Making the decision to transition is a difficult choice many trans people struggle with. There are some serious and irreversible changes associated with hormone replacement therapy. Not to mention, there is no way of measuring how effective treatment will be for each individual.
The uncertainty of the process combined with society's lack of understanding and possible financial struggles are the main reasons why it takes some trans people an entire lifetime simply to decide.
But once a person's mind is made up to transition, the challenges begin. Learning to reprogram the brain and function in society as the opposite gender can not only be challenging, but also have profound effects on a trans person's psyche.
Take the simple and everyday act of eating for instance. In our nation men aren't ever aware of how they appear to others while eating in public, nor do they have to be. I've seen men eat like animals in restaurants. Taking large bites and chewing with a mouth so full of food that the inside of their cheeks expand, appearing somewhat identical to the way a ground squirrel looks when storing walnuts in its mouth pouches.
Women on the other hand, are more attentive of how they look while eating in public. It's not to say that a woman can't eat ribs in a restaurant, but it's how she eats those ribs she typically remains mindful of.
If you're a trans woman, there's more pressure. Not only do you need to disconnect from previous mannerisms, but the femininity you exude while enjoying a meal must also be effortless and natural. This can be grueling, especially when eating in a restaurant around other people for the first time during transition.
I've made it a habit to have the waiter ask the chef to pre-cut any entree that is large in size for me. Say for instance, I ordered a turkey burger. I'll politely ask the waiter to have the chef cut it into quarters for me. This way, it's easier for me to eat and I'm not picking up an entire burger and opening my mouth so wide to take a bite. I will have quarter sized pieces that I can take my time with and enjoy.
Even while living as male I was always very aware of how I appeared while eating, now I just get to love and appreciate that quality about myself so much more. And the reality is, some aspects of femininity aren't challenging to trans women while other aspects need to be cultivated and developed due to previous years of conditioning and repression.
Over this past weekend, my breasts grew in size from being swollen mosquito bites to becoming tiny, bouncy mounds of fat. Because of this, I've had to learn to walk differently. Not only to accommodate my growing breasts, but my evolving gender as well.
Now that I carry a little extra weight in my chest, my steps are closer together, much slower and I keep my shoulders back (for added lift and support to my breasts.) I've always walked with my shoulders back as if I've had invisible breasts, but it was the steps I was taking that really needed some work.
I would sit at coffee shop patios and watch men and women walk in the street and take mental notes while comparing the differences between the two. Then, I would go home to view my movement and stance in the mirror. I'd also watch my reflection in shop windows while I was walking out and about in LA to see how I looked when moving in public.
It's tough. While most cisgender women have their mothers, grandmothers or aunts to teach them certain aspects of womanhood from the time they are young, transwomen are just thrown into life as a woman and must learn everything on their own through self reflection, self critique, trial and error and even ridicule. While this method of becoming acclimated with your true identity definitely brings you closer to yourself, it also requires the most strength and can be full of tribulations.
I've only scratched the surface on walking and eating as a transgender woman in this article. Let's not forget there is running, cleaning, dressing, communicating, working, exercising, shopping, dating and there's also this generalized thing called 'living' too. Everything I've ever known for the most part is being re-adjusted, as it is with many trans men and women.
So what's the best advice I can give to others when they see a transgender citizen? Be kind and be patient. What if the transwoman that walked by you wasn't feminine enough? Be patient, she is learning every second she spends in public. Be kind, because the setting she is learning in is cold and unforgiving.
And if for some reason you've had a bad day and you can't find it in yourself to be kind or patient, then imagine what it might be like to be a transgender man or woman yourself. How well would you readjust your behaviors and thoughts? How successfully can you reprogram your own brain when most people need an alarm clock to remember to wake up?
Really try and understand the magnitude of what trans people are going through not just with society, but also during transition. Transition is a powerful, mentally arduous and sacred process. Certainly nothing to be ridiculed or degraded. But, it is a process to be honored, cherished and respected by all people. Transgender or not, if you stop to think about it, you will realize just how amazing, beautiful and respectable the process of transition truly is.