“Do you know, if you go through a sex change… it’s permanent.”
I always get this since I started my transition. Apparently, people think I’m not aware that gender transition involves some permanency.
Notwithstanding the fact that permanency is the whole point of HRT and surgeries (because simulating breasts or binding, tucking or wearing a prosthesis, etc., really, it’s not something trans people do with that much pleasure when they wake up on Monday mornings), notwithstanding the fact that it is sort of presumptuous to assume that trans people, despite their personal research and introspection, hadn’t noticed that “it’s permanent” (if you, probably a misinformed cis person, know that, it probably means that we, trans people, know it too), and notwithstanding the fact that it is in some ways inaccurate (not all the changes from HRT are permanent, some people stop hormones for whatever reasons, and there are cases of trans people who transition back to their birth-assigned gender) — notwithstanding all this, I say, there is still something more problematic. As often, it goes back to cissexism, i.e. thinking that gender is limited to physical sex (at birth), and that being cis is better than being trans* for some reason.
What is stunning when people use the phrase is how every change that is not biological is temporary. This causes a very grave misunderstanding of permanency, as if social transition was not as permanent as the physical one.
When you’ve told someone you’re trans, there is no coming back. They know now. Sure, arguably, after a social transition, you could decide to go back and break with the people you know, change jobs and move to erase the past, “canceled” transition. But if this scale of change rates as “temporary”, why does HRT seem so dangerously “permanent” when you can just, well… stop taking hormones and call it a night? Either both are permanent, or neither.
But one thing that is really permanent? The past. You can’t change your past.
I can’t change past choices and decision, those I made or those other people made for me. I can’t change the fact that I lived for years as male. I can’t change my elementary school report cards, I can’t change what schools I went to, I can’t change the people I met and as whom I met them. In a few years from now, I won’t be able to change how I went through my transition either. That’s permanent.
Yes, I can erase some of the consequences of a long life as male. I can change my name, my legal gender and my birth certificate, I can change my email address, my name at the drug store, at college, at the bank, and many other things beside. However, the loss of time, effort and money to change these will be permanent. And despite all my efforts, I still won’t be able to change every mention of my name in past documents, which name was used to refer to me in the school paper, in the tracks and field results. Everything of this is permanent. Every day I am not a female is one more dark memory. Every day I stay male is another day I may only erase at a cost, or fail to erase at all.
My past is also part of my identity. There are many things I’m proud of that I will hesitate to show to other people because I did them with my male name and it would be equivalent to a coming out. In the same way, I can see that my immediate future will, after my transition is over, be part of my past. One of the reasons I am transitioning now is that I don’t want to create more permanency as male that would hurt me as a scholar — by which I mean that if I publish under my male name, I won’t be able to claim the results without coming out every time, even in a basic CV. You can’t change your name on a publication. That’s permanent. Much more permanent than anything HRT does to your body.
Incidentally, every day I’m not female is a day less of being me, of being happy as myself. Lost opportunities for happiness are permanent too.
Yes, I know it’s permanent. It’s why I’m doing it.