Being normal is such a strange thing. We all think we’re normal until someone defines it in a way that leaves us ever so slightly outside, and we’re tempted to shift a bit to nudge ourselves in. And then life throws something at you that makes you so very not normal in the way most others describe, and all that goes out the window. It’s a bit like severe stress reactions; people behave in very strange ways out of self preservation, fear, trauma, and yet all they are doing is reacting very normally to very abnormal situations. Or one day you finally wake up to the fact that the gender everyone else has given you all your life isn’t right, and you start living differently. So many people think it just isn’t normal, because they have known you as something else for a long time.
And then they sit down with you, share a coffee and talk about all the things you always have talked about, and they realise that you are still the same. You’ve adjusted your appearance, made some changes and planned a few more. A few weeks ago they would have been talking to a man (apparently) and now they’re talking to a woman, who is offering the same responses, thoughtfulness and kindnesses, and, well – it’s still you, and you are so comfortable and natural, even more peaceful and happy in yourself. You have become normal. A bit unusual in making this kind of change perhaps, but normal.
It’s this ordinariness that strikes many trans* people too. We don’t choose our clothes for any reason other than that they feel the most appropriate. We don’t set about a very protracted and in places very painful and uncomfortable, expensive and difficult journey for fun. We do it because it makes us ordinary and normal in the way that feels most right. There’s a lot to learn of course, and this takes us places we have never been before. It shoves us up against some things we may rather not know about. We rub shoulders with people who have quite different issues and get confused with fetishists and thought of as practitioners of weird and strange sexual practices. Some think we are to be feared and present a threat to children – or just normality. And all we feel as we find ourselves, is ordinary.
To begin with, coming out and telling people this extraordinary thing, that we are going to live the rest of our lives differently gendered from before, is very challenging. Whether workplaces, social environments, close family or wherever, most people haven’t a clue what it’s all about, so there are adjustments we want to steer and get right. And that certainly makes life complicated. Some will never accept ‘our story’ and we have to accept that. We lose people and we gain people, some lose jobs, homes and everything. And if we survive that, and our personal emotional response to the challenges, we chase the surf over the reef and find ourselves in a wonderful lagoon. The storms are past and we survey our rigging and assess the damage.
But it is calm, because we are in the only place we can be safe and at rest. Some of the crew may have jumped ship, but now it’s time for the carpenters to fix things, the cooks to get breakfast, the navigator to get the maps out, and you, the captain to take charge. It is ordinary. It is normal. There are losses, but the ship is where it is meant to be.
I have had people remark to me how natural I am like this (and long before I finally let go fully, too). I have had trans* people ask why they feel so ordinary going to work, doing a job, living an ordinary life, after all the trauma of gender change. I guess it is because the old ideas of normality were only other people’s guesses anyway, and breaking them simply showed how false they really were. Why did it all have to be such a big deal? Well, some people just wanted us the way we were and don’t want us the way we are now. We have maybe upset too many applecarts – or they were into our apples and now we’re offering pears. I can’t help that, but it is very galling when your fruit is good but it’s just the wrong shape. But in the end all we were after was being ordinary and normal in an unusual way.
It isn’t easy of course; we get very hurt in the process. We learn things most people never have to think about, and I suppose we feel a bit ‘special’ or unique – not that anyone would choose this path given the choice of the easier, unquestioning, understanding of gender.
My closest family is very normal, and like with any trauma, their responses are all normal. One shows complete, silent denial and rejection; one is familiar and accepting; another understands it completely and simply doesn’t want it. All entirely normal, all very ordinary in a tale told a million times in the lives of trans* people like me.
I wrote of courage earlier, and how I disowned the idea when people ’admired my courage’ in coming out. Now I realise the courage isn’t in the change or the exposure, it’s in the ordinariness. It is in the daily rejection in your own home, it is in suddenly becoming the inappropriate lover after ten thousand days of being the appropriate lover. It is in learning where not to touch, in learning not to be kissed, in learning to be out there alone once more. It is in knowing you are the cause of so much grief and cannot do a thing about it, except to carry on being your same loving, kind self, and simply accept it. Grief too is a very ordinary thing.