There’s been plenty of discomfort, which makes me laugh when someone offers me a well-worn chestnut about venturing beyond your comfort zones as a remedy for anxiety. You have no idea, lovey, but thank you.
First I want to ask WHY gender is such a big huffing deal at all. I ask that in all seriousness. Why was I so uncomfortable in my allocated gender? Why can’t we all avoid labels, why can’t we all be human? Why would anyone care whether I chose to live as a different gender from now on? People make changes to themselves and their lives all the time. What is it about gender transitions that makes people so uncomfortable?
Why was I so uncomfortable when I couldn’t tell, on one memorable occasion, whether my bus driver was female or male? Why did I find it so unsettling? What difference would it have made to me? I wondered back then whether I’d have been more polite or friendly toward them if they’d been female, and if so, what did that say about my belief systems? Were my beliefs based on fact? Did I consider all men to be a certain way and less deserving of courtesy? Of trust? Why? Or was I merely affirming and celebrating a woman’s choice to pursue a non-traditional career? As a woman-loving feminist this made perfect sense yet I felt naive, unworldly.
This one experience of confusion prompted protracted self-reflection. I started paying more attention to others’ attitudes and assumptions about sex and gender.
At times this was funny and at others, frankly disturbing and dispiriting. I wondered in particular about those heterosexuals who clearly didn’t like or respect the opposite sex at all. How on earth could they expect to experience loving relationships? I read and analysed more ‘male’ and ‘female’ magazines and chick/dick lit and decided that the world was even more fucked up and complicated than previously imagined.
So what the hell did it matter whether I felt female, male, both or neither? I’d lived for so long as an androgynous person already. Why couldn’t that be enough? And yet it wasn’t. The social scene felt wacky, out of kilter. No wonder I was a hermit. But I kept thinking that if it were purely about feeling ok in my own body, and the social side of things was taken away for a moment, I’d choose to transition in a heartbeat. Since I didn’t really relate to the “born in the wrong body” narrative, I tried to articulate my own situation. Clearly I wanted to change my own body in significant ways, so why?
Socially, I was just a person, a person with certain personality quirks, talents, interests and abilities, and certain primary and secondary sex characteristics. I felt vastly uncomfortable being squashed into the F box, and was frankly horrified by my perceptions of the M box. I simply wanted the freedom to be myself and to be allowed to do this without ridicule or restraint. Isn’t that what everyone wants?
At this point I drew upon my feminist background and sifted it for clues as to how to proceed. I wondered whether I was simply articulating my need as a woman to be considered a person. Was I paraphrasing every feminist ever?
I further analysed myself and my roles – I felt I had the capacity to be nurturing, yet not maternal. Was I simply one of life’s non-maternal women? I preferred the company of women, but was that situational? After all, when younger I enjoyed playing with everyone regardless of gender, before the age where “boy/girl germs” became a thing, and been very hurt and confused by that segregation. While backpacking at 18 I’d gravitated mostly toward men. What was that about? We’d had similar interests and enjoyed each other’s’ company; was that all it was, given that since then I’d spent very little time in male company?
My low tolerance for sexism ruled many guys out. I also preferred practical clothes and having next to no hair to fuss with. Given that I was attracted to women, did that all just confirm I was a dyke? While some people considered dykes to be something other than female, all the lesbian feminist literature I’d encountered was women-focused and female-affirming and beautiful. And sure, there were lesbian stereotypes and uniforms, but a wide range of gender expression was celebrated.
So why was I always male in guided meditations where I met my older self? Why did I want to be rid of my breasts and why would I be just as happy without my womb? Why did I avoid mirrors and being photographed and only feel present in my skin when I was physically active, useful?
I wondered whether I was just being overly pragmatic and preferring to simplify myself, even as I complicated and cluttered my living space. I wondered whether I’d just absorbed some wacky message in the collective psyche that it was better to be a bloke, so I was seeing myself as male to feel better about myself. Why couldn’t I be happy to remain a more masculine-presenting woman? I’d struggled yet managed to accept this until now – until learning I had choices.
All valid questions perhaps, yet it was hard to talk about with anyone in constructive ways. Most therapists warmly nodded and smiled without actually engaging with my questions; and almost everyone else was either freaked out or wanted to push their own agendas. There was nobody available to chat with on my own level. Then there was the ultimate rabbit hole aka the internet, and the impenetrable array of academic texts in university libraries. Thankfully, after meeting a few trans and gender diverse people and reading a few books such as those by Rae Spoon, S Bear Bergman, Leslie Feinberg and Ivan Coyote, I could place myself in the bigger picture. I could relate to enough in others’ stories to work out what was happening for me. I likened it to someone pointing out the existence of complementary colours when all I’d ever known were the primaries.
In the end I decided fuck it, I’m making a decision. After all, when coming out as a dyke decades ago I found zero use for all those “were you abused as a child?” and “don’t you get along with your mother?” questions. I’d naïvely assumed they had validity due to the frequency of use, but no. They were indications of the general societal lack of understanding and acceptance. I decided that my own questioning had been necessary and yet ultimately pointless. I am what I yam.
Then I started listing all my early clues, to present like dead mice to the psychiatrist. The times I was called “sonny” as a kid and liked it. The Boy Scout and Peter Pan costumes I chose for fancy dress occasions. How much I enjoyed beating up boys and protecting my best friend from their nonsense (also a ‘baby dyke’ clue but whatever). There were a lot. Given that I had to wait a long time for my initial appointment, promptly cancelled it from sheer terror of meeting my first psychiatrist and having to travel so far to do so, then waited another five months for a new appointment, I reflected and wrote a LOT.
I thought about what kind of man I already was. What kind of man did I want to be?
After all that I made faces when concerned loved ones asked me whether I was really sure. Had I really taken time to give it some thought? Would I consider seeing a psychiatrist, please?
EDIT: This was my inaugural post, back in January of this year. I’ve given it a clearer title, to help readers find what they’re looking for. I’ll be giving other posts new titles, and not necessarily reposting.