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  • Posted on March 21, 2012 at 9:23 am

I play trumpet in several bands, and one of them has been thinking about its logo – its brand identity – for quite some time. As a contemporary wind band, the old logo of an ancient harp and classical laurels aren’t exactly what we are about, and in the last couple of years we really have become probably the best of our kind in the region, so we should look the part. Quite what it is that makes us unable to design, or have designed for us, a logo, I’m not sure. Maybe there is a fear that someone might ‘win’ and someone else might feel rejected – or just that not everyone will like what we end up with and someone will be blamed. I designed and run the website, and I do the publicity artwork, so I’m frustrated that I can’t update it with an image that portrays us better. I feel I’m bursting at the seams for want of a resolution.

Yes, that is all true, but it is also an analogy. Now a little story.

Yesterday [my friend a trombone player] met a woman in a doctor’s waiting room. He had never met her before, but she recognised him, and when she came out, they sat and had a chat for five minutes until he went in. Of course, he had recognised her name when called, but it was a name that will not be called again at that practice. Strangely, it was the least embarrassing meeting she had ever had in a doctor’s waiting room.

Today, that same woman came to another practice, to rehearse for the next concert with her friend on the trombone, and her friends on trumpet, flute and clarinet. But before doing so, she erased her identity, kicked off her heels and dressed as a man. Everyone recognised her.

But she is weary of waiting rooms. Tired of the rebranding that never seems to arrive. Sad that she is only recognised when rubbed out.

I am that woman. And the observant will have noticed that it is my new name and my new email on all my websites. They will have noticed that I won a poetry prize with the wrong name. If they Googled that name they would have found me for poetry, for book reviews, for being a publisher, and for this blog. The observant will have noticed pierced ears, painted nails, plucked eyebrows. And readers of a previous blog post will know the pain that the erasures cause.

Last night, with another band, I had a lovely exchange with a bassoon player, in which we described our ‘differences’ which are entirely normal to us. I guess admitting to being transgender does open some doors, even if it closes others. I could have given her such a big hug! But her reply was two-fold: first, why did I dress as a man if this is how I am? The second was that I had great courage. The first made sense, hence this story. The second I always reject. This is not courage, this is just being authentic. If we can’t be true to ourselves, we are not living the one life we have been given, as it should be lived: as only we can. This is not bravery any more, this is just giving in.

I identify as transgender, and I have been living as a woman increasingly for over a year, dealing with a lifetime’s discomforts and 40 years of not being able to understand why, or what I could do about it. I am at peace with myself, while I know the profound consequences it is having on my nearest and dearest. But it is all the friends who have been so supportive and reassuring, that have given me a sense of trust and a freedom to present my true self in hope of acceptance.

This is not Tootsie or Mrs Doubtfire. If you want a name to look up, it’s gender dysphoria: it’s a question of gender identity, not of sexual orientation. It is not a psychological disorder and it is not a product of nurture. Something in how I was born means that for all the body I have, my sense of who I am does not quite match. We are all happy to talk of women with strong masculine identities, how they wear the trousers, or succeed in a man’s world. And we are all happy to talk of men who clearly have a strong feminine side. What we never think about is what percent of opposite-genderedness we are comfortable with? Ten per cent? What about 50 per cent? What about a man with a 75 per cent feminine side? What about the 90 per centers, who for all their physiology, cry out that this is not what they are on the inside, in their soul?

As I begin to present at band practices as a woman, I expect to be spoken of as ‘she’ and ‘her’. But the last thing I want is to be a distraction: I am only there to play music after all! I understand that I shall be a curiosity for a while, but one thing is incredibly important to me: if anyone has a question, I want them to talk to me, not to discuss me as some kind of oddity or make me a subject of speculation. They can ask me anything that I can ask them in return. Deal? I hope so, because if the estimated 1 in 4,000 of us is touched by similar gender identity issues, I am actually a lot more normal than any of them might suppose. In fact I may well not be the only transgender person they know: it’s just that I choose to be visible.

Tonight the band has an AGM. That usually means a poor turnout! But tonight I shall read this out, and those who aren’t there can come here instead and read it. I don’t think we shall resolve the band identity tonight, but I do hope that I can now stop erasing my own.

And finally, a big thank you to all those who already know, and who have been so supportive and encouraging. It means a great deal to me.