I try not to talk too much about Robin, my transitioning partner, because it is not for me to discuss or speculate about his experience. But this week he started taking testosterone, and this is a really big deal for both of us, bringing a tidal wave of feelings – curiosity, fear of change, excitement, trepidation.
Some people around us have been worried – how will I feel about you when your voice drops? Well, how did you feel about your son/brother/cousin/friend when his voice dropped in puberty? The same? Uh-huh, I thought so.
Or they’re worried Robin will change – again, recall that son/brother/cousin/friend – still the same person, right? And normally puberty is accompanied by massive changes in the brain structure, and huge personality development – trans men are only going through hormonal changes, it’s actually not that big a deal.
It’s HRT, that’s all. We only see the change as so “huge” and “fundamental” because we live in a world that reinforces and emphasises the idea that men and women are fundamentally different when in fact they’re not. It’s a minor adjustment to someone’s physiology to help align them better with their internal compass.
I want to say it’s no big deal but of course it is – society makes it a big deal. There’s irrefutable evidence that social support makes for good psychological outcomes for trans people. The only correlation between trans people and poor mental health is as a result of high levels of stigma, abuse and oppression. But society still seeks to control trans people’s lives via stigmatisation and marginalisation.
Which is why as well as having to deal with the changes that are happening, Robin and I have the extra psychological burden of worrying if the new neighbours moving in next door will be transphobic and whether we’ll be the target of hate speech and hate crime as the changes become visible. We also have to deal with transphobic “feminism”‘s ongoing assault on the bodily autonomy of transgender people. And of course there are those peripheral acquaintances loudly voicing their disapproval of Robin’s “choice” because they “care” about him, and obviously know better than him.
So let’s get this out in the open. Going through transition is hard, and it incurs an enormous loss of privilege, as you become a member of a hugely put down, disparaged and marginalised minority. Although things are generally much easier for trans men than trans women, loss of status and loss of community are unlikely to be balanced out by the gaining of male privilege, particularly as Robin plans to remain out as a trans man. Even though HRT is pretty safe and routine, no medical treatment is without its risks. I know this and Robin knows this.
What are the chances Robin would not have thought very deeply about such an important decision? Who knows about it more – the neighbours, those acquaintances gossiping over their beer, some TERFs whose dogma depends on not seeing trans people’s perspective, or Robin, who has read book after book, paper after paper, spoken to countless trans men all over the world, consulted with people who have detransitioned and people who are uncertain, quizzed the doctors over every aspect of treatment and talked through, challenged and questioned his own thinking endlessly?
Watching Robin come to this decision has been like seeing someone coming into focus for the very first time – there’s a light in Robin’s face I’ve never seen before. Resistance, bigotry and prejudice make things hard, and this is no picnic he is living, but like any coming out process the pain of rejection is mitigated by the discovery of the kinds of good souls who say “I may not understand, but I honour you and trust you, and will be your friend and ally in this”.
It’s hard to stomach the kinds of folks who patronise trans people who are in such a vulnerable position, flying in the face of social conventions in order to live a more authentic life. I guess I know that folks like that are insecure in their own lives and need that buzz of feeling superior; that “power over” trip. But those are the people who make something ultimately joyful unnecessarily painful.
Given how much misinformation is out there, it is exceptionally hard to know much about trans people, and it is exceptionally easy to stumble into a false narrative of misguided, inferior people seeking to do something artificial and even dangerous. Meanwhile, people who transition live their lives in the vast majority of cases healthier and happier than they were pre-transition. And in being healthier and happier they have more to offer the world, so this is no selfish decision but an absolute win-win.
I have had my own journey of acceptance to make around Robin’t transition, my own battle with prejudice and fear. But I recognise that Robin’s wellbeing and success is very much bound up with how I choose to respond to him. I could never have changed his mind, but I could have made him sad and fearful and alone in his journey. I have not been perfect – there were moments when fear won, but I hold onto the fact that love is a more powerful agent of positive change than fear will ever be.
What people who transition require in order to thrive and contribute to society is not judgement, prejudice, fear, gossip, unsolicited advice or opinions – they require trust, acceptance, support and love, just like everyone else.