Editors' note: Monica F. Helms is the president of the Transgender American Veterans Association.
I'm sure that many of the readers have been in a situation where they needed to make a left turn at an intersection with a left-turn arrow that lasts so short that only two or three cars can get through at a time, and you sit fifteen cars back. The other lights last for over two minutes each, making it a long wait before you can "transition" to the direction you needed to go. Frustration sets in, especially if you're late for something. Many transsexuals can also get stuck in transition, waiting for their "trip" to be over. Is there such a thing as being stuck in transition?
First of all, in order to understand why a transsexual feels they get stuck in transition, you need to know the definition "transition." There isn't one. No real definition for transition can actually exist, because like a person's gender identity and gender expression, how they define "transition" or "transitioning" becomes as personal as wearing cotton or silk underwear... or none at all. Since each person gets to decide what transition means to them, then no definition or description would be wrong. What we see as "wrong" takes place when a person feels their definition of transition has to be the only one other people have to follow in order to be correct.
The nickel version of the word "transition" would be when a person changes from living as one sex to another. Surgery does not end that form of transition. Many post-op transsexuals will tell you that they never stop transitioning. The $2 version says that surgery defines the end of transition. So, to those people, pre-ops and non-ops are either not transitioning, or they have not finished. Others will even point out that a transsexual "transition" doesn't really exist, because life is an endless form of transition unto itself and transsexuals just took a more unique direction in life.
This means that for some, they cannot be stuck in something that to them doesn't exist, or that has no real beginning or end to it. Others do feel they have become stuck in transition, since they have not reached what they perceive as the end. Some reasons that cause this feeling would be financial, medical, personal or a spouse.
If I embraced the idea of myself being stuck in transition, then this would be the area I would fall under. Not everybody has a 401K to draw upon, tons of credit card balance, a six-figure salary or a house to sell or take a second mortgage on. Many have taken second and third jobs to afford surgery, but not everyone can physically or mentally handle living for one or two years under that situation. This, of course, would be affective if one doesn't have a lot of bills or child support to cut into their savings.
Personally, I had bills that my ex gave to me when we divorced and a court-order payroll deduction for child support. I gave my ex enough in child support to pay for surgery twice. But, because my two sons turned out to be wonderful men, I see that as money well spent.
However, my trusting nature caused me to help someone and they took advantage of me, making me lose all of my savings. I got "stuck in transition" because of that and not my sons.
I don't think many trans people have much of an issue when a person cannot have surgery because of medical reasons. Many reasons can keep a person from getting surgery, such as a heart condition, cancer, advanced diabetes, and HIV for an example. Smokers may get turned down, as well as anyone who might be overweight or who show an allergic reaction to anesthesia. Just because a person has the money doesn't get them a spot on the table. But not all surgeons have these strict requirements, so money does make it possible for people with medical issues.
In spite of all the medical reason that could prevent a person from going under the knife, I have heard some post-ops even give these transsexuals a hard time, calling them all kinds of names and saying they aren't real transsexuals. They forget that, "There for the grace of God go I."
Some people have very strong reasons for not getting surgery that has nothing to do with financial, marriage of medical reasons. A fear of surgery, needles or being cut by a scalpel will keep a person from finishing transition. For them, being non-op becomes the only way to live, even if they live full-time. We should respect their decision.
Under this, we also include job situations. If working in an industry that would make life miserable, then people may not get a chance to finish their transition. In hard economic times, just having a job is important to a person's well-being and the survival of themselves and their family. Some transsexuals bite the bullet to keep a roof over the heads of them and their family. "There's always next year."
My best friend is a truck driver, getting into the business after losing her job after 9/11. Getting a job did not come easy, but getting a Commercial Driver's License did. But unfortunately, the trucking industry is dominated by red necks and bigots. Those who fall into the LGBT community, women and liberal-thinking people are in the minority. Many transsexuals have completed transition in the trucking industry, but many have had to postpone it to the point of frustration. My best friend is one of them.
If a person owns their own business, then that could also make transition a difficult path to take, especially if their business depends on being very visible to their customers. Changing to another field of work does not happen very easily, in spite of what people like to think.
As strong as the other three, marriage issues can keep a person from finishing a transition. When a couple has been married for twenty, thirty or even forty years, they become one. Breaking them up would cause the other one to go into a deep depression. The trans person would hold off completing transition for the love for their partner, especially if that partner cannot see themselves in a same-sex relationship.
Another part of this I have seen recently is where the trans person promised their spouse twenty years ago that they would never take hormones or seek surgery based on their life situation at that time. But, time has a habit to changing things. Twenty years ago, the trans person had no idea what the future held for them. Now, a promise made back in the 1980s has come back to haunt both of them. For them, the future maybe a much harder road to travel, but I hope they make it through this.
Life does not treat everyone equally. The chance to complete a transition where surgery becomes the goal does not happen at a high percentage of time. Too many hurdles stand in the way of this journey. Those who can get it all need to understand that they happen to be the lucky ones. Life put them in the right place at the right time, but it could have been different. They need to thank their maker for their good fortune. Remember, life can turn on a dime... for anyone.