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Uncertainty is OKAY: On Gatekeeping & Transitioning

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October 4, 2016

Growing up, I vaguely knew of trans people from their routinely featured roles on Jerry Springer, yet quickly became familiar with them through their public denigration, references, and comments leaving my family’s mouth unfiltered. It wasn’t until one of my many excursions across Youtube, desperately seeking advice on how to tell my family of my own truth, that I came across an FTM coming out video. Simultaneously amazed and perplexed, I continued watching these videos, convinced that my interest lay solely in learning their stories.

A consistent theme in many of the coming out videos I watched was how seamless arriving at the decision to start hormone replacement therapy (hrt) was for them, though not always immediate, eventually feeling 100%, undoubtedly comfortable. I continued to watch these videos, hoping that something would spark the intense urge that I was expecting to feel, one that would not subside until I got my prescription; however, my feelings never quite resembled theirs. The feeling of needing testosterone, for me, was fleeting. It came in waves that sometimes rendered me immobile, completely unable to move or be seen by myself and others, and other times manifested in a dull yet persistent ache that I had to quiet.

For three years, I did extensive research on testosterone, finding myself in trans chat rooms until 1am, continuing to parcel through videos I had already seen to find new people to relate to, new journeys to follow. It took three years of discomfort, self-reflection, and confusion before I came to my decision; and yet, I was still uncertain and anxious.

I was convinced for a long time that any ounce of fear or hesitancy that I may have was indicative of me not only not needing hrt, but not deserving it. I was convinced that if my desire was inconsistent, then it was wholly false, and given the overwhelming number of trans people who need hrt yet are unable to access it for a number reasons, I felt a lot of guilt.

It wasn’t until recently that I made the connection between unrealistic expectations of certainty enforced upon trans people, and the long and continued history of gatekeeping. In traditional methods of accessing surgeries or hormones, trans people must first demonstrate that they are certain about their gender(s). In order to ensure certainty, trans people are often required to live as their expressed gender for a given number of time and/or undergo extensive therapy in order to have their gender validated by a therapist who is usually cisgender and apparently can more adequately assess a trans person’s needs than the individual themselves. The criteria for determining someone’s certainty is arbitrary and problematic in nature, as it forces trans people to adhere to cis and heteronormative gender expectations in exchange for a therapist’s agreement on an identity that they have likely already processed and found comfort in. Unfortunately, a lot of these messages about certainty as a prerequisite for trans identity are internalized by trans people who begin to police their own and other people’s genders using cisnormative and binarist regulations. The necessity of certainty and gatekeeping only serve to further marginalize trans folks who are held to a higher standard, expected to defend and demonstrate their genders as they are seen as inherently less valid in comparison to cis people’s.

The reality is that complete and consistent certainty is unrealistic. While medically transitioning can be affirming for those who choose to undergo it, it can also be a scary process. Yet, the recognition of this dual reality does not mean that it isn’t the right choice for the individual. Aside from the physical pain and discomfort caused by injections, I’m injecting myself with hormones that will change my mind, body, emotions, etc., all while not knowing exactly how, but just knowing that it will. I’m undergoing a process which is severely under-researched, most of the existing information being created, documented and shared by trans people as they experience it. Although there are guides for what changes may occur and a relative timeline of when, testosterone interacts differently with different people and different bodies, so certainty isn’t really a possibility. I’m allowed to feel scared and uncertain because this is a scary and uncertain process. I am also allowed to feel scared and uncertain while also being excited.

As trans people, it is important to understand the difference between questioning oneself in order to separate self-identity from socially imposed conceptions and negating one’s own feelings out of shame and fear. Questioning the decision to undergo certain procedures, if ever to medically transition at all allows one to critically engage with their needs and desires whereas mandated certainty creates an unnecessary and unproductive cycle of self-doubt. Questioning doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t know or that the decision itself is uninformed, but rather, that we are working to figure it out.


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