I read Bev Barnes's recent article (When Do We Start to Live?) with mixed feelings. Bev cautioned against moving to transition—starting your Real Life Experience—too quickly. She suggested trying a mini-RLE, living as a woman full time for two weeks or a month, as a dry run to see if you are really ready for transition. I liked Bev's advice but it seemed to be at odds with a piece I have been fiddling with for several years titled Transition Sooner! My feeling is I have seen too many girls delaying their transition until conditions are perfect and their preparation is as complete as it can be—are they just being prudent, or are they stalling?
My advice is to quit stalling and get on with it. Encountering problems during and after transition is inevitable. Life is a series of challenges; if you aren't dealing with any problems now, just wait until next week. My point is once you begin living life as a woman, you will face difficulties and you will find ways to walk through them. Heck, you wish you had been born with a vagina, don't you? If you had, you would have faced all your problems as a woman. So why not go ahead and transition, and deal with whatever life throws at you as a woman? Why not start living now?
Perhaps Bev's advice and my own feelings about transition are not contradictory at all. We may both be right. Bev warns against rushing things, and I agree wholeheartedly you should not transition before you are psychologically ready. My recommendation to transition sooner applies only after you are certain you are a woman in your heart and mind, and transition is the path you surely will follow sooner or later.
Transition is NOT a good way to test whether you are really transsexual; even Harry Benjamin has changed the phrase from Real Life Test to Real Life Experience. Changing your gender role is NOT simply a trade-off of which role has maximal advantage for you, it is an expression of your essential gender identity. But once you are certain of your gender identity, you don't need to let fear or minor logistical problems stand in the way of starting to live your authentic life.
Of course you are scared. Who wouldn't have cold sweats and sleepless nights contemplating a major life change like transition? But you don't need to let fear paralyze you. Also, don't fool yourself into thinking minor logistical problems are really major ones. I have never seen a transition fail because electrolysis wasn't far enough along, the kids hadn't graduated from college yet, or mother was still alive. Every day women deal with problems much more serious than five o'clock shadow or teenage kids that hate them.
How do you know if a logistical problem is minor or major? I can only think of two circumstances that commonly qualify as major logistical problems. (Your particular situation may be unique, or course.) Bev mentions one of them. The several failed transitions in Bev's experience had a common cause: finances. Being able to earn a living definitely qualifies as a major logistical consideration. Job loss is always a real possibility when you tell your boss you want to start coming to work in a dress. Even if you are protected by law or company policy, bosses can usually find ways to get rid of you if they really want to.
You definitely need a good plan to survive financially when you transition. On the other hand, some girls delay transition for years or decades—often until they can retire—because of fear of job loss. I beg you think carefully before you accept such imprisonment. Many girls discover, to their delight, their companies are much more receptive to their transitions than they expected; my own experience was such. How sad, to delay transition for years, only to find out it would have gone fine at any time!
Even if you should lose your job, it's not the end of the world. Don't underestimate your value and capability as a woman. I am Woman, hear me roar! Make a plan to become financially self-sufficient as a woman. Take a year, or five years, or whatever you need to amass a financial safety cushion; then make your move. You can find a job as a woman—millions of women do it every day. You don't need to delay your transition until you can retire in twenty years just because you may lose your job.
Family considerations are the other major logistical issue for your transition. Giving your spouse, children, parents, and siblings time to adjust to your newly-revealed reality is not only fair and practical; it is in your own best interest as well as theirs. But, at the risk of sounding callous, I would point out that six months or a year is time to adjust; two years, or five or ten, is simply denial, and ultimately not helpful to anyone. Remember the airplane analogy: the stewardess instructs you to put on your own oxygen mask before you help your child with her's. You can't take care of your loved ones by neglecting your own needs.
Take a reasonable amount of time to allow your family adjust, but don't be fooled into waiting for a better time. Some kids accept transition just fine at any age; others have problems at any age. Yes, teens are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, but they also are particularly disengaged from their parents' lives. Adult children should be more mature, but they can be terribly rigid and unforgiving. Mothers do have an easier time with the news of your transition if they are already dead, but it isn't a child's job to shield her mother from reality any more than the parents' job is to shield their children from reality. No time is a good time to transition for anyone—except for you!
What about Bev's mini-RLE? I think it's a great idea. In fact, I recommend a variation of the mini-RLE called, in the words of Jamie Faye Fenton, being a 128 girl. A 128 girl lives 128 hours of the week as a girl and the remaining 40 hours—when she's at work—as a guy. As a 128 girl, you experience the full range of life experience as a woman before taking the big risk of job loss.
I'll see Bev's mini-RLE and raise her a micro-RLE. (Insert mini-, micro-skirt joke here.) A progression I recommend is as follows:
1. Micro-RLE. Spend a three or four day weekend as a full-time woman at a transgender conference like Southern Comfort. Such an experience is often the trigger that sets a girl on the road to transition; it was for me.
2. Mini-RLE. Spend a two to four week vacation as woman full time. Stay with an understanding friend or at a hotel in the city you've always wanted to visit—maybe a trans-friendly place like San Francisco? Wherever you go, don't forget to search the Internet for a trans support group to visit while you are there, and maybe a trans-friendly church like Unity or Metropolitan Community Church to attend on Sunday. Don't be afraid to stay close to home (assuming home is not a small town); even if you do happen to run into someone you know, they won't recognize you as a woman. Believe me, this has been tested and shown to be true.
3. 128 Girl. Bring your family into your transition by becoming a 128 girl for at least a month or two.
4.Real Life Experience. If you feel good about yourself at this point, write that letter to your boss and start your RLE! (Notice I did NOT say, "If you are not having any difficulties at this point…" Building the confidence you can cope with difficulties as a woman is the main purpose of the exercise.)
In conclusion, I'll temper my advice to transition sooner! with Bev's recommendation to slow down! There is no schedule or timeframe to which your transition must conform. Take all the time you need to discover your true self and choose the path you will follow on your journey towards an authentic life. But once you know where that path leads, don't let minor obstacles delay you unnecessarily. Start living! Life is too short and precious to be squandered living in the wrong gender.
—Lannie Rose, 12/2004