Gender transitioning is the process in which a person begins to live according to their gender identity instead of the gender they were assigned at birth. Possible steps in a gender transition may or may not include changing one’s clothing, appearance, name, or the pronoun used to refer to them (see below). In countries where it is legal to do so, some are able to change their identification documents, like their driver’s license or passport, to reflect their gender. Finally, some people undergo hormone replacement therapy or other medical procedures to change their physical characteristics and make their body better reflect the gender they know themselves to be.
Transitioning can take at least several months or even longer. “Transitioning is for life if you want to go all out — meaning you transition not just socially but also legally and medically,” says magazine editor Jebby Fronda. “Once you start taking hormone replacement therapy pills, for example, you can never stop doing so.”
There is no specific set of steps necessary to “complete” a transition—it’s a matter of what is right for each person. In Jebby’s case, her transition started back in in high school when she first came out to her parents as a homosexual boy. “Back then, I did not know yet that there was such a thing as transgenderism,” she explains. “I only knew that I was attracted to boys, so I told my family that I was gay.”
But as time went by, she still felt there was something missing with her identity. “I realized I was not attracted to gay men; what I wanted was a relationship with a man who saw me as a woman,” she points out.
Jebby’s epiphany came in 2014 when she watched the TED Talk entitled “Why I Must Come Out” by Geena Rocero, a Filipino-born American model and transgender advocate. “My mind was blown,” she relates. “I forgot the details of how I came out to my family the second time around, but I just knew that being a transwoman was what was right for me.”
“I respected their decision and told them we would discuss it again after a year, because one thing that I realized during my transition was that I have to give other people a chance to transition as well, that it’s also a process for them.”Jebby Fronda, Magazine Editor
Today, Jebby is in her sixth year of transitioning but she describes her process as incremental. “Early on, I wanted to get top surgery so I could have breasts. But my parents told me they were not yet ready for me to do that because they felt the procedure was too invasive,” she explains. “I respected their decision and told them we would discuss it again after a year, because one thing that I realized during my transition was that I have to give other people a chance to transition as well, that it’s also a process for them.”
One of the milestones in her transition came in November 2020 when she was finally able to wear a swimsuit in front of her family. “Prior to that trip, my family always insisted that I wear shirts and trunks. Because I knew they were still adjusting to my gender identity, I didn’t press the issue, I just told them that I wouldn’t go swimming anymore.”
So it was a pleasant surprise when Jebby’s family finally allowed her to wear a swimsuit in November. “Of course I was happy, but at the same time, I also felt scared because I knew it was going to be awkward,” she confesses. “But when no one even batted an eye after that first day, I became more at ease and wore a swimsuit throughout the whole trip.”
Another turning point also occurred last year when Jebby asked her father if he could buy her hormone replacement therapy pills during one of his trips to the drugstore. From then on, her father would constantly ask if he needed to replenish her supply. “It’s such a small gesture but it means the world to me because it shows progress in my family’s acceptance of me,” Jebby shares.
Jebby’s story shows that regardless of what steps are involved or how long it takes, transitioning is a process that is filled with a roller coaster of emotions, so the importance of a support system through this process cannot be overstated. “It is very important to support someone transitioning because it is a scary time for us,” she shares. “We feel very alone because at the end of the day, society does not accept us and when we first come out there is always the fear that we will not be accepted by our family or friends. This is why I am very thankful that my family transitioned with me.”
Jebby shares some ways family members and friends can be a rock for a transitioning family member or friend’s life:
- When they first come out to you, congratulate them. “Transitioning is really a cause for celebration because it means the person has finally broken free from feeling trapped and confident enough to tell someone else who they really are,” Jebby explains.
- Ask what name or pronouns they would want to be called. Possible pronoun choices may include he/him, she/her, ze/hir, and they/them. Ze/hir and they/them (used to refer to an individual, not a group) are gender-neutral pronouns and are being used by more and more people who don’t feel like he/him or she/her adequately describe them.
- Assure them that you will be there for them. “What we really need during this daunting time is a hand to hold and a listening ear,” Jebby says.
- Feel free to ask questions. Ask your loved one to explain to you how he/she/they found out they were transgender. “Let them tell you their story, so you can understand them better and it will not feel as if they are going through their journey alone,” Jebby says. “Also ask what else you can do for them to show your support.”
- Respect their privacy. Just because your transgender loved one has told you something about their experiences doesn’t mean they want everyone else to know. It is up to them to decide how much information is being shared, so ask permission first if you need to tell other people.
- Educate yourself. Show your loved one that you care by educating yourself on everything from the challenges the transgender community face, such as harassment, to the latest LGBTQ+ vocabulary. Jebby recommends that loved ones also watch Geena Rocero’s TED Talk (available on YouTube) and even read young adult books about being transgender (just search “Transgender” on Goodreads).
- Advise them to see a doctor if they want to transition medically. “This is to make sure everything is done safely and flawlessly,” Jebby explains.
“Being a good ally to someone transitioning is all about opening your communication lines,” Jebby summarizes. “Even if you read a lot about transitioning and transgenderism, the experience is different for each person so at some point you really have to ask your loved one what he, she, or they need. Be open to that conversation, even if it’s awkward or scary.”
Transitioning is an emotional experience for all parties involved. If your loved one is transitioning and you find yourself struggling, MindNation’s psychologists are available for 24/7 teletherapy sessions to help you process what you’re feeling. Book a session now through FB Messenger http://mn-chat or email [email protected].