Deciding to have gender confirmation surgery can be life-altering for a transgender person, because it allows them to more fully encompass the body that matches their gender identity, rather than that of the sex they were assigned at birth. But the physical transition and surgical procedures are only one part of the transitioning experience, and the majority of it happens on the inside.
Once a person transitions — whether that means coming out to friends and family, using hormone treatments, or having gender confirmation surgery — then they have to "adjust to physically wearing their gender in a way that's congruent to what it's already been for a long time — but now people see it," says Aydin Olson-Kennedy, MSW, executive director of the Los Angeles Gender Center. Transitioning can be "the most interesting time in people's lives," and afterward, a person's interactions may feel different; there can be a loss or gain of status and privilege; relationships ebb and flow, and so much more, he says. "If you only focus on the physical transition, those stories and experiences aren't seen and they're not witnessed or validated for people."
Transitioning from your assigned gender at birth is as monumental as other life changes — like getting married, going to college, or having a kid — and the process can rock your entire world, says Dara Hoffman-Fox, LPC, a gender therapist in Colorado Springs. "Gender is everywhere; it's a part of your life almost every second of the day, whether you realize it or not," Hoffman-Fox says. "Many clients know it's a big deal but they don’t know until they actually begin going through the process of transitioning."
Ahead, Olson-Kennedy, Hoffman-Fox, and Ryan Sallans, a transgender public speaker and author in Omaha, shared some of the myriad ways that transitioning is so much more than just a physical process. "Gender dysphoria and medical transition are so nuanced that to talk about it as if it is an equally experienced and applied concept is inaccurate," Olson-Kennedy says. With that in mind, they've given just some examples of how individuals can experience transition.
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.