tent at the midway point between the towns that we had each been posted to we wondered why we never would have thought to do such a thing “back home”.
Once I got home I kept riding, setting off on a 3 month tour followed by a 3 month stint as a bike messenger only a couple of years later. I rode and rode and rode. The cyclical movement helped me achieve an almost trance like state where my anxiety + depression could realistically be turned into lactic acid and be pushed out of my body.
At least it was something like that. I am not a kinesthesiologist. Understanding how my body works is something I have navigated through experience, more than book knowledge.
What I know is that I felt less overwhelmingly crazy when I was biking a lot.
When I first started taking testosterone I was started on an obscene dose. My already high activity oriented body all of a sudden had way more energy to deal with. I would go to the gym, bike to my jobs (including landscaping, childcare and test riding bikes), longboard between dates houses, fuck for hours, dance til morning and still feel like I had more stuff to move out of me.
I started organizing queer pool parties that evolved into the All Bodies Swim, which has since evolved into Trans Inclusive Swims in Vancouver, Queers get Wet in Victoria and All Bodies Swim in Nelson. I reffed and trained with the local roller derby. Those girls could tire me out with their training, but there was politics and dynamics that kept it from feeling just right. I started reffing, competing in and organizing tournaments of Queer Park Wrestling. I rushed through those 3 T- amped years until it all came to a screeching halt. Everything changed when my body flew off my bike and across the intersection of the woodland bike lane and 13th Ave.
The impacts of taking an SUV to my side were pretty big. I had to adjust how I did pretty much everything. I had to learn to manage a body with pain. This meant months of physio, acupuncture, modified activities and turning away and going home when I got to events to find out the amount of stairs to get in was beyond my capacity.
I realized that aspects of this would be chronic. My body would be recovering from this for a long time – if not forever.
I spent 9 months meticulously rebuilding my bike, hand threaded new wheels, sand blasted and powdercoated the frame with the hopes that I would have my body back together by the time it was done. I got on my bike and found that my stamina and endurance had been replaced with inflammation, swelling and fatigue.
That happened 5 years ago and in the time since I have been in the ongoing process of learning to love this body. Even though it hurts. Even though it doesn’t do what it used to be able to. I think this process is something most people must go through, but more commonly later in life than one’s mid 20s. In the 5 years since my accident I have undergone puberty (again- another story for another day) and the fascinating and bizarre transformation of pregnancy and miscarriage. I have learned about my edges in ways I never expected and have pushed myself to keep moving. I still bike a bit sometimes. I dance hard as often as I can. I walk our goats up the hillside when I need to get outside. I find pleasure in pushing my body to it’s edges chopping wood and pushing tillers and wrestling pigs and playing tag with the little ones.
I live in a trans body. I live in a body with pain. It doesn’t always fit quite right.
This body’s very existence challenges the expectations of what it means to have a womans’ body or a mans’ body. It challenges ableist notions about wellness and fitness. I am breaking the boxes by finding ways to tap into that ecstasy that waits in my muscles and letting it out through joyful movement. I am working on loving this body against the odds.
I look forward to the next stages of learning to be in this body as it continues to change.
I am also looking forward to exploring some of these aspects of our stories with students in Resilience Building for Trans Folks and Our Allies this week as we explore “BODIES”. This round of the course is 3/8ths of the way through. I will be revising and restarting the course in May. If you’d like to join round or be kept to date on my other offerings send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org