What was the most difficult part of your male to female transition? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Jae Alexis Lee, transgender woman, researcher, and advocate:
I wish I could say: "This, this thing right here was the hardest..." That would be so much simpler than the truth.
Taking those first steps out in the world, presenting as a woman after 30+ years presenting as male ... that was hard. It was terrifying in the way we fear the unknown. You hear about so many trans women who have suffered violence for not passing. I was afraid. It was hard. I'd have panic attacks about interacting with strangers. I felt like everyone was staring at me, knowing that I was trans, judging me. Very spotlight effect. For me, this wasn't easy.
Was that the hardest part?
I don't know. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) took a while for me to get "dialed in" and adjusted to. Transition is a crap-tonne of change to get through and change = stress. 8-9 months into transition I hit a low point like I hadn't felt in a long while. I started drafting farewell letters and planning the most reasonable way to end my own life. I thought to myself, "I'm good now. I've come out, the world has finally gotten to see the real me. I can die now and it's okay."
You know what? That's not a happy place to be! I talked to my doc, we altered my hormone doses, and I doubled down on work with my therapist. Those things all helped tremendously. (No, really, the change in hormone dose alone significantly improved things.)
Surgery was rough. I'm still healing. I'll have a better idea how I feel about it in a few months. Lots of pain meds. Lots. Lots of post-op doubt, depression, and anxiety. Oh, and I had to stop HRT prior to surgery and couldn't resume till awhile after surgery, so yay for more hormonal issues on top of post-op depression that's considered normal. It wasn't easy. There were a bunch of things I expected to feel when I came out the other side of surgery ... and I didn't feel those things. I'm getting closer to feeling what I expected, but it takes time that I didn't fully appreciate going into surgery. Intellectually it's one thing to say "It'll be three months before things look right." Physically it's something different to get up and look at yourself in the mirror every day while you're healing. I didn't think that would be hard, and it has been.
There are endless coming out moments and all of them came with fear. There was going to Thanksgiving dinner and being berated and derided by members of my family while other members of my family sat by and did nothing to make it stop. That was hard. (In fairness, my entire family wasn't present and many of those who weren't seriously took the people who were present to task for how I was treated ... Christmas was better if you can call "walking on eggshells and afraid to talk about anything of consequence" better.)
I've had things go terribly badly elsewhere in my life that I can't really talk about here (I know that's lame) that left me depressed and fending off nightmares for weeks and has given me new things to confront and yes, to talk to my therapist about. That was (and still is) hard. Part of it is hard because despite knowing things like that happen to trans people with alarming frequency, I had told myself, "But that won't happen to me." And it did, and it shattered parts of how I interacted with the world, and that's hard to deal with afterwards.
Maybe if I had to pick one thing to say that's been hard, just one thing, then it would be this: The hardest part of transition is confronting the reality of challenges that I had no context to appreciate beyond a distanced and intellectual understanding. It's one thing to know that something might happen and that it might hurt and to accept that possibility. It's something else to deal with the reality.
See, transition is full of a bunch of different little things, and a bunch of big things, and some of those things are scary even while they're exciting. Lots of things are hard but they're hard in different ways. Confronting fear is one thing. Dealing with pain is another. Recovering from emotional wounds that are inflicted because you're transgender ... that's not easy either.
If that feels like a lot of bad, well, yeah, there are chunks of transition that are really, really un-fun. There are lots of parts of transition that are amazing and beautiful and affirming and I will absolutely say that for me, even with all the hard parts, life is better. It really is. For me, it's worth it and I'm glad I've done it. I would go through it all over again and I'm going to keep going on this journey because life is so much better.
It's hard sometimes, when the lows hit or the painful things happen, to remember how much better the rest of life is, but if I can leave you with anything, it's that for me, and many others who have made the journey, with all the bumps along the way they have found that transition makes life better. The ability to live an authentic life is so positive that it's worth dealing with everything above and more, just to be who you really are.