I don’t know if there is a particular point in time when one goes from being man to woman in the process of stepping into my transgendered self. This coming from a non-binary person who never felt comfortable being male. I don’t diminish how others define this for themselves, but as an AMAB (assigned male at birth) and one who effectively occupied the role dictated to me socially for so many years, benefiting from and enjoying aspects of male privilege, it would be wrong of me to say that I wasn’t male all this time, no matter how I felt. Even if I was always transgender.
One of my kids asked me last night why I can’t just go to work in a suit if it means making a living with something I’m good at, and not. And I said to them, “I can’t do it anymore. I’ve been faking and pretending. I didn’t come all this way to stand on the edge and not take the leap.” It isn’t the clothes. It is how I am seen when presenting male. Yes, my features are changing, my hair is growing back like crazy, my skin has completely changed, and I am growing breasts, but I can still more or less hide it. That isn’t the point.
[To answer the rhetorical question posed in the first sentence of this post I went from man to woman when I truly decided to let her take over, and again formally when my brain kicked over to female mode, and I suspect it will happen again at the point of surgery.]
Dysphoria for me had two major strands to it. The first, being seen as male when I never felt male. That meant being denied a kind of relationship with a woman, or with women more generally, that I could feel, but they couldn’t see in me unless they became very, very close. I can count on one finger the women who got that close, and she is my best friend. The thought of that hurts, as I forsook her at a time of need, and yet, she is still here for me. I will never abandon her again.
I don’t know if that makes sense. Many trans women (M2F is not fashionable to say anymore, but it helps to explain) feel that they are born in the wrong body, that they were meant to be female, that God made a mistake…however you process that. I never felt that way. What I felt instead was that I was given a male body as a punishment. I was being asked to learn something, to discover something, to live as male was a way of banishing me from my essence. And it has been acutely painful, but also an enriching life learning experience, and one which I can finally appreciate as I walk away from my masculine self.
The consequence of being male and being seen as being male, is to be on the outside of the sisterhood, to be forever on the wrong side of the velvet rope. My ayahuasca experience had at its core an acceptance of the good and bad of being a woman. It took my conscious and spiritual processing of how that manifested in all ways before I could proceed. I remember sitting at dinner with family and one of my brothers had brought his GF. The details are hazy, but it was the first time I met her, and she scolded me or chided me or upbraided me not in reaction to something I said but simply because I was “male” to her, and it was something to do with not understanding or being sympathetic to the female experience. I just looked at her and said, “its lovely to meet you, but you don’t know shit about me.” We got off to a good start! She, however, has been by far the most supportive of the “in-laws” on this journey. And now she understands where I was coming from and why it came out so strongly.
That’s strand one. Being seen as male actually hurts me. It puts me into a depressive funk. It wounds me psychically. And it has become acute now that I have taken formal steps to shed that male skin. Most of the people in my life don’t want me to get an operation. It is serious surgery and upcycling the penis into a vagina has a full recovery time of a year, excluding cosmetic and other corrections which might be necessary. My children don’t want me to do it. Most of my family doesn’t want me to do it. Even my closest friends are urging caution and to slow down. Unfortunately, such are the backlogs with good surgeons that outside of going to Thailand (which is an excellent option by the way), I will have to wait a good while to get it done. I said to my bestie, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. I’m not going to wait one minute longer than I have to.”
The gatekeeping present in the insurance industry and in the obsession with the WPATH guidelines—a set of rules that many surgeons ascribe to—means that you have to live “out”, on hormones, full-time, for a year prior to surgery. It also requires two letters of support from mental health professionals, one of whom has to be a psychiatrist (ie. an MD) and lastly a letter of support from an endocrinologist who has followed you for a year. I much prefer informed consent as a model and am sure it will come. But in the meantime, I am preparing to jump through the hoops.
And you know what? I don’t give a damn about losing my whotsit. To me it is a definitive commitment to the sisterhood. It is a definite statement of what I am giving up and what I leave behind. For me, transition requires it. Funnily enough, I will never give myself “female” or “woman”. Yes, with the transgender bit included, as in “transgender woman”. But in truth, I am non-binary, and I will still be non-binary after the operation, only I will have crossed a physical divide which separates the sexes…I can be non-binary with a vagina too. If I were young enough, I would get a uterine transplant, but at this point, that is asking for trouble, as oestrogen increases the chances of uterine cancer as we age and dying of an oestrogenic cancer would be a cruel irony I am not going to embrace.
Strand two? Common to so many of my trans sisters is the desire to pass. This notion that we should love to be truly female, perceived and seen as such. To have female beauty. Trans twitter and other social media is filled with this. Another recent book entitled Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, by Florence Given, makes the point that this obsession to pass is a social construct. Thank you Florence! Only our lived reality doesn’t make that go away.
Yes, if I could have transitioned at the age of 12 I would have been very happy. Instead of having a mother who discovered that I liked to dress like a ballerina and understanding it, I was told that “I don’t want you to be a fag,” her words, not mine.
“But I’m not a fag,” I replied, and walked out of her room. Thankfully she didn’t take my clothes, but they were tainted with shame from that moment. Never mind that a girl crush I had in 4th grade had given me her leotard and tutu from a school play because she knew how pretty I thought it looked and how I wished to be like her. The innocence of childhood!
Like babies who think they can become something by eating it, and primitive cultures who believe in anthropophagy such as the Mayans who believed you could absorb the attributes of a courageous opponent by eating his heart, love and attraction for this transgender person has always carried a spot of wanting to be her. I can honestly say that has never morphed into jealousy. BDSM, however, has helped isolate it as a kind of energetic way of being which I find a profound respect for. I am finding that I can learn and appreciate and enjoy someone else simply by observing their energy and no longer needing to partake in it.
This has affected me profoundly, and it absolutely informs my dynamic with “play partners”, but seems to be taking over the way I relate to everyone around me, and that is a good thing.
So, yes, I wish I could pass. I wish I could have been born female. I wish I could have transitioned before testosterone took hold in my body. I know what I would have looked like. And knowing just how colossally beautiful my mother actually was, her sisters, and also, just how colossally attractive my father and his sibliings were, both male and female, the lottery would have worked out grand. As it happened, it gave me a body and face that was mistaken female until puberty struck, a male body which emerged and became a runway model and occasional editorial model at a time when “weird” and androgynous was not yet a thing. The legacy of those experiences has been some great photography and meeting toxic and predatory gay male masculinity—and yes, a man needn’t be straight to be a dirt bag. I do hate to say it, but this lived experience, and despite my former sexual fantasy life of coerced male-on-male sexual encounters (a coping mechanism and the operation of shame on sexuality), has made me dislike gay men even more than straight men. I find gay men even more masculine, and the presence of male energy I regard as something that has to be tolerated, but generally best avoided.
I apologize to all readers who take offense at this revelation of prejudice on my part. Prejudice is never good, and when half the world’s population embodies the hated “other”, well, I am asking for trouble, especially when they are the ones who still hold the keys to power. I shall work on this, but that may be an exercise in tilting at windmills, as I will seek to change men.
I will never pass. Maybe when I’m 80. But even then, being as tall as I am makes it unlikely. So, there is no point in lamenting what will never happen. The desire to pass, therefore, is not constructive energy. It gives me nothing other than pain. And I should think this is the same for many of my trans sisters.
This is part of the reason why I never wear wigs anymore (not that I did much anyway, other than a cute red one), don’t really wear any makeup to speak of, though I may begin to dabble here. Why? Because I’m already beautiful. Maybe not in the way that we are supposed to be beautiful. I was an attractive man. I look ambiguous again. A man in a dress, perhaps, only a man who happens to look in dresses. For that, I am blessed. That’s my reality. I won’t try to pass. I will dress with elegance and style, and seek to behave with grace, particularly when representing the transgender community, or when embraced by the sisterhood. Mindfully and consciously so.
A back-handed compliment
One of my dearest Italian friends, a male who has been wonderfully supportive to me in word and deed despite really struggling with the concept of a transgender transformation in my case came out for a drink with me the other day. I was really glad that he was able to come out with me and be with me and not be embarrassed to be seen with me as I am. That was a big step. His back-handed compliment to me was also a big step.
“You’re like the ideal man to a woman. You’re a gorgeous man, but you also have enough woman in you to tell her that she will be listened to, respected, treated with dignity and care. And amazingly, you actually look good in a dress. Complimenti.”
That evening, he and his wife did the most extraordinary act of friendship I experienced all year. They flanked me arm-in-arm as we walked into church for the pre-Christmas service in our tiny little village—arch conservative, Catholic, fully aware that I am soon-to-be-divorced and am also transgender—a person to be rejected. Their conscious act of solidarity in the face of their fellow villagers of generations, and mine too, but of only a few years, was so utterly and deeply felt by me. And it landed at a moment of utter blackness when I had been driven out of my home by my soon-to-be-ex-wife who announced that she would be coming and spending Christmas eve and Christmas day with the children, and because we are not legally divorced yet, I was not able to stop that, so instead, ended up on my own for Christmas. Ouch. You can see how kind and supportive this gesture was, as well as the non-judgement of other people in the village, but also the bittersweet feeling of finding other “friends” from the village no longer willing to even acknowledge my existence.
It’s tough to be transgender in Italy
Or is it? The reflexologist says, “we’re just not used to it. Italy is so conservative.” I think it is a society which requires conformity. The essence of the passeggiata is to look at others and to be looked at. Fashion choices are influenced, judgements rendered, the rules are reinforced. I do get stared at. Uncomfortably so. But not a soul has uttered a word of disapproval. No, it’s not London or New York, where I get compliments, flirty looks, and occasional verbal support. But I am finding that I can live with it.
I do feel that there is a responsibility towards the transgender community, but also to society more broadly, that I should present myself without compromise. To show that it is possible. That we are “normal” and that we can have “normal” lives too. That we are not freaks from the pages of sex magazines, that we have family, can have normal relationships, be upstanding citizens. What have you.
A wonderfully affirming New Year’s Eve Celebration
I took my kids out for a lovely meal to celebrate the end of 2022 and the start of 2023. This in marked contrast to my wife, whose celebration in the past, and which I also enjoyed with her, was to go to bed early on New Years Eve. I wore my favourite new dress, a spaghetti-strap black silk dress from All Saints in London with brown serpents on it. It’s such a fabulous dress that one of my friends who saw it on me promptly went and bought it for herself. I won’t tell you just how gorgeous it looked on her—woops, I guess I did. And my kids dressed to the nines. And we had a hilarious evening which was delicious.
The restaurant, lo and behold (what are the chances), is a matriarchy. The hostess, front of house, and the expediter were a mother and her two daughters, the entire wait staff was female. The only men were the two chefs and their assistants, both of whom are the (submissive) husbands of the matriarch and one of her daughters, respectively.
My children were attempting to process why the women in the restaurant kept looking at me, at first not believing it, but then later, amazed by it. Once we had passed midnight, the party began, and the single daughter restaurant owner kept coming to my table and getting me to dance with her. She is a fabulous dancer and is also quite attractive. They all are. And once she had me dancing, then many of the other women present joined in. We danced around the restaurant in a chain, we boogied in the middle after shoving a table aside, we swayed and ground to song after song. Not once did a man get up and join, even the partners of the women who had joined us in celebration.
And I wonder if the men were just sticks in the mud or wouldn’t dance because they didn’t want to be seen dancing with a trans woman. Give me more options please. The women didn’t have that hang-up. Their hands were on me and mine on them as we shook and swayed to song after song. We just had fun.
“You and that woman were the life of the party,” one of my kids noted as we slipped out in the wee hours and into the dark and rainy walk home. Our hostesses were gracious. The gaze of all present softened throughout the evening. Being seen as a trans woman in a family setting, surrounded by children, and being embraced by a room full of women before the eyes of their husbands, sons, fathers felt a watershed moment. Perhaps for all of us.
I’m here, I’m healthy, and I am a transgender woman.