post cover

Full time


Emily VanDerWerff

Jun 07 2019

5 min read


I didn't mean to go full time. I just did.

This is the opposite of almost everything else in my transition, which has been carefully, rigidly planned, sometimes down to the literal second. I knew which friends were going to find out when, and I picked the date I would come out professionally months in advance. I have discovered, somewhat to my delight, that I am a planner and an organizer and a caretaker in my fullest self, and it's been fun to plunge wholeheartedly into a version of myself that is always making sure things are going OK for everybody.

But I haven't presented male in over a week, and I've realized that I don't entirely know another time I would do so. I might present androgynously here and there. And now, I'm in a place where if somebody calls me by my old name, it will be a very odd circumstance indeed, because I'm just... publicly Emily. And I realized that while I still sometimes have the old reflex of "Shit, I have to keep this a secret," that's receding too.

The thing about transition is that it's a series of permission structures. You start by saying, "What if I'm not the thing people said I was?" and then you start to give more people permission to see you as you actually are, instead of as a facsimile of somebody else. And the more people have permission, the easier it becomes for you to give yourself permission to no longer be the person you thought you were. The paradox is that the hardest person to ask for permission to be yourself is yourself.

Here's what I mean by that: You can be pretty sure you're trans for years and years and years, and you can still bump up against this central part of yourself that says it can't possibly be true, because if it was [insert excuse here]. Or this central part of yourself that says, I can't possibly do this because [fill in person you're really worried will stop being in your life]. And what's tricky about these excuses is they masquerade as taking the concerns of others into mind. You are worried that your spouse would leave you. You are worried that you're not trans enough. You are worried that the world will laugh at you. These feel like permission requests that have to be lodged with some central authority.

I, for instance, was worried right up until the moment my essay published that women around the world would join together as one to say, "Okay, no, we took a vote, and you're not allowed into the clubhouse." I knew this was an irrational fear. I knew from the way my friendships with women -- both cis and trans -- had blossomed that I had nothing to fear. But I still, a couple of days before I publicly came out, had this thought that I would be exposed as a fraud, that someone would say, "Oh, no, you're not trans," and the scales would fall from my eyes.

I think this is because before we become ourselves, trans people are so uncertain of our identities. As a man, I struggled a lot with criticism, because as a man, I was sure that somebody would see through me to all of the pieces of myself that didn't add up. If a piece of mine encountered pushback or made people angry, I latched on to the worst of it and just assumed that I was in the wrong. It caused some pretty unhealthy psychological after-effects. I was sure that the same relationship would exist once I came out.

It does and it doesn't. I still get upset if somebody makes a criticism that cuts to the bone of a flaw in my work. But I no longer assume that I am defective somehow. When people actually did say, "No, you're not a woman," I shrugged, because clearly I am. They had no power over me. They no longer had permission to hold me in place.

Since coming out, I have heard from more and more people who think they might be trans, and they'll recite a litany of reasons they suspect their gender isn't what they thought it was, and I will always, always say, "I can't tell you you're trans, even though you want me to." For one thing, I'm not a licensed professional. For another, I spent 10 years in the wilderness, daring people to tell me I was trans, feeling a sick thrill when somebody would say so, then burying myself back in the closet because it was what I knew. The only permission I needed to seek was my own, and the hardest person to get to say yes was me. And that is true for you, too. You are the only one who can give yourself permission to be yourself. And you are the one who will always be hardest on you.

For many trans people, "going full time" is a deliberate, planned act, a celebration of the self. It's a culmination of transition. I thought it would be that way for me, too, but it was, instead, a realization one day that even though I had to go to an event in "guy mode," I didn't want to have to wear men's clothing to it, because that clothing made me feel like shit. I went full time that day, but really, I went full time over a year ago, when I finally said the words that scared me so much and realized they weren't a weapon but a key.

I am a trans woman in her 30s. I live in Los Angeles, and this is my other self. Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and maybe write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

Read more posts like this in your inbox

Subscribe to the newsletter