I was looking through some photos from not so many years ago, of a band I play in. I think I was being a bit curious, because anything more than five years ago feels like a lifetime ago. It wasn’t of course, but two things have happened: first I transitioned, and second, I have had to find a new relationship with that old self. I do sometimes want to dip back as a way of marvelling at how I am now. They aren’t pictures I want to hide, but similarly not ones I want to show. The relationship with that old self is a very private one.
I don’t see myself. I see someone I know was me, but somehow I can’t find myself in their skin anymore. I remember the places, I remember what I was doing, even who I was with or talking to. But I can’t put myself in that skin, in my mind. I wonder whether it is a kind of denial, or a kind or protection, or just an impossibility because I feel so differently authentic now. I feel uncomfortable looking at that old self, and I know that I never liked what I saw in the mirror all those years. I look at the haircut, and I remember that it was like that because it was pleasing someone else. Coming back from a haircut was a feeling very similar to putting on an overcoat. I never liked wearing one. I did own three over the years, the last was virtually unworn, expensive, and was given afterwards to a friend. Each time I wore an overcoat, I was putting on someone else’s desire to be something, and each time it was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. That the hair or the coat pleased someone I loved, never made it good, though maybe it was a comfort and a kindness to them to play the part.
This is what transition regret means
It isn’t the tiny percentage of people who interpret their gender discomfort inadequately. It isn’t wishing I could have been comfortable as I was all those years. It isn’t wishing I was not born with all that conflict ahead of me, able to be a fully normal boy, brother, man, husband, father. It is wishing that I could have recognised and been able to find authenticity from the start. When I wrote ‘I love me’ on my school pencil case, I wish someone had said: ‘Fantastic! Go and be fully yourself, express yourself, because then you will be able to love securely and honestly without fear.’ Instead, I was strongly reprimanded for arrogance, for pride, for putting myself first, if only for a moment with a felt-tip pen and a pencil case and a thought.
I see a picture of myself now, and wish that this album hadn’t started so far on in life. I look at myself in the mirror and am filled with a profound gratitude still, that I feel and look so right. The shoulders are too broad, the waist not slim, the hips too narrow, the hair too thin – but I recognise myself and I see myself fully as a woman. This, really is me, not the person in the not too old photos. Who is that person, if this is me?
I am loved. I have someone who tells me I look pretty, who forgives the shoulders, waist and hips – who doesn’t think of me daily as trans, because it really doesn’t matter. I don’t hide the old pictures from her. I don’t have to hide anything anymore. I don’t need permission to express myself, like the person on the photos.
This is what transgender regret means
It means knowing that life has been spent less than it could have been. That for so many years no-one else could see the real me, lived as I feel. Regret that I had to lie, to pretend, and to play a part, about things I didn’t understand myself. Regret that all that spent life is discreet, put away, not fully spoken about, owned more by others’ memories than my own, much of it in albums on bookshelves elsewhere, not here. Like my medical and official records transferred to a special place, so that no-one need know that there was this other person, with a different birth certificate, known by another name and title for all their qualifications.
Transgender regret for me means a life divided. Half with wishes unfulfilled, a person disowned. Half released into myself to be who I am. It means my past not being freely part of social conversation with others. Being guarded against slips that might suddenly change the conversation, and make me a curiosity. Nothing repairs that, ever. I don’t want that other person to be thought of as a sad figure, as hiding or deceitful. I don’t want that person to be remembered as what I used to be, as if that was more real because it was for so much longer. I don’t want people to feel privileged by knowing, and being able to tell others gleefully: ‘don’t you know, she used to be a …’.
Nothing ever stopped, life was never suspended, and there is no single point at which I was not the same person. But there certainly was a period of a few years, when lots of people had to make up their minds about what to do over me. And nothing has even for a moment made me wish I had hung onto who, where and what I was. The regret is not in the losing; that can happen to anyone. It isn’t a way of saying my life was wasted in any way, because it wasn’t.
No; transgender regret for me means having to have built up a history, a life of memories, that was always less than it could have been, for want of recognition that I could have been this, authentic, self. It means that I do not want to drag that person out of my history to challenge, recall or compare with all that I now am. Yes, the photo is of me, but I don’t want it to be part of my conversation, and that divides my life into the spoken and unspoken.
I can do that; I know, as I look in the mirror, that I – the same I – have found my true representation, and that it is good. I can know. But I don’t want to offer that comparison to anyone else; it can only be dealt with privately. Not because I feel in any way insecure or indecisive, but because others won’t feel my gratitude, only the wonder that this was how I used to be and isn’t that amazing?
So if you thought that Google had thrown up this page to tell you that transgender people have regret about transition, then it isn’t in the way you thought. You have a history in one volume, fully cross-referenced. I am only offering you volume two, and I don’t want to open volume one except in particular, selective circumstances.