Transitioning genders is a tremendously intensive process that does not work like flipping a light switch. It is not as easy as trading all of your skirts and dresses for jeans, or turning in your suit and tie for a cocktail dress. There are a lot of changes taking place, many of which are occurring simultaneously, and it takes quite a while to see these changes solidified and refined. That means there are a lot of new things to get used to, which may take longer than the developing and fine-tuning of any one particular change.
It is natural to expect that there will be a number of adjustments to make. These adjustments may be as simple as wearing different clothing from day to day, though this can also be a challenge. One may find that buttons and zippers are accessed from different directions on gendered clothing, or discover the necessity to make use of a binder or bra that was previously not required. In addition to attire, appearance overall is a huge adjustment. Some changes in appearance are easy to produce at will while others are only going to come with a considerable amount of time and hormones. Once cross-hormone therapy is in full swing, changes in appearance are inevitable. For trans women this means breast development, among other things, which will eventually be impossible to hide without great discomfort. For trans men something just as noticeable comes into play – a new voice.
Whether it is clothing, appearance, changes in voice, a new routine, name, change of pronouns, or addressing a new set of fears, it is not easy to accommodate the abundance of change. One must constantly be aware of how he or she looks, sounds, behaves, and interacts with others. The watchful and discerning eye is ever present, if not in reality, certainly in the mind. But transgender individuals are not the only ones in transition. Everyone who comes into contact with them must process some sort of transition as well.
Those with limited contact to transgender individuals have only small social adjustments to monitor, infrequently. That may create an awkward moment, but the feeling is likely to fade away without causing excessive, enduring stress. For close family and friends, however, adjusting to the changes will likely afford constant trials that will take just as much time for them to accommodate as they will for the transgender individual. We are all used to seeing small changes in our family members and friends. By small I mean changes in clothing preferences, hair styles and interests from time to time. So, to notice dramatic changes in those areas may be difficult, but are probably easier to adjust to than other, more fundamental changes – like name and pronoun usage, voice modifications, and certain mannerisms.
It takes quite a bit of practice for those who are transgender to get used to hearing a new name that is now meant to represent them, and to get used to responding to a new set of pronouns. The tendency also remains for some time to respond unconsciously to someone calling out a past name. But trans men and trans women adjust to these changes faster than most family and friends because they have far more consistent exposure to it. For family and friends it will take a lot more time, and equal practice to get used to the new name and pronouns, especially if those pronouns are less conventional, like they/them/theirs.
An important thing to remember during the transition is to exercise patience with others who are experiencing this journey with you – whether they are transgender or not. Most trans individuals are very understanding of slips in name and pronoun usage, if it is evident that there is a willingness to make the appropriate changes. Also, others should understand when gentle corrections are offered after multiple slips within a short period of time. Along with patience and understanding, forgiveness must be granted. Transgender persons should be able to repeatedly forgive others when honest mistakes are made, and others should be able to forgive trans people for being frustrated with excessive, though honest mistakes – especially in public settings.
Moreover, all parties involved must be able to forgive themselves. Transgender individuals will likely sign their former name at some point, refer to themselves incorrectly, or respond when their former name is used. Likewise, family and friends will slip up now and again, especially if contact is less frequent. There is no need to beat yourself up over it; it happens.
Eventually, the adjustments that once seemed overwhelming will become natural, comfortable, and seamlessly integrated pieces of your lives, just as it was meant to be.