You Need Help: How To Be A Trans Lesbian

Q:

I’m currently 19, I’m white, I’m a socialist (with anarchist sympathies), I have Asperger’s, I’m a college student in Pennsylvania… and I’ve recently realized that I’m a trans lesbian. Well, not *recently* per se. Over the past six months or so, a variety of factors, thoughts, and realizations have brought me here.

I spent time talking with trans people I know, I thought a *lot* about it in the shower, and I ultimately went to a therapist who specializes in these things… And through all of this, I’ve discovered that so many of my weird anxieties and fears make SO much more sense in the context of me wanting to be a woman, and wanting to be friends/more than friends with women… my therapist and trans friends looked at my huge bundle of issues and were like, “yeah, seems pretty trans to me.” Everything about my personality and personal history makes so much more sense in that context.

Now, this question isn’t about coming out. When that eventually happens, I’m fairly confident that my friends will be accepting, and my parents will, worst case scenario, get used to it. My question is a *much* broader one: what the hell do I do now? I haven’t started to transition or anything, so I’m in a cis male body, which certainly makes me feel a lot less… lesbiany. That’s one thing that I’m currently dealing with.

But more broadly: What habits should I adopt? What should I read? How should I think about myself in the world? What are resources that I can use? Should I seek out elders, however that all works? I basically have whatever the queer equivalent of Archive Panic is. I’ve discovered this thing, and I think I’ll be much happier with it, but I have no clue where to start.

TL;DR–I’m a hyper-anxious college sophomore who’s *just* starting to come into my own identity as a trans lesbian, and I feel totally confused and adrift.

All my best, and thank you for putting up with me,

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Psychiatric Help Five Cents

A:

Hi Psychiatric Help Five Cents!

I’m a 32 year-old trans lesbian. From my point of view, two very important things are true: 1) You are very young, and you don’t have to have all of this figured out right away! There’s no rush. And 2) There’s no right way to be a woman or be a lesbian. There’s no universally-common experience that binds all cis women together, for example. Not all cis women have periods, uteri, hairless faces, breasts, or a “woman’s body.” And lesbians definitely don’t all have “habits” that you can adopt, or all read certain books, or all think about themselves the same. This is crucial! I know it doesn’t feel like that, and it’s not that simple, so the rest of this answer will dig into some of the details. But I wanted to say both of these things up front.

Now, on to the specifics. A lot of the advice below is about things I’ve done or girls I know have done. But the most important thing here is that none of this is absolutely necessary and your mileage may vary. I had a lot of the same questions as you when I first transitioned, and it took me literal years to figure it all out (actually, to be honest, nobody ever actually figures all of these things out. “Figuring it out” is overrated). So make sure to be kind and generous to yourself, give yourself plenty of time to process all of these important feelings, and don’t rush it!

In terms of transition, I would also advise you to take it slow. There’s not really such thing as a “cis male body.” Your body is a woman’s body if you’re a woman! Spend a few bucks at a thrift store and experiment with fashion. Experiment with pronouns; try calling yourself “she” and “her” in your own imagination and see how it lands, and ask a close friend to try different pronouns out with you for a bit. You might be able to get a clear face with just shaving, or maybe Nair will work for you? I’ve spent over $2000 over the years on laser hair removal and electrolysis. It’s overrated, but it’s one of the things a lot of us do to pass. Again, all humans have facial hair. Most women remove it to different degrees. And something like 10% of women have PCOS, so facial hair isn’t mutually exclusive with womanhood.

Talk to your therapist about getting on hormones. That might be good for you, it might not. Some girls (especially ones who start younger, like you) start to grow breasts from hormones; some don’t. Try getting a cheap sports bra, buy some cheap pads on Amazon or somewhere more discreet, put it on, and see how it feels. And maybe you won’t like them! Not all women have breasts. Some have them removed, some never grew them in the first place. I will say that I wish I’d waited to get breast implants. It felt urgent and necessary, and maybe it was. But if I’d known what I know now I might have waited.

Try tucking if you want (my opinion is that it’s overrated and painful, but do you). I honestly wouldn’t recommend it unless you plan to like, wear bikinis a lot or go out and about in panties. Few people will see a “bulge”; generally, most won’t care, and if you’re already in your panties they shouldn’t be surprised by what’s beneath anyway. I get by by wearing compression leggings every day (Old navy has cheap ones and they have tall sizes and there’s always a sale). I’m also not super femme, though. But you also don’t have to be femme! I wish I knew at 19 that if cis women are allowed to dress butch, or androgynous, or whatever, and still be women, so are trans women! Now, of course, the more femme you are, the more strangers are going to read you as a woman and the less likely you are to be misgendered, so you have to consider how important that is to you.

I’ll also say that dating is somewhat overrated. If you need to get your rocks off, your casual sex partners don’t always need to know the specifics of your identity or transition. They probably just want to fuck! So you may sleep with some “straight” girls who see you as a boy. That may feel weird or strange and you may want to avoid it. Or maybe it doesn’t matter because it’s casual! You have to figure out how you’d feel about that. Or you can just up your masturbation game.

If you’re looking to date more seriously, I’d definitely advise you to pump the brakes here. Trans women are often very misunderstood in queer community in general, and in lesbian community in particular. Especially if you’re very early in your transition. There’s a lot of fear and mistrust, especially as trans people are becoming more visible in mainstream culture, about “men” “infiltrating” “women’s” spaces. It’s also true that you don’t need to date in order to validate your identity, if that’s a concern! People’s sexualities persist even when they’re single.

Something that’s sad — but also empowering if you look at it the right way — is that to some people, you will never be a woman, or a lesbian, no matter how much you transition, or what you read, or how you talk, or what surgeries you get, or whatever. But that also means that you can essentially stop trying to please those people! The people who care — and who matter — will believe you when you say who you are. Focus on them.

That being said, I spent a couple years on Tinder and OKCupid when I openly identified as non-binary, and couple more openly identifying as a trans woman. And it felt like I didn’t get as many swipes. But I was very pleasantly surprised by how many women and non-binary people genuinely didn’t care! They mostly identified as queer, pan, or bisexual, to be sure, but it was a much smaller deal than I thought it was going to be. So don’t worry too much! Also, if you date around, and find yourself with non-binary people, or femme men, or other trans folks, you might find that “lesbian” isn’t actually the label that still feels right. That’s also OK! There are also a bunch of queer dating apps out now, like Thurst and Personals, but I can’t vouch for them personally. So maybe get out there and see what happens, and I would say don’t insist too hard on your identity. It’s probably a better idea to let things flow naturally and be open to a variety of experiences.

In terms of reading, Autostraddle is a great place to start. There are so many recommendations for comics, books, articles, films… but remember, you don’t have to read anything. You don’t have to do anything! One thing I wouldn’t do is just search “trans lesbian” on Google. You will come across a lot of TERFs and a lot of “Gender Critical” feminists… who are essentially TERFs.

The best advice I can give you is to just relax! And to definitely keep seeing your therapist. Transition is a really stressful time emotionally. Our culture is so obsessed with identity and labels and, especially in our case, transition having a definitive start and end point. But that’s not how being human actually works in the real world. Your identity is valid! Take your time. And welcome to the club!


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA. Follow her art on Instagram @abeni.jones or check out her website at abenijones.net. Got a music recommendation, a positive trans woman story/news item, or wanna book me for something? e-mail me by clicking here!

Abeni has written 58 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. This is all great advice, Abeni! And Lucy? Can we call you Lucy? If you have more questions, please ask! I started figuring my gender stuff out almost 20 years ago, so I’m a little dated, but I’m happy to help if I can.

  2. I am told that reddit has a good lesbian & queer trans woman community and they make sure it is a safe space. Tumblr is also another interesting one if one knows where to look as there are more than a few lesbian couples on there where one partner is trans. I follow someone on there who’s partner is a stone butch trans woman, which is something I’ve rarely seen.

  3. Wow, this was decent right up until it hit the hideously dystopian part about how you might as well have sex with people who don’t respect your gender identity and that you should be too terrified of TERFs to date anyone. Holy shit. Way to drive somebody right back into the closet.

    Here’s some advice from someone who thinks it matters whether or not your sexual partners respect you, and that not bothering to date seriously as a 19-year-old trans person who desperately needs emotional support somehow makes sense just as a way to avoid a sliver of extremist bigots and the gray area of assholes surrounding them: don’t have sex with people who don’t respect you! Don’t fuck someone who thinks you’re a guy, that’s nightmarish and it’s a disgusting piece of advice to give another human being. Date if you want to date, but take it a bit slow and make sure you get to know people and they’re not going to freak out, and don’t date anyone who isn’t very obviously fine with dating a trans person early in transition, because it’s not worth wasting time on people who think you’re freakish or are bringing in weird preconceptions.

    I agree that some people are always going to see you as a man or whatever, because the world overflows with scum, and it’s something you do sort of just have to deal with, but not to the point of losing respect for yourself or refusing to defend yourself when in positions where it’s safe to do so. You do not have to live and let live with vile hateful bigots. No one has to.

    Do things that make you feel happy. Try to just be yourself as naturally as you know how, and do your best not to stress out over fitting stereotypes or anyone’s idea of what being a woman or a lesbian means. Have trans friends you can talk to and share experiences with. Build a social circle full of people who will spend an hour yelling angrily about that asshole you ran into on the bus who kept calling you ‘sir.’ Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t hold yourself back from having experiences.

    Above all else, respect yourself, and don’t waste time interacting with people who don’t understand you. Life is too short to compromise on that.

    • I wish to add a few cents to this, in foreign coins, and about stereotypes.

      I believe it is helpful to use ‘a lesbian trans woman’ as a lighthouse if you come in from the high seas, or as a landmark, say, a tower, if you come overland. But, you do not wish to become a lighthouse, or a tower, do you? Stereotypes and categories can be downright dangerous. So, you are female, you desire other females. Many would agree that this – if assigned male at birth – does make you a lesbian trans woman, well and good. But, first and foremost, you are you, and whereas identity markers can sometimes be beneficial they have the sinister tendency to turn into straightjackets and other confining items.

      It might be a good idea to keep a watchful and sceptical eye on scenes and places where scene people meet, for this very reason. Queers in general – I of course except the wonderful people here at Autostraddle from this! – are masters of The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, they just fail to understand it is a fallacy and not a recipe for navigating the world. For them, categories are real and human beings are specimen who have to be shoehorned into them. For trans women this was, and is, and will be, disastrous.

      As Hex said, so say I: those people in your life that will really be your companions on your path, they will be those who care about – you. And these are – important hint – not those who judge you based on whether you are ‘doing it right’.

      • Yeah, I one hundred percent agree with all of this. Labels are something that’s useful for describing yourself, but making them into boxes that you cram yourself into rarely ends well (especially when the specific connotations of labels change with time). A label is a tool. Nobody is an archaeologist digging for the one set of words that flawlessly defines them and will reveal the, like, sacred quiddity of their queerness; you are what best captures you in the moment. I strongly recommend keeping to people who feel similarly about labels – frankly, especially as a trans person, who’s gonna be dealing with a whole lot of bullshit from people who are very passionate about you being exactly what they personally think you should be.

  4. Welcome to the club, seconded!

    I’m a cis lesbian madly in love with and married for over a decade to a trans woman who isn’t planning to transition publically. I consider myself living proof that trans women can come in all shapes, sizes, and states of “femininity”-as-defined-by-American-culture, and still be deeply and passionately loved by a cis lesbian. (I am not attracted to men in any way but dear God the womanhood shining from a trans woman’s eyes makes my knees weak whether or not she grew out her hair and put on makeup.)

    Happy to say that I agree Autostraddle is a safe place! Sometimes I feel like I’m going to drown in all the TERFiness of the world, but this site is an amazing haven for queer women of all genders.

    <3 <3 <3 Sending love for your journey! You've got this, sister!

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