The Transition Transmission
Instagramming Major Changes To Connect and Communicate
“Salut, aujourd’hui on fait la sixième injection,” Étienne says, pointing to a vial of testosterone, an alcohol swab and a sterile needle.
I’m not in the room. I’m on the other side of town, watching the 15-second video posted on Étienne’s Instagram account, which is being used as a way of documenting the transition from female to male.
The account is a mix of photos and short videos that help form a picture of the person Étienne is transforming into, and serve as a way of introducing transitioning, and everything that goes along with it, to people who might otherwise have no understanding of it.
“It’s a medium that’s easy to use, it’s universal, and a lot of people use it,” Étienne said in French.
“My family was concerned about my transition,” said Étienne, continuing that the idea to document the transition this way came out of this concern to communicate to loved ones.
It seemed as though Instagram—namely the short videos it allows—was the best way to show them the changes Étienne was undergoing, things like the deepening voice and facial hair that come as more testosterone is introduced into the body.
Instagram is not really formatted for long-form explanations. Lengthy descriptions are scrapped in favour of short sentences and a few hashtags, but for Étienne that isn’t a problem—it’s actually part of the reason for using Instagram in the first place.
“It’s brief, I just say what happens in general. It’s simple,” says Étienne.
Building a Community
While the original intention behind the account was to keep family and close friends updated on the changes Étienne is undergoing, it’s since developed beyond that.
The videos are primarily focused on the weekly testosterone injections, but also allow Étienne to point to the pimples that come as a result of the influx of hormones, or voice frustration about a family member using the wrong name by mistake, as well as the occasional photo of a homemade pizza being eaten for dinner.
The short clips can help introduce people who may have no understanding of transitioning to what that means, but Étienne says that educating people was not necessarily a primary goal when the account was being made initially.
“[The intention was] not to educate, but to show people how big this is, and to show someone who might be doing something similar what all the steps are,” Étienne said, adding that it could perhaps help break down the taboo that exists around transitioning.
The idea of sharing an incredibly personal experience with the entire world can be a daunting endeavour for some, but Étienne says the response has generally been positive.
“There are some people who follow me that I don’t know, which is nice because it means it’s interesting to others to see. There are other people following me who are transitioning as well,” said Étienne.
“The goal isn’t to compare [one experience to another], but it’s encouraging to see it going well for people, and to support and help each other like this.”
In other words, it helps foster Instagram’s active trans community, and allows Étienne to have access to other people who are perhaps experiencing similar things, connecting people across the world.
“It might not help to educate [people], but it can help people understand things,” Étienne said, going on to say that the increase of information that one can find on the Internet about transitioning helps serve as a way for more experienced trans individuals to help reassure those who are just beginning their transition, helping them to be less afraid of what’s to come in light of the taboo that Étienne feels exists around trans issues, and transitioning specifically.
“There are a lot of explanations [on the Internet] of what to expect from top and bottom surgery, and it’s interesting to see how people deal with that, how they prepare for it, what happens after,” Étienne said, adding that because accounts are written largely by people who’ve actually gone through each step, it’s more helpful than something written by a medical professional.
“These explanations are a lot better because it’s not just a text on the Internet that says, ‘Oh, blah blah blah,’ it’s like something you’ve already experienced. Everyone is different, these differences are a part of life, but it can help you make an approximation, like ‘Ok, it’ll be like that, it’ll be alright,’ You know it’s not as bad as you think, that you can cross [that bridge],” Étienne said. “It’s really encouraging.”
At the same time, Étienne is clear about the need to consult professionals when seeking information.
“It’s really important to use official sources. You have to be careful […] you have to make sure you’re taking the right dose [of hormones],” Étienne said. “It’s always better to consult someone than go ‘Oh, I’ll go look on some site.’”
Things are moving along for Étienne; a meeting earlier last week with an endocrinologist lead to the discovery that a mastectomy is in the cards in three months, and will take place in November or December if all goes well.
On Sunday, Étienne makes another video, apologizing for forgetting to show the ninth testosterone injection.
“My voice has changed a little bit,” Étienne says, smiling before ending the clip.
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