tl;dr The process of transition is defined and controlled by cis people in a way that denies transness to many, many trans people. However, we are all still slowly becoming our genders and that, for us trans folks, is our transition, cis-sanctioned or not.
I’ve been thinking a lot about transition recently. It started when, reading the brief for an application that recommended “gender transition” as one of the ways to explore the theme. My immediate reaction was to refuse. I am strongly opposed to the cis obsession with gender transition, as if that is the only thing worth noting about trans people.
But it also brought up another point: For me, one of the reasons why I am so violently opposed to talking about transition is because I did not have one.
Reword: I did not have a cis-sanctioned transition.
Transition is a funny one, because it is necessary for trans people. It is life-saving. To ignore it or downplay its importance ignores and downplays the very real harm that comes from denying transition. And transition describes a very particular, important experience for trans people.
And so, it is that much more important for cis people to control it, because then they continue to maintain the ultimate power over trans people. Only certain kinds of trans people are allowed to transition, only after jumping through frankly ridiculous hoops in order to “prove” that they are the gender they say they are, and transition is quite often used as a condition for then recognizing and respecting someone’s gender and transness.
And then cis people like to fetishize this dehumanizing process while making it all about them. Think of every sob-story documentary about a trans teenager transitioning and the kid says pat words about being “born in the wrong body” and then the parent has a nice long interview about how hard it is, but how they support they’re child no matter what. Think about the fact that a cis person felt completely comfortable telling trans artists that a great topic for their submission would be “gender transition” and not anything else related to trans identities. Think about the huge number of books written by cis people that focus on trans people getting access to medical transition or being bullied for social transition. Think about how a lot of nonbinary campaigns have had to center around documentation – being able to shift an honorific to “Mx.” or to have a third gender option on our paperwork – things that would out us, put us at more risk, but allow us to “transition” in a way that could safely identify us to cis people. Trans people are reduced to our transition and we’re reduced to only the transitions that cis people find titillating, dehumanizing, and unthreatening enough that they provide safe entertainment for the “normal”, cis person.
Some trans people need a cis-sanctioned transition. That’s important. And, to be honest, I’m glad that those transitions are getting more visibility and sympathy because it means that the people that need them have slightly better (slightly) access to them than before. Even the gross, cis-centric transition narratives are necessary in a way because it does put more pressure on society to create smoother transitions.
But, what about those of us who don’t fit the cis-sanctioned model?
Even something as simple as wanting SRS without HRT can be grounds for cis people taking away a trans person’s right to their transness. So, for someone like me, that isn’t looking at a medical transition at all and has no option of a meaningful social transition, I lost my cis-sanctioned right to be trans a long time ago. As far as most cis people are concerned, I’m not trans, I never transitioned, and I should shut up and let the “real” trans people talk.
Sometimes I believe them. Recently I was thinking about reaching out to a trans artist that I deeply admired because they would be near me and I would like to properly meet them, but I talked myself out of it because they were a “real” trans person and I was just “trans-lite”, the easy kind of trans person that doesn’t transition. I’d just be wasting their time asking them to meet with me on the capacity of two trans artists. (Bullshit, of course, but real enough logic in mind to keep me from sending the message).
And that’s a huge reason why I don’t talk about transition.
I thought it was because I was sick of trans people being turned into entertaining transitions for cis people, and that is true, I certainly am, but it’s more because every time I talk about cis-sanctioned transition, I feel like I am denying my own transness.
I don’t know if I really transitioned. I tried to, because I needed that legitimation. I had a clear “coming out” at school, I changed my name, I started wearing hats….and that’s about all. There’s no real road map for my kind of transition. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. I’m learning to be comfortable with that.
What I did do was become. And I’m still doing it. I’m slowly becoming my gender, learning what that means for me, letting it grow as I grow and change. I think this is something everyone does, it’s just felt particularly strongly for trans people, because our process of becoming is about not following the most common process. And then cis people feel threatened and fascinated by something outside of their norm and then learn how to control it – sanction certain practices, make other ones invisible.
But that doesn’t mean one thing is transition and one thing isn’t. Transition, trans becoming, is something all trans people do. We slowly but surely become our gender(s), we slowly but surely become ourselves. Sometimes it goes faster or slower, sometimes it’s visible and sometimes it’s subtle. It is always deeply personal. Sometimes it’s something cis people like to gawk at to maintain hegemony, sometimes they prefer to look away, also to maintain hegemony. But all methods of transition are real and exist and necessary for the person following that trajectory.
Someday I may be my gender fully and completely. Someday I may be fully transitioned. But, for right now, I’m just slowly becoming more me. That’s enough of a transition.