By: Lorelei Erisis*/TRT Columnist—
This is going to be a very personal column. Recently, I had several major milestones in my own transition all come to fruition in a short period of time. I began my own formal transition about eight years ago, a full decade if I’m including the ramp-up to starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Many trans people I have known will go to great lengths to get all their ducks in a line before they come out publicly and start to live “full-time” as their true gender. They’ll get the surgeries, do the paperwork, relocate, rename, restart, whatever details they have always thought of as being the things that will make them truly feel comfortable in their new lives.
I knew I did not have that luxury. I am an actor, an artist, which are not fundamentally profitable or reliable professions. I believed that it was highly unlikely I’d ever be able to save enough money or find the stability of lifestyle to get the expensive surgeries and navigate the bureaucracies required to get a clean, fresh start as exactly the woman I wanted to be. For me, it was one of the major things that kept me from getting started on my transition. I could not see how I could possibly do it the way I had read and heard that it was supposed to be done.
Eventually, of course, I simply couldn’t take life as a man anymore. I had to transition. It became imperative. It was that or die.
I made the decision to do it, to do what I could with the resources I could find and to realize that it might take a good long time to check all the bullet points on my own personal transition comfort list. The most important thing was to start being myself, openly and honestly, to be the woman I already was and always had been, but had kept hidden. [pullquote]Eventually, of course, I simply couldn’t take life as a man anymore. I had to transition. It became imperative. It was that or die. [/pullquote]
Through a combination of hustling for free and low-cost services and the support and assistance of my girlfriend at the time, I was able to get started on the things I could. I did individual and group therapy so I could get a referral to a doctor who was willing to start me on HRT on an informed consent model, and I started HRT at the beginning of a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to the town I grew up in on Cape Cod. More importantly, I started living “full-time” as a woman. I asked people to call me by my new name, Lorelei. Only very rarely and under extreme duress did I pretend to be a man.
It was a tremendously awkward time. My body still very much showed the effects of years of testosterone “poisoning.” “Passing” as a woman wasn’t anything about which I had any illusions. Still, it was enough that I knew I was a woman and I was living as one. I held my head high and carried on while HRT changed my body ever so painfully slowly and hard-won experience taught me the lessons of actually being a woman in the world.
My basic position in the world had not changed. I was, and still am, an actor and an artist, and now also an out, 6-foot-4-inch trans woman. While it made me much happier and healthier and more whole as a person in general, this did not do much for my already poor financial prospects. There was still a whole flock of ducks needing to be rounded up and herded into a row for my transition to progress as I wanted, many of which remained quite out of my grasp.
Some of these remained out of my grasp for quite legitimate reasons. Some, speaking frankly, remained undone out of simple human fear more than anything else. Sure, I had very legitimate sounding reasons for those too. I had excellent excuses designed to quickly and effectively shut down any line of questioning from anyone who might ask, including myself. If there’s one thing all those years in the closet taught me, one skill it honed to perfection, it was the ability to keep people from asking the questions I truly would like to avoid answering. Though I try to live my life as honestly as possible now, it requires often an effort of will to not reflexively resort to old defenses. I am no more or less human than anyone else in this respect.[pullquote] Less entertainingly, the discrepancy between my legal name and my preferred name meant that nearly every interaction I had with an official had me being referred to by and having to constantly provide a name that tweaked my dysphoria, a name that felt oddly alien and detached from me.[/pullquote]
In some ways, my transition has happened entirely backwards from the way it happens for other trans women, from the ways I had been told it was meant to progress. However, I strongly believe it is better to say yes to the options available and make strong choices in the moment than it is to be frozen by “somedays” and stagnation, even if I may occasionally find my own advice harder to follow than to give.
Years passed. I did what I could, made the steps I could make. My personal transition progressed in fits and starts, much of which I have written or spoken about here and elsewhere. Relatively recently, I began a new relationship which I have found to be very healthy for me. My new partner is able to cut through my defenses and push me in just the right ways to do the things I need to do. In addition, I have found myself comfortable enough in my transition to turn some additional attention back to the pursuit of my profession as an artist. This does, however, require me to deal with some of the more bureaucratic aspects of my transition in order to achieve certain professional goals.
The cumulative effect of all this was to motivate me to basically get over myself, to ignore my own objections and at least attempt to push aside certain roadblocks I believed difficult to budge, even if only to see if I was correct in my objections or if I was simply standing in my own way. And, I was rewarded! In the space of the last six months, I have managed to make reality several important goals I had put off for far too long. They are things that other trans women I know took care of either before they began their public transition or very quickly thereafter.
I began laser hair removal. As I write this, I have only one more treatment left and it has been wonderfully effective. It has been a major insecurity of mine for years that I still had to shave my thick beard every day and could see the beard-blue masculinely marking my face even when smooth. Now, I can for the first time not worry about being near a bathroom in which to shave my face in the morning. I can run out for coffee, or, as is sometimes the case, stumble home in the morning sun. I can even put on just a little bit of makeup, some lipstick and mascara, without having to put on a full-face foundation and careful beard cover.
I also waded through all the bureaucratic and governmental hurdles required to officially and legally change my name with the courts, quickly followed by changing my name and gender with social security and then renewing my driver’s license with my new name and correct gender. I had already changed the gender on my driver’s license some years ago, though not my name, basically because circumstances in my life at the time made that fairly easy to do. This left me, however, with a license that identified me officially as a girl named Robert for the past five years! (Cue the obligatory Johnny Cash jokes.) [pullquote]However, the most important advice I can give you is that ultimately it is your transition. It will work the way it works. It will take the time it takes, however long or short that is.[/pullquote]
Less entertainingly, the discrepancy between my legal name and my preferred name meant that nearly every interaction I had with an official had me being referred to by and having to constantly provide a name that tweaked my dysphoria, a name that felt oddly alien and detached from me. I can’t even tell you how many times I have had to grimace, bite my tongue and nod in reluctantly polite assent when told, “I’m sorry sir, but I will have to refer to you by the name on your paperwork/ID. You understand don’t you?”
Now, for the first time in my life, the name on official documents, the name the bankers and bureaucrats and clerks and cops will see and say when they speak to me, is the name with which I actually identify. It’s the name I use, the name I am. It’s difficult even to describe how wonderful and weird that feels, and all it took to get all of these things done was to just do it, to get each step done as I was able to get it done when it worked for me to do it.
That, finally, is the point I am trying to make, the reason why I am sharing so much of my personal story with you. You will hear all sorts of people who will tell you the “right” way to transition, the best way, and the correct order to go about things. The people who tell you this will be quite certain of themselves and their advice. Each will be sure. Each will know. Some of them may even have very good wisdom to impart, including me. Heck, it’s my actual job to try to tell you these things, and I promise, I will give you the best, most thought through and carefully considered advice I can. It will be accurate and useful as far I can be sure to make it so. But ultimately, it will only be my own best advice given from my own experience and perspective. I sincerely hope it will be helpful or at least will inspire the most useful direction of thought and action.
However, the most important advice I can give you is that ultimately it is your transition. It will work the way it works. It will take the time it takes, however long or short that is. There may be detours, delays and distractions, and that is perfectly okay. The important thing is to be true to yourself. Keep trying. Be kind to yourself. You don’t have to be perfect or get everything correct the first time or do it all in the “right” order. Be you first. Be the woman or man or both or neither or everything that you are. Everything else will just be details for you to fill in the blanks.
*Lorelei Erisis is an actor, activist, adventurer, and pageant queen. Send your questions about trans issues, gender and sexuality to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.