One of the most frightening things someone can face in life is, arguably, experiencing a major life change blindly and alone.
Whether that change affects your mental or physical health, your relationships, or perhaps your status in society, dealing with such an event can put a significant strain on you. Dozens of questions may surface when you are at your most vulnerable, ones that don’t have immediate answers, and people may be out of your reach, unable to help. At the end of the day, you’re left scrambling for what’s right and what’s wrong whilst shouldering fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and more.
Perhaps, for some, this major life change is choosing whether to attend college across the country with no easy way home.
Maybe, for others, it’s deciding which job opportunity is most beneficial for the future.
However, for approximately one percent of the United States population, this major life change is that of gender transition.
Whether it’s something as seemingly simple as coming out to loved ones or friends to trying to understand how to pay for medical bills, trans people often experience their struggle alone. A recent report showed that American school systems give little support for LGBT youth in sex education classes and it’s rare for transgender teenagers to receive guidance in their transition, both from school and from home. Often, questions regarding money, medical risks, safety, and opportunities go unanswered for transgender people of all ages, and while doctors may be able to aid in advising for hormone therapy costs or how much it would be for surgery, it’s all dependent on whether the provider is LGBT-friendly, or if insurance is willing to cover said costs.
So, where do transgender people go to receive answers if society is unable or unwilling to give any?
Large amounts of LGBT people have experienced medical information, support, and love from online communities such as Reddit subs like r/LGBT and r/asktransgender. There, they can ask questions and receive answers from sometimes dozens of people who are not only like-minded, but also open-minded. It’s a safe and secure place for them to go in their time of need. The internet eliminates the blindness and loneliness that many trans people of the past faced, as subreddits give valuable experience and info, and Discord servers or Twitter groups offer support that schools, workplaces, families, and friends may not give. Additionally, it’s a generous estimate that most doctors and many people don’t have knowledge to assist those who are transgender. Trans-oriented information and news isn’t taught in school, and society usually pretends that we don’t exist.
For example, when a licensed endocrinologist told me that I would have to stop taking testosterone - a life-changing, life-saving medication for me and many other transgender people - due to a “too high red blood cell count”, the internet assured me that the doctor was wrong, that my levels were within male range, and that I was safe. It took moving to another state and finding a completely new doctor to agree with those I spoke to online, saying that the previous professional I saw was incorrect.
Another incident followed a primary care provider, who informed me early into my transition that I “couldn’t experience male-patterned baldness” because I was “female at birth”. However, on Reddit, I was told the opposite, that a fairly large percentage of Caucasian men experience male-patterned baldness and that I, a person taking testosterone, would be considered in that group as well. It was something I had to look out for, to research on my own, because the doctor wasn’t well-versed in transgender medicine.
I don’t blame the medical professionals for steering me in the wrong directions. After all, how are they supposed to know if medical schools don’t teach them? If trans people are considered a myth to them, someone they’ll never meet?
Until our society holds transgender people in equal interest as everyone else, and cares about us as much as the next person, the trans experience will not change. We will continue to have to navigate a world that was not built for us, that doesn’t think we exist. Our families become the people we meet online who help us and hold our hands when nobody else can or will, and we become our own doctors when the medical professionals fail to give us correct information.
And luckily, with the kindness from friends on the internet, we’re finally no longer alone and wandering blindly into our major life change of becoming our true selves.