It’s easy to get caught up talking about the trials of being transgender. And we have so much to talk about from assaults on our bodies, rights, and dignities to the red tape and costs of medical transition. At every turn we seem to have some new struggle or expense to navigate, and new trauma or lost relationship to process. So when people ask me why I would transition knowing that all of that, I’m a bit taken aback by the question.
It’s easy to say, “well the alternative was I was going to die.” And that’s honest — if I didn’t transition I’d have died eventually. But the truth is that, day to day, the specter of what would happen if I didn’t transition is further and further away from my mind. My day to day transition is driven by love and hope now, not fear.
But people understand fear. It is easier for me to say “I will die if I don’t” than it is for me to summon up the joys that draw me forward each day. For me, a core part of the whole experience has been HRT (Hormone Response Therapy). Everything I have done at this point has been in preparation for or a result of HRT. So when I speak about a lot of the joys of my transition just understand they’re from the perspective of a woman using HRT happily.
Hormones are not required for anyone’s transition, but they are for mine. If I did not take them I would have intense dysphoria and my transition would not be successful.
The metaphor I’ve used for what it’s like to be transitioning is — ok, I think a lot about those wilderness survival movies right? And here we see our young heroine trapped in a valley. It’s snowy. Cold. Dark. How long has she been here? She doesn’t remember. She’s lost the days. She’s huddled near a small fire when she feels a breeze blow in beneath the branches. That’s a storm coming, and she knows it.
She won’t be safe in this valley any longer, not that she ever was. She fought for survival here and eked out a hard, but well earned, sustenance — just no peace, rest, or safety. She knows the wildlife watches her. She hears the twigs snap at night and the low growls of predators waiting for her to drop her guard. She is bundled in coats and rags and anything she can find to protect her, armed with whatever she can grab. But now the storm is coming and this valley will be her grave if she stays.
So she packs her belongings to leave the safety of her small cook fire. She fidgets her hands over a map, trembling while she tries to make sense of it. How did she even get this thing? The ending point is unclear and smudged. She’s going to have to trust the landmarks. They’re the only leads she has and the only direction for her to go. She swallows hard as she lights a torch from, and then extinguishes, her fire and starts walking towards an unknown destination — leaving behind anything she can’t carry.
Up the Mountain
She finds familiar landmarks from the map as she travels, guides left here for her by others who’d been stuck in this place too. At first she doesn’t trust them, they’re not quite right. She makes notes on the map and leaves behind fresh markers — notches and cuts in trees. She considers going back. A twig snaps behind her in the distance, wolves. She can’t go that way now. Back isn’t an option.
She knows she’s headed for a peak, she can see that on the map now. She’s finding the landmarks but they’re not always where the maps says they should be, and they don’t always look the way it says they should.
She has traveled for the much of the night and now she’s here, at the base of this mountain. This is where she’s been going, where she was always going to have to go. Her shoulders are sagging as she shifts her bag from side to side. She’s tired. Her steps are labored. She’s going to have to carry less to make it up this path.
And so she drops the things she’s carried that helped her make it this far. She starts up the mountain as the wind whistles an ominous tune all around her. The temperature drops more. She takes just this one step. This is what she can do right now. The next step will be there for her after this one. And so she goes up the mountain path one step at a time dropping more and more of her survival tools as she needs to shed weight. Every step hurts — her muscles burn and ache, her eyelids are heavy. She leans against the wall of the path and slides down until she’s sitting. Maybe she could just sleep here, just for a second.
The wind blows harder now, more deliberate and threatening, and the torch goes out. Maybe she should just sleep here. They say if you freeze that you just go to sleep — it doesn’t hurt. As she starts to nod off something catches her eye. At first she thinks she’s delusional, the sky has been black for so long but she swears she sees just a hint of blue above her and in the blue — the outline of a peak. She starts climbing again, now on her hands and knees. She has to see this before she sleeps.She has shed everything to make it this far. It’s just her and her coat — The last thing between her and the cold. She crests the mountain and looks out and sees before her… it’s still dark, but it’s not black. On the horizon, blue and a little pink. She collapses on the stump of a fallen tree to sit and watch.
A soup of swirling fog obscures everything below. And then it happens. Vibrant shades of pink and orange and white explode across the horizon, over the sky, and towards her. Every passing moment outlines and then illuminates shapes below and warms her cheeks. The sun peeks from behind the mountains in the distance and as the light washes over her — comfort. She takes off her coat to feel the warming air. How long has she worn this thing, anyway? She can’t remember who she is without it.
And the sun burns away the fog below her. A whole valley in front of her glistening with golden frost. Birds sing their good mornings. There are deer playing. A squirrel hurries along a nearby path.
And as the sun continues to rise so do her spirits. She sees a river below. And in the distance she’s sure she sees the outline of a town. Smoke starts rising from chimneys hidden behind this golden, immaculate forest — living and full of opportunities.
She looks at the map and sees that it doesn’t have this. It can’t help her here, this is for her to explore. She turns towards the dark valley and lets the wind carry the map — with all her additions to it — back down. Maybe it’ll find someone else the same way it came to her. She breaths in deeply, sighs, and steps towards the forest.
And here I am, here she is, wandering through this forest and everything is bright and glistening and new. Just the way that sunrise illuminates and reveals, so has my transition. Not a single day goes by where I don’t look in the mirror and see something different in my body and in myself. It’s gradual, but it’s there.
There’s love here. There’s joy here. I have made more heartfelt, true connections with people in the last few months of my life than I have in years. I have a warmth to offer that I never knew was in me. And I am vulnerable in ways I never could be before. I had to put down everything I had done to protect myself to make it and I am so grateful I did.
So why do I transition? I left that valley because I was miserable, scared, and alone. I stay in this forest because I love it here. And I want to help make it better for all of the people who are climbing their mountains right now.