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Is the Transgender Person's Transition Process Selfish?

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A word often leveled against transgender people is "selfish" -- selfish for desiring to change our appearance through medical means in order to more closely align our physical appearance with our self-identification of gender. Webster's dictionary defines "selfish" as "concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others." By definition, the transition process is then a selfish act, although being transgender is not inherently selfish. A case could be made that people who smoke, eat fast food, drink alcohol, take recreational drugs, or even lie around the house every day watching television are also being selfish. These actions diminish health and life expectancy, thereby depriving family and friends of a longer, happier, and healthier life with the person indulging in them.

All of humanity is selfish. How else could we have evolved and developed from a single-cell organism had we not at times been selfish when it came to our own growth and development? When it comes to transgender people, though, a broader view demonstrates that it is not the one particular act of transition that is viewed as selfish but rather the sum of our choices. As in the example of the fast-food junkie, the smoker, or the coach potato, a single act is not viewed as selfish unless done to excess. Therefore, the more pertinent question is whether the person in transition should be viewed more as self-centered than as selfish.

The first 18 to 24 months of transition for the transgender person can be an awkward period in terms of physical appearance, a period very similar to puberty. It is during this time that a self-centered person in transition might fail to take into consideration allowing time for his or her family and friends to adjust to and accept this new exterior. It is common for people in transition to feel as if they have finally exited the cave, and now that they have accepted themselves, they want the world to accept them now. But just as it takes transgender people years to accept themselves, they must also allow a reasonable period of time for family and friends to adjust. Expecting anything else can be very self-centered and selfish.

The transition process for a transgender person is a very isolating time, but it is also a time of discoveries regarding oneself and one's relationship with other people. The human condition is to resist change, to fight the correct course of action one knows must be taken -- that is, until the pain of not changing is greater than the fear of making that change. It is at this tipping point that a transgender person's pain of not being his or her real self is greater than the fear of change, and the fear of losing everyone and everything, including family, friends, employment, acceptance by society, etc. It is very common for family and friends to turn their backs on transgender people, thereby leaving us isolated and alone.

Often, people in transition contemplate whether we have done the right thing, and we are at a much higher risk of suicide during this phase. Our traditional support system is gone, and we feel we have nowhere to turn. Those who do reject the transitioning person often feel that the decision to transition was selfish. But could it not be said that the person rejecting the transitioning transgender person is actually the selfish one, concerned more with how society will view them for being associated with the person in transition than with the mental and physical health of the person they once called family or friend?