Five steps to a successful transition

There was a time when the vast majority of Americans had no knowledge of, or exposure to transgender individuals. It was rare that someone could publicly change their outward appearance to match their preferred gender. Although we have a long way to go in increasing education and acceptance, more and more trans people are coming out and pursuing transition. Transitioning from one's birth gender to one's preferred gender can result in feelings of comfort, contentment and freedom. People who were once suffering, alone and trapped, can feel unburdened and alive. Transition has many benefits to be sure, but it is important to consider the negative consequences as well. As a therapist specializing in treating and supporting transgender and gender non conforming clients (or trans* for short), I have seen various ways that people approach their transition. Although all of my clients face their transitions with strength and hope, I have seen some people struggle emotionally and physically more than necessary because they lacked the right resources. Here are five steps you can take to promote a healthy gender transition:

1.Find a support group

This is perhaps the most important step to a successful transition. The changes that occur during transition are significant. Having a network of other trans* people is key in several ways; Helping you cope emotionally, referring you to trans friendly medical and mental health providers and above all letting you know that you are not alone. Your support may be in the form of a formal support group, other trans friends, or even online support networks. The bottom line is that transition can be amazing and terrifying all at once. Sharing this experience with someone in the same boat as you will make it all the more meaningful.

2. Care for your mental health

Did you know that 41% of transgender and gender non conforming individuals report having had attempted suicide at least once? Rates of depression and anxiety are higher in the trans* population than in the general population for many reasons. Lack of support, family rejection and even violence are typical factors that trans* people have to cope with. It is important to remember that depression and anxiety are common reactions to the complex internal and external stressors you are facing. It is very important, therefore, to find professional help so that you can start feeling better and enjoying your life. This leads us to number 3....

3. Find the right kind of professional help

Over and over again, clients come to my office and are apprehensive about starting counseling because they have had negative experiences with providers who do not have expertise in working with trans* clients. This also applies to medical providers who provide trans* patients with hormone therapy or surgery. It is important that you seek out professionals who bring not only compassion, but knowledge and resources to the table as well. Word of mouth is a helpful way to begin your search, as you can rely on the experiences of trusted friends and supports. Checking out a provider's website will usually provide information about their education and experience as well. In addition, you can "interview" providers, either by phone (if they are willing) or at a first appointment. Bring a list of questions and concerns that you would like to address in the appointment and use it as an opportunity to decide if you would like them to provide your treatment. It is essential that you feel empowered by your provider to work cooperatively.

4. Develop a plan for coming out to family 

The best case scenario is that when you tell your family that you are trans*, they will be supportive and accepting of your gender identity. Most families fall somewhere in the middle of a spectrum of very accepting to not at all accepting. It can be very difficult for family members to come to terms with your gender identity for a variety of reasons; Lack of education, fear and shame are common barriers to acceptance. In addition, even the most accepting family members may go through a grieving process. Parents report feeling that they "lost" the son or daughter they raised and need time to come to terms with their child's new gender identity. It is important to have realistic expectations of family, but it is also important to be clear about your boundaries. Once you decide what is and is not acceptable treatment from family, you can then decide how much and what type of communication you would like to have with them moving forward. Referring your family to a local support group and providing them with education is also advisable.

5. Be kind to yourself

Transition is not always a linear process with steps that follow a certain order. Transition can be messy and confusing. With all of the doubt that family and friends may direct towards your gender identity, it can be harrowing when you experience your own doubts. Remember that no two transitions are the same and no two gender identities are the same. You are an individual on your own journey. You must learn to trust yourself, trust that you know what is best for you and in doing so, you will build the confidence you need to transition into the person you have always dreamed of becoming.