5 Life Lessons I Learned From Changing My Gender
I lived the first 25 years of my life as male, never imagining that I could be anything else. When I was 26, an earthquake rocked the previously solid ground of my gender, and I asked myself the question, “What if I’m not really male at all?”
After opening that door, things got very exciting very quickly. But I had already learned my first life lesson:
#1: There are possibilities for your future that right now, you can’t even imagine.
As I started learning how to figure out who I really was on the inside and how I wanted to express myself in the world, I shared my thoughts and feelings with my closest friends. Luckily, most of them were very supportive. They asked me thought-provoking and difficult questions, and let me know that they would be there for me regardless of where my gender journey took me.
I started seeing a therapist and an endocrinologist who specialized in gender issues, and with their guidance I began to change my body to match how I felt on the inside. I paid money to have my facial hair zapped off by lasers. It was quite painful. I began taking estrogen, which sent “you are female!” signals to my body, telling it to redistribute my body fat, to grow breasts, to make my skin soft, and to alter my brain chemistry. It was miraculous.
And as I slowly began to look more feminine and to be more comfortable in the female gender role, I asked my friends to refer to me as “she” instead of “he.”
Most of them tried very hard to respect my preference and the change in my gender identity – and I’m grateful to be able to count my family amongst them – but others had a more difficult time with it. As I became more and more uncomfortable with being treated as male, I spent less and less time with my friends who couldn’t adjust to the change. And that’s when I learned my second life lesson:
#2: Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
It’s a blessing to have people in your life who will call you on your shit if you’re about to do something stupid, but once you’re committed, your true friends and allies will support you 100%.
I legally changed my name to Pace, which had already been my nickname. I finally talked to my boss and my coworkers, and made the change to female at work. It was ridiculously awkward and uncomfortable for all involved, but it worked out in the end. And that taught me my third life lesson:
#3: You don’t have to live your life by the book.
The normal way of living life is to stick with the gender you’re assigned at birth. You don’t have to do it that way.
The normal way of making money is to get a job. You don’t have to do it that way.
The normal way of getting by is to obey the rules. You don’t have to do it that way.
I had gone my own way, and after only a year and a half from my first inkling that I might not be male, my gender journey was complete. I felt more at home in my body than I ever had before, and more at home in my gender role than I had known was possible.
Have you ever been sitting at home, and then all of a sudden a faint buzzing sound stops? The noise had been just on the edge of hearing and you weren’t even consciously aware of it, but once it finally stops and you can hear the silence, your shoulders drop and you can fully relax?
Changing my gender to female was like that times a million. I never noticed that being male felt somehow off, until it went away and everything clicked. People finally started treating me how I wanted to be treated: I could have a casual conversation and touch a friend on the arm, and she didn’t take it as a come-on. I could smile at a stranger on the street and they would smile back instead of ignoring me. I could talk about my feelings and people would open up to me instead of close down. A hundred little tiny things all clicked into place.
But here’s the crazy thing. Despite the changes in brain chemisty due to estrogen, I was still the same person. I was male, and now I’m female, but I’m still me. I was me before, and I’m me after… and people treated me completely differently based on how they perceived my gender. This is how I learned my fourth life lesson:
#4: People are people.
Male or female, people are people. Before I changed from male to female, I felt like there was a giant chasm between the genders. But after traversing it, I can tell you that it’s not a chasm, it’s just a long, painful walk. There’s a whole lot of awkward, unfamiliar terrain in the middle ground between male and female, but it’s not a leap. It’s not like one day I was male, then I flipped a switch and the next day I was female.
People are people. I feel like my transition has given me the ability to see people more truly and more deeply, because now when I see someone, I don’t see a woman or a man, I see a person, and I can get to know that person for who they are, without the blinders of gender stereotypes getting in the way.
Years later, I quit my job to start my own business and do what I love for a living.
Becoming an entrepreneur was surprisingly similar to changing my gender!
- It was a possibility for my future that I had never imagined.
- Some of my friends thought I was crazy to leave such a great and steady job, and I needed to surround myself with people who believed in me.
- I chose not to live my life by the book.
Changing my gender had actually prepared me quite well for changing my career path. I had the clarity to trust myself and the courage to make a big change. And that brings me to my fifth and final life lesson:
#5: You can practice change, and you can get better at it.
That big life change that you wish you could make, but it terrifies you? What if you didn’t need to make a giant leap? What if you could train up to it by making smaller changes, then medium-sized changes? Those smaller changes will build up and strength your change muscle.
Even if the changes you make are completely unrelated, each time you practice, you increase your capacity to change without totally freaking out.
A couple of years ago, I sold 95% of my possessions and traveled the country, living full-time in an RV.
I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t first changed my gender and changed my career. I had to build up my change muscles first.
Change one small thing in your life, something that makes you just a little bit uncomfortable. Take one tiny step toward increasing your capacity for change, and it’ll be one step towards living a wild, crazy, meaningful life.
What’s one small change you can make today?
Photo by Graham