People treat transition like a flight of fancy, a fetish, or a joke. They instill us with doubt about things they’ve never had to question or prove. They ask us to prove to them the unprovable natures of our souls. They ask us, time and time again, to violate our comforts and our boundaries for their benefit, for their convenience, linguistically or mentally.
“How do you know?”
“What if you’re wrong?”
Transition isn’t a game. It’s not something we casually decide to do one day. The years, months, and days leading up to the decision to transition as adults are often agonizing and nerve-wracking.
I don’t know how to describe the sheer joy and relief that you feel the first time you take HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) meds. Everything takes on a new meaning, and so do you. You wake in the morning, and you have a newfound excitement for your body. You can *feel* yourself sloughing off an identity and a body that never belonged to you.
Puberty is horrific. You are trapped in this body as it mutates into something you can’t recognize, totally alien to you. You feel like a science experiment. Powerless. Hopeless. Nobody can see you in there. Your body and the world layer more and more onto you day after day: clothes, hair, assumptions, attitudes, privileges, language, and more. You are buried beneath those layers. They are suffocating. You don’t even have the breath to ask for help. You don’t know the words that can convince someone that this torture you’re enduring isn’t a gift.
We have to convince folks that that’s not a gift. How do you describe the resignation you feel when you share your suffering with others, and they tell you to be grateful for it and mock you for wanting to be better?
And how do you describe the utter relief when you’ve found the words? Little by little you are unearthing a person, with love and care, that this world buried beneath all of that. You leap from bed each morning to inspect your body in the mirror, looking for the slightest signs of change. Maybe your breasts are a little more grown. Your skin is a little softer, sure. Are those… hips? You notice you kinda look like your grandma. The hair on your arms has gotten finer. Where did those cheek bones even come from? Why does food taste different today? Why do familiar smells seem new? Everything in your life that you’ve experienced through all that sludge is clearer to you than it was the day before. Repeat that every single day.
You start to wonder what this body can do? How can it change? For the first time, you have a sense of control over it. You eat better. You stop drinking so much. You start to drink water, for once in your life. You record everything. You scrub and clean and care for this body in a whole new way. It’s not perfect, but now it’s yours. You claimed it. It’s yours to fix and maintain. You, you who has hated every photograph of you since you were a child, start to take selfies whenever you remember. You look back on them from a month ago, and you see the changes. Then two months. Then three months. Then a year. Then 18 months. Your hair has grown longer. Are you smiling in this one? When did you start smiling in pictures?
Transition is magical, and it’s life-saving. But it does so much more than simply, “save a life.” Those words ring hollow. It unearths a life. It grows a world of potential where none existed.
I’ve documented in other articles how deeply my suicidal ideation ran and how committed I was to it. There was no potential in me. I was an hour glass counting down the seconds until I couldn’t handle it anymore. Now I can’t handle not knowing what’s next! About 4 months into my transition I started to take selfies. This is the first one I took:
I use black and white because those photos emphasize shape and form, so they’re perfect for seeing the differences in the lines of your face. Apple’s portrait mode has been phenomenal for that. And it’s a little bit of trans culture for us to document changes in ourselves and share them as “timelines” to show what’s possible. We do that because it helps give hope to others, and because most of us survived on others’ timeline photos when we were still in the closet. “One day that’ll be me,” we say.
I went looking for a photo from before that 4 month period. I wanted to find a portrait mode black and white photograph to use in a timeline showing changes in my face shape. I found way more than I bargained for. I found the photo on the left. That was the only one from before my transition.
That photo was what I got when I was trying to take a photo for displaying at my funeral. I took it in September 2018. I was trying to take a kind photo. I was trying to take something easy to look at, something you could hang on a wall. I couldn’t look at myself in the camera. I hated what I saw. The image in that camera, the person in that camera, was the reason I was going to be dead soon. I was memorializing everything I hated about me in that photograph. And I couldn’t do it. It’s better to take a selfie with the timer on to minimize camera shake, this photo captures that I couldn’t bear to look at me for even three seconds. Instead of something you could show at a funeral, I captured something so much darker, heavier, and sadder — and I buried it in a collection of beautiful, smiling people in my life.
I must have overlooked it when I deleted all of my suicide notes and schemes.
That was September 2018. September 2020 is on the right. Those aren’t the same people. I know that I’m in that left photo somewhere, buried beneath those layers of depressive, dysphoric ick. Somewhere inside that person was a seed that wanted to be me, wanted to be free.
I’m proud to be the person on the right. Look at her. She’s resilient. That’s someone who survived. That’s someone with a light in her heart. That’s someone who can’t hide her cleft palate smirk when she’s taking selfies. That’s someone who loves so much and so deeply. She doesn’t have to be beautiful or pristine because in every moment she is herself. She is recovery, personified. She is bold and vulnerable. People say that trans folks don’t love ourselves, and I say we do. I love myself. I’m proud to be me — I accept me for all my hurts and edges and flaws and pains.
This moment and this feeling are everything. The difference I see between these two photographs?
This is transition.