When I began blogging in January 2012, I was reading extensively as a means to better self-understanding, and then writing the personal experience and response, as I was feeling it week by week. Everything was immediate, time was of the essence, much was to be done, and everyone else but me was moving at a snail’s pace. At no time did I feel I would not arrive, but frequently I thought I might arrive alone. Arriving? Was I travelling from A to B? I must have often written of this as a journey, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The elusive elements of this idea of a journey were simply what and where was the beginning? Or the middle (though that could be said to be described in the years of weekly blogging)? Or the end. Was the end the purpose fulfilled? Was it physical change, or social change, and what of ‘me’ has changed? My attitudes, understanding, yes; but ‘me’?
I traced some disjuncture between how I saw myself and how others saw me, back to the beginning of school, since before that I had very little interaction with other children at all. And if I can still clearly remember the shape of the playground kerb stones, on which we balanced, and the dress and hair and face and name of the girl I liked to walk around them with, well that was no more and no less me now than then. At that time, it was relatively OK not to understand why I was not elbowing my way to the top of the climbing frame. Soon it was relatively not OK, not to understand why I could not hang upside down from the playground bars with the girls.
This same me as now, was there then, knowing I was not a boy, but at the same time being told I was not a girl. Like everyone, I learned gender from others’ perceptions of me (my body, my name), not from myself. Gender was taught this way. In clothes, in toys, in assumptions, by rote, by rule. How to behave, how you are responded to, how to respond, what to expect, what not to expect, and instant disapproval. No; this was not the beginning of a journey, it was more like the construction of a building; a place others would inhabit, decorate, fit out and use, for trade, business and living. I was built to fit the street.
Look at that child, that me, every ten years after, and you get a sufficient reflection of what you would expect. Puberty, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood; education, qualification, career, acquisition. Was that a journey too? If so, where was it going to? Every day, this was me. If any one of us were to describe me (including myself) the result would be no more than a reflection of perception, literally, like looking in a mirror. What I said or believed about myself was made to match what everyone else said and believed about me. Together we had conspired unconsciously, but in no small part deliberately, to construct a person who could be seen to be ‘normal’.
This was not a journey through life. This was more like making sure, as a 1920s ocean liner passenger, that you were always wearing the right shoes and hat.
Over two years ago, I emerged from surgery and had no further interaction with any gender identity services. Was that the end of a journey? Was it the end of anything? I don’t think it was. It marked the end of certain interventions, but my overarching feeling was that it marked the end of misperceptions, at least about my gender. It was a point that was just as much a beginning as an end, but in every way also a continuity.
From the school playground, up to realisation that gender is both ascribed and can be completely misperceived, I was not journeying, just living. From realisation in 2010 to completing treatment in 2014, I was not journeying, I was just acting to correct perception. I was gaining self-understanding and better self-perception, but these years were a time of struggling to fit this back into others’ perceptions. ‘I’ was not going anywhere. I was not diminishing, reducing, becoming someone or something else. I was not improving, gaining significance, or becoming any more or less in personality, skills, experience or intelligence. And yet every step of the way I was having to explain, justify and persuade, that this one lifelong perception was not right. Whether those around me, near and far, accepted my explanations and assertions is not the point. What was the point is that the essential ‘me’ was not changing, but perceptions of my gender had to. Nothing else, just my gender.
And the problem is that this is such a big deal. ‘What do we do with you?’ What you really mean is that we treat male and female differently, expect differently, reward differently, disclose differently, protect differently.
Transition is not a journey. Gender does not change. It is a wind-vane that simply points where the wind blows. Our culture looks at the vane, decides it must be pointing the wrong way, or is waving about a bit too much, and drops in some superglue. I did not transition in the sense of a journey, I just put solvent into the bearing to free it.
Perception is everything
From day to day I do not regard myself as ‘trans’. By definition I used to be perceived and treated as male, and now as female, and that was because my inner awareness was not what aspects of my physiology were suggesting, and by definition I am a person with transgender experience who has been treated for it. But from day to day I do not have to do or be anything, nor constantly recall this.
I don’t have to, I don’t need to, and I don’t want to.
But the whole business of my gender remains divisive. It has permanently divided my family, it has placed me in the category of an exotic minority, it places me at real risk in parts of the world, and it still rises to haunt me. A pensions company quite legitimately tracked me down this week, from many years ago, sending me a letter combining my old name and gender with my current address. I had to write, explain, and send documents.
There are photographs and documents showing the glued up wind-vane, everywhere. Even the formal bureaucracy of putting most official history beyond everyday reach, marks me out. I have photographs, and so do all my old friends and family. Mercifully, Google seems to have completely forgotten me, since my name was also quite common, and many are more famous! But why do I find it so uncomfortable to see pictures from five years and more ago? Didn’t I say this was every bit as much ‘me’?
I find pictures of my wind-vane pointing the wrong was as annoying and disturbing as the persistence of debunked conspiracy theories, creationism, or climate change denial. They remind me that I was wrong about myself, as everyone else was. I do not want to revisit, or go over the old arguments. We all saw things wrongly. It was all about perceptions. And there I am, looking every inch a man, Earth is 10,000 years old, we never set foot on the moon and the oceans are not warming. Was I a denialist? Was it an embarrassing conspiracy? Or am I a denialist now?
I can still own my past achievements, I can still count my ‘losses’, but I find it very difficult to talk about my life as ‘me’ when all it looked like, sounded like, was described as, was so wrong. To that extent it feels very undermining to invite anyone, even myself, to imagine me with the old misperceptions.
It was not a journey. It was a realisation and a resetting of perceptions that took time. It was not a place I came from, or a destination I arrived at. ‘I’ have always been ‘here’. Whilst finally I can forget that time of change, I also find it very uncomfortable to remember that everyone used to see me differently, and that I had to live to those perceptions. My life is forever divided, because that mistake, however understandable, tells a story with a fundamental flaw that I would rather forget about. Sometimes that is hard. When someone else has a whole life story to share, and I cannot, I feel orphaned from my own life.
This is not to say that I am unhappy, because here, today, I am still ‘me’, I am fortunate enough to be perceived as I would wish, and I am loved. It is just that wind vanes don’t look backwards any more than they take journeys.