What to do When You are Skeptical of Someone’s Transition

Every trans person, when they start their transition, has to deal with at least one person who doesn’t quite buy it. Someone will think it’s a phase, or a plea for attention. This is overwhelmingly unlikely to be true. Less than one percent of people who transition go on to regret it; of that number, many don’t even regret it because they are not really trans, but because of the overwhelming prejudice trans people face. I once knew a trans woman who had tried to transition earlier and had to detransition because of how shitty people were. When I met her she was in her fifties and transitioning for the second time.

So it’s a bit surprising that during the year I began my transition, not one but two of my friends also began to identify as FtMs, and then changed their minds. This shaped a lot of my thoughts around this issue, so I thought I should share the story, and what I learned from it.

The first thing I think people should know is that who actually transitioned and who didn’t spectacularly failed to line up with the conventional trans narrative. Hailie and Madison (not their real names) were both significantly more masculine than me. Hailie was a classic butch lesbian, deep voiced, athletic, fond of beer and belching. She had her first crush on a girl back in kindergarten. Madison was bisexual and punkishly androgynous. I am sensitive, shy, artistic and exclusively attracted to other men. I had a lot more people shocked at my coming out as trans than either of them, yet I’m the only one who was really transgender.

Lesson one; you don’t know. There is no way to tell from the outside whether somebody is really transgender or not.

A consequence of the first point is that of the three of us, I received the most resistance to my transition. I was actually kicked out of my house, and stayed with Madison’s family until I could afford my own place. Madison’s family was a little nervous, because she was famous for identity crises, but they were still fully willing to feed, clothe, shelter and love her, as well as provide her access to gender therapy and transition services. Hailie’s family was much the same; nervous but willing to be supportive.

Lesson two; there is a school of thought that says the best way to help trans people is to be a gatekeeper. You need to put a lot of obstacles up to make sure they aren’t just confused or whatever. Insert something vague about tough love here to justify making people prove they are really transgender. That’s bull. People in a supportive environment can still figure that they aren’t really trans. People who are trans don’t need to be picked on.

So what did happen to make Madison and Hailie realize they weren’t trans? Well… mostly nothing. They experimented with gender for a little bit, and they figured it out.

Hailie had been assaulted and raped a short time before she came out as trans. Her sister was worried that this was some big unconscious fight to avoid thinking about the rape, rather than an honest transition. When Hailie insisted this wasn’t the case, her sister backed off.

For a few months, Hailie went by a boy’s name and male pronouns. Then she quietly told me that she was having second thoughts. Then, a while later, she said she wanted to go back to female pronouns. A little while after that she said her sister had been right. Hailie had felt dysphoric because of the physical trauma she had just been through. She had needed something other than the rape to worry about. She wasn’t trans. Honestly, I can think of worse ways to deal.

Madison’s story is a little more complicated. Have any of you ever had the experience of being accused of causing drama, or known people who were accused of it when they were trying to draw attention to legitimately awful stuff? Did that experience make you think that people need to just stop making that accusation, because it seems like it’s only ever used to silence people with real problems? And, after thinking this for a while, did you ever run into somebody who would milk every drop of sympathy to their own advantage, who always had to have the biggest crisis in the room, who was every “you’re just causing drama for your own ends” accusation made real? And you tried really hard to be compassionate, but inside you’re just screaming “you! It’s all because of you! We could just ban the word drama entirely and take everybody in the whole world seriously, if it wasn’t for asshats like you!”

Yeah, I didn’t realize it at first, but after living with her for several months, that was Madison. At first I was hopeful that gender dysphoria was the thing that was wrong with her all along, and being trans would solve all the things, but I did start to suspect something when the only thing she ever did to transition was talk about it. We picked out our new names and talked excitedly about them. I did the work of finding out how to legally change one’s name and print all the documents out. I printed out two copies and left one out for Madison. It stayed on the fridge with a magnet for months and was eventually thrown away. She got her letter from a therapist that would give her access to hormone therapy, and the name of a good clinic. I got my prescription filled as quickly as possible. She never did. Her transition only existed when she was coming out tearfully to somebody, at which point she could use their sympathy to control them, of course.

Her parents handled it perfectly. Instead of obstructing her transition, they gave her responsibility over it. She had a part-time job, and with her parent’s insurance she could afford to use pay for co-pays and fees to change her name herself. She had a driver’s license and could drive to doctor’s appointments herself. They gave her all those responsibilities.

Lesson three; if obstruction is the worst of both worlds, responsibility is the best of both worlds. A genuinely trans person will see responsibility as a wonderful gift and act of trust (provided you aren’t giving them so much “responsibility” they don’t have a chance to actually transition. This level will vary depending on the age of the trans person, but you know, use common sense). For a person who isn’t trans, realizing they like the idea of transitioning more than the work of it can help them figure it out.

And, piggybacking on that, lesson four; I think probably most people who think they are trans for a while, when they aren’t really, are in some way either a Hailie or a Madison. Either they are going through something else that is awful and need some understanding and respect, or they are that once-in-a-while asshole… in which case what they’re really after is for you to not understand them, so they can blow up and use that to control you. Show them understanding and respect from the start, and they’ll have nothing to work with. They’ll have to move on to something else.

I don’t know how people realize what their gender identity is, any more than I know how you know you’re in love, or that your new house feels like home. And I say that, having been through all those experiences. I just know that when you know, you know, except once in a while you think you know but you don’t. But hey, those moments of not knowing that you don’t know are just part of being human, and they don’t generally last as long as really knowing you know. You know?


I wonder at how afraid we are to let people experiment with their gender identities. There’s no harm in it. I think obstructing experimentation causes a lot more confusion than just letting people play around, not to mention pain for people who genuinely transgender.

So in case I wasn’t clear, if you aren’t sure whether or not someone’s transgender, just respectfully back off. You might be right, you might be wrong, but either way it’s their job to figure it out.

Boring Privileged Protagonists, or How to Write Relatable Protagonists, Part 2

The continuation of my previous post. If by continuation you mean something sort of on the same topic but about different stuff. So you know, you can read them together, or in reverse order, or just one and not the other. Or none of them at all. Who am I to try to control what you read?

Thoughts and Stories of Lane William Maxfield

I write a lot about diversity in writing. It’s a big topic these days, and there are lots of “let’s make society better” reasons to have important characters who represent the wide swath of human experiences. Sometimes I talk about these, but I also think there’s some value in recognizing that this isn’t just a social issue. This is a better storytelling issue. Earlier I gave the example of how one of the biggest problems with the latest Spider-man reboot is the way they have mishandled disabled characters. It wasn’t just offensive; it set them up to characterize their villains in ways that were detrimental to the stories as a whole. Today, I’m going to return to that line of reasoning, and talk about how reflexively casting protagonists as white, straight males often sets writers up to lazy writing that produces boring protagonists.

I should say right away that…

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Kinds of introversion

I read a post recently that got me thinking about introversion and poly communication, and I’d like to write more about that soon, but on the way I started thinking about introversion as a trait. I grew up on classic Myers-Briggs personality type theory, and still find it often useful for understanding myself and others. Lately, introversion has been a fairly trendy topic, and I’ve seen a lot of people express feeling left out because they identify with some but not all of the things listed.

I’m not anti-label; I think labels are important and useful as we navigate a diverse world (and they’re most important for those whose identities tend to be unrecognized or misunderstood). As a pretty solid introvert by any definition, having that handle to understand myself by has been crucial for my emotional and social health. But it’s also important to recognize that every label is an approximation. Sometimes it’s useful to break things down into tinier, more nuanced pieces. And I think discussions of introversion would be helped if we recognized that “introversion” is really a cluster of traits that often go together, but not always. Reading an article that’s like, “As introverts, we [blah blah blah]” almost always creates a point of alienation as a self-identified introvert like me runs along and hits some description that just isn’t true.

So here’s a completely unscientific and off-the-top-of-my-head list of different introvert traits, any of which a self-described introvert may or may not have. I write it for my own reference, to remind myself that this thing I call introversion is more complex and variable than I tend to assume.

High need for alone time

Most people, at some point, feel the need to get away and be alone for a while. For some, this need is so small that their everyday routine (commute, shower time, bathroom time) fills it and they never really experience that “I have to get away by myself RIGHT NOW” feeling. On the other end, some people need hours or days by themselves to feel at their best. And for a lot of people it varies — for me, the more unhappy or stressed I am, the more alone time I need. Where you draw the cutoff for “this level of alone time makes someone an introvert” is arbitrary and pretty relative.

There’s also variance in what counts as alone time. For some people, sitting with a close friend or family member while they quietly work on their own things is enough to recharge and feel restored. Others need to be actually alone, with a closed door between themselves and other humans.

Low tolerance for big social time

This and the above are often linked in discussions, but they’re actually separate things. Somebody can need a lot of alone time but also be comfortable interacting in large groups for hours; someone can be stressed by large gatherings but also not often feel the craving to be actually alone. As with the need for alone time, this lives on a scale and the “introverson” cutoff is pretty arbitrary.

There are a lot of reasons that socializing in big groups can be stressful and un-fun, and a lot of them are going to be independent points below, so I’m not going to dig very deep into this for now.

Preference for few intimate relationships over many varied

I hate meeting people, but I love knowing people. It’s a struggle for me to get through the early stages of knowing somebody, where there’s small talk and group socializing, but I love nothing more than sitting down with someone I’m close to and talking about EVERYTHING. I assume that casual social interactions are fun and rewarding for other people, because they keep doing it, but I just don’t get it. Someone will have to write a post about extravert traits and explain it to me.

Anyway, a lot of introverts feel this way, and would rather spend time with a few close friends over and over, than continually meet new people or interact more casually with a large group of people. You can see how this fits tidily with the above traits, but I’ve definitely known people who have a strong preference for a few intimate relationships, while not having a strong need for alone time or aversion to big groups.

Internal processing

Some people like to think through feelings and problems on their own, and then discuss them once they’ve got a pretty good handle on their own thoughts. Others process by talking it through. We have a pretty hard time understanding each other. Again, I’ll leave it to an external processor to explain their side of things. For me, I kind of can’t think and talk at the same time. If I’m talking, it’s because it’s something I’ve thought about ahead of time (not always right before I open my mouth… it can be something I’ve devoted a lot of thought to previously.) I don’t know why this is… it just feels like the thinky part of my brain and the speaky part are completely different systems, and trying to run them in conjunction is way too complicated and difficult.

I’m not sure if this is a cause or a result of being an internal processor, but I also put a lot of weight on things that I say (and have to be reminded that I can’t always do the same with others.) I’m not sure I’ve ever said something I didn’t mean. I’ll revise my thoughts in light of previous information, but that phenomenon of blurting something out that I didn’t mean is completely alien to me, and I think to most internal processors.

I’ll have a lot to say about internal processing in the next post I want to write, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Reserved emotional expression

This one is close to internal processing, but distinct enough to deserve its own category. Some people have a lot of emotional output — they express their feelings quickly, fluidly, and often at high volume. Others keep a calm appearance in most emotional states, and are more likely to say how they’re feeling than show it. It’s not that they’re holding back (that’s a separate thing), it’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to them to emote visibly. There are a lot of cultural differences around emotional expression, so someone who’s reserved within their home culture might come across as very expressive in another. In general, though, being more reserved than is typical for your culture is often considered a trait of introversion.

Lower overstimulation threshhold

I’m really fascinated by matters of over- and under-stimulation, because I’ve been learning how much it affects my mental state in ways I’d never realized before. We all have a level of noise, light, and activity that feels energizing and positive to us, and a level higher than that that becomes extremely stressful to process. Where the threshhold is can vary a lot for a person based on their mood, stress, sleep deprivation, etc., but having a lower-than-average threshhold for overstimulation is often counted as an introvert trait.

For me, overstimulation is a huge piece of my large-group intolerance. My energy is sapped about five times faster in a noisy environment than a quiet one, regardless of the number of people. (Weirdly, a dim environment tends to sap my energy more than a brightly lit one. I haven’t yet found any insights to what that’s about.)

I’m not going to try to make this list exhaustive… in fact it’s pretty biased toward the introvert traits that I personally have, because those are the ones that come to my mind most easily. I’d love to hear from others about traits or aspects of introversion that belong on this list. What have you got for me?