Today I thought I’d speak to the personal experience of myself and of just about everyone I’ve spoken to who has transitioned at a similar age to when I did. Trans children and teenagers often find themselves at odds with the adult trans community (also known as “the trans community”), in part due to having different issues (which I’ll address in a later post) but also due to a rather insidious form of erasure that is ever-present, if not always explicit.

The erasure of which I speak usually is expressed like this: “Oh, you transitioned at 13 – you’re so lucky, I wish I could have done that.” Though this statement may seem innocuous, there are really several alienating messages contained within it.

First of all, the notion of “luck” is devoid of agency. When someone is called lucky for doing something, this assessment robs them of the responsibility for having made that thing happen. For a trans person who is or has deliberately and pointedly overcome at a very minimum the standard obstacles associating with initially coming out and seeking the resources necessary to transition, having it be implied that they bore no role in the significant accomplishment of starting transition is an act of erasure of their very real struggle. Yet this is what the “luck” insinuation does – it tells the trans person that they didn’t actually have to do anything to make their transition happen, that they merely sat around and won some cosmic lottery without raising a finger. The will and perseverance required to make a transition work is significant at any age, and the notion of agency is often of even more importance to a young person. Consider the environment that youth find themselves in. They are told that they lack the maturity to make their own decisions, that they are not permitted by the rules of the society to own and be responsible for their own property, that they only may live as the dependents of people who are probably not particularly qualified to be in such a role. These messages are amplified when a young individual seeks transition – they are faced at every turn with capricious and arbitrary restrictions on their ability to improve their lives predicated entirely on their age and blind to whatever personal qualities may distinguish them. Often in a situation like this, their agency is the only tool they have left. To then have their agency denied by having it dismissed as “luck” can feel like a betrayal.

Second, calling a young trans person “lucky” minimizes the struggles they have, in fact, faced. Trans youth face significant barriers, including most of the same transition barriers that trans adults face. They also face a wide variety of obstacles unique to being young and being legally considered minors. Though they may (eventually, if they’re able to acquire hormone blockers in sufficient doses early enough, and aren’t too affected by gonadotrophin deficiencies or other areas in which trans HRT, especially the conservative version of such most often used with children, fails to replicate the biological processes of cis puberty) have physical bodies closer to the statistical distributions of their genders than adult transitioners, this is relatively small comfort to someone at the outset of transition faced not only with what seems an wall of forces arrayed against them, but also an unsympathetic and alien adult trans community.

Finally, “luck” as a concept is something that is always experienced as a relative thing. Many adult trans people feel somewhat alienated from cis culture and throw themselves into trans communities with abandon, often feeling like they are home for the first time in their life among people who are able to understand and accept them for them. Though adult trans people may have jobs in which they must interact with cisgender people, the work day is usually encapsulated cleanly and doesn’t bleed into the rest of the person’s life – they are free to choose whatever social circles they desire and have freedom of movement outside of work to seek them out. This is not the case for a trans youth. The school environment is all-pervasive for them – it is mandatory, inflexible, and almost always constitutes the main social circle for a young person. The result of this is a failure in communication – the trans adult calls the trans child “lucky”, compared against the other trans people who make up the trans adult’s major social circle. The trans child must compare their circumstances against their own peers, who in this case are children and teens getting their gender identities (and often their puberties) “for free”, who are strongly integrating their gender identities into their lives without the challenges that face the trans child, and who are laying down the foundations for a lifetime of gendered intimacy and gendered relationships in front of the trans child’s very eyes. It is sometimes said jokingly by adult transpeople in transition that transpeople are like hormonal teenagers when they start transition. Well, trans youth beginning transition are also surrounded by hormonal teenagers, and hormonal teenagers at that which are supported by everything from their biology to the whole of cis society and culture. To call a trans youth in this environment “lucky” can feel dissonant at best and a cruel joke at worst.

I understand that deciding to transition at any age can often be tinged with regret, and that many trans people, all other things being equal, want the physical traits that often accompany early (hormonal) transition. However, internal fantasies often translate poorly when applied over the messy lives of real people. So it’s important when talking to people to use empathy and consider whether well-intentioned words will contribute positively or be part of the problem.