My greatest delight over the Christmas break was to visit my hairdresser. I knew the old grey stuff was showing too much, so I wanted the straggly ends trimming, and the rest coloured to match the wig style I’d been wearing the past nine months. It had actually been a hard down-to-earth decision a year ago, that if I was to transition, it might well mean a wig for life, with the constraints that brings. I had to accept my hair would probably never be good enough, that the receding hairline had gone too far. In fact that is my biggest grouse about delays in being seen, clinically, and further delay in being prescribed anti-androgens. It’s the opposite of trans youngsters having puberty delayed in time. Sometimes it feels every second counts.
On New Year’s eve I emerged quite overwhelmed, with just my own hair, looking very different but lovely, styled to cover the worst bits and full enough to stop wearing the wigs. I can’t say for the rest of my life, since my mother has just started wearing one due to natural hair loss in older age. But for now, returning to work with the new style, ‘all me’ and no prosthetics except my glasses, is a big thing.
I have taken part in recent discussions with some heat, about how prosthetic breasts and wigs are perceived. For trans* people starting out their transition at least, they are a godsend. We go out into the world with no formal assistance, to undergo what is tactfully called ‘Real Life Experience’ with all the capitals. Voice? Gait? Mannersisms? Make-up? Clothing co-ordination? Hair?? Facial Hair?? Body Shape (including the infamous ‘tuck’)??? Who in their right mind would go about in public making such a change without getting it all perfect from the word go. Yes, it is a very tough challenge, and it can’t be assumed that all of us have practised well enough already. Are we going about in some disguise – we are, after all, disguising parts of ourselves, present or missing.
Many people use prosthetics, some undergo extensive cosmetic surgery, but underneath we are as real as you. And yet I came out of the hairdresser’s feeling more real, in a back to normal way. The props had served their purpose for now, and I felt relieved.
I have written several blog pages on perception and reality, because it seems to matter so much to everyone else. Do I look more genuine or real now? Am I becoming less ‘the woman who used to be man’? Strangely, I wonder whether returning to social circles where I was known pre-transition, I look more like I used to, especially since I had grown my hair longer to disguise the pierced ears! But surely, more naturally curvy and feminine in all my ways. Or was I already more feminine before? The two states are blending, which is fine by me, since I don’t disown what I was.
But here I am, caught in the middle again. If I am so naturally this, without any props and prosthetics, what is so different from ‘who’ I used to be? I caught myself at work this week thinking how I am doing all the same things in the same way as I have before, dealing with technology, communication and people, sitting at much the same desk and computer as always, just outwardly being the woman I always was inside. I am not pretending anything.
There were times in the beginning (thankfully only a few) when I would hear people saying ‘my god! It’s a man!’ and I felt I was covering something up; people were able to see through some artifice and perceive the ‘real’ person underneath. Well, there is nothing to see through now, so in some ways it’s back to square one: no second glances, I am just me. Being real. Obvious, isn’t it?
But this square one is a long way from the previous square one. And questions remain. I go on trips with bands, playing my trumpet and having a lovely time away, often in Europe. We share rooms, of course. What is Andie? Can she share with a ‘real’ woman? And the truth is, there are some who would not be comfortable sharing with me, and some for whom it is no problem at all. Is Andie real enough – or yet – to share a bedroom with another(?) woman? Is it all down to what surgery I may or may not yet have had, or whether my breasts have developed enough? Which side is Andie really on? Does she really behave as a woman? Is sexuality and privacy still an issue?
I went through the ‘I shall always be the not-woman-not-man’ crisis a while ago. It’s a big one. Who will ever see your sexual integrity again? Are you forever a sexual intruder? A pretender? Ultimately the questions another may ask are: can you be trusted with my body? Do you make me ambiguous too, by association? How can I connect love and sex after this?
This is where my reality is comprehensively trounced by perception.
With this much socio-sexual conditioning, can anyone ever desire me again? Can anyone really see that this is the real (and now unchanging) me, and that I am still romantic at heart, loving, kind, gentle, hugely committing and loyal, and very giving? And worth being more than just a friend? Or is it safer not to let me get too close?
Yes, the old doubt and fear is very much still there, and the more real I feel, the more bizarre it becomes that I may have seen the last of being trusted to love another completely.