People often believe that transition is just a simple surgery and then poof, magically over. This really is the fault of the media, who are unable to truly represent it in the short span of time they have for their stories. It’s so common to make it appear easy and magical that there’s even a trope about it (and I just ruined the rest of someone’s day just by linking that). It’s such a pervasive myth that when Natalie Reed did her two-post essay on 13 myths and misconceptions about trans women, it came up as part of number three. This ties back to the whole belief of “The Op” being what it’s all about. So much so that there are many (even many trans people) who believe that transition ends after. I’m of the mind that transition is far more than the physical, and never ends. I actually ran into this a bit back, while I was visiting my dad.
As you may remember, a few weeks back, I posted about someone getting flustered and referring to me as “whatever you are.” I posted almost that exact post (just slightly changed for the audience) to the forum for the group that was there that day. I’ve been asked in the past to educate people of that group on trans and queer issues on account of being the only gender variant person (as well as the only person of alternate sexuality) who attends meetings, making me the expert by default on the topics. About a week later, a crossdresser (who has never attended a meeting) started posting in response to it, basically saying “well, get a tougher skin” and saying that there should be no reason to get offended. And a few days later, while I was visiting my family, one of my roommates (not the one who runs the group) popped in on the conversation, using it to advertise her group for discussing stuff like that that causes conflicts, and making an offhanded comment directed at me about “people declaring themselves to be experts,” saying that the person who is an expert on this topic would be “the one who has finished their transition.”
Considering that a week before, this was an individual who didn’t even know the word transition and called it “transgendering,” you can imagine she doesn’t know much on the topic, so I wasn’t expecting much. But this is a perfect example of what people believe about transition based on what they see in the media. They see the completed product. They don’t see all the years (minimum of 4, sometimes more than 10) of hormone therapy to bring about redistribution of fat, breast or hair growth (depending on female or male, respectively), change in body odor (women tend to have a less musky smell to their sweat than men), and more. They completely miss the time it takes to change a voice (either brought on by hormones for the guys or training for the girls) and get used to it so that one can shout, whisper, project, etc. with the new voice. The series of other surgeries we may or may not go through (breast augmentation/reduction, facial feminization, trachea shave, etc.) are completely bypassed in favor of the one that focuses on our genitals. They miss the emotional turmoil we go through as our bodies go through a second puberty at an age when the kinds of mental changes and attempts to seek our identities are no longer acceptable in society. The joy we feel the first time we are referred to by our real genders or the heartwrenching we feel when someone misgenders us. And for many of us, those who are lucky enough to not be visibly in that limbo between the sexes where we’re obviously trans, we often have to come out many times if we choose to remain active in the trans community or as trans activists.
There is so much more to transition than the media can show, and because of it, most people never see or understand it. Much as we wish it was a simple, magical transformation, it is in reality a long, painful process akin to the metamorphosis a butterfly goes through. There’s an old story about a man who sees a butterfly trying to make its way out of a cocoon. As the man sits there watching, he sees the butterfly fight and struggle to make its way out. Deciding the help the butterfly and ease it from its pain, he takes out a pocket knife and cuts the cocoon to let the butterfly out. When he does so, he is startled to find that butterfly’s wings are limp and useless, dragging behind the bloated caterpillar body. The struggle to free it from the cocoon would have forced the water from its body into the wings, enabling them to fly.
Butterflies are a trans pride symbol, not just because of the change we go through from something ugly (in our eyes) to something beautiful (again in our eyes), but also because of the pain of the process. Even if the physical changes could be done quickly and miraculously, we would still have to relearn body language and mannerisms, as well as figure out the social aspects we missed out on. We would have to adjust to society in a whole other way than how we were raised. Even with the body changed, there is always more to learn, and it never ends. When I was in high school, a gay male friend complained that I walked like a girl because my hips move when I walk, but now that I live most of the time as a woman, I’m told that I often stand or walk “like a man” because I keep my feet in certain ways out of habit, not from being raised male, but from being raised in the martial arts (i.e. I tend to keep my feet in such a way that it’s hard to knock me off balance even when walking). 20-30 years from now, that may have changed, but society will have changed as well, and I will have something else to relearn of “being a woman,” or to forget of “being a man.” Transition never ends. It is the whole of our lives, always growing, always learning, always changing.