Transition is something that gets talked about a lot within trans communities. Sometimes, it’s seen as a defining experience of what it means to be trans, or at least for some word that is taken to be a subset of trans, like “transsexual”. However, I think it’s given a lot more tangibility than it deserves.

What I mean by that is that the word “transition” is a label that we use alternately to apply to a collection of loosely delineated activities, or to apply to a fuzzy period of time, or to apply to a self-identified intention in how we intend to be seen by the world. Ultimately, though, what transition is not is a single, clearly definable action that either is taking place or not. This may seem like a linguistic quibble, but bear with me here.

Often, a lot of trans discourse, especially among those early in transition, revolves around fear of regret. These fears are often used as a motivation to avoid moving forward with specific concrete actions, like starting to take hormones or telling family one is trans. Now, these specific actions do have consequences, often irreversible ones. However, no particular action carries the full weight of “transition” and people often talk as if the next concrete action they take is going to forever make or break their “transition” and thus end up taking no action at all (or end up delaying their first actions until they are “sure about transition”, or worse yet counsel others to do the same).

This is probably most clearly seen in the bogeyman that is the “detransitioner”. The perception of detransitioners is that they are tragic figures, tinged by regret, who start out as misguided cisgender men or women who by some inexplicable desire are driven to “transition” and mutilate their bodies, only to realize their mistake and slink back to their original natural cis state having lost some of their body integrity and often ruined their lives for the sake of the malformed “transition” wish. In reality, the picture is much more complex than this. People who make a decision to “detransition”, or more specifically to take actions that affirm an identity consistent with their assigned sex at birth after having first taken actions affirming an identity not consistent with their assigned sex at birth, do so for a number of reasons, the most common of which correspond with the most common reasons for “transition” – that is, a desire to feel more comfortable, in the present, in one’s living situation. One thing that is often missed by people in the trans community is that it is quite possible for it to be the best decision, at a particular time, to take actions classed under “transition” and then, at a later time, under different circumstances, for it to be the best decision to take actions classed under “detransition”. That is to say, detransition and transition can both be the right choices in a single person’s lifetime and need not be seen as tragedy. Indeed, those who “detransition” usually don’t simply replicate the choices they made in transition and even less often end up in a similar place to where they set off – almost invariably, they have been changed by the experience in profound ways.

Though this might seem of little relevance to those who only transition once, I believe there is less anxiety inherent in dealing with the trees rather than seeing a forest when there might not even be one. It can be healthy, when making a decision that would normally be seen as a part of “transition”, to consider it as an individual action, with only its direct consequences to plan for and consider, and not be weighed down with more responsibility than the action entails. Considering “transition” to be a monolith can often lead to confusion and fear, while taking individual steps as desired are far more likely to place a person exactly where they wish to be without feeling the weight of their whole life on their shoulders.

So if you feel that you need to do something to be a better person, to be more fulfilled, or to feel more at home in your body, consider that thing on its own merits. Life is lived a day at a time, and continual steady improvement leads to happiness.