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A return to ‘acceptably different’

  • Posted on March 21, 2015 at 11:01 pm

Back in August 2012 I wrote about being ‘acceptably different’, by which I meant recognising that at the time I was still quite visibly in transition, and that it was best to go with the flow, knowing that there was no hiding my ambiguity. A lot has happened since then, and in reality I have very little reference from day to day with my ‘trans history’. It isn’t that can forget it, or that I avoid it. It just happens a lot less these days.

A few days ago a colleague at work called in to say they would be late, and I was there early enough to be the one to take their call. They didn’t recognise my voice, probably thinking that I was one of the several male Andys. My voice without my face, I expect, sounds anomalous. It’s confusing.

I sometimes ask my partner (whom I trust to be honest) what my most obvious giveaways are. It seems love blinds one to these things though; it’s me, not my face or my almost absent waist, that matters. And yet I know, even though it really doesn’t matter, that she will always be able to ‘see the man in me’ because it’s there. A puberty and a life fed by testosterone inevitably does that to you, and nothing will change it. Together we can be honest about this. And it doesn’t matter. And yet to one of her friends, it (and/or our lesbian relationship) does, and she has had to decide whether to stand with me, where my trans history/status is not welcome, or ignore this and go to an event without me. I know that I/we carry the stigma wherever the stigma exists in another person’s mind.

Out walking one lunchtime this week with two female colleagues, we were talking about marriage, friendships and relationships, and how we all change, and have to accept that relationships of all kinds don’t always last well as a result. Co-dependency, possessiveness, restricting each other’s natural growth and development, are not good for us. ‘I’m not the girl I was at twenty!’, said my colleague. ‘Nor am I’, I replied spontaneously. And we all burst out laughing helplessly …

My partner and I sat together today to sort a financial matter out with a bank. Being divorced, I guess they had to be sure my credit rating could be verified, so one question was: ‘Have you ever been known by any other name?’ I declined to answer (is that suspicious?) because to do so would reveal more than a name, and that matter is now entirely and legally confidential. But I wondered: did the nice young man understand because he could see that I was a rather unusual-looking woman, and being in a cosmopolitan city, guessed my history? If he did, it didn’t matter.

So on the whole, nearly three years on, I find myself almost universally accepted. My voice hasn’t improved (I have probably gotten lazy), but I hardly ever talk about transition any more. My past is there, which can’t be avoided, but it is my past. It is not me now. So much so that as I browsed old photos with my partner this week, I realised that my only connection with my childhood in my mind, is to think of how I was as a little girl.

I have changed a great deal, even in the last two years, physically, mentally, psychologically and socially, but some things will always give me away, through appearance, habit, manner or simply the knowledge of how I used to live. And people still have to decide: am I acceptable. Thankfully, for almost everyone, I am. But the acceptance is as a different kind of person. And so I still check in with myself as to whether I am disappointed not to be completely and exclusively perceived to be a ‘normal woman’ – because I am not, and I cannot be.

On the whole, I am not. If I was in my twenties, I might be, but at least my face would be in a better shape and my body more youthful. However, I am aware that for many trans women appearance can be a burden. Confidence carries you a long way, appropriate dressing is very important as part of realistic expectations, and personal acceptance to save undermining yourself, essential. It’s all very well to talk about being acceptably different to other people, but accepting one’s own difference with good grace takes more than a brave face. If someone else looks at you and you can tell that they know straightaway that you are trans, you can say ‘well, that’s their problem, not mine’. But if, after as complete treatment as you can get or afford, you still look at yourself in the mirror and feel wrong, you’d better find a way of coping and understanding yourself.

In a therapy session before I had to walk away from my marriage, one of the counselors remarked that some trans women can’t cope after complete transition because they feel they can never be as ‘good’ as they expected or wanted to be. I already knew that wouldn’t be my problem, but I think now I would be less overall dismissive. So once again, if I have anything to say to people beginning or in transition, it would be that you have to dig very deep in your preparation for change, taking your imagination to the worse possible outcomes to test your fears. But also dig deep to test your reaction to the best possible outcomes. You really don’t know before those final steps quite how it’s going (honestly, truthfully) to feel. You can kid yourself that it’s everything you want, and you can equally kid yourself that you can manage without it. When reminded that surgical outcomes can be less than optimal, believe it could be you and test your resilience. But also, prepare yourself for the best of outcomes, and get to know your body beyond past experiences, believing that it can be acceptable, to a future partner and to yourself.

I know a number of people for whom surgery was less than optimal, just as I know those for whom everything was good. I know that I was lucky, but I don’t want to speak from that as if it is the only outcome. I only want to say that I was very well prepared mentally, psychologically and physically, and that it paid off. To my partner, my body is perfectly acceptable, responds surprisingly well, and we are very happy together. To me, I am relieved – that I do not have to worry about being imperfect or, if ‘the man’ remnant still in me is visible, that it actually doesn’t matter at all. But I believe that I came through so easily only because I’d already explored the dark corners.

In sum, ‘acceptably different’ has gained two sides: dealing with people who know my past, and dealing with myself who has that past. The first can’t just be dismissed because there will always be the tripping moments (like those above). The second is vital, and must not be ignored. I hear too many people losing self-belief during transition, feeling defeated by the things they cannot change. If you have gender dysphoria, you have to accept your difference is something to live with – even after transition. The dysphoria goes, but the world doesn’t change. In a word: prepare. Prepare very well.

Role swapping

  • Posted on March 18, 2015 at 10:00 pm

I guess it’s really funny. The years I spent described (not by me) as being ‘in role’, as if ‘living as a woman’ was an act, a choice, a play or a deceit … and now, here I am examining – my ‘role’!

Yes, the point is that in terms of my working life, I took a big step down, and now, long since the fear that I would be forever unemployable as trans* was proven wrong, I am feeling very under-employed. I feel a certain sexism that is not quite discrimination, but is nevertheless there at times, and part of me is screaming to be recognised for just how much I am capable of without having to fight for it.

My guess is that many women in work after family events breaking their careers, feel much the same.

But what is more in mind is how, over the past few months, living with a professional partner in a vastly more responsible job than I may ever see again, I am experiencing reversed roles. Not that I am complaining; it is genuinely interesting to see both sides, as I recall the hours I used to work, coming home late, and sometimes taking work with me on holiday. Nowadays, I am more likely to be first home from work, will set to making a meal, will accommodate late hours, the bringing home of office troubles and stress, looking after the home(s), and generally take a back seat when it comes to the pressures of work in life versus domestic pleasures. Don’t get me wrong, we do share things out very well – far better perhaps than I did when I was married – but I am recognising a bit of what it is to be the domestic wife supporting the (lesbian) husband!

Tonight I am starting this blog to fill in time while my partner works late to finish a report to a deadline. We hope to leave at 10:00 pm for our first weekend away, and employer demands have pushed us into second place. I can’t be angry, other than at situations intruding into precious personal life. I would have done the same. But I now see and understand what I was doing when I was the husband with the more important job, expecting everyone to fit around me. Once again, as a trans woman, I am seeing both sides of life: the privilege, the seniority, the primacy, the supporting act, the home-maker, the forgiver. This isn’t about rights and wrongs, but I am being faced with the feelings that I must have evoked when my job was so important (at least to me) that my wife simply had to sit and watch and wait until I was present and ready. (I’m not making an argument about employer pressure, our response, rights or wrongs; this happens, and we all try to do the best all-round thing at the time.)

I still do think it a privilege to live on both sides of life, see it as man and as woman, as husband and as wife, as lead earner, and as sideline. Quite what to do with this knowledge beyond personal enrichment, I’m not sure, but it is giving me plenty to reflect on, as to how our society’s patterns of working conflict with making the most or personhood and finding a ‘good life’.


Well, we did get away and had a wonderful weekend. We celebrated the ease with which, in this part of southern England, we could be ourselves, the clearly lesbian couple away for a weekend together. We spoke to kind strangers in the sauna as well as out walking, sat and people-watched over lunch, held hands everywhere and enjoyed the ease we have with each other.

Three months into our relationship, I still feel some surprise to be loved, but with it, day by day feel more completely in my gender. Friends did tell me before I had surgery that the onward journey had a great deal more change in it than I was expecting. Now I understand. The scars that healed many months ago are completely forgotten. The scars still healing are those from a lifetime of discomforts, and events and expectations joined to them. They don’t hurt the same, but as they fade into the life and love I am able to experience now, I am realising just how much I needed this complete transition.

And part of that is the understanding of role, the appreciation of gendered worlds, the very difficult male-minded design of work and commerce, the lesser value attached to person-oriented activities, the simply being female in society. I am very thankful to have known both sides and have gained a better appreciation of what it is to be human in the here and now, and I am happy to be wife and support, and possibly because I know that I also have an empowerment to be fully myself.

Idol thoughts

  • Posted on March 7, 2015 at 10:40 pm

This week, bulldozers were running over 3,000 year-old treasured remains of the ancient city of Nimrud. I remember it from my university studies and visits to the British Museum, as containing very powerful symbols of a civilisation that dominated the region that is now Iraq. I always found it quite absorbing imagining the people who actually made the statues, built the temples, walls and gates, used the artifacts in their daily lives but also in their rituals. 3,000 years in one way is relatively recent, but in another is really ancient. The same artifacts that I could recall, then appeared this week being pounded under sledgehammers by men from the so-called Islamic State or ISIL.

It isn’t new though. Throughout history, histories have been obliterated, and religious extremists of all kinds have destroyed things precious in our eyes for secular reasons. In the Reformation in England, iconoclasm, or the removal of religious symbolism, was every bit as destructive. In 2001 the Taliban destroyed the 1,700 year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan because they were considered idols. In Nimrud, the destruction was again because significance was perceived to exist in objects we might just see as art. The same has now happened in Hatra. So what is an idol, that deserves such treatment?

We don’t have them much around here – do we?

An idol, even in biblical times, was an object invested with power. It doesn’t mean that the stone or wood, once chiselled and shaped, actually had any power, only that it was believed to have such, and therefore influenced people’s behaviours in relation to it. At the extremes, of course, such objects can become fetishes, and through suggestion are seen as being very powerful supernatural objects. Believe in the magic, or power, juju or voodoo, and real things do happen; charms, enchantments and curses really can affect people. But if you or I were innocently to find such an object, it would just be at most a sinister-looking piece of handcraft.

It is peculiar how as humans in societies, we create these things out of nothing, and then fear them, curse and bless with them, and render them dangerous enough to destroy again. And it’s all in the human mind. Religion, in this sense, still intrigues me. How is it that we can construct the edifices of a very wide variety of supernatural and superstitious beliefs, which necessarily must be limited by contemporary awareness and understanding and context, and then invest them with such infallibility that they become immutable doctrines, dogmas, rules, beliefs and faiths?
Essential to this activity is that the ‘knowledge’ has come from beyond, not from within, despite all evidence to the contrary.

That every divine being elucidated in literature has chosen to communicate with mankind through chosen individuals and mysterious beings, ending up being written down and susceptible to mistranslation and misunderstanding, may seem suspicious. (Is there really no better or more certain and secure way?) Even more so when this divine knowledge is expressed in temporally-bound terms. And yet here we are, in a world flooded with religions purporting to free us, whilst drowning us in guilt, self-destruction, rigid principles, and immune to improving knowledge and understanding. Copernicus and Galileo are stark reminders, but have we really moved on?

I had a slightly testy conversation recently over social media, that had been evoked by religious influence in a legal case. A judge had expressed his opinion about same-sex parenting, in court, and had been reprimanded, and a petition had been raised by Christian people to reinstate him. I objected to personal faith in a courtroom, but also to the underlying assumption that I was now unworthy of being a parent simply by virtue of being transsexual and also lesbian. Love, it seems, is not the same thing in a family with me as parent, as it would previously have been. Out trotted the usual mantra: ‘God made man and woman and marriage for the procreation and stable upbringing of children and this is the only natural way.’

Well, I went back with them over the definitions and current state of scientific understanding of the origins and meaning of sex and sexuality, explaining that you can either believe the man/woman binary system in the face of all evidence to the contrary, or you can see that in fact it isn’t quite as simplistic as that at all. And if the man/woman binary thing is unsafe, and you stop believing in it in the face of the facts, where does that leave you with concepts of marriage and parenting, families and households? The trouble with religions is that you can’t let them out of the bottle. So am I unfairly hitting back at religion, because it is so prevalent in the misunderstanding and bigotry against LGBTQI people? I began with a religious situation destroying the secular, in the belief that it was not secular but idolatrous. And now I am saying that religions easily make their own beliefs iconic and protected from secular understanding. Is it just that religion of any kind gets into a muddle, because it is not based on knowledge, and an understanding what knowledge actually is?

Having ranted and explained, I then came across a vlogger patiently going through some very interesting material on how presupposition affects perception (example: generally, we think male babies are bigger and stronger than female babies, not because of what we observe, but simply because we have been told a particular baby is male or female.) There are many researched examples that demonstrate our perception is skewed easily. Interview a person with your hands round a warm drink, and you will feel better towards them than if you hold a cold drink. Yes, that basic. So if you have a set of strongly-held beliefs or opinions, of course the world is a different place, and you actually think things are different. You have a faith? Then in your hands it has a supernatural power and changes the way the world is, around you. Even if you have an iconoclastic faith, your faith itself is an icon.

But this vlogger was even more interesting, because she vlogs as an atheist, experiencing atheist transphobia (a small percentage of transphobes whose attitudes cannot be attributed to religious cultural conditioning). Her conclusion was that the atheism itself had become a faith, and that the problem of the transphobes is that they have closed their understanding to new knowledge, to learning, and new ways of looking at things.

It all makes you wonder what ‘faith’ is. Is it just the ability to think without thinking about thinking?