A Barely Linear Timeline of A Gender Transition

Michelle's Transition from Male to Female

Rather than use Michelle's former name with which she no longer identifies, I use the pronoun "he." Though the writing might sound awkward to some, I think the content should be clear. 

Susannah Emerson


A male is brought up in Dallas, Texas “a typical privileged, white male.”


He makes a family. He works as an engineer, and prides himself on being logical, analytical, and believing exclusively in Western Science. 


Something feels not right, and though the what is unclear, it seemed related to sexuality. He feels anxious and unsatisfied, without having any source of distress to point to. He attributes it to his hormone levels dropping in his late-40’s. It’s a midlife crisis!


His father dies while he is leading a Boy Scout trek through untouched land in Northern Canada. He wakes up in the middle of the night knowing he has died without having been told, and begins to entertain the idea that there might be more to life than what he’s been taught.


He stumbles upon cross dressing, and begins cross dressing in groups, both to learn techniques and out of a concern for safety. 


He deepens his involvement with the cross dressing community in Dallas. Duncan parties, spends and drinks far more than ever before, and finds the pace and lifestyle depressing - though he does establish meaningful connections.


He and his wife divorce.


The dark period. “It wasn’t easy or noble, but it was necessary.” 


Becomes increasingly invested in and anxious about feminization. Pierces his ears, gets laser hair treatment, and justifies it as simplifying cross dressing. 


Goes on hormones estrogen, testosterone blocker and eventually progesterone. The physical and emotional changes on hormones were slow, subtle and constant. Perhaps because of an increasing openness, embarks a yoga teacher training course and begins to feel all lies falling away, begins to realize the strength and number of all existing defenses, begins to question gender.


After 9 months on hormones, Michelle comes out as female to her yoga teacher training cohort, “her tribe.”


Michelle comes out to more and more people, including her ex-wife, children, and eventually her colleagues. 


Michelle elects to undergo genital reconstruction surgery.* 


*Though she was gracious and comfortable enough to share the specifics with me, she asked that I not make her particular experience public. That said, her descriptions of her changing body - or her “accelerated third puberty” (going on hormones being the second) - were both deeply moving and deeply relatable to me. I’ve since spent a lot of time thinking about to what degree the possession of a vagina, that is: having a hole in your core to protect and discover, is a determinant of female psychology. And I’ve spent a lot of time marveling at how similar female and male genitalia are, and what a miracle that is. Michelle spoke to a fear of being accepted by her new gender: “I don’t usually care what people think, but this triggers me every time - the idea that transwomen are not women.” Said viewpoint is not mine, and her reactions to her physical experience (and the experience itself) are among the reasons that's where I stand


This all brings us to right about now. A month ago, I spoke to Michelle who was five weeks into recovering from her surgery. She was recuperating, which for her looked like anticipating going nuts, spending too much on Facebook, doing little projects around the apartment, sleeping and resting. She calls it “an emotional time - getting used to new body parts, how they operate, maintenance. I expect more awakening, but it’s been mostly healing. It’s not shaking things up yet.” And though she has been bored and uncomfortable at times, I am thrilled she decided to use some of her free time to let me learn from her.

Some of the things that I’ve learned are straight facts: transpeople across the world - notably in Hindu philosophy and across many of the Pacific Islands - were traditionally shamans, doctors and healers, chosen for their innate wisdom; most Native American languages include a version of the term or idea “Two Spirit” and some have as many as five different words for gender; Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for crossdressing; Archangel Gabriel is the guy to call upon to sever outmoded ties, such as those between you and your former self; and 41% of transpeople attempt suicide. This last statistic makes tragic sense; the trauma that young transpeople in particular are subjected to is untenable. 

Michelle, however, was 56 when she became female, and that is one of the reasons that she feels she was generally unscathed. Unlike many younger transpeople, Michelle was neither too young nor too damaged to uncover her gifts,  of which there are many. She draws from a broad knowledge, and is able to communicate exceptionally well with men and women. She is empathetic, creative, quick to find uniting principles and can consciously tap into another state of being. Though she leaves room for other explanations, “[she gives] being trans the benefit of the doubt” and attributes her extremely unique, extremely balanced assets to being trans. She’s also keenly aware of the workplace advantages to being socialized as a male for 56 years. “At work, I’m almost always the only woman in the room. I had a big fear of coming out at work, but it hasn’t been a problem. In ways, I don’t project as being a woman. I present much of that male privilege [I grew up with].” 

While her assumed maleness has been an asset, it’s been a pleasure for her to unlearn it. Take the dance floor, for example: She’s been taking dance classes and steadily learning how to follow someone else’s lead. The first time she worked up the courage to wear a dress, she danced with her male instructor and felt “The Princess Effect.” “The Princess Effect” was the incredibly emotional experience of being taken care of “like that,” in that prototypically chivalrous way. 

That feeling is the factor that’s motivated her to try dating men. She hasn’t yet, for a number of reasons; the primary two being she’s always been attracted to women, and the men her age on OkCupid are “so chauvinistic.” But she still feels like she needs to date men some. “I question whether the reason I’m not attracted to men is because of my homophobic training. I don’t know if it’s part of a shell, another thing to excavate. What other shields have I built?” So she’ll give males a try, but she trusts her intuition to know whether it should go further. That’s among the last things that Michelle says to me during our interview, and it left me a little breathless. Her intuition itself is formidable, but her relationship to it is what moves me most.

Michelle doesn’t gloss over the hard parts of her life, nor the hard parts of her transition (at all), but she insists on framing her journey and her existence as a gift. She is committed to telling her story because we need to be educated about the beauty, because she doesn’t want the world losing out on this gift in her and growing in so many others. She has a head (and a heart and a body) that has wrapped itself around discomfort, inconsistency, the self, the physical, the mystical and truth, that is knowing both sides or even that both is not a big enough word for all the sides.