Lana comments on the “Invisible Party Dress” article to ask if people making a transsexual transition use ritual or ceremony to “allow friends to say good bye to the individual exiting their lives and then one to welcome the new,” pointing out that this sort of transition is every bit as big as a baptism, marriage, funeral in terms of impact on self and society.

Although the transition feels like a remarkably slow process to the transitioner, I think Lana’s right to ask for something for friends and family, whose understanding of what’s happening may be much more abrupt or may benefit at the very least from a proper recognition of what’s happening, maybe a moment in time when the whole network of friends, family, and colleagues are aware of the inescapable fact that the old gender is falling away fast, and the new gender is emerging equally quickly.

I haven’t given it any thought for myself, but I will relate some of the ritual moments I’ve read about and heard about during my life as a trans-person.

Starting hormones is almost always accompanied by a ritual of one sort or another. Having finally talked to a doctor, done the blood work, received the prescription, I think the intensity of one’s direction becomes very real to a transsexual, but that moment of sitting down, looking at the label, and finally taking the first pill or the first shot is very ceremonial. I’ve read a lot of stories about the first pill, and almost no one rips open the bottle in the car and takes their first hormone pill right then and there. Instead, they go home, do their duties, and then pick a time for taking the pill. Everyone remembers this as a moment that sets a course of self-discovery and change in motion. It’s mostly private, but it could be shared with a friend, as it was in TransGeneration when the Lucas brings his first injection of testosterone home and he and his roommate (who is also a FTM transsexual) celebrate after it has been administered.

Another ritual I’ve read about from other transsexuals is giving away all your old clothes, either slowly or all at once. Each time you get rid of one of the items of trappings of your old self, this little ritual makes your choice more real and your path more clear. Some people don’t give their things away, but don’t replace them when they’ve worn out: “my last pair of men’s jeans has finally worn out, and I’m not replacing them.” The flipside of giving away all your clothes would be buying a new wardrobe, and while this sounds like a great ritual, you really don’t see it occur very often, and almost never as a ceremony to mark the arrival of a new person.

There’s an almost ceremonial quality of telling people you’re a transsexual, either in writing or face-to-face. It’s common to see draft versions of letters to friends and family posted to a support web site asking for comments. Making that appointment to talk or dropping the letter in the post box or hitting the “send” key on one’s email is an event that is marked with great emotion and private ritual.

When I was in Boston, I saw an exhibit at a museum about a Chinese house that was moved to Boston, and I was greatly impressed by the amount of ceremony that attended the taking apart of the house, then the reconstruction in Boston. The workers banged hammers, burned incense, and told the ancestors who had lived in the house that they had to move it in order to preserve it. I found it so moving that when I was next in my hometown, I visited my parents’ graves and did something similar.

Firsts and lasts often get moments of celebration:

  • last shave (thanks to electrolysis) is often mentioned in personal chronologies
  • first bra for MTF’s, at least the first one that’s required
  • last day at work as your old gender / first day at work as your new gender
  • first time you get ma’amed (MFT) or sirred (FTM)

But what Lana is asking about is something for all the friends and family, not some personal ritual marking progress on a transsexual transition. I have not read about or witnessed many, which is not to say that they don’t occur, but maybe they don’t get written about. What groups of people need must be very different from what the transitioner needs — an occasion to acknowledge that something big is happening, a place to tell jokes and stories about each other, a safe space to both grieve and celebrate without hurting anyone’s feelings, and a way to get to see the new gender presentation and get used to it.

Sounds to me like a combination wake and coming out party (but without all the formal wear). I would be interested in learning from my friends and family just what kind of ritual they would need — a large one with lots of people (something like a party), a ceremony that involves symbols and change, something that adapts an existing ritual to our needs (like wedding, funeral, graduation, etc.) or something completely different.

If I had my druthers, I’d probably pick the graduation adaptation and I’d throw my hat into the air at the appropriate moment, an homage to Mary Tyler Moore, while singing “You’re gonna make it after all.”