On “Going Full-Time” – Movement 1: Moving Towards
[Special Note: in the prelude to this entry (link above), I discussed how transition is a space particularly conducive to ritual. I recognize that this idea is largely predicated on the assumption that such a space functions as binary. It’s only in a society that both reinforces a male/female binary and recognizes the possibility of changing from one side to the other, that such ritual could be effective. For now, I leave it to others to explore to what extent this is possible or desirable in non-binary ways.]
A concept common to discussions among trans people, at least in my experience of communities (largely comprised of trans women) is “going full-time”. For those of you not familiar, this term identifies the point in transition where a person begins living as their chosen gender. Generally it’s used to signal that the person “going full-time” is now consistently presenting in their chosen gender, including at home, work and in public, among friends and family. I don’t know if trans men use this concept as frequently since our society generally allows all people to present in ways recognized as male or masculine, but for trans women, it’s an enormously important milestone, one often involving years of physical and psychological preparation and tremendous risk.
Less than a year ago, inasmuch as I identified as anything, I would have said I was “just a cross-dresser”***, i.e. a male who occasionally dressed as female. Trans discussions of going full-time filled me with equal parts dread and excitement, but in the face and strength of the former, it was easy to deny the latter. I had long hoped my habits, despite beginning at four, were just a phase, a coping mechanism, or a kink, something that would go away, or could at least be contained. And like most cross-dressers, I went through several purges, a common, shame induced ritual where I would dispose of every bit of female clothing, accoutrement and online identity. I went to therapy to uncover the source of my “distraction”, sought out healthier ways to “deal with stress”, and took steps to “integrate denied aspects of my personality”. I put these phrases in quotes because they were not self-appointed, but rather the understandings of others I adopted in hope of change. In relationships, I would either hide these habits from partners, admit them while swearing they were truly over and done with (simultaneously convincing myself), or allow them the smallest bit of room under strict parameters (certain places, times, etc.).
After slowly and patiently healing from what ultimately turned out to be a positively transformative breakup, at 35 I found myself in a life I largely wanted. I was enjoying the flexibility of being single, residing in a queer neighborhood, in the city, with a roommate I couldn’t have designed better, working in music, surrounded by intellectuals and artists of all kinds, successful in my career, and finally old enough for life to . . well, kinda make sense. Yet this instinct to feel and be seen as female was still there, like a beast prowling just outside the light of the fire. It was time to step into the dark, meet this animal and know its nature. And so I walked into the Howard Brown Trans Clinic and requested HRT (hormone replacement therapy).
As my friends will readily attest, I’ve always been the type to take something too far in order to know what’s enough. Blake’s line about the path of excess leading to the palace of wisdom was my motto as a teenager. When I started HRT, I truly believed that it would be another example of such slide into surfeit, that I would begin, realize this is all crazy and go back to being “just a cross-dresser”, newly comfortable in the certainty that at least I wasn’t trans. Instead, and to my surprise, I found the contrary.
***I’m now very much a crusader against this tendency for brave, beautiful people to diminish themselves with this subtly pernicious “just” or “only” modifier in front of however they identify. None of you who step outside of the narrow boundaries arbitrarily created by a society that feeds on conformity is “just” or “only” anything. The moment you claim any little piece of the utter uniqueness granted you by a universe whose truth, beauty and goodness is in fact utterly predicated on just such glory, you are a warrior, shaman, priestesses, angel, righteous demon, a vessel of the divine. Know it.