The Pain of Limbo

I spoke a couple months back on limbo, that in between place that we find ourselves in where we are obviously trans. I spoke then on how this is a hurtful place for us to be sometimes, and today I think I’ll talk about it a bit more. You see, I don’t know if I can possibly convey just how painful this stage can be for us. The problem with doing so is that for each of us, our transitions are different. But I think I can give a few examples from my own experience to highlight the issue for others.

One of the disadvantages of how everyone transitions at different paces and different ways means that far too often, we see other trans people whose transitions are quicker and smoother than our own. A good example from my own life is a friend who is about the same age as me, has been on hormones for 4 months less than me, and yet has no problems being read as a woman. She had no problems with the DMV getting her license changed because they read her as female. And seeing instances like that, where others have no problems while some of us do, it’s hard not to be envious, or to wonder what we’re doing wrong. We ask ourselves why we’re the victims of discrimination while our friends are not.

We also run into issues with it in public, even on a smaller scale. For example, a few nights back, I was buying a DVD at the store, and the guy behind the counter called to another and said “hey, can you help this gentleman right here when you’re done?” When the other guy came over, because of wording like that and possibly his own reading of me as trans, he avoided pronouns and terms like Sir or Ma’am completely. And while this seems small, it’s like a grain of sand. And as the day goes on, you get more and more grains building up, and over time, those grains begin to weigh you down. And soon, you’re so burdened by the weight that you can barely move.

Queer spaces aren’t necessarily safer for us either. I work with queer youth as a volunteer, attend my school’s LGBTQ support group, and am a member of two of the local transgender groups in the DFW area. With the former two, I have outright had people assume I’m a guy, even after I introduce myself as Caitlin and state I prefer female pronouns, because they go off of what they see or hear. And in the latter two, the trans specific spaces, it’s not really any better. My first meeting at the larger overall trans group, open to all trans people, I was read as a trans man, and treated like a guy by the group. Even a good trans man friend of mine approached me that night because he thought I was a guy like him amidst all the trans women. And in the other group, specifically for 17-29 year old members, I’ve as recently as last night had members try to find polite ways of saying that I don’t look enough like a woman.

When one is in this limbo space, a space which some of us never escape from, there really is nowhere safe from being viewed as the gender we were assigned at birth. And when nowhere feels safe, when you can’t feel like people see the real you, it bears you down. There’s a reason that even after coming out and beginning transition, far too many of us feel that there is no other option but suicide. When you can’t feel like yourself no matter where you go, sometimes there seems no other option. In those moments, I urge all of us to reach out. If we feel that way, find someone who has always treated us as the real us, reach out. If it’s a friend we see sliding into those spaces, we can reach out to them.

It may never get better. It’s a sad fact that many of us never leave limbo, but many others do. We need to learn to have patience with our transitions, as well as to learn to accept ourselves as we are. Sometimes, we are all we have.

So I turn it now to you, my readers. Do you have any stories of your time in limbo? Do you have advice for those struggling through it?

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4 responses to “The Pain of Limbo

  1. I just passed the 2 week mark without getting mis-gendered. I am happy. But terrified by how I’ll feel when the inevitable happens. It’s like all the upticks don’t count nearly as much as the downturns. Perhaps it’s a personal bias of mine – always seeing the glass half empty.

    Surrounding myself with folks who get it right helps. Don’t underestimate the power of this – even if it’s from someone you don’t know that well.

    Also remember that it’s harder for people who knew you longer pre-transition. They have a bit of learning to undo. I’m actually spending less time with old friends these days and spending more time cultivating new ones.

    If you’re contemplating suicide don’t be afraid to reach out and tell someone about it. It’s a forever decision not to be made on a spur of the moment.

    • Sometimes it’s even new people though. A good example is just this week started the LGBT support group at school, and in the course of that first day, after introducing myself as Caitlin and female, one of the members referred to me as a guy despite never seeing me before. It happens a lot at the queer youth center I volunteer at as well, where people new to meeting me can’t tell which gender I am (and some have even asked which direction I’m going), and so they make a guess. That there is what I mean by all the little things adding up for this limbo phase.

      And I agree, suicide just means that they win, and leaves behind pain for others. If you’re a spiritual or religious person, many faiths speak out against suicide (though some make concessions for suicide for honorable reasons, like the Japanese concept of seppuku), even saying that it damages your soul, leaving you with that pain for eternity. Reach out to people, and ask for help if you need it.

      Heck, I even had to reach out to a friend today after writing this, but to tell him that I’m ok. Seriously, as I was nearing the end of this post, I started thinking “wow, this sounds like a suicide note” and needed to tell some people I’m ok. But this is a good example of how innocuous a cry for help can be. I’m just using examples of my own life to illustrate a point, but add it all up, and it has those signs. Sometimes, a cry for help is far more subtle than a direct “I’m losing my will to live.” Look out for each other.

  2. What frustrates me is not being able to see myself as others see me, so I don’t know how I’m being read. Mostly, I’m seen as male, but then one person will say “she” and point at me, which undermines my self confidence. Even if it only happens once in two weeks it makes me think I’m the one fooling myself.

  3. My emotions are ahead of my physical development at this point leaving me in a curious limbo. I hate that my body is so far behind where I am psychologically.

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