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,
Psychiatric Help Five Cents
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.