One of the easiest shorthand phrases is to say “I’m having a sex change.” Or, more precisely, I guess that’s understood as “I’m having a sex change operation,” which means for most people that you go get your penis cut off and a surgeon fashions a vagina for you. And that makes you female, and thus you’ve enlisted the help of surgeons to facilitate a change of sex.

But if I ask myself honestly if I’m having a sex change operation, I answer honestly that no, I don’t think so. I don’t see any reason to get a vagina since I’m not ever going to go stealth.

So what am I doing? First, giving power to someone else by saying “I’m having a sex change” is deceptive. I’m not having anything. I’m seeking something, and I’m doing something. Is it fair to say, “I’m changing my sex?”

Yes, I think that’s entirely fair and accurate because that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking drugs to change the biochemistry of my body from male to female. I’m actively taking steps to remove male secondary sex characteristics (beard, balding) and to introduce female secondary sex characteristics (breasts, less body hair). I also want, and am seeking, a slow adoption of feminine gender characteristics, which, while not sex proper, are associated with female-ness. Earrings, a certain walk, being more demonstrative, experimenting with my voice, imagining the dress and garb of a professional woman — these are feminine activities.

It’s also that I’m actively planning (perhaps some plans in more concrete form and others more like possibilities) changes in my presentation to the world — thinking of what a suitably feminine name might be, how I’m going to tell people I’m changing, what I’m going to do professionally if I change, etc. I think this mental activity of “changing sex” is huge, and has a lot more to do with a sex-change than genital surgery.

I realize that if I think about this structurally, I have three goals that have emerged in this crisis.

First involves feeling, an internal sense of relations with myself. I want to feel less masculine and more feminine. This change involves biochemistry, therapy, self-acceptance. It is an awakening of other possibilities, akin to gradually opening your eyes in the morning to let little fragments of light into your consciousness. It’s a sobering and challenging set of moments because these feelings may stand in direct conflict with my current existence. You can’t really get outside validation about feeling because it’s nothing more than cognition and self-honesty.

Second involves being less masculine and more feminine, meaning a physical and mental adjustment, and this involves biochemistry, letting go, imagining alternative realities and alternative relations with my being. To me, “being” is allowing the “feeling” to pervade because one can feel joy fleetingly, but not be joyous. One can feel feminine through a variety of techniques, mental and physical, without being (most of the time) feminine. Being involves a gradual shedding of former being and a gradual assimilation of the future being and, while it can’t be forced or faked, does involve visualization, hope, trust, and optimism.

Third is to receive affirmation from outside of myself that I’m female/feminine — the mirror or the digital camera can stand in as a brief proxy for others, just as we can be our own audience for our writing in a pinch by imagining how others might hear our speech. But overall, relations with the world must be social, and this third step involves simple things like presenting myself as female, getting called “ma’am,” being able to go places without being terribly self conscious about formerly being a male. If you’re stealth, I suppose this means simply transitioning physically and starting a new life — however, in my case, it is going to involve telling others and winning them over with my sincerity, along with simply going about my business and hopefully feeling less and less like a transitioner and more and more like a person.

A further goal, perhaps an extension of #3, would be to seek a variety of legal transformations so that one’s official persona also reflects a change — this is a legal, contractual, formal step that involves name changes, getting your sex changed on birth certificates and driver’s licenses, changing wills, personnel forms, and so on. It involves getting Human Resources involved in the bathroom issues and talking to credit bureaus and professional organizations about your change. The more mature you are and the more responsibilities you’ve got, the more extensive this process is. Given the number of sex changes in the past 20 years, however, it seems to me that while burdensome, this process is no longer shocking to most bureaucratic entities. This step is nothing but a vague possible future for me and really is not a plan at all at this stage.

So, am I scheduling a sex change operation? Am I going to go somewhere and be magically transformed from a normal man into a normal woman? Ha! Hardly. I was never a normal man and if I take this route, I’ll never be a normal woman. More importantly, no surgeon is going to move me through these three (or even four) steps I’ve identified above. It’s not something someone does to you.

Am I having a sex change (no “operation”)? Or am I changing my sex? Yes, at least rolling the momentum that direction, yes, probably continuing mental, hormonal, and physical improvements to affect these plans. Maybe leading to announcing some sort of shift to others, but maybe not.