Fear, revisited; a picture

  • Posted on February 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm

take a pebbleThere’s a picture I really wanted, but agreed without comment not to claim, because my ex wanted it and said so first. I’m not going to suggest tearing it in half, however symbolic that may be, but I could try contacting the artist Bob Seymour for a copy.

It’s a large photo (the one on the left is not it), colour, but only greys, a close-up of a smooth pebble emerging and drying from the water of a shoreline so it almost looks like a bright moon. Bearing in mind one of my favourite poems ‘For Your Hand’, it might seem most appropriate to leave it anyway. It is symbolic for that reason: I am smooth and round, emerging and being more beautiful for what I have become than what I used to be. I had to lose a lot to be what I am.

And it was a 26th wedding anniversary gift to each other.

I remember walking down the road in the sunshine in Hartland, Devon, where we were on holiday at the time, and I was in torment. It was over four years ago and I still hadn’t a clue that people could be transgender. I was just tearing myself apart inside, the ‘silent scream’, as I called it, was a crescendo. In retrospect, we were just both very frightened.

And it was all over a pair of tights.

Yes, I know, to you and most people, and to my wife at the time, that means something (nudge, nudge, wink, wink; know what I mean?) about sex. No, about fetish! What else could it be? And what could be worse? I was in effect asking permission to do what I had been doing for some time, to be allowed to wear very limited and unseen female things on a daily basis, but also to share it, not hide it from her. Yes, it felt nice too, very nice. It felt right, and I wanted acceptance. And if it was just a sex thing, maybe that could be alright, but ironically, not if it meant anything else. I didn’t understand it, I knew it wasn’t wanted, it felt such a small thing, but it was a huge issue. We were both facing fear of something with unexpected consequences.

What does this make a man, when he starts experimenting with things that only women wear, and it isn’t just because it keeps him warm on his dumper truck? (Yes, many men wear tights for comfort and warmth. I know, because a nurse casually checked with me once when she needed a bare ankle for an ECG electrode.) It’s scary. Either he is just a bit weird, or something is happening that feels beyond control.

What did it make me, when I felt right doing things that everyone else would see as wrong? Not optional, variant; wrong. Later it became ‘you can do that so long as I don’t have to see’. So I knew that there was something seriously wrong with me; I just hadn’t a clue what.

So, with a pair of tights asphyxiating our wedding anniversary, we went to buy this picture. We came away with not just the pebble, but four – and our fear. With our separate fears. I was reminded by her this week, of the fear that I engendered in her, and how I had been vociferous in defending myself and denying that it meant I wanted to be a woman. It didn’t even seem possible to me, and I couldn’t see why it would mean that anyway. Readers of my blog will know I was still saying this when I started writing it in January 2012. By then everyone else seemed to know but me. They were just waiting for it to happen. But back in 2008, I was still in love after 26 years and I too was living in total fear that whatever was tearing me apart would tear us apart. And I so wanted to let free whatever it was, and travel with my wife, together.

I knew even then, that I could only be loved by suppressing whatever it was that seemed an irresistible force and energy within me. Can you imagine being in love, after 26 years, and coming to realise that something bigger that you, that had always been there, was coming to light to destroy it? It must be like living in a country all your life, and having a knock on the door at three in the morning to be told you have no right of citizenship, and will be put on a plane forthwith and returned to a strange place you have never known, away from your family, your lover, all that seems familiar and safe.

That was our fear, unvoiced, misunderstood. There was something about me that could mean I would never belong as a lover again. Denial? Or fear? This was not choosing about doing; this was the beginning of choosing about being.

And there is nothing so scary as being, because it is essential. Sometimes it is enough just to be. But if being true to self means you are no longer wanted by the people you care most about, are committed to and loyal to, ‘just being’ is very frightening indeed.

And for my wife at the time? Being herself meant that she could never entertain intimacy with a woman. Her insulation from this dilemma is that I changed. I had been loved for being a man; it made her the woman she wanted to be. The choice, in the end, was clear: be a man or you cannot be my lover. I had no such insulation, because this was me, not some addition, some lifestyle choice; this was what I knew I had always been, coming out. For her, I really did use to be a man, so everything that went before was legitimate. I now know that everything that went before was not, from my perspective, legitimate at all.

My gender has not changed. My understanding of it has, and no-one is to blame. But however I felt I had to be at the time, however taught, and whatever I believed was the way I had to live my life, I was a woman, albeit stuck with a male body. And that made me look normal. I did what I could with what I had – until I began to fall apart, and the ‘pain of being a man’ became unavoidable. And the fear, not just the periodic self-anger and self-hate, kicked in.

It’s alright, I know you can’t understand this; nobody without this experience can, really. You will tell me I was a man (some people will in ignorance tell me that I still am). The body is not what defines you. Your gender does not change. Nor is there a choice. I completed a questionnaire this week that asked: ‘Do you identify as …’ (choose from the following list of sexualities and gender expressions). ‘Identify’ is quite the wrong word. Do you ‘identify as’ what you are? You can choose descriptors, but identity is more than description; Descartes did not say ‘I think, therefore I identify as alive’.

So this is a story about fear. A pebble that represents me, emerging smooth and round. A picture that cannot be shared, like a moon that will never rise again, on a wall that is as much mine as hers. It is her fear and it is mine, that came to be fulfilled. She married a woman; OK, a trans-woman if you must. But she is safe, because for her, I was a man. I am not safe, because I know I was not. In my ignorance, my love for her was fraudulently given.

I faced many fears in therapy, that became very real suicidal thoughts and intentions. Many fears, like being able to transition successfully, find work and be accepted, were groundless, but my fear, like that anniversary day in 2008, is that I may never find legitimacy in sexual love, because no-one really understands what being me is all about, especially when I say I was born female. Could you love me, without being made to feel gay, or lesbian, or bi, or something you cannot imagine ever being? And how could you even be a real lesbian if you don’t think I am a real woman, or truly hetero if you think I used to be a man, and so on … What would I make you?

Yes, I still have very real fears, and if they mean loss of identity, that’s where I come unstuck all over again. Picture me instead as a pebble, the result of much loss, shaped, left – and if you dare, pick me up simply for what is beautiful about me. Nothing more.


« Who, what, and not just equality The meaning of corners – and love »


Leave a Reply