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On the word “transition”

July 17, 2009

The terms “pre-transition” and “post-transition” have always sounded a little awkward to me. “Pre-transition” makes sense when we’re talking about physical changes: you can determine the exact date when you started hormones or when you got surgery. “Post-transition” isn’t as clear cut: it might start at the moment when you feel satisfied by your body.

Personally, I wouldn’t define myself by my body, although maybe I can only say that because I “pass” pretty well. I think my transition started around the time I assumed a male-ish identity. I could say my transition only consisted in that moment, but I accept that slowly changing my life is a big part of the process.

Lots of people consider that transition doesn’t end for them, and that sounds right for me too. But “transition” means a transit from one state to another: does it make sense to use that term if you don’t define an ending point? Lately I’ve started to question the very word. I’m not criticizing its use by other trans people –plus I might keep using it myself– but I’ve been thinking about it.

We have the chance to remake ourselves every day. I’m aware that reinventing an identity isn’t simple: I couldn’t start wearing “boy” clothes without a struggle with my family, and my friends couldn’t switch pronouns immediately. But at the same time, I started introducing myself with my new name whenever I met someone; I never had to transition with these people. Where would all of this leave me along the transition line?

I don’t think this process can be mapped along a line; there are too many different aspects to it. If you can’t draw a line –if it’s a huge amorphous neverending beast of a process– can you still call it a transition, or is it just life?

I guess there will be a point in my life when gender isn’t an issue anymore, at least in my daily life. Gender will probably never be a non-issue personally and legally, but when everyone in my life uses my chosen name and pronouns, I suppose I’ll look back on this gender-messy time and call it “transition”. It’s just hard to imagine that future.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2009 5:18 pm

    Well said, Jess


  2. July 20, 2009 9:18 am

    Ah yes, the T word. Transition!

    I don’t call it transition really, because just like yourself, I find the word utterly confusing and not representative. I prefer to call it my gender evolution! Evolution being a process of adaptability that is not always perfect and has many dead ends, but a path is negotiated somehow.

    For me, transition doesn’t cut it. I’m not going from A to B. I’m going from A to X, to whatever. I’m not MTF, I’m Mt???, if you will. Yes I prefer female pronouns, yes I want my body to be more female. But I don’t feel I’m journeying directly towards ‘woman’. I’m journeying towards ‘me’.

    • July 20, 2009 6:54 pm

      I guess transition it’s a useful word for people who are aiming to live completely within the binary; maybe that’s why it doesn’t work for us.

      I like how you use the word evolution. I usually just say “process”, but evolution sounds more positive. You’re going somewhere, and that “somewhere” depends on finding who you’re more comfortable being.

      Here’s to journeying towards ourselves! Bon voyage!

  3. July 27, 2009 2:53 pm

    Genderkid- Thank you for this post. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in challenging the structure of gender without recognizing how sometimes it’s expected it be replaced with another structure.
    While your entry leaves much to be discussed, I appreciated, “, I wouldn’t define myself by my body, although maybe I can only say that because I “pass” pretty well.” The politics of passing, even among those who id as gender normative and do not ‘pass’ as all the time, are something with which I continue to grapple.
    I also appreciate Ariel Silvera stating that “prefer to call it my gender evolution! Evolution being a process of adaptability that is not always perfect and has many dead ends, but a path is negotiated somehow.” It leaves food for thought.
    Thank you, both. :)

  4. July 27, 2009 10:11 pm

    (In from Sunday Self-Promotion)

    I’ve always viewed ‘transition’ as not from Gender A to Gender B, nor from Sex A to Sex B, but rather as from a place of discomfort with my body to a place of comfort. So I do have an end point, which is a place where my mental map of my body and its actual appearence are the same. Right now, I’m basically there; there are some options still open for me, but they aren’t immediately pressing. I’m willing to reopen that book in the future, but for the foreseeable future, it’s on the shelf, gathering dust.

    I realize you said you couldn’t define yourself by your body, and I respect that, and also say that I do because I strongly feel that, while my gender identity bounced around a little bit during my adolescence, it was pretty much fixed for a couple years before transition and is pretty much the same now as then; both my body (wrt to my sex) and my gender are stable.

    So perhaps a general extensible defintion of my meaning of ‘transition’ is being at a point where you aren’t thinking terribly much about your gender/your sex, where that aspect of identity has become stable. With the recognition that there ought not to be a value judgement on whether stability is somthing to aim for, do you think you might ever get to that point? Or do you view your evolution as something that will be ongoing for a long time into the future?

  5. July 15, 2014 5:30 am

    Well said, mate. (I don’t know your name, so I’ll just use the British English colloquialism for ‘friend’.)

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