BY STEPHANIE LYNN HALL
For those in the midst of transgender transition, it’s often a great time for reflection and an opportunity to conduct a personal inventory of where you’ve been, where you are, and where you want to be. As those who are transgender know very well, all of life’s nagging problems, both large and small, do not stop during transition. As the everyday problems and stresses of life continue, we add to them the unique challenges presented by transgender transition, which have the power to compound and multiply the existing problems of everyday life exponentially. Life is at its most basic a balance sheet upon which we run an accounting of life’s credits and debits. If our debits are out of balance with our credits, it may be time to take action to get our personal life’s ledger into balance.
It is no great secret that many transgender persons find that as they work through the process of transitioning, their experience is more difficult and far less joyful and satisfying than they had hoped. Unfortunately, many experience more conflict and opposition from strangers than they anticipated, which has the potential to cast a shadow over their transition, even causing them to question their decision to transition in the first place.
If you are experiencing greater dissatisfaction in life by way of conflict and opposition, ridicule, negative or even hostile reactions from strangers as you transition and adjust to life as your identified gender, it may be time for a critical self-assessment. Those who seem to attract negative reactions from strangers and experience greater difficulty in their day-to-day lives as they transition, are often failing to some degree to present themselves to the world around them as well as they could.
Despite the seeming injustice of it, we are all judged every day. Wherever we go and whatever we do we are all subject to scrutiny, judgment, and categorization to one degree or another. Due to the fact that being transgender can be more noticeable to those around us, we tend to draw more attention and therefore greater scrutiny than the public at large.
In the event of gratuitous cruel or discriminatory treatment due to being transgender, there are ample legal remedies available after-the-fact. However, the preferred course of action is always to avoid such treatment in the first place when possible. We owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to ensure that we are not subjected to such treatment, or at the very least to minimize the likelihood that we are. To that end, I have identified five keys which I believe to be essential to a smooth and successful transgender transition. In my view, those transgender persons who experience difficulty in transition are usually failing in one or more of these areas. If followed with reasonable consistency and application, these five points will aid in your transition and help you to encounter less difficulty on a day-to-day basis, making your transition more enriching and enjoyable, not to mention giving you a greater chance for ultimate success.
ATTITUDE: Your general attitude in and about life, be it positive or negative, will have a significant impact on your transition, and will determine to a large degree whether it is relatively carefree and successful, or fraught with difficulty and conflict, possibly even unsuccessful ultimately. Transgender transition is by no means an easy path, but we all have the power to make it easier or more difficult than it may otherwise be. As I have written in past posts, life tends to reflect back at you what you project out into the world around you. If you greet the world with a smile, and approach every day and everyone you meet with a positive attitude that comes from a genuine inner happiness and sense of contentment, it will be that much more difficult for others to treat you poorly. We also tend to attract people with the same energy that we possess and project ourselves. Therefore, if you hope to make new friends or look forward to being in a loving relationship with someone special, be the kind of person you would like to be around or be with — and they will come to you. A positive outlook and a smile, sustained by an inner happiness will attract people who want to be near you, and that is exactly what you want in a friendship as well as in a loving relationship.
APPEARANCE: The way we present ourselves to the world around us and in which we live, gives others their first, and sometimes only impression of who we are and what we are all about. Because of the human tendency to make snap judgments on superficial qualities, those around you and whom you encounter on a day-to-day basis will often create for themselves a profile of you based solely upon your appearance. Regardless of its accuracy, you may not be able to overcome with aspects of yourself that are less superficial. Furthermore, those you encounter will likely determine how they will interact with and treat you based upon the conclusions they draw from your appearance alone, and then act on them. If people incorrectly categorize or pigeonhole you based only upon the way you look, your sparkling personality may never get up to bat.
As we transition, we encounter many challenges in developing our own style and level of comfort in wearing the clothes and other trappings associated with our identified gender. For many, with the seemingly limitless possibilities, the temptation to dress outside the boundaries of propriety is too great, and can unfortunately lead to ridicule and embarrassment. Those early in transition are more susceptible to such temptations, being that for the first time in their lives they are free to express their true gender in an outward manner. However, such freedoms must be guided by good taste, and be appropriate to time, place, age, and the degree of attention you wish to attract to yourself.
For both transmen and transwomen, clothing is perhaps the most exciting step in transition, as it is the easiest and most instantaneous way to begin to present and live as your identified gender. As we all know, the clothing worn by any person in conjunction with their overall appearance, can draw the attention of others (positive or negative) or allow them to blend into the background being virtually unseen. This is no different for transgender persons, and is even more critical due to the potential ramifications of that attention. While we have made great strides toward our goal of universal acceptance of those who are transgender, the reality is that we are not yet there. That there are people who would wish to treat you badly or even harm you merely due to the fact that you are trans is unfortunately still a fact of life, and must be considered in everything you do.
Developing your appearance specific to your identified gender should be adhered to based on the level of attention you desire and are comfortable with. If, as a transwoman, you are fond of wearing Daisy Duke’s and high heels to go to the grocery store, you can expect a level of attention that is far greater than that paid to a transwoman in a maxi-dress and flip-flops. Understand that attention we solicit is brought on by our outward appearance which draws attention, scrutiny and speculation, then perhaps identification as a transgender person. Therefore, if you feel that you are too frequently being “made” as Transgender, I suggest that you perform a critical self-evaluation of your appearance and presentation, and make appropriate adjustments to the level of attention you wish to draw upon yourself.
AWARENESS: Maintaining a keen awareness of our surroundings is important for everyone these days, but even more so for transgender persons. Not only must we be concerned about being victims of random criminal acts faced by everyone, we are subject to the added threat of being a target based solely upon being identified as transgender. Being aware of the people and things around you and doing your best to anticipate potential trouble is vital to a safe and successful transition. The first rule of situational awareness is to avoid placing yourself into situations in which there is a greater likelihood that you may be attacked or become a victim of a crime in the first place. Common sense tells us that being in certain locations in some areas during certain times of the day or night will increase the likelihood of encountering trouble. That’s good advice for anyone, but for members of the transgender community, the risks may be even greater and the consequences more severe.
Naturally, there are cities and areas within cities where transgender persons are less likely to encounter trouble or hostility, especially if passing is an issue. For some, going to establishments outside of those areas may serve to increase their exposure to hostility or even violence. Furthermore, going to a bar or club alone, especially if you experience difficulty in passing, is never a good idea. In the event that you are early in transition and experimenting with going out dressed in public, you would be wise to restrict your destination to open public areas and only during the daylight hours until you develop a sense of comfort and confidence in presenting as your identified gender. By no means should you be afraid to travel and conduct your life as anyone else would. Being transgender is not and should never be seen as a prison sentence restricting your travel, or limiting your access to anything or any place. However, at the same time, we must all be mindful of the potential risks faced when out in public.
CONDUCT: While larger groups of the population are most often seen as diverse, smaller homogeneous groups are not afforded the same luxury. The transgender community, for example, tends to be characterized by the actions of a few and how the they interact the with the population at large. Similar to how you approach your appearance during the early stages of a transgender transition, your conduct in public which includes how you express yourself in the the digital landscape, brings attention to you that may be either positive or negative. When you behave in a less-than-dignified manner, you not only bring negative attention to yourself, but also upon the transgender community as a whole. Posting risque pictures or videos, making disrespectful or vulgar comments, responding with vitriol in a public forum, etc., will contribute to the way you are viewed by others and be further amplified — justified or not — through the entire transgender community. We owe it to all our transgender brothers and sisters to be the best person we can be wherever we are, and whatever we do so as not to bring more unwanted ridicule and scorn upon ourselves than we already bear. If by our conduct, we reinforce a negative impression of those who are transgender held by the public at large, we will have taken two steps back for every step forward. Make every impression a positive one, which leaves others with a good feeling about all who are transgender.
VOICE: Second to your appearance (first if on the telephone!), in its ability to forma an impression on someone, is your manner of speaking – simply put, your voice. Many qualities make up what we term the voice: pitch, tone, inflection, volume, modulation, cadence, dynamics, etc. If you are a transwoman who has concentrated on her appearance, but not worked on her voice, the sound emanating from your mouth will be not be congruent with your appearance, and will likely draw negative attention — usually greater scrutiny, followed by suspicion and speculation, and then possibly hostile treatment — from merely rude or discriminatory to violence.
The voice is one of, if not the most important aspect in making a successful transition, especially for transwomen. Experts in various specialty fields who regularly interact with the transgender Community will tell you that the one thing certain to reveal your status as trans – commonly referred to as being “made” in public — is a failure to speak in a voice appropriate to your identified gender and appearance. While hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will affect the pitch – deepening the voice of a transman, there are unfortunately no reliable and effective shortcuts for transwomen to achieving an appropriate and natural sounding female voice.
Because HRT will not have any effect on the voice of transwomen, the only reliable solution to achieving a passable feminine voice is intentional manipulation and training. Developing and perfecting a more feminine voice is not easy, which is why so few transwomen even bother. For some, speaking in an appropriate female voice is only a part-time endeavor that is turned on and off according to when and if a social situation calls for a feminine voice. Many transwomen talk about “practicing” their voice, to which I always respond, “practicing for what?,” as if speaking in a manner consistent with your appearance were a performance of limited duration. A full-time life as your identified gender is by definition not a part-time endeavor in any respect; otherwise, transition amounts to nothing more than a hobby. Speaking consistently, clearly and confidently in an appropriate voice for your identified gender is not and cannot be a part-time exercise. In order to master the qualities of the female voice (pitch, power, tone, inflection, cadence, dynamics and volume) and having the ability to project that voice on a consistent basis, over a lengthy period of time — and when called upon with no advance notice — takes training. You can compare training the voice to perform as desired to the way an athlete trains their body. In order for a marathon runner to have the ability to finish the race and post a competitive time, they must train to build up strength, power and endurance. The marathon runner cannot expect to complete a marathon if training consists only of running around the block. Similarly, if your female voice is not full-time, you cannot expect that it will be available when you need it, which if not now, will soon be all the time!
Maintaining an appropriate feminine voice is largely a matter of endurance that requires training. A manipulated voice can become easily fatigued, and to develop endurance one must train the voice. If you have not yet experienced this situation, know that someday soon you will be required to speak over an extended period of time without a break and without an opportunity to be in private to “clear” your voice after the fatigue has set in — after the minimal power and projection you have has disappeared, and the pitch naturally lowers. Then what?
The voice must be viewed as an essential aspect of living full time as your identified gender. For full-time transwomen, not speaking in a gender-appropriate feminine voice at all times, I ask – if your clothes are not “part time” why is your voice?
Throughout life, anything and everything worth having requires effort, and sometimes even hard work. For those who are transgender, to finally live a fulfilling and joyful life as their identified gender is worth having and, thus requires hard work. I encourage everyone to look at your life in the midst of transgender transition honestly and critically. If you feel that an adjustment or adjustments are warranted, consider the aforementioned suggestions. If you find unhappiness or dissatisfaction, perhaps the answer is here. If not, work to find the joy in life that eludes you because it is within your grasp.
STEPHANIE LYNN HALL is a California Attorney whose practice is focused on representing Transgender individuals in the legal issues uniquely related to transition and other matters of non-conforming gender identity. Stephanie is a frequent and valued contributor to this blog.