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Orlando

  • Posted on June 14, 2016 at 11:17 pm

It is for God to punish
says his father, and a mother
in another country says she hates
the woman her daughter
must hide in a closet
when her uncles come.

My partner wriggles her hand
free from mine, unsure
because this isn’t Brighton;
they stand at passport control
separately, just in case,
and the sun beats down.

I was lucky, he says, I did
gymnastics with the girls,
kept a low profile and learned
which way to walk home, funny
how so many I know now
were bullied at school.

A man cries in a crowd
in another language, as
thousands, and thousands of miles
apart, are together tonight
showing recognition, naming
a shared sorrow and fear.

A father leans forward
in a theatre, speaks his
objection to two girls kissing,
thinking of his daughters
the infection, not the
affection without fear.

A mother lives in fear, her
daughter’s lover shut,
a father lives in fear because
he was taught a god, and taught
his son, who beat himself, down,
Pulse racing to shoot.

People who don’t pray, pray
for the souls wrapped
around bullets, and people who do
try to forget who god punishes,
pray for mothers, not lovers;
my lover loosens her hand.

We never quite forget, as you can,
that the fear is ours, that
a touch, a kiss, is twisted out and
into disgust, our loves denied,
existence erased, or laughed off
with taught lines, from sacred places.

We are people you can make
laws about, lies about, forget
that this was another Target
entitling one breath to close
a toilet door, a cupboard, another
to extol faith, text, gun, a good son.

 

Notes:

  • Living with my lesbian partner where it’s illegal to be gay (Iran)
  • On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American-born Afghan Muslim, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. He was by all accounts himself gay.
  • Target is the second largest discount retailer in the US, which drew (largely Republican Christian) transphobic attention by disregarding state ‘bathroom bills’ requiring transgender people to only use toilets matching the gender on their birth certificates.

2016 © Andie Davidson

Sex and Gender; two troublesome words

  • Posted on January 24, 2016 at 2:29 pm

I read an academic article about centring gender identity this week, that was interesting, not least because it assumed a clarity about sex and about gender that in most circles doesn’t exist. And then this morning I continued reading about sex and gender in more feminist circles, on serious blogs, not TERF rants. I always try to understand because I also expect a degree of understanding. We are all human, we all deserve respect.

We all relate more easily our bad experiences than our good, and whenever someone has faced abuse, met a very male-acting trans-asserting person, or simply really opened their eyes to this patriarchal society and culture of ours, they will rightly feel defensive, and the incidents will be key to future expectation. I too feel much safer in women’s spaces, I too feel insecure where there is testoserone around. And whilst I may have been brought up and taught as a boy, I do not feel totally socialised in that way, because so much of it went against the grain. I guess I did mimic it a fair deal to get by, but it was always uncomfortable and I was ready to see the impact of it on women, socially and in the workplace.

This world suffers from patriarchal rule. I mean suffers, not just needs greater equality and fairness, but suffers. Our planet groans more because of it, and we tolerate its destructiveness. There are women who play into it, take advantage of it and imitate it. But it is what it is, and it is bad for us all. And none of this is a basis for debating the rights of humans on grounds of self-identity. Not every culture and language even has ideas of sex and gender in the way English-speaking people do. Yet we get tied up in mutually defensive, and sometimes aggressive, dialogue over sex and gender as if they were something as absolute as mass and energy.

Probably most people have never ‘met’ a trans person, because we just don’t all look, sound or behave obviously so. Which means that most antipathy towards us is based on bad experiences of an unrepresentative few people who stand out for their inauthenticity or bad behaviour.

We have several essential problems that we fail frequently to acknowledge.

The first of these is behaviour

What we expect from people sharing our society is certain forms of behaviour. Some make us uncomfortable: a homeless beggar; someone gesticulating unexpectedly through mental disturbance, brain injury or non-development; drunken loudness; crowd-generated fervour. Some behaviour is distanced, such as influential voices, or merely online trolling, down to simply abusive or ignorant comments on a news article. Discomfort easily becomes fear, and we can distance ourselves, fight back, join a group for mutual shared strength, or face it and deal with it in other ways.

Some behaviours are associated with sex and gender. Some are causal: hormones create drives and emotions, for example. Some are correlated but not causal: group behaviours to belong to the in-crowd, or not to stand out. What we cannot say is: ‘women behave like this’, or ‘men behave like this’, or ‘lesbians behave like this’ – or even ‘trans men (or women) behave like this’.

Because they don’t. There are violent women, effeminate men, femme lesbians, aggressive trans women, asexual non-binary people, quiet introverted pansexuals. Everything you can assume as defining any sex, gender and sexuality, is defied by countless atypical people. Some people are kind and nice to know. Some are lazy and otherwise harmless. Some are psychopaths running global organisations, and some are lurking around a corner to do you harm.

And probably none of these behaviours is defined as being entirely due to sex or gender. Being male can derive philanthropy just as it can (though more frequently perhaps) misogyny. But for goodness’ sake, bad behaviour by some individuals describing themselves as transgender does not make being transgender a bad or threatening thing. It is the behaviour that threatens, not the underlying sex, sexuality or gender identity.

The second thing is expectation

Expectations are cultivated socially. We develop them from experience, which means we can nurture bad expectations from bad experiences. We share and cultivate these, because it feels more safe and comfortable when we have shared experiences and expectations. Then we have group thoughts from which it is harder to escape and disagree. Sometimes we must have a bad experience, develop an expectation for safety, then relocate the expectation in reality so that we can be both safe and open to new and more positive experiences.

Sometimes expectations become assertions, rules, dogmas, doctrines, even laws. And sometimes – may be a lot of the time – this is good. We come to have an agreed floorplan for constructive, safe, mutually supportive living together, and we call it culture. And sometimes that floorplan has mistakes, or cracked tiles, and slippery rugs.

We embody these expectations not just in our legal frameworks, but in other socially-cohesive ones. I am still surprised how much of my readership here pulls out the blogs on the role of religion in LGBT phobias. I have been through the experience here, from dragged-to-church, to skeptical, to thorough-going evangelical, to even more thorough university biblical analysis, to reasoned atheist non-materialist. So I know what it means to live as male, as female, as almost fundamentalist, and atheist. I think I know myself and many things from the inside, rather than hearsay. And just as I assert that there is a fundamental role in testosterone creating the world we live in, so I assert that there is a fundamental role in the religions we have created. Both T and R are imprinted on everything we do and the way we do it, and in my view, we need to be much more aware of this, of its impact, and its consequences, as well as be more wise to moving beyond both as defining our contemporary civilisations.

Without these religious-ethical expectations even our laws would be different in many ways, not least in those relating to sex and gender expectations. Countries in the world where being gay, lesbian, trans, or simply a free woman, are proscribed by law, do so on the basis of some ancient religion. The religion lays down expectations, resists reason, and fossilises attitudes. So much so, that secular cultures like this in the UK, carry an unconscious tradition rooted in christianity with attitudes and expectations, and beliefs about unethical behaviour that focus on specific things. We have a greater antipathy towards anything to do with sex and gender, than we do towards anything to do with power and connivance.

The third thing is language

Just as money began as a means and became a commodity in itself, so language did the same. We talk, write, think, using words for a substantial part of every day of our lives. We rely on words meaning something fixed in order to communicate clearly and efficiently. Languages, sadly, are not like that. They do not translate as easily as we would like, one to another. Sometimes five words in one translate as just one in another, losing vital nuance, or becoming ambiguous. Sometimes the culture behind a language does not share the concept. When one language dominates, so a concept can therefore also dominate. It’s never that my language represents an erroneous or superfluous concept, always that your language is impoverished because your culture is ignorant or less refined.

Sex and gender are conceptual, and not the same in every language, even in Europe. We neglect semantics, because we take language for granted, but worst of all, we assume that the word creates the thing, and that one use for a word makes it definitive. Learning how a word came about does not give it its contemporary meaning in use (gay and queer are two obvious relevant examples), and frequently a word becomes more important because its use becomes too burdened by conceptual disagreement. It isn’t just a heliocentric and evolutionary science that shakes society and religion, but contemporary observation of gendered roles. I recently replied to a friend who asked if there was any test for either sex or gender, with some quick thoughts about this.

I think that ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are words given to poorly defined concepts. The initial concept of sex derived from observations about the means of reproduction and was simplistic and basic. It divided those who gave birth from those who did not. Thus many creatures tend to carry natural roles (though sometimes opposite like seahorses) where one stays safe with babies while the other gets food. As societies developed in sophistication, so the roles became formal expectations. Put basically, sex ensured survival and required no nuance.

Roles, however, confer different privileges and empowerments. Hunters also defend and acquire territory, and adopt authority as a result. Thus begins patriarchy. Within this, unfairness, coercion and advantage are noted, and as society becomes more complex, equality rears its head. Society and culture develop as philosophies, which in turn are questioned. Ultimately, sex as a division is no longer satisfactory. Female is not necessarily mother, male not defender/aggressor, but husbander, in agriculture for example.

The words and ideas for this alternative layer to sex are different in different cultures and languages. Thus it is a construct centred around sense of place in culture or society. It is regulated by norms which are informed by established notions of what sex currently means. The words don’t help us in any way. They are misused to discriminate and advantage, perpetuating, for example, patriarchy.

Sex as a concept still tries to distinguish biological capabilities, while gender tries to counter this absolutism and explain how people are dislocated from it. Sex tries to maintain traditional rules, gender to create new ones. Both superimpose contemporary ideas on the simple origin of species perpetuation. What we lose in this is that we are all the same species, developed socially sufficiently to live equally rather than divisively such that child-carrying doesn’t define social place, nor physical strength and drive.

There is no scientific test for gender because there can be no simple definition. Feeling trans has two components: being socially mislabelled and misplaced, and feeling that the child-bearing or physically powerful aspect given by the body doesn’t agree with the inner awareness of how the mind feels that should be. There is no scientific test for sex because it can be indeterminate.

What is important is that it should not be so important to find a definition let alone enforce it, for either sex or gender. Both exist only so long as we keep words for them. My argument is that we are dealing in semantics rather than tangible realities.

I think sex and gender aren’t just ‘physiology versus social construct’, but are two troublesome words in need of care. Talking spectrums isn’t necessarily the let-out we need either. I still find tomatoes in the vegetables section of my supermarket. Fruit and veg aren’t a spectrum, but some are badly misrepresented by what we have become accustomed to. But we like them all the same.

Summary

Behaviour, expectation and language all bias us in all manner of ways towards and away from others. Much of the time it is unconscious bias, but we too easily define our ideas about other people in our own terms, reinforce each other’s biases, and end up disrespecting individuals and thrusting them into unsafe places. It may be a trans woman with no refuge, a trans boy being bullied, a feminine feminist being excluded, or a butch dyke being shoved out of a public women’s lavatory. Or all too often, a trans person being pushed by expectations, to suicide.

We must be careful what we assume from our experiences, or what we have read, or been taught or cultivated into. In protecting our own ideas, however precious they are to us, and however many others share them, we may be making the world a less safe place for someone else. Whether you are a trans blogger, a feminist essayist, a frequent article-commenter, or just sharing on Facebook and tweeting, we must recognise that we are all just using language as a proxy to relate our beliefs and best understanding, biased by our experiences.

It’s not what you remember, but how

  • Posted on December 1, 2015 at 10:35 pm

A friend of mine has been writing what we hope to be a book, with some contributions from me, interleaving experience and reflection with research. It’s not about being anything, but the meaning there is in it, as it is. In some ways it’s a challenge. ‘How about a chapter on your experience of gender dysphoria?’ Sounds innocent enough; we both know that it isn’t a generalisation but a personal experience, just my narrative and my interpretation of it.

I had a go. By the end of a day of hard writing and thinking, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. How many different ways could I have told the story as a chapter (not a whole big boring book)? Rather a lot of trans people have written their own books, and some are really good, and helped me. I have also seen some that are not so good, and are a reflection that many of us want just to tell our story, though we are not all writers. I guess if I were asked to tell my story to several people with very different backgrounds, I would tell it differently each time. So what matters most to me?

The more I think back, the more my story connects up, as I remember little things, the circumstances of the times, the pressures not to speak of certain things, the need to conform, and even the lack of sufficient understanding to think that I might not have been what everyone told me I was. On one level my story is a happy life. On another it is life characterised by a constant fear. On one reading it is very singularly my own, on another terribly familiar. But the reason that I have this story at all has an absolutely common thread, understood by every transgender person.

I am looking forward to seeing the file ‘The Danish Girl’, and have seen the trailer, and a few interviews with the key actor playing Lili Elbe, Eddie Redmayne. If the trailer made me cry, I’m sure I won’t make it through the film. The big trigger, I expect, will be that first unavoidable confession of knowing your gender is different. The way I phrased the feeling of falling into that realisation, was ‘it just feels perfect’.

The trouble with revisiting the story after several years, is that having settled very perfectly, you can still remember that there was real happiness in your life before too. I don’t want to lose that, but neither is it easy to embrace. If I look at photos of my daughter’s wedding a few months ago, or of my ex-wife looking really happy, giving the wedding speech, her being there and not me … or remember too vividly past Christmases … or holidays, or at pictures of happy homes we made and shared … and … and … Then I remember that but for one thing about me, everything was good.

The story of Lili Elbe, and of many other people who have transitioned, is one of devotion. Love somehow survives the hurt and carries on. Here, there will be pain and loss too, but something mattered too much to let it go. And this is where too much reflection and retelling the story doesn’t help. I was one of the majority who lost their marriage and family, and my deepest regret is that it was for no other reason than my gender. I still recall saying: ‘I can’t walk away from this. You can. Please don’t.’

Rage spoils memories

I was trying to remember something I said when writing the chapter, and from searching around, came across a few pages I wrote at the beginning of transition, when I knew it was all over with my wife and family. It was rage in black and white. Rage that I was not allowed to be angry, that I had to be the one who must understand how difficult this all was for everyone else. It was rage that this one thing that made me feel perfect at last made everything else fall apart. That I could come to a clear understanding, and that in doing so I was no longer wanted as a partner, companion, parent, even though I was still me, crawling out from under a blanket of fear where I had stayed for the sake of everyone else.

And behind that rage was a whole lifetime of tender loving memories that felt completely betrayed. Yes, I had to understand how difficult this was, how impossible for those closest to me to sustain. So every time I hear of love enduring through transition, I remember. Memories of rage? Memories of betrayal? Memories of happiness? Memories of love?

Just as I could think after writing my chapter, of all the ways I could have told the story, so there are many ways of remembering. And it is hard to remember how I had to walk away, not from my own love but from a door closed by others. I think it takes a lot longer than I had thought, to wipe the soot and dust off good memories, so that they don’t simply hurt, but become treasures. I struggle sometimes with talking about a good life that I had, as if by confessing their goodness I want them back. I don’t, because they are long past, and they were all a shared possession, not just mine. And I don’t ever want to live with fear again, least of all fear of my authentic self being a reason not to be loved or wanted. So somehow I need to become able to see photographs, read things and remember, in a different way, where the ending isn’t part of every moment. I will get there, but it has been a reminder to me that just as you can tell your story to other people in many ways, so you can to yourself. Mine is not a sad story, just a brilliant chapter with a very sad ending.

I really don’t want to live with any resentment or anger, and largely it has gone. I simply want to feel gratitude for everything good that has happened in my life. Right now it is good, I am grateful for the love that I share, for the life my partner and I are building together, and for all the new experiences we bring to each other. Life is all about learning, all the way, beginning to end, and after so much telling over the past few years, now I still need to learn how to remember well and safely, because the story continues.

Identity III: the language of things

  • Posted on October 4, 2015 at 7:41 pm

I have gone back to school. Last week I was in college for adult language learning, my first German class. I jumped in mid-way, because I have some ability, a small vocabulary and not enough for much meaningful conversation. And so I tend to work out different ways of saying things, using the words I do know. It must sound very odd. I also find that in German, the words for transgender, transvestite and transsexual are not used or available in the same way as in English. Maybe as I learn, joining online German trans groups could help me understand better. The trans people will be very much like me, but with a language and vocabulary to express and describe themselves, somewhat different. Language is a big barrier to clear self-description across language boundaries.

Is my identity limited by language, given that language follows concept? I can’t find words for a concept that does not yet exist. I can invent them, as new concepts arise, and this happens all the time. Language in turn creates an environment of meaning. It doesn’t describe facts, it expresses interpretation. Snow is snow, but in the Scots language there are 421 words for it. The reason? To give more meaning to the experience so it can be shared more accurately. It is still crystalline water, white, pretty, and blocks roads. I am not Scottish, so I wouldn’t understand many of the words, and would be unable to communicate the state of the day’s snow clearly. If I was belligerently English I could insist that snow was snow and that was enough: stop confusing things!

I find the same with gender language. Male/man/boy, female/woman/girl are like snow. Sometimes I speak with another (cis) woman I know, and we arrive at me saying: ‘but I wasn’t born a boy!’ Their response reveals a lack of vocabulary. Of course I was born a boy and I changed. But changed what? Sex or gender, neither or both? All I know is that I was born with male reproductive physiology and a female sense of self, reflected in my behaviour and sense of belonging. The difficulty of naming ‘what’ I was/am then becomes a difficulty of accepting my authentic identity. I changed a physical part of myself, but I didn’t change myself. I need not even have done that, had I been happy to continue as I was. So what do we call a man with a vagina or a woman with a penis? We can refuse the identity, block it out, and insist that man and woman are defined by external genitalia, stay blind to intersex conditions and variety, and continue with the difficulties. In this way we steal anyone’s identity and agency for no better reason than that our words have failed to keep pace with concepts. And a large proportion of people and cultures and governments and ministries indeed are stuck right here.

Language divides everything

Look at the surface of a river, watch the spray, get in close to the spray, the surface of a droplet, the evaporation of water molecules from it, zoom right in on the molecules and see the subatomic particles in their statistical clouds among those of the atoms and molecules of various gases comprising the air, work out where the oxygen atoms or ions really belong, zoom out and see the moist air currents, as part of the gaseous mass through which you are looking at the water and tell me: where does the ‘river’ become the ‘air’, or the air the river? Perhaps the air without the river wouldn’t be the same, and the river in a vacuum would simply have evaporated away. By all means swim in the river, breathe the air, paddle your kayak, or photograph or paint it – but be careful that your idea of identity isn’t a definition of reality that you insist on imposing on others, instead of observing with a readiness for surprise.

When does she become he? As I was thinking about my arguments on identity, this article came up, and it plays the same mind game as the river. Testosterone and oestrogen, cholesterol and progesterone are similar molecules, but make significant changes to our bodies, especially before birth and consequently again at puberty. We may or may not be chromosomaly sensitive to them, or produce the ‘right’ quantities. There is no way of telling gender by looking at any one of us, any more than you can decide where the river and the air meet or divide. With such complexity, why do we confer identity on people, for the convenience of our language? The article says very well what I was going to write, so I won’t repeat it, other than to encourage you to read it. Like the river picture above, it simply picks apart each characteristic that gets used to define male or female, and shows it to be insufficient through variety. The conclusion is that the organ that best defines gender is the brain.

Brain, or mind?

The implication for the anatomists might still be that instead of examining a baby’s genitals, we routinely scan its brain. Surely the brain structures give a better hint, if the argument is right? Maybe; maybe not. Suppose you scan the infant brain, and compare the result (probably ambiguous for many or most) with chromosomes from various and several parts of the body (in case of mosaicism) for Xs and Ys, and add an SRY gene test for androgen insensitivity? Would that help? The consequence could be babies with penises being declared ‘probably female’, those with vaginas ‘probably male’, a lot of question marks, and perhaps still a majority being quite conclusive. But for what purpose?

The elusive element remains the mind. The mind we still think of as being centred in the brain, and this may be right or wrong, but however mechanistically we think of mind-as-consequence, we are a long way from scanning a brain to find the mind. Thoughts and intentions, yes, but the origins of these, no. Is sense of identity a brain thing or a mind thing, or, as the river and air, not clearly divisible and dependent on both, and on culture, society, philosophy, and therefore ultimately, available language?

Identity, definition, what you are as distinct from where you are, may not be a thing, a word, but you still know what you are you in the midst of whatever everything else is (including that you are neither, or not solely, male nor female).

Be careful. You might not be right!

So be very careful not to limit another person’s identity by your own language limitations. And if I say I was born a girl, fight the instinct to say: ‘but you did have a …’.

Something I wrote quite a while ago says it nicely in far fewer words:

No single story

  • Posted on August 16, 2015 at 12:23 pm

One year ago I wrote a piece about meeting a glamour photographer whilst still in the hospital where my clinical transition was completed. It was one of those strange things that life turns up from time to time, reminding you of the connectedness of all things. I have often written about my sense of greater belonging in the world, or rather belonging among all things, so I shouldn’t be surprised any more. But these completing meetings that reattach parts of life are good. Two years ago I returned to my teenage haunts in Derbyshire, deliberately to reconnect old and new. But still there are moments where I have cause to remember and reconnect my past without having to deny it, but rather be grateful for greater understanding. Without the past my story is incomplete, and sometimes now I have to be careful not to erase parts of it to avoid awkward questions. I have children: where are they? How was childbirth for you? You played with Meccano? Sorry – a boy’s grammar school? And do I say my son lives with my ex, or with his mother? And so on. I have a past, not just a present. There was no single point of separation from it.

This week I Facebook-friended a very familiar face, that of Caroline Cossey. It was a huge surprise for several reasons. Firstly that we are of very similar age, secondly that we (for all her fame) find ourselves on a level in this social space, and understand many shared experiences. Most of all, that for all the differences in our life stories, we have something, in the end, very much in common. I remember her modelling name of Tula. I had the Mayfair and Playboy issues (quite coincidentally, because I really didn’t buy that many!) that featured her (glamour, not porn in those days). I had a ‘respectable’ book too, of glamour photos that featured her. And I remember the front cover exposure of this incredibly beautiful woman who ‘used to be man’. At the time I simply stared in disbelief, and could not connect it with any possibility for myself. A wish; no more. I simply didn’t really understand how it could be possible, and saw it only as a choice. Caroline represented something unattainable, part of another world. Only twenty years later did I see the TV interviews she did, after being outed by the media. She was a victim, she was also a heroine, and I am here now in part due to all she went through and fought for.

Today, finally, I downloaded her book to my Kindle. 1992: My Story. Her story. History. Not my story, but many places where the stitches are familiar. The familiarity all starts with a very early childhood sense of not belonging. Of the world being a confusing place with nowhere to go, and of feeling there is no-one you can explain this to, no-one who will understand and make it all make sense.

That’s it. Not belonging. Something really not right about the way people tell you you should be, or feel, or behave, or dress, or play, or simply be …

Now imagine telling that story to people. They will tell you how they don’t feel they belong either: maybe they don’t play sports too well, or are very mediocre at music, bad at drawing, middle to bottom of the class academically, or simply introvert and never had many friends or anyone they felt understood them. So what is it, in the stories we tell as trans people, that is different? Yes, stories, because they are in many ways similar and many more ways individual. Telling the story, nevertheless is critical to accessing routes to change. Not all routes involve treatment. Not everyone wants hormones, let alone surgery. Many of us find some comfort in there being a diagnosis, by whatever name (but dislike the names anyway), because it is confirming to know that you aren’t alone. But what everyone must do, whose gender is not what others tell them it is, is tell their own story. I often wondered how easy it would be to learn the narrative that gets you through a gender clinic. I also know many who have been honest about being gender queer and who seek part-treatments, and who have found it very difficult to obtain it.

I walked around the playground in my first year of school, with a girl. I remember Jane Pringle very clearly as someone I trusted, as all the other boys competed on the climbing frame and shouted together. I felt she was someone like me, and that the boys were not. But that didn’t make me trans.

I talked in my first year of transition with people who hated their bodies, some who either could not look at themselves in a mirror, or feel comfortable to even touch their genitals. This was not my story. My sense of being in the wrong body was that I hated my impulses. I hated that if I put a dress on it didn’t make me look like a girl, even if it felt good inside. I looked at photos taken by Joanie Allum and I liked that a woman was glamourising women. I looked at pictures of Tula and found her dignified and beautiful. But I wasn’t spending my days hating my penis. As my life began expanding with the growing up of children, I learned to express myself in drawing, painting, writing and music. A lesbian friend reminded me that I could be desirable and made me feel more alive, after which I walked in sunlit woods at lunchtime from work, and imagined how wonderful it would be to be wearing a dress every summer day.

I really wished I could feel comfortable and find myself, but the more I tried to introduce the feminine desires I felt, the more I found resistance in my marriage. I was the only one who wanted this, and if I was going to do that, I was going to have to do it alone. And if I was going to do it at all completely, I was going to have to tell the story of my Gender Dysphoria. I was going to have to admit to some kind of disorder, a significant impairment, a medical diagnosis. I felt that I was having to reduce myself rather than grow more complete, drop any idea of my social status, of my achievements, almost to the point of being labelled as a freak. I was going to have to enter a bureaucratic sequence that ended in much of my documented history being sequestered away for my own protection. I was going to have to go through therapy, counselling, psychiatric assessment and examination, judgement and evaluation by people who knew nothing about me other than the story I would tell.

For many of us, there is some pressure to get the story ‘right’. People ask this on Facebook: I’m going to the gender clinic next week, what should I say to ‘get through’? Sometimes it feels that my individual story is not enough to convince the gatekeepers who are just looking for the right identity pass card. We should all be able to be honest enough and to tell many stories.

And the story we tell those closest to us? The one story, the classic story of being ‘born in the wrong body’? This can make us into liars and deceivers (Why didn’t you tell me?) rather than confused and unable to know. And if it isn’t the wrong body, why are you making such a big deal out of it? In 1992 Caroline Cossey described it as being ‘born between two sexes’. This is not the same as intersex conditions, which are (perhaps) more easily described through physical examination. Differences in physiological sexual development do not make life easier (it can be harder), and there is some evidence that many transsexual people may also have physiological determinants of their sense of gender, but which a clinician cannot prod and say ‘ah, yes’ to. For all of us, something biological happened in our initial development, for which there was no erratum in any Your New Baby manual.

And so we end up trying to tell our own stories, to people who would like it to be one simple story. We risk being disbelieved, being told that we simply don’t understand ourselves, or the way things are. Society doesn’t want us to have stories that don’t fit the way things are supposed to be. Either we are confused and keep silent and anonymous, or speak our stories and everyone else gets confused. There has to be a better way.

I don’t have gender dysphoria. I used to, in the sense that I described my non-belonging in the world, my self-understanding and my need to change, as being perceived as male whilst feeling more naturally female. The changes I made put it all right, so whatever you call the diagnosis, my gender, as I now show and live and express it, is correct. Had those changes not required clinical intervention, I may never have included the label in my story. But my own complete story is one of development, from confused little boy all the way through to happy woman.

My story, your story, Caroline’s story, every famous trans woman and pioneer’s story, and every anonymous trans man and woman’s story, is singular. But what we are all saying is that no-one can write or narrate our stories for us, let alone make it all the same story.