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Reflections as I near three years old

  • Posted on July 2, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I am nearly three years old. My gestation was longer than that of an elephant. Those three years feel like – I don’t know – ten or more. Every week I read someone else going through the final stages. It might be surgery, or a gender recognition certificate, birth certificate, or a new job in a new presentation. It might just be the latest verbal or physical threat, of psychological pressure to stop. I still feel very lucky indeed to have had such an easy ride through. But I still count years. When did I first realise; when did I first ‘come out’; when did I first go out – yes, ‘like that’, when did I realise I had to set out alone; when did I leave; when did I last see or speak to my daughter; when did I come home from hospital; when did I burn my mistaken birth certificate and know it was all, finally, over, no questions?

I remember a friend who had gone before me, in a café a few days before my op, saying that it was not the end. It was more like a start, and that it would be five years before it was all fully realised. I am feeling it is certainly three. But then I have the fortune of having found a quite complete new life, in many places where I was not known before. I have no need to hide, no need to proclaim. I can go to the beach in a bikini and swim, share life experiences as a woman, not be known as suspicious, unsettling or a curiosity. My joys and uncertainties are no different from any other woman my age, on HRT, considering her pension, keeping fit and enjoying life.

But I don’t need to look far over the fence to know that I live in a safe place. I have four characteristics that threaten me in a lot of places in the world, and sometimes it feels like those threats are getting closer: trans*, lesbian, woman, older. In past civilisations, these would have been different. Not absent, but different. There is something about religions that has eaten into modern civilisations everywhere, that claims some deity, invariably male, says that women are secondary, purposed for procreation and male pleasure, and that any characteristics undermining the power of patriarchy should be eradicated. It is writ overtly in the presidency of the United States, but embedded in most institutions and organisations still.

I think I would be much more frustrated if I were younger, trying still to forge a career, rather than gracefully letting such aspirations slide away. Yes, society, at least where I live, has vastly improved for women, older, lesbian or trans*, but it is still only slowly improving. Why no female coders where I work? why were the admin staff female and the sales engineers male, in my previous job, and why male senior leadership in the one before that? And I cannot imagine in that job, ever finding universal acceptance while transitioning in work. It wasn’t all bad, but it still isn’t all good. Only this week, a new report (NatCen report PDF) abut trans* acceptance was that the majority of survey respondents claimed not to be transphobic, but that only a third thought it acceptable for a trans* person to be a primary school teacher or police officer. The majority of people around us in everyday life are afraid of what we might do. We represent a risk. We represent a danger. If we speak up, we are a subversive ‘trans lobby’.

I am three years old, and born into disadvantage. Welcome to the world of women. Welcome into the world of transgender.

Don’t look back in anger

The point of this blog is not to criticise what is painfully obvious, nor to complain about the role of religion and culture in threatening my existence. Rather it is to pause and reflect, for all those following after me, what it is going to be like in the years ahead.

Expect normality. If you don’t, you won’t find it. Don’t belong more to the inside world of trans than to the outside, but speak normally about your life if you need to, or if it helps to defend the lives of others.

Recognise that life ‘before’ will change in your memory. If you weren’t male, don’t imagine your memories will be. So neither deny your memories as something to disown. They contain your life skills, many achievements, and the good ones are worth keeping safe. Yes, you have to be careful, for example, when you are assumed to have been the one giving birth, but you were still there. It may be surprising to be a woman who knows plumbing and wiring a house, but be real, be honest, and never hide from yourself.

Hormones and surgery change your physiology and drives, but they don’t change who you are. That’s why others think you have changed more than you do. However, we all change throughout our lives, so don’t hold back from new challenges, or be afraid to drop things that no longer inspire.

Accept that whilst regrets change nothing, they can be real. I regret many things about how I could have lived, learned and expressed myself, growing up perceived as a girl. Maybe I do regret some of the downsides too, because they would have formed me, shaped my observations, positioned me differently. Never let someone call you ‘lucky’ for not experiencing these things. We had enough downsides ourselves, and lacking self-acceptance can be more damaging and limiting than lacking the acceptance of another.

Allow your dreams and visualisations to feel real. Maybe they can never be; maybe it is too late; maybe they would always only have been dreams anyway. But they too are a part of you. Just don’t let them distract from what you can achieve.

Never believe that you owe anyone anything in reparation for being trans, and for finding your authenticity. I see many people living in guilt for being born as they were, giving over everything they gained in life to separated families, partners, spouses, children, colleagues. It is not selfish to be equal, so never take on board the blame that others throw at you just because they feel hurt by the way life is. Being trans* is not decision, trait or behaviour, and what you are is not less than what anyone else is. Live your life as only you know how.

Transgender Day of Visibility

  • Posted on April 2, 2017 at 8:52 am

March 31 each year is TDOV: Transgender Day of Visibility. It presents a paradox to many: If I am visible, then am I noticeably trans, and is that what I want? If I am not visible, then is this not something I have attained, and why would I want to undo that? If I am visible, is that a bad thing (and for many it certainly can be), and if I am not visible, then do I owe it to trans people everywhere to show that being trans can be a strong thing, something ordinary and acceptable, even normal?

Transgender people of every kind have always existed. It is a function of human biology that we have: variation has always existed, as in every other human trait from height to hair colour. We have always been known about in ancient societies, and I suspect that it is only in later patriarchal cultures, especially those with patriarchal-theocratic religions, that we have been erased. Biology never did make male and female that clear. It made genitalia largely clear, but even there, it has always allowed a percentage of intersex ‘conditions’ at chromosomal, gene, and physiological levels, and of course at the level of gender identity too.

I consider that it has primarily been a function of fear, distaste and loathing of same-sex attraction that created the moralistic climate that became fixed in the same patriarchal monotheistic religions. I have written at length elsewhere how convoluted sexuality and gender can be for trans people. If your biggest fear is anything other than active heterosexuality, then every trans person stand accused of alternative sexuality at some stage of their lives. If you weren’t gay then you are lesbian, or you were always bisexual, and so on. What this has meant for LGBTQI people, is that what they are, has been considered to be behavioural. Hence the strongest driver in our western culture has been that trans people are morally wrong: sinful by claiming to be what they are so they can do what they do (whatever that is supposed to entail).

Danger

In 74 countries today, homosexuality is illegal. In 13 is carries a death penalty. In 17 countries, being visible is criminalised as propaganda. In many more, LGBTQ people are vulnerable to violence. Hundreds of trans people are murdered every year for being visibly trans.

In the USA today, we are seeing many battles over the so-called bathroom bills. This is legislation requiring trans people not to use toilet and changing facilities that are assigned contrary to the gender written on their birth certificates. Trans people have always existed, just as intersex people have. This presents stupidly obvious bad outcomes. Women who don’t look feminine enough are in danger. They have already been compromised. Men who look too feminine less so. Trans women who look truly feminine in proportion may remain invisible, but feel a terrible responsibility towards those who do not, and who, as a consequence will be in danger going into male facilities. After all, most sexual violence is perpetrated by males. Trans men, I believe, should make a very deliberate point of entering female facilities, with their testosterone, muscle and beards. And what of people who are naturally androgynous? The current Trump administration is already erasing LGBTQI identities by omitting gender and sexuality questions from census forms, and is endangering the welfare of LGBTQI people everywhere by removing protections from the very religious moralistic scruples that gave us this problem in the first place. As I write, a big orange bus is touring US states, after originating in Spain, plastered with it’s self-appointed right to free speech and declaring that boys are boys and girls are girls and that it’s plain biology. Its motivation is the same religious moralistic hubris, its message the same that disadvantages, erases, beats, imprisons, murders and executes trans people all over the world.

So who wants to be visible? I guess you can be discreetly LGBQ by keeping your relationship mainly indoors – but why on earth should you have to protect the screwed-up morals of a screwed-up patriarchy with a screwed-up religion? Sexuality is not a choice or simply a behaviour, so why should it be repressed? You hold religious beliefs, or inherit a culture that gave you the outcomes of that religion, and prefer to believe that sexuality is purely an ethical issue, and inherently wrong? This is the same rights issue as blowing carcinogenic tobacco smoke into the face of non-smokers.

So who wants to be visible? For very many trans people, we cannot hide what we are. Few of us have nothing to give ourselves away, whether a prominent larynx, a deep voice, hair loss, broad shoulders or big hands. We try hard to distract, to lift and train our voices just enough, dress to our shape. Many of us do, after a number of years, simply blend into our workplaces, our towns and perhaps our families, but without some interventions such as hormones and electrolysis for facial hair, and without documentation, this can be difficult. Visibility and appearance are not the same thing: being visible can simply mean ‘being known as’. And visibility has very serious downsides, from attitudes at work, employability, finding somewhere to live and someone to love. Some trans people are very out and proud, and I am glad they want to be. They, with their high visibility, prevent our erasure, but experience a lot more hassle than I do, keeping my head down. What we are is always a secret to gossip about; our bodies are never the private property that those of cis people enjoy. I would bet more people have hazarded a guess about my genitals, or what my vagina looks like, than about any of the cis people with whom I share this world. And that makes what I am, linked to sexual behaviour and preference, which links it to ‘what is right and proper’. It makes me dangerous to some, and in some circumstances.

I remember my ex-wife saying to me that we could continue together, if I could just ‘be a man’ at weekends. Visibility matters in how people treat you, and those who are associated with you.

Maybe you even feel a better employer, if you have increased your diversity quotient by having a visibly trans person on board who is not treated badly. I feel a whole lot better to have moved to a new job where the first premise is not ‘we have a new person joining who is trans; treat them with due respect’. I feel better for losing that initial baggage. I don’t mind people knowing, I just don’t want to be a protected species about whom people talk.

Erasure

Social erasure is unequivocally bad for trans people. We have always existed, it is not a behaviour, and it cannot be suppressed or repressed. It exists as a state of being alive, at whatever age we finally take courage to face it. And we should not have to face this as a decision, as something that carries threat, danger, disapproval and rejection. Being invisible does not change society or help us. Being visible is still a risky, even dangerous, thing to do. Our lives do change, not just in the relief of being ourselves, but in the loss it almost inevitably brings.

Plenty of cultures and societies do not want trans people to exist, because we inconveniently raise issues of sexuality, of male dominance and privilege, of strength and danger. ‘Strong male’ is still default, the leading formula. A man apparently turning into a woman is intrusive, a potential predator. A woman apparently turning into a man is a betrayal, and never quite as good as the real thing.

Media stories that promote celebrity trans people, or the unusual by age, are not really the stories about ordinary trans lives. They are not our representatives, and can give the wrong kind of attention from unqualified and opinionated people who feel strongly or entitled, about their inherited and uninformed cultural norms.

And so this year, as TDOV came round, I asked myself whether putting a TDOV ‘frame’ around my Facebook picture was a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a matter-of-fact thing whereby I could simply say: it’s OK to be trans.

Not invisible, just here

Maybe the strongest feeling I ever have is against religious and derivative cultural motivations that debate our existence and validity in our absence, paint us as predatory, and seek the freedom to erase, ignore and ultimately harm us all. Too many cultures without (especially) Abrahamic roots have accommodated, even celebrated, non-binary gender identities, for it not to be obvious that trans visibility is a casualty of those roots. It still threatens trans people everywhere. I am lucky to be where I am. I choose not to be invisible.

And yet by not being very visible, I also show that it is perfectly normal to be who I am, ordinary, honest, safe, loving, straightforward, loyal, kind …

Tell me about your childhood

  • Posted on July 5, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I’ve said here before, that the only task of every psychiatrist I saw throughout my transition, was to make sure that I had no underlying psychiatric or mental disorder. Detecting gender dysphoria (or whatever we choose to call it) is a pretty difficult thing for someone who has never experienced it, but like any doctor or medical person, of course all you can go with is signs and symptoms, and diagnostic data. Unlike a bone, there is no x-ray or scan that will reveal gender identity. Chromosome tests have little if anything to do with gender; it is a felt thing. It is a known thing. And yes, it is a bit peculiar.

I am almost one year through my post-surgical transition now, and I am honest about where I am. The old gender identity feels very far away, my body has been altered, not as in restoration, but as in best-possible adjustment. Six months experience of sex, after the first five months of self-acquaintance, and I know where the imperfections lie. I am completely satisfied though, knowing that I have the best outcome I could expect. From the experience of trans men, I know I had it surgically easier, a compensation for entering my fifth year of weekly facial electrolysis. Having said that, I still have this deep awareness of how my body would feel had I been born with female genitalia. It is a bit different (not a lot), and it is uncanny. Something is there in my head like the few wires in a standard car electrical wiring loom unconnected because they were designed for the extra features I didn’t buy.

Yes; for me it is that strong and intuitive. I know what it would have been like to have the extra foglamps and dashboard gizmos.

My car could have extras. There are wires and fuses going nowhere, and I don’t have forward foglamps. It only matters in severe fog; they aren’t a requirement. But I know …

No-one can go for surgical transition expecting total perfection. Satisfaction, oh yes. But the full upgrade? So it is, that I feel most of us will always live with knowing we had a development problem pre-birth. We learn to celebrate what we have, do what we can, and live purposefully. I have never been happier.

But I do know that had I faced the total truth as a teenager, it would have been a harder thing to contemplate, for all kinds of reasons. You can ask a mature adult about their lives and investigate with them all their major influences. You can probably get to the root of things and recognise genuine gender dysphoria, with a sense of real responsibility being taken. For younger people, there is so much Internet information and dialogue going on, that you have to find the person through the learned language, once they have spent real time online. There, you can learn how to be, as much as learn how you are. The Internet saved me, in the sense that I recognised myself. Also, I knew I had a lot to lose if I got it wrong. But I did find my own narrative back to the age of five, in memories that only made sense with the new information.

My childhood was uninformed, it was vanilla, because I was not really permitted to know, think or discuss anything about sex or gender. When I tell you about my childhood, it is pure experience, and the interpretation is by the mature me. I don’t have to claim to have preferred dolls to diggers as toys, and I don’t have to pretend I dressed as a princess. I can tell you what it felt like not to expect a female puberty. I can tell you what it felt like to lose the colourfulness of being very small, as I was dressed as a plain boy for school, when my sister had budgerigars all over her dress, or even when my little school friend had a simple pink gingham dress. I did not need to exaggerate anything to ensure the diagnosis I wanted.

The earnest, very young, child who expresses an uninformed conviction about their gender not matching their body, has to be listened to. Parents may not like it, or be scared by it. But what is a very young child really telling you? Surely, they are telling you something. Later, when a child expresses identity conflict, it may be more difficult, since they can be over-informed as well as under-informed. But still, they are telling you something that is important to them, and as a parent, the best care you can offer is to listen. Yes, recognise that they may be easily influenced, but don’t impose your rationality on them too easily.

I guess it is easier to tell someone about your childhood later in life. I acknowledge that we alter our memories, but the ones that really stick are the ones with most significance. The significance may not be obvious, but it will be there. Why do I remember certain smells so well that I can recall them and the places where they were, so long after? I can’t tell you why; only that I can, and that something made me remember these windows on my childhood better than others. Asking a pubescent child about their earlier childhood feelings may not be so easy to interpret. There will be more of the memories, and less maturity with which to reflect rather than simply remember. But still, they do have the capacity to tell you their life story so far, as they understand it.

Children also must be allowed to make mistakes, and you know as a parent the best you can do is always be there to support and guide. You can’t prevent all the mistakes, and it isn’t your job to do so. Above all, don’t push your child in a direction that simply avoids what you find awkward or embarrassing. When it comes to genuine gender dysphoria expressed by a child, parents don’t usually know what to do. In many cases the parents will not agree. It may be ‘just a phase’ or it may not. One parent or both may feel scared of losing a daughter or son, or personally losing face in their own social circle. The truth is, you all need to find out.

Adult people in gender transition currently are required to live for two years in their preferred gender expression before invasive treatment can take place. It’s very frustrating if you have known all your life. But I know people who have switched about a number of times, either for lack of courage or conviction that this is what they really need to do. For children, the most that will be done is to delay puberty, in order to give the opportunity to really find out how to proceed. But you do have to be honest and open, and be prepared to decide one way or another.

If someone does not have strong gender dysphoria, it’s OK to be gender fluid, non-binary or androgynous. It is OK to be neither or both, however confusing some people may find it. What is not OK, is to impose your view of gender on someone who is struggling to find their identity. It is not your choice or decision. As a parent, the most loving and supportive thing you can do is to listen, be properly informed yourself, and swim alongside your child. You may swallow water, but you won’t drown; but they might if you don’t even jump in. No minority group, and no young persons’ group, has so high a suicide and attempted suicide rate as transgender youth.

There is support available, more so now than ever before. If you need advice or help for your child, please look up and contact Mermaids.

The reason I wrote this today is because I was talking to such a parent about such a child, where the situation is not altogether clear as yet, and where the other parent is dogmatically and assertively opposed to contemplating properly hearing the child. The youngster may or may not have gender dysphoria, but that is the pool they are swimming in right now.

I can think about my childhood, and I can tell my adult story of transition. But I can’t help diagnose anyone else. What I do know is that our childhoods matter for the rest of our lives, and we owe it to youngsters to let them live theirs freely, with all the exploration and mistakes it involves. I didn’t explore much, and I did make mistakes. In the end, I lived too long suppressing my gender with a lot of internalised fear and anger. A decision like gender transition is not easy (especially if you are young) if you are facing a life with one or two permanently disconnected wires just so your headlights work well.

So tell me about your childhood, and I will tell you why it simply matters that you can.

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.

Change: what it means in the end, in the beginning

  • Posted on February 26, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Just over three years ago, I stopped fighting and set out on a journey. In almost every way it was a solo journey. Along the way people and friends came and went, and materially I lost much of what I had gained and relative financial security. And yet I persisted for a long time in the insistence that I was still me, I was the same person. So why did I feel so rejected, when essentially the real me was the same?

It wasn’t fair! It never is. Fairness was never promised us. And yet that unfairness set me free to truly change.

As I now watch trans friends following the same route, at different speeds and with different individual experiences, I see much more clearly. I watch them sometimes succeeding in family relationships. I see them turned from their own doorsteps. I see them successfully in work. I see them struggling to find work. I see them almost continuing as normal, and I see them penniless. I see some with excellent clinical or surgical outcomes, and others whose outcomes have been less enabling. Some form relationships, some are desperately lonely. Some appear to celebrate being affirmatively trans, while others disappear. Some float by on a cloud, others really struggle. I can still stand in front of a public audience and read poetry that can only be explained in the context of being transsexual. And yet from day to day I forget. I am lucky, and I am grateful.

And then I reflect. It comes out of the blue to me. I have changed. I have really changed. Not just physically; I can meet people for the first time in years who aren’t sure who I am – do they know me? Mentally, I have become wholly confident that I am being true to myself. The self-deception has completely gone, the half-known fraudulence of being the very nice, understanding man with a terrifying secret has not been replaced with a new deception. What I am now is absolutely what you see. The best bit is that I actually like myself, even when people are unkind about the minority groupings I find myself in. There is still a great deal of unkindness, especially of religious origin and tradition, that would say I am a dangerous aberration, unworthy to be a parent, a destructive element in an otherwise stable society, even something evil, sinful, or just to be pitied – and excluded.

It isn’t that I don’t mind; I do! I hate it when people who have been friends find me ‘difficult’ to accept, or who can never take my word for it that I really am born this way, and happier after treatment. But I find the science of gender, and indeed the history in other cultures, enough explanation of how I came to be as I am.

The change is huge. My head is full of all the memories of my life, most of them good and a source of gratitude, at least for surviving. And I never again need to be something I am not, in order to feel accepted. And there it is. This is where the change finds itself, in authenticity. In authenticity you begin constructing the puzzle of life with the right pieces, the right way up. There is no other way. The inauthentic life hands you pieces from the wrong puzzle, so the picture and shape never form with any great reassurance.

Instead, I am becoming beautiful. A body ravaged and shaped by testosterone is not an auspicious start late in life, and yet I often don’t wear much make-up under my thinning hair, and more often wear jeans. No; it’s what I feel inside. I don’t care that anyone reading this says ‘Beautiful?! Have you seen yourself?!

What I compare is what I saw myself as just over three years ago, and what I see myself as now, seven months post surgery, and in a very comfortable lesbian relationship. The love I feel, share and give, and the love I receive, make me feel beautiful, because it is the most honest and open love I have ever known. It is a learning love and an unguarded love, and in that it is changing me for the better. Our future is no more predictable than any other relationship, but today, right now, it is a gift to be nurtured and celebrated.

For the first time in my life I have been wanted for the complete, authentic me that I am. No compromise. Not perfect by a very long way, annoying in a number of ways I am quite sure. But learning without lies, growing without guilt, developing without deceit. The experience is one I would describe as spiritual, which is why religious bigotry about my gender or my sexuality feels so hateful. It is spiritual, because it is all finding its place in my sense of purpose, of life fulfilment, and of belonging.

Allow me to add this familiar but meaningful poem by Mary Oliver: Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This helps explain how I feel, recognising myself in the world, belonging as never before, having a place and being part of nature, not an aberration.

This is what I mean by change, this is what I mean by beautiful.

This is what it means to have found myself, and this is where my beginning truly lies.