Whether or not you’re transgender, there’s a good chance you can relate to aspects of a gender transition.

A gender transition isn’t necessarily a physical thing, though sometimes it does involve change to a person’s physical body.

It’s an experience of shifting your role from one you’re in that doesn’t suit you into one that suits you better.

When a person goes through a gender transition, they shift out of the gender that misrepresents them and into the gender that does. (In my case as an agender person, I shifted out of gender altogether because it just doesn’t resonate with me. )

This is a huge project with lots of hurdles, and I wrote some about the ones I’ve experienced in this article if you want to read about some of the weird behind-the-scenes, like how I had to get a mental disorder put on my medical record, for example. Gender is very strongly culturally enforced, and it can take a lot of work to break free.

There are both social and physical components to this process.

For example, on the physical side you have hormone therapies, electrolysis, top surgery … to name a few. And on the social side you have things like a name change, voice training, coming out as your real gender to people who have misgendered you your whole life, shifting which spaces you enter … also just to name a few.

Each trans person has a unique journey that can include any number of these elements. For now, let’s sum it up this way:

A gender transition means shifting from living as the gender everyone thinks you are to living as the person you actually are.

This process is guided by a deep inner sense that in all likelihood goes against how you’re being told to live.

Despite typical evangelical beliefs on trans people, you might call that inner sense a “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

Everyone’s process is different, but these five steps are my attempt to describe how the gender transition process has worked for me.

1. Waking up to coercion

First, I recognize some way I’ve been coerced into misrepresenting myself. There usually aren’t any bad intentions behind this—it’s just how things have gone. The source of coercion is typically some kind shared belief from the people in my life about how the world works and how others ought to behave.

I don’t take this stuff personally. Everybody’s doing their best. It’s just that often the ideas that impacted me were untruthful and unhelpful. And it’s basically on me for accepting those ideas instead of trusting myself.

That happens to everybody, and everybody has to recognize that for themselves if they’re going to change it.

2. Digging up the suppressive ideas

In lots of cases, the coercion I discover started during childhood. This means it’s typically had a long time to soak into my mind and impact me. I have to then dig up every root that has grown out of it. Typically they extend deep, and they’ve limited how I’ve come to believe I’m allowed to interact with the world.

Because of this, there are a lot of negative and destructive thought patterns to hunt down and get rid of. That’s something I spend a lot of my time on.

Everybody has these patterns, not just trans people. But I find it interesting how many of the unhelpful thought patterns I find are associated with gender norms.

From my perspective, it sure seems like gender is one of the biggest ways we limit and control people in this culture. Seriously: why can’t people gender however they want? Who does it hurt?

There are lots of different ways I dig up what’s going on deep in my thinking patterns. I go really deep in there, and sometimes it gets weird.

One of my favorite methods is making surreal art. (But I have many others.)

3. Letting go of what was lost

The stuff I dig up I have to deal with. Some of it’s easy to just dump and move on. But a lot of times it’s really tough.

Often I recognize things that I allowed to happen to me that I wish I hadn’t. It’s easy to get angry about how much better things could have been if I had seen things more clearly sooner. It’s painful. A lot of anger and grief can pile up. If I don’t process it, it’s easy to get stuck in a bitter place, wishing I had made different decisions, or that anyone was able to help me.

Sure, it’s upsetting that I couldn’t have just been seen and accepted in the first place, instead of feeling pressured to behave like something “better” if anyone was going to care about me. It’s upsetting that I didn’t stand up for myself sooner and find what I needed.

But ultimately things just happened the way they happened, and I have to accept that. If I don’t, I get stuck, and I can’t appreciate what’s left for me.

Sometimes this takes me a while—depending on just how intense the thing is that I’m coming to terms with.

4. Gaining new perspective

The pain isn’t just meaningless garbage that I have to force my way through.

It gives me insights, courage, and strength—if I can handle it right.

For example, I’m learning that everything frustrating I’ve experienced as a trans person has given me more compassion for other people, and a deeper look into the mechanics of the human experience.

While it’s true that I won’t get the opportunity to go back and live as my real self back when I was growing and developing, it’s also true that I’ve gained perspective that I don’t think it would be possible for me to have come upon any other way. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m grateful for everything I know.

5. Acting on it

This is the part that people can see. By the time I’ve recognized a way I’m not behaving as genuinely as I could, dug up the roots of the thought patterns that are stopping me, moved past any feelings of loss or betrayal, and gained new perspective, I’m ready to change something.

I’ll take a step into a freer place than I’ve ever been before. I’ll transgress some gender rule without caring about any fallout from other people’s freakouts. I make space for myself where there is no space. I step more fully into this physical plane we all share—instead of just hanging out alone in my head … though fortunately for me I do find it quite interesting in here. 😉

So far, most people in my life have been pretty cool about it. I’ve lost some friends (though it’s hard to think of them as friends knowing that me being me is what killed the relationship.) I don’t feel safe around many old acquaintances and especially in most of the churches I’ve been connected to in the past. I’ve had a lot of strangers—and even several friends—freak out at me on the internet because this stuff is pretty hot button for a lot of folks who misunderstand what it’s about.

But most people in my life have seemed to recognize that me being myself is pretty much the only thing that makes sense for me to do. Just because it’s tricky and politicized doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. I’ve also made some new friends through this process.

It’s a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anybody else’s ride.

Sure, it’s not convenient to be the sort of person that much of our society mocks and hates, but I’m learning to enjoy the challenge of not letting that get to me, and not letting it stop me from building real relationships with people of whatever gender.

Being myself is just what I have to do.

And then we repeat

This process has never ended for me, and I don’t think it ever will. There’s always more to work on, because life is weird.

But it sure is interesting.