If you’re a transgender college student beginning the transitioning process, you have a lot on your plate. Not only are you trying to maneuver the strange and exciting new terrain that is adulthood, but you may be discovering your gender identity and trying to understand just who you are. That’s exciting stuff but it can be overwhelming or even scary.
Transitioning comes with misconceptions. Sometimes it feels like you need to do everything at once: change your name and preferred pronouns, start hormone therapy and come out to everyone you know all while balancing daily stresses of exams and work life. Thinking about everything is overwhelming. Even more overwhelming is watching everything change, little by little, and worrying about how uncertain your future feels.
Your anxiety is normal. Transitioning is a big step to take. If you didn’t feel any concern or hesitation, that’s what you should worry about. Yet transitioning is also an individualized process, and the path you take is uniquely yours.
What can you expect during your first year transitioning?
Transitioning Is an Ongoing Process, Not an Event
When you decide to transition, you may feel like one night, you’ll fall asleep as your biological gender and wake up the next day completely transitioned. Life as you know it, you think, will never be the same.
Transitioning doesn’t often work like this. It’s more of a process rather than an event. If a sudden shift worries or excites you, don’t be alarmed. Change can be gradual. You’ll notice change over time, perhaps to the point where you’ll feel like an entirely different person a year from now. But day by day, you may notice that little things change rather than big things.
Transitioning is fluid. Try not to think of it as a singular moment from which there is no return. Just like all changes in life, there will be a starting point, but you’ll find it more of an ongoing pathway than a finish line.
You’ll Be Surprised by How Much Will Stay the Same
You may feel nervous, especially at the beginning, about how this will affect your future. The future may feel like a tumultuous place at first, and as you transition, you may worry that life will change so much that you won’t be able to recognize it or yourself.
Little things do add up and, of course, some things will change. Life is full of changes and shifts, and transitioning is quite the shift, indeed. But as necessary as change is to life, you would be surprised by how much may remain familiar. If you’re transgender, transitioning may be the outlet to finally reach the person you were inside all along. You may feel even more free and comfortable enough to express yourself.
Over time, after the newness and uncertainty wears off in relationships and daily situations, you may notice that little really changed. All that really changed is your diminished dysphoria and increased ability to connect with the person you’ve always been on the inside
Your Relationships Will Shift, Positively and Negatively
Relationships are often what trans people worry will change the most, especially as you come out to friends and loved ones. This is a valid concern. People are unpredictable. Some who you previously had positive relationships with might react negatively or even withdraw from your life, which can hurt a lot. Others who you expected to react with hostility may be supportive or at least understanding.
As you come out and transition, your relationships will change.
For your friends and family, this process can feel like they are losing someone they thought they knew. You may be the first transgender person they meet, and even if they are accepting, they may need some time to process their feelings or know how to best help or support you. In time, they may realize they have not lost a loved one, but are, instead, finally seeing you as you felt all along. Have patience, and know that this is as hard for them as it is hard for you.
Nothing hurts more than losing a close friend or family member after coming out; if this happens, it is not your fault. Seek encouragement with a local support group at your college or in your community. Sometimes knowing that other people have gone through the same situation can help you overcome it.
Sometimes, It Will Hurt
This includes physical pain like hormone shots, yes, but mainly emotional pain. Some people transition with the attitude that it will solve all your problems. Eliminating dysphoria, they feel, will also eliminate their anxiety and depression.
I wish this were the case, but it isn’t. You may still feel lonely, anxious or depressed sometimes. Resources like support groups or counseling can help. Find like-minded people, and stay in the company of supportive friends and family on bad days.
If you do not have supportive friends and family or you are contemplating suicide, please reach out to a crisis line or chat center. The Trevor Project runs a phone line, texting center and chat service for LGBT youth in crisis. You may feel pain sometimes, but no matter what, you are not alone.
This Is Your Journey
Sometimes, especially if you have other transgender friends, you may feel a lot of pressure to follow an outline as to how you expect the transitioning process to go. You may feel rushed to complete every step at once, even ones you don’t quite feel ready for.
Know that you don’t have to feel this way. Move at a pace you feel comfortable with.
Some people socially transition only, and some only hormonally transition. Some choose to do both at once. You may feel like you’re not following a common route for transitioning and that you’re doing this “wrong.” But discovering yourself is a very personal process. As long as you are content with it, you are doing what you need to do.
For example, my path as a transgender man has thus far been a little atypical. Because I attend a religious university, I am unable to legally change my gender or take hormonal therapy until graduation. But I do what I can: I dress in masculine clothes, spend time with other trans people for support and ask close loved ones to use male pronouns. It’s not everything that I would want out of a situation, but it’s enough. I know other transgender men, though, who started hormone therapy, received top surgery and legally changed their name within a span of six months.
Situations vary. We are humans, not checklists. You know yourself best, and so long as you feel comfortable, don’t worry too much about whether your transitioning process matches your peer experiences.