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How can I feel more comfortable with change?

Updated: Mar 13

Q: Every time I allow myself to identify as a trans man I get so scared and anxious of the change I so desperately want that I end up running back to full girl mode. It usually takes less than 2 months for me to get back to thinking I might possibly be trans. I'm scared of the way the people I know, my boss, my neighbors, my family will react. If I could transition while locking myself away and having no contact with the outside world maybe I could do it, but the idea of coming out and going through all that change when I don't know what others could possibly do to me is so scary.

S: Oh, friend. First of all, worrying about this is super normal...which is admittedly pretty awful, but it certainly isn't an indicator that you're not trans (or that you are, though for the record, I don't think most cis people think about their gender to the extent that you're describing). What it sounds like to me is that you're having trouble separating how you identify within yourself and how you feel comfortable expressing that identity from how other people might respond. That's completely reasonable; most of us can't choose to opt out of interacting with people who might react badly to something about us, and that response can have significant impacts on our lives. I think it's part of why some people realized they weren't cis during pandemic lockdown--it's a lot easier to figure out what you're comfortable with when the factor of external opinions is simply removed.

We can't assess your potential risks from the outside, but can you try to pinpoint exactly what you're afraid of? Is there something specific? If so, is it around a basic need like losing your job or housing, or a fear of people treating you differently socially, or a history of anti-trans violence in your area, or something else? Are there other trans people around you might look to for guidance (even if it's just by observation like seeing how someone is treated by your employer when they come out)? Or is it more about the nebulous fear of something bad happening? Discrimination and violence against trans and gender diverse people is very much a thing in some spaces and you should prioritize your own safety, but particular experiences vary widely from one situation to another. If you just don't know how people around you would respond to your coming out because nothing comparable has happened, you need more information. Once you have that--for example, if you learn that your job will likely be safe because your employer has other trans folks who work there and a non-discrimination statement that includes gender identity, but that some of the people in your life may stop talking to you or refuse to recognize your gender--you can make decisions about what makes the most sense for you. Right now, you can't decide how to proceed because you don't know what you're risking or gaining, so you've got to figure out some of those things.

Speaking of what you're gaining, that's the other side of the equation. We've written before about ways to explore your gender, but it rather sounds like you're not actually questioning that; you know how you identify and what you want to do (try some of the experimentation ideas from that post if I'm wrong about that). What you're worried about is the potential negative impacts on your life if the people around you react with bigotry and ignorance. But that doesn't mean you can't find safe ways to be yourself. Even in the best of circumstances, we often aren't "out" in every situation--sometimes that is intentional, and sometimes it just doesn't come up. So one approach is to move forward with some of the changes you'd like to--clothing or hair, or other things that won't identify you as trans--and incorporate them into some or all of your life. You can do that without telling people why! (And honestly a lot of cis folks are so oblivious to this stuff that they may not connect any changes with gender unless you start to grow a beard or change your pronouns or whatever.) Not being out to everyone, or to anyone at all, doesn't make you less trans or less of a man or whatever. Your gender is real regardless of whether you can safely tell people around you about it. Maybe you just dress and act how you want and don't tell some people that you're a man (because most of them won't think to ask). Your gender isn't actually anybody else's business unless you decide to share it. Maybe you realize that you need changes like hormones or surgery (or already know that), or decide you want people at work to change what they call you; at that point, you can decide what to do based on the risk assessment you've done. The thing to keep in mind is that transition isn't a binary, and neither is outness. Exploration is how you figure out what works in your situation.

K: Echoing everything S said above. I agree that the issue here doesn't sound like you not being sure of your identity, it sounds more like being very aware of and worried about the potential consequences of coming out and transitioning. I also agree that your safety is the most important thing. S made a really great point about not needing to necessarily come out (to everyone or anyone) in order to make some changes that might make you feel more comfortable with how you express your gender. I changed how I dressed and cut my hair for years before I came out (and years before I realized I was trans), and everyone, including me, was very oblivious to it. I've also been microdosing T for a year now, and besides some people asking if I was sick when my voice would drop a little, I don't know that people have really noticed. That won't be the case for everyone, but it does go to show how oblivious cis people can be, even when they're aware someone is trans. Overall, it looks like your question might be about how to get more comfortable with change. I'm personally not great with change, so I try to break things down into smaller steps. Is microdosing change a thing? Anyway, that's what I try to do. I'd maybe start with a list of things you personally want to change, and then reflect on which list items stress you out the most and which are the more low hanging fruit. Start with the ones that feel the safest, and maybe do some strategic planning around the others. If you currently have long hair and want short hair, you don't have to go in and get 14 inches of hair cut off, you can gradually get there over several haircuts spaced out like 6 months if you wanted to. You don't have to replace your whole wardrobe at once, just start buying things that feel more affirming whenever you need something new. You don't need to come out to everyone, but you can play video games where you choose to play as male characters and test out names you like, or join online spaces where you're out and nobody knows you in real life. Easing into things is totally fine, you should transition and make changes at a pace that feels comfortable, safe, and healthy for you.

Additionally, as S and I have suggested in response to other questions, if you don't already know how some people in your life feel about trans people, you could also test the waters a little bit. You can mention media or legislation about trans people in conversation and see how people respond. Gathering more data might help with figuring out how to proceed (or not) with people in your life. Overall, keep in mind that everyone's transition looks different, depending on our comfort levels, our safety, our access to resources, our access to information, what we actually want, etc., looks like. Your identity is valid and real whether or not you are able to be out or transition in ways you want to.

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