Many women friends have warned me about women, about the sisters I have fervently wished to welcome me into the sisterhood. I don’t dare expect, but I do hope. And this hope is not just buried inside of me, a most personal secret, but is out and on my shirtsleeves. In a way, that makes me vulnerable. But as with love, I find that being vulnerable is my way, has always been my way…excruciatingly so. As if to say, ‘go on, hurt me’. And that is not a masochistic desire. It is just how I relate.
It wasn’t always thus. Though the fundamental character is unchanged, what and how we reveal ourselves does. This is pronounced and accelerated on this trans-woman’s journey. The flip from introvert to extrovert has taken on momentum, and I find myself out and connected in ways that are new and fresh.
One of the by-products of privilege, and also professional success, is first class travel, taxis, upscale hotels. Part of that experience is a feeling, intended, of exclusivity. It is a “walling off”. A bit of Marie Antoinette syndrome. To know how the other half live, you have to rub shoulders with the other half. I remember a male colleague once joked about a woman I was sweet on that “she was from the wrong side of the tracks.” What he meant was that she was from the posh part of town.
As a person whose family struggled with money, mainly due to the depredations of divorce, but surrounded by wealth—my mother and her parents did everything they possibly could to get me and my siblings into good schools…the ticket away from a hard-scrabble existence. The benefit: a great education. The downside: an anti-wealth chip on my shoulder formed for all the wrong reasons. I couldn’t have what my classmates had because we couldn’t afford it, not because I didn’t want it, only because it was inaccessible.
In a way, that is a microcosm of society. The social pressure to consume, to look good, to be beautiful, to keep up with the Jones’s is a tragic part of the human condition. Income inequality, perhaps the greatest scourge of modern life, and root cause of our failure to address and correct many of the world’s problems, from starvation, to crime, to global warming, is a direct correlate to this kind of worldview.
I can take smug pride from having crawled out of a life where we kept the heating so low in the winter that at times it felt colder inside than outside, I woke up on occasion to find the water jug in my room with a thin layer of ice. Thanks to divorce, I find myself back in that. Apart from when the children come home, the heat is off, the house is freezing, and I’m doing this because divorce, at least the one my wife seems to want, is painfully expensive and has buried me financially.
Yes, I am pleased with myself. I have done well. I have confidence that even as a transwoman, I will figure it out. I don’t believe that is likely in the way that I have traditionally done so, I suspect that bigotry may get in the way, but I have faith. And perhaps that faith is a gift that will linger that came from life within male privilege. I feel for my trans sisters especially, who transition young, and as a result, are often forever denied the economic escape paths that I found. The flipside of that is ‘passing’, the ultimate for so many trans females. And yes, ‘passing’ is priceless. So too would be to have been born with a womb. To be able to have babies. To have a human life growing inside you. Believe me, no Ayahuasca trip can recreate that.
My epiphany on the road to Damascus is that the first-class bubble is anathema to my journey. Taking the bus, taking the train, mingling with people, talking to people, is utterly enchanting. And this is wild for anyone who knew me before…as I simply didn’t live in contact with my fellow humans. Hopefully I wasn’t an ass. I do know that I was thought of as distant, aloof, and that this can be easily seen as arrogant. Now I am very sensitive to the perception of that and take active steps to correct what may come across, hopefully only by accident, as that kind of behaviour.
Enter AirBnb. Apart from engaging shopkeepers, fellow travellers, pretty much everyone I see in conversation, I have switched from hotels to old-style AirBnB and couch-surfing. On the one hand, it suits my straitened circumstances. But on the other, and far more significantly, it has brought me in touch with people I would have never met.
Old style in this case means staying in a bedroom or on the spare bed in a host’s actual home, when they are home, and interacting with them. I do look for explicitly LGBTQ friendly places, but many hosts don’t advertise that. You just need to get the feel or read the comments about them to figure it out. I will only stay with women hosts, as I worry about predatory gay men as much as straight men. I’m sorry to those readers who I might offend by this stance.
Thus far, this policy on my part has led me to some fabulous stays. I have only been dinged once by someone who was decidedly un-trans friendly despite claiming not to be. Indeed, it has been so enriching for me, that some of my hosts have and are becoming friends.
One of my recent hosts has expanded my frame of reference massively on the topic of feminism and what it is like to be a woman, and I shall write about our conversations which have stretched way beyond my 8 pm former domme induced bedtime into the wee hours. But now that I live in the same time zone as Nigeria, I suspect that said domme would readjust my schedule to once again match hers. Ahh, the joys of submission.
Said hostess shared with my horror stories of her sister’s toxic anti-trans views. We watched an episode of Question Time, a BBC news show that involves a broad panel of the great and the good, moderated by a skilled journalist, answering questions from the public—with a changing set of issues and panellists each week. Said episode was dealing with a highly toxic debate around Scotland’s recent decision to allow trans people to self-identify, as well as the very current case of a sex offender claiming to be trans so as to gain access to a female prison, which is deemed a less harsh environment. Without going into the particulars of the issues, what is germane was what a rich and late night conversation it generated.
Lunch with a TERF (trans-exclusionary-radical-feminist)
The conclusion of said conversation was that I invited her to bring her sister to lunch. It was a lovely meal but was every bit as charged and controversial as you would expect. While things began pleasantly, she even complimented my outfit, we hadn’t even ordered before she went for the jugular.
I won’t bore you with the arguments or the discussion, as these are all painfully familiar. Bathroom use, trans women in sports, God’s plan, hormones, surgery, that one ‘can never change sex’, that our existence as trans women undermines feminism, is dysphoria real, ‘why can’t you just cross-dress and be done with it’, and ‘don’t invade our spaces’. It was challenging, but it was also really great to simply offer my personal experience, my life, what I felt like, how I dealt with and feel about these issues on a personal level. And you know what? I think she came around.
At least in my case. After the restaurant told us they wanted the table back, she asked if we might continue our conversation at a tea-room nearby, and so we did. And after that we went for a walk. She was relentless about my desire/need for surgery, but by the end of the afternoon had accepted how life changing her own surgery had been (in her case it was a breast reduction) and admitted that her stance was somewhat hypocritical. She understood the feelings I conveyed. We removed the politics from what should be a purely human conversation, an intimate, private matter.
Later, and back at home, the sister and I got back into deep conversation over a drink and dinner. At some point, the conversation became very personal. The trigger was my own unwillingness to process everything through the lens of a non-white, poor, or otherwise marginalized person. My argument was that it was futile to pretend I was something I am not—which didn’t absolve me from empathy and action. She felt it invalidated my view.
And somehow, this took us down a rabbit hole of what I soon realised was fed by resentment. She resented that I had nicer clothes. She resented my body. She resented my height. She resented my success. She even applauded my failings. I am not saying that she did this an overt way. It was very subtle. Not at all direct. And I was reminded of all the times that I have been warned of women’s resentment.
The truth is that I have been on a massive show-and-tell for the past few years. This blog is a part of that. But being open with people often means I share my latest “toys”, whether that be a new skirt or a place I’ve been, a party I have been to, new people I have met, some experience, a course, whatever. I am enthusiastic about the experiences that are occurring all around me. The danger is clearly that this might provoke resentment. It may be insensitive of me. It most surely is. But joy is hard to keep inside.
At a certain point in conversation, it occurred to me that what she was telling me, “how hard” my life will be as a trans person, how much things will “suck”, and also how I am failing at so many things, I realised that this was what was going on. Thankfully, I had the sense to cut the conversation short—I was dead tired anyway, and just go to bed. But it bothered me that our very friendly dynamic had turned into one fuelled by jealousy.
The next morning, however, she said to me, “I realise that you are just so filled with joy. That this path you are taking is making you phenomenally happy, and that’s rather beautiful to behold.”
Is that not uniquely female? To feel the thread, to have suppleness, to apologise, to empathise?
She is right. I am experiencing a joy that I have never felt before. Oestrogen is some powerful juju.