A week ago I was privileged to share time with a few friends to talk plainly about the more physical aspects of transition. I am still gobsmacked by the complete absence of clinical advice, guidance and care in this process. Google is our best friend, as indeed is YouTube. That also is scary, because in some countries and places Google is censored and YouTube belongs to Google, and the content we need is all about sex, genitals, gender expression and so on. Some things we really do need to see, and viewing late-onset pubescent breasts and a post-operative vulva is not just a curiosity but a necessity for us. It can all feel a precarious position to be in.
Care and share
Care itself is variable. I would hate to slate the NHS, because it is a doorway (and for me the only one) to full surgical treatment. But I also know that post-operative infection rates are higher than they should be, and that many people return for subsequent corrective surgeries because things weren’t right first time. This isn’t a criticism of the surgeons, more of aftercare, and the protocol differs between Charing Cross and private hospitals.
And still no word of an appointment to see the surgical team, only an answerphone call that wasn’t returned …
And so it was, 21 months after my transition that my breasts were seen by somebody else for the first time. No, nothing more than seen, but I wanted to know that my progress was normal, acceptable and OK. I learned what I needed to through comparison, and had some advice on good bras to buy for that bit of enhancement. Without embarrassment we talked about the surgical outcomes and about how a neo-vagina performs and compares. It is important. Surgeons won’t tell you that any more than the referring psychiatrists understand what it means to be trans.
And inevitably we talked about relationships: that is, family, friends and potential lovers, and how we find ourselves in a place, supported only by each other, with no support for the others to understand that we are a natural occurrence.
So it is all a mix of joy and frustration and slogging through doing our best, always hoping to be loved at less than arm’s length.
There has been another side to speaking this week. An earlier conversation revealed (or confirmed) that I am perhaps not exempt from sexist gossip or opinion in the more manual regions of my workplace. Why should I expect it? Other women experience the same, I just have another handle they can pull. Last night I walked in to play for a band I haven’t been with for maybe two years. Of course for some it was a double-take, others didn’t recognise me. But we are all friends, and great kindness and welcome was shown rather than curiosity or distance. But the male-dominated workplace can be different. Vocabulary, social place and expectation are all very different, and I have no pretensions about being the ‘odd’ person upstairs, the woman ‘who used to be a’, and maybe the T-word.
I don’t see them much and they don’t see me (it’s an upstairs-downstairs world). On Thursday I had to give a presentation about a project I initiated that will, hopefully, really benefit the whole company. It was to the whole company. Downstairs comes upstairs to hear from the MD the latest state of play in our fortunes and about major projects. I teetered on the brink of business suit style, looked at myself in trousers and jacket, and said no. I don’t need to bow to male privilege and presentation, nor to distract by being too pretty, so it was the smart skirt, blouse and scarf.
So why did I even think about it? The MD and another director weren’t smartly dressed, why should I even think about it? I guess it was in the back of my mind that I was going to be completely exposed in front of people who may talk about me but who don’t see me or work directly with me. I didn’t want to be compared with what a transsexual is supposed to look like. I wanted to leave an impression of complete normality.
The presentation went well, there’s a lot of hard work to do, and I fully expect that I was talked about rather than my project, and the place of my project might, by some, have been treated with less commitment than had I been a senior male manager. How can I not be treated differently?
A new colleague (very nice gay male) has seen a great deal more of the outside world in his first few weeks than I have seen in 18 months. I worry a little that I have been over-protected, or that I may be a slight embarrassment. I know that up until now, new colleagues have been told about me, to protect me from curiosity and misunderstanding. Very nice, but I don’t actually want this any more.
All this boils down to straight talking and honesty. Let’s accept that transsexual people are not an object of curiosity, our issues are not about sex, and as people we are not somehow complex and troubled, except by the differing levels of acceptability by others. Here is something very simple and very accurate:
If I have a problem, it is only because you have a problem with me, and that problem is in you, not in me.
I believe that if I was treated as less anomalous, my clinical needs would be treated with the same seriousness as an achilles tendon, or an ear infection. Someone would look at my ankle or into my ear, would enquire about the outcomes of physiotherapy or the effect of my antibiotics, would be concerned with prompt treatment. These things would be spoken of between others with sympathy and concern, they could simply ask me how I am, how things are going, even with direct reference to the bits concerned. Maybe being trans is regarded like mental illness, unspeakable? Perhaps, with the added complication of some thinking their way under your clothes too.
But I think all I am trying to say is that the whole business of gender transition is only as bad as it is because as a society we have yet to talk about it as a naturally-occurring human condition that has nothing to do with ethics or morals or personality or anything other than the way we were born. We are not objects of curiosity, we are not dangerous or subversive, and we can speak for ourselves. But it is entirely reasonable to talk, dispassionately and with understanding, so that our lives can be better integrated.