For male-to-female transsexuals (MTF) - transitioning is the period when you stop living your every-day life as man and begin living it as a woman. It sounds short and easy - what more can be said? Actually, a quick search of the Internet reveals that a lot of girls have a lot to say! For example, Calpernia Addams:
For the vast majority of western MTF's, transitioning is in fact an enormous challenge, and probably the most stressful time of their life. The former professional cyclist Robert Millar - a married man with a son - is an example of the real-world problems that transitioners face. Friends became suspicious when the then 40 year old was seen in pigtails with a suggestion of breasts under his top. One said "Every time we meet him he seems to have a bigger chest, but he won't talk about it". Two years later he - now she - moved town and changed her name to Phillippa York, leaving friends, family and son behind.
Transition is not a brief event. I first posted this page in early 2001 - a few months after I had begun living and working as woman. However I was still far from comfortable with my new life and it was not until well in to 2003 that I stopped wondering if I had made a terrible mistake. I consider that my transition spanned over 10 years - from first taking female hormones in early 1994 to having sex-change surgery in late 2004. I could shorten the period by using numerous alternative key dates - the last day I dressed as a man, my orchiectomy, acquiring a female passport, etc. ... but none are really a better start or end point.
An important acknowledgment at this point - when I was transitioning I found Adele's excellent The Bird Cage website to be a wonderful source of information and inspiration. Sadly this site is now long gone, as are her succeeding sites ... from the other side and Altered States. I've therefore taken the liberty of including some words of advice on this page; I hope they help a few transitioners.
A New Name
The first approach helps avoid the disastrous situation of someone calling you by your name, but you not reacting. A very possible scenario after a few glasses of wine late at night.
The second approach has the advantage that it aids stealth. For example anyone searching for you on Google will be overwhelmed by thousands, if not millions, of hits.
Of course, a third option is to simply to select a female name that you like - Piper, Julia, Morag, Livia ... . But the challenge then is to remember it!
However it all became out of date in 2004 with passing of the Gender Recognition Act. This established a Gender Recognition Panel which makes it immensely easier to get documents changed and re-issued to reflect a legally adopted female name and a change of sex, also the level of evidence and representation required has become less onerous and pre-SRS women are also often accepted.
In the UK, if granted a full gender recognition certificate by the Gender Recognition Panel, it is now even possible for transsexuals to get a new birth certificate reflecting their gender. In a UK context the next item that you should change is your passport, armed with this (which has a photo) it's then much easier to get other key documents and records quickly changed.
If for some reason a document cannot be re-issued, nowadays it is relatively easy to obtain or even produce for yourself a very authentic looking "corrected" version, this is a risk some transwomen choose to take. However the same march of technology also means that increasingly official records and archives (including Births, Deaths and Marriages) are readily available on both government computer systems and the internet, and even the most convincing "original" document may be only a few key strokes away from suddenly becoming suspicious.
Unfortunately - as so often - your passability as a woman (see below) can be a key factor as regards documentation. For example for marriage in some countries such as Ireland, if you pass convincingly as a woman then the responsible official just might let you get away with showing only your Passport as identification, but pass unconvincingly and even the most authentic looking Birth Certificate that 'proves' that you were born female will be checked out - leading to possible criminal charges.
Beginning to Pass as A
If six months after transition you are still constantly getting strange stares when shopping, and your "friends" and even family obviously don't like going out in public with you, a very hard re-assessment is appropriate before proceeding further and undergoing irreversible actions such as surgery. The often lambasted real life test prior to SRS does have a very serious purpose.
The challenges involved with transitioning are immense, just one small example is that that girls practice their make-up from as young as age 2. A transitioning 40 year old male-to-female transsexual will probably not have spent even 5% of the time on make-up as her 15 year old daughter. This presents an immense challenge to transitioning transsexuals - but their make-up is always vastly better a year after transition!
But the good news is that you can stack the odds in your favour. Just fifty years ago only a very small percentage of adult men could in truth live and pass convincingly as a woman; nowadays a transitioning MTF transsexual woman can improve her percentages considerably. Some physical characteristics (height, hands, feet, ...) remain almost impossible to change, but the modern transsexual woman has an enormous battery of weapons that allow her to feminise many of her other characteristics. For example, good quality silicone breast forms and mastectomy bras are available for as little as £200 ($300) which bestow on a [clothed!] transwoman breasts whose appearance and movement are totally indistinguishable from a natal woman.
In general, my own advice is if that you can afford them and need them, then use them:- hormones, breast augmentation surgery, a 'nose job', additional facial feminisation surgery, hair transplants, electrolysis, skin peels, liposuction, etc, etc. But a very serious proviso is to always seek good quality professional medical advice, care and treatment - you get what you pay for and skimping is big mistake. To the physical changes you can add valuable aids such as voice training, deportment lessons, grooming tuition... even cookery lessons (really, they were a great laugh!).
Assuming that physically you are reasonably feminine in appearance, then passing then often becomes all about the small things - things that are second nature for someone brought up as girl but entirely strange for a man - and things that Hollywood often has a field day over when a man impersonates a woman in a comedy.
For example, personally I physically have too many "male" appearing characteristics for comfort - I'm quite tall (5ft 9in), have broad shoulders, large feet (size 8 UK), a thick neck, and a boyish waist. I will the rest of my life be slightly worried about people (particularly strangers) instinctively classifying as a man based upon a first impression of physical characteristics. For me, maximising my chances of making an immediate female impression means that I've learnt to emphasise some factors of my appearance: staying slim, a substantial bust, figure flattering clothes, suitable hair style, a good and very fair complexion with relatively light make-up, and an appropriately female (but not exaggerated) posture and manners.
While as a woman (pre or post-transition) I faced new problems like:
It's a real "chicken or the egg" situation - you can't successfully pass as a woman until you've lived as a woman, but you can't successfully live as a woman until you can pass as a woman! It's also very hard to go to work and be accepted there as a woman until "being a woman" - with all its many downsides as well as upsides - becomes at least second nature.
Before I transitioned I always worked as a man and largely socialised as a man, but in several 'waves' between ages 21 and 33 I also socialised as a woman - Toni, later Annie - who's background was known to only a few.
I found that it was much easier for people who had only met me as "Annie" to accept me as a woman (even if they knew that I was a transsexual) than people who previously known me as a man. Even my small family had problems, although the passage of time helped a lot and my mother was always generally supportive.
When I transitioned I was reasonably confident about my appearance and dress, but my mannerisms, actions, attitude's, reactions, and speech were still far from those expected of a woman. Every time I appeared in public or had to interact with someone, I was still "acting" a female role and had to consciously consider my actions and voice, at first I would get (or think I had got) strange looks several times a day. I frantically studied, observed and learnt from other women; desperately starved and exercised; and spent a large chunk of my waking hours in front of a mirror. Under pressure (near panic!) the human being is an amazingly quick learner, two months after transitioning I knew my instincts had become female. I still caused slight puzzlement occasionally, usually due to a strange ignorance, but it was getting rarer and more trivial. However an unfortunate physical give-away sign during my early months after transition was beard growth and a beard rash. I undoubtedly should have sought treatment for this before I transitioned, rather than after.
In my experience, transitioning and passing successfully is rather like sitting on large scales. You start off with the male side the heavier and dominant, you keep on adding weight to the female side but it doesn't seem to make much difference - the male side is still "heavier" and people still identify you sooner or later as a man. At 12 months, I was close to despair; I had been out'ed in three jobs, the last of which was a particularly bad experience. I began to seriously wonder if I was doing the right thing.
But keep adding the weight to scales and eventually adding just another a small feather to the female side makes it the heaver and the scales swing over - suddenly people are consistently identifying you as a woman. It took about 18-24 months, two operations, three moves and four jobs for the scales to finally tip for me, but suddenly I realized that I was comfortably "passing as a woman" [a truly horrid term] day after day in a largely female work environment - something that simply hadn't been possible a few months earlier - and my confidence soared. The feathers falling on the scales of my passability were individually light, but cumulatively they had finally reached a critical weight:- I instinctively touched-up my make-up every hour; my skin was soft and stubble free; I flirted as needed, I could often go a day without laddering my tights; I even began to choose fashionable shoes over comfort!
Two year after hanks to necessity and experience, I finally reached the point where I was confident that I would be perceived as a woman by a new acquaintance. That made me start to dream about going "stealth", ever since my transition I hated the feeling of being constantly under examination by everyone (even family) as a transsexual woman. My body, hair, dress sense, manners, make-up, voice, movements ... I knew that they were all up for discussion when I was not about.
feminisation surgery (FFS) is often the next priority. Prior
to about 1995 this really just meant a nose job (rhinoplasty),
but progress since then has been extraordinary. For
transwomen with deep pockets, and willing to stand the pain, an
acceptably female - even attractive - face is often only a large cheque away.
Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) is usually but not always the last item on the surgery list. There seems to be multiple reasons for this, e.g.:
For older women in particular there seems to be a divergence between intension at and the reality a few years afterwards.
Some transwomen would prefer having a natural looking vulva area or a sensitive clitoris over good vaginal depth, for sexual reasons that include lesbianism and masturbation desires.
Teenage Girl's Education
Careful observation of other girls and women is essential. I tried to react to things as my recent girlfriend would have done.
Reading women's and teenager magazines became very important to me in helping me to help develop a female sexual orientation and point of view. I can certainly recommend teenage magazines for advice on shopping, fashion and popular culture, and for plenty of tips on sex and love for the inexperienced heterosexual girl. My favourite magazine is still 19, which is slightly more mature than Bliss or Sugar, but far more entertaining and enjoyable than the likes of Marie Claire or Cosmopolitan.
Keeping my weight down will never be easy but ironically a very helpful factor is the much maligned social pressure on women (from my fiancée, other women, the media, ...) to stay slim. Also, I know from experience that I only need to slip for a few weeks (e.g. while on holiday) and my weight soars again.
and Maintaining a Consistent
One of my biggest problems I still have (like many transsexuals) is that some people know my background while others supposedly don't. Having the two types together can be an unacceptable risk, and trying to avoid their interaction can very unfortunately dominate arrangements. For our first Christmas my boyfriend invited many of his family over to our house, I nearly killed him as only a couple of his sisters [supposedly] knew my background at that stage. And when my darling arranged a birthday party for me, I could never relax in case those "in the know" accidentally gave something away to those who didn't.
Another nightmare is that over many months I've often have had to make up things on the fly to tell people who don't know of my transsexuality (particularly my colleagues at work) which I've since forgotten, and thus I may contradict myself in another spur of the moment situation. Lacking "Total Recall", there's always the chance of later being caught on one small point that someone thought strange or remarkable at the time, and remembered. One or two minor gaff's can be laughed off or the other person made to doubt his/her memory, but eventually people may start to wonder what's going on.
Although my income has collapsed, some outgoings have increased massively. I've just done a very rough tot-up of the amounts that I've spend on doctors, hormones, laser hair removal, breast augmentation, orchiectomy and a few other bits from December 2000 until now (July 2004), and it comes to nearly £11000 / $18000 - i.e. about £3000 / $5000 a year - and that excludes other associated costs such taking as days off work and travel expenses. Also the added financial cost of simply living as a woman is extraordinary - I kept records for a while when I was totally broke in 2002 and found that I still was spending at least €200/$180 a month on clothes, make-up, hairdresser, etc, and that really was an absolute minimum. I'm not sure what the net financial cost of my transition is, but I expect that it is over £100,000 / $170,000 in just three and a half years.
The term "cost" can have other meanings as well. Almost all women instinctively make a huge investment in both time and money on their appearance (i.e. improving their beauty and attractiveness to men) because that's what society expects and that's how they've been brought up. As a man I guess I used to spend about 20-30 minutes a day showering, shaving, dressing, etc. When I first transitioned I had to get up (in England in January!) at 5:00 am so that I had two hours to get myself ready for work. I'm considerably more efficient and practiced now (standard mascara and lipstick in a minute), but I still spend at least one hour a day on my grooming, and on top of that there's the gym, the dieting, the shaving, the Hair Salon ... while preparing for a big night out can dominate my life for days. Personally I don't like all these aspects of womanhood, although I know that most genetic women and transwomen seem to. However the constant worry over my appearance is something that I've had to learn to live with and cope with, and even enjoy sometimes.
Shopping is yet another gobbler of time and money, half days off work and late night shopping trips dissolve in to over stretched credit cards, and aching feet - although a compensation is the relationship and long chats over a tea or glass of wine.
If we did commit to each other and exchange wedding rings (managing to overcome a mass of legal and religious hurdles), the pressure for us to have children would be even more intense, and the need to make up some convincing excuse even greater. Baring a medical break-through, a fake TV-style pregnancy and miscarriage may be the best option!
March of Time
Another problem I mention is that as transsexual woman you may eventually get caught out contradicting yourself on some small point. That risk will always be there, but in the bigger picture your slightly adjusted stories about your childhood, your first "boyfriend", your time at university, etc. become totally ingrained in your memory after a while, and the responses and comments are automatic and convincing. Even better, you slowly begin to have your own boring but true post-transition stories and experiences to tell, even better be told about you. I can now tell all about the weird admirer I used to have at work (he's now my fiancée!); starting to walk home when I couldn't get a taxi and having a guy in a BMW stop and give me a lift; my mammogram; the Arab in the Night Club who simply wouldn't give up holding my hand and telling me how beautiful I was; and somehow 'loosing' my bikini top on the beach!
A critical part is feed-back and support. When I moved in with my boyfriend (about a year after my transition), we had a "honeymoon" period lasting a few days, and then it became truly awful- for example I felt that I was the lackey on which all household chores fell. But after intense interaction and a huge effort by us both, I finally became the female partner of an often annoying but also totally devoted and loving man - and wouldn't change it for the world.
you have any questions, or perhaps just want to know more about me,
please feel free to email me.
Back to Articles
Please send any
comments, feedback or additions to the Webmaster.
Copyright (c) 2004, Annie Richards
Last updated: 17 July, 2004