“Does it make me any less trans* if I don’t want to physically transition?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
The short answer, and the one I want to get out most is: no. Being trans is like being in a state: I am not any more in New York than you (presuming we are in the same state) because I am in Queens and you are in Syracuse. No one is more or less trans than another, we all just are.
Often, we use the term “physical transition” as shorthand for medically altering one’s body through the use of hormones or gender-affirming surgery. The notion of “transitioning” from one gender (female/male) to another (female/male) has always been and remains the home base of talking about gender identities, because of the pervasiveness of the gender binary. This way of thinking about physically transitioning, while less complicated than an alternative, perpetuates regressive ideas about gender that exclude non-binary gender identities—it implies there is a right and wrong way to transition, and that it must involve medical steps.
It’s this representation of physical transitions that lead to the very question you posed: whether one way of being trans is more trans than another way of being trans.
For me, my physical transition didn’t start when I began taking hormones or got a surgery. It started when I got a short haircut (an overly floppy and now embarrassing mohawk) two years before that. Because that was a change that made me begin to feel whole, it was the first step I took in aligning my body and my gender identity.
We—every living human being—are all physically changing, all the time: our hairs and nails are growing longer, our skin cells are sloughing off and regenerating. This is a key part of our embodiment, for all of us. None of us stay the exact same, and therefore we are all always physically transitioning. But rarely, if ever, do we pause to reflect on and celebrate these changes.
For those of us who are trans, however, this has a special meaning: claiming ownership of our bodies means rectifying our bodies and our gender identities. This can mean deciding we do not feel the need to make physical changes, or that we need to make a lot of changes. But the important thing is the decision making process, the recognition that when your gender identity changes, your relationship with your body deserves some consideration in light of that change.
Really, all of us trans folks have a physical transition, even if we never so much as trim our hair or buy a new shirt (let alone start using hormones or get surgeries) because the act of checking to see if there are changes we want to make to our bodies by affirmatively deciding what does and doesn’t jive with our gender identities means transitioning the way we relate to our physicality, making a physical transition. And no one’s physical transition—whether it takes five seconds or five decades—is invalid, the process is different for all of us.
This difference between the shorthand version of “physical transition” and the version based on the interaction between your gender identity and your body is also meaningful when thinking about cis people. Lots of people who do not identify as trans or gender non-conforming use hormones or have what we might call “gender affirming” surgeries, but taking these steps doesn’t mean anything about your gender identity inherently, it’s the reasons for taking the steps that count.
Whatever conclusions you draw on what a physical transition means won’t change how trans you are. Nothing ever could. Being trans is what makes you trans—the rest is just figuring out what it means to you.
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