What is some advice for navigating the liminal space while transitioning?
Q: I realized I was trans in September 2021. Since then, I have been pacing myself with changes (I'm autistic and must approach life changes slowly). I have changed my name privately twice. I know that I want to start T soon and have started saving money for top surgery. I am out to some close friends and am going to come out to my parents soon. As everything is starting to feel more real, I find myself really hung up on pronouns and social transition (especially in the workplace). I don't know if I'm transmasc non-binary or a trans guy. My brain keeps rotating between they/them, he/they, they/he, or he/him several times a day. I also have experienced a lot of trauma from cismen throughout my life, and part of me thinks maybe I would want to be seen more as a guy if I didn't have these experiences. I find myself thinking, what does guy-ness *feel* like? And then searching my life for evidence. Basically, I am not ready to socially transition, but my body feels ready to physically transition. There is a huge tension between these two things, which is making this liminal space feel hard. I guess what I am looking for is guidance on managing this tension--the needing to take things slow, with wanting my body to feel different, with the grief of mourning my past selves. If you could go back and give yourself advice during the period after you had come out to yourself and before you had come out fully socially and/or physically transitioned, what would it be?
S: To start, just in case it's helpful to have your feelings normalized, all of this makes complete sense to me and is very reasonable to feel. There is no singular Trans Experience(tm), but there are elements that pop up for a whole lot of trans people, and you're hitting on a bunch of them. Knowing that probably doesn't actually help you--it's still confusing and difficult! But all of this is very normal to think about and sometimes struggle with.
K: Agreed with what S. said above, this all makes sense to me. I guess to start with, you don't need to be certain of your precise identity or pronouns in order to socially transition (or physically/medically transition). Your workplace doesn't need to know your identity at all, just how to refer to you (which, I get that second part is hard since you don't know yet). Depending on how you feel your workplace would respond to you coming out and asking them to use different pronouns, you could either wait until you have a more solid idea of the pronouns you want to use, or if any combination of they/them and/or he/him pronouns feels better than how you're currently referred to, you could pick some pronouns and change it later if needed. With your friends, you could be upfront about not being sure if describing yourself as transmasc and non-binary feels right, or if you're more of a trans guy. You could also be upfront about going back and forth between they/them, he/they, they/he, and he/him pronouns and ask them to try to use those pronoun sets around you at different times so you can try to determine what feels best. It's possible that what feels best to you does actually change (which is also perfectly normal), but it's also possible you just need to experience being referred to that way by others enough times to get a better read on things. As far as advice I would give my younger self, probably it would be that I don't need to have it all figured out before coming out, and that even if I do think I have it all figured out, gender can be pretty fluid. I spent years doing research on trans issues and identity and obsessing over my own before I finally came out 7-8 years ago as non-binary and wanting to use they/them pronouns. People change over time. I have different goals (career and personal), interests, style, and ways of navigating the world than I used to. Even though I don't like change, it doesn't surprise me that I also have different pronouns, feelings on medical transition, and a different name I'd like to use than 2016-me. Coming out is allowed to be a research proposal or even an outline, it doesnʻt need to be an oral defense of a dissertation. Itʻs okay to just have a few ideas of things you do and donʻt want, and build from there.
S again: This is less something I would have told my past self, because I don't think I had the information to understand it for a long time, and more something that helps me make sense of the different stages I've gone through regarding my gender. It's also very related to the specific things you're struggling with regarding "what does guy-ness *feel* like?" and also being ready to transition in some ways but not others. The thing I now can recognize is that throughout I was really just doing what felt comfortable (which included a name and gender marker change, T, and presentation shift in a way that makes most people assume I'm a man). I assumed that as well--my relationship with the concept of manhood was always a vaguely puzzled and slightly uncomfortable "I guess??" for lack of anything else to label my gender (since I certainly wasn't a woman, and didn't quite feel nonbinary either). And while I don't currently have a set term for my gender identity, I felt a lot better about it all once I stopped trying to label myself as a man. None of the rest of it changed; T and getting perceived the way I do are very important to me. But they're important because they feel right, not because of any particular associated term.
Identity is a conglomerate made up of all the different things about you, and often not a cohesive whole that suddenly slots into place. It's super common for trans people to worry that we're not performing our genders correctly, and I think a lot of us could benefit from interrogating what we're trying to accomplish. For some people, a specific identity term really clicks and feels right, but that's not universal. For you, is it important to "feel like" a guy? Why? Would it make sense to instead identify different aspects of yourself that feel good, regardless of how they map to societal stereotypes? If you know you want something, like T or surgery, that is all the reason you need to go forward with it. This isn't exactly advice I'd give myself (because I don't think it was bad for me to go through a sequence of different self-identities that felt increasingly better, and I imagine there will be more), but it might help you worry less about feeling "guy-ness" or any other identity. If a term doesn't click with you, don't try to force it. You can take T and get surgeries and use he/him pronouns without assigning yourself the label of guy or man, or you can adopt those terms later if they start feeling right. It might be worth exploring your own emotions about it, but that's not with the goal of convincing yourself of anything. Maybe you're a guy who needs time to develop your own way of claiming that identity for yourself, or maybe your ideal gender expression looks like a lot of men even if you're something else, or maybe there's an entirely different thing going on. None of these reasons is more or less valid than any other; the important thing is that you go with what actually feels comfortable to you at any given time, regardless of the reasons behind that comfort. You don't even have to know why! If you're struggling with a particular aspect of your identity, give yourself permission to just leave it alone and focus on the things you know you want for now.