Selfish. Self(ish). Self.

  • Posted on April 2, 2012 at 11:47 pm

As my wife reaches for the cheese and asks for the grater, my mind switches into immediate lowest-level punning: ‘Grater love has no man …’ Nobody laughs, it isn’t funny, just a vain attempt to lighten things up. But it’s a reminder that St Paul did say that there is no greater love shown than to lay your life down for a friend. Great in battle. But would you (other than instinctively) jump under a bus to push someone out of the way? How good a friend would they have to be? So good you hope they might survive but, if not, at least you’d go together?

The worst choice I can imagine is when a lifelong partnership is switched from equality and easy unconditionality into self-preservation. One partner is struck down through no fault or misdeed of their own. What should the other do?

My dread question about being transgender, married and with a family, is why anyone should ever have to decide between self-authenticity and the greatest love in their life. How can anyone possibly decide that? Gender is so incredibly powerful that it defines who and what you are. Once you realise that you do not have the heart and soul of a man, you really, truly, cannot go on in mimicry of being a man. To do so would be so diminishing of self that you would not truly be able to love freely and unconditionally yourself. Whether it is the Christian ‘love you neighbour as yourself’, or the Buddhist Metta Bhavana that begins with your own happiness and well-being, we know that loving people now and love themselves and that bitter, angry people do not.

So what do you do? Jump under the bus so the loved one doesn’t have to face the consequences, or stand on the kerb while your gender bus runs them over? I don’t honestly think anyone who hasn’t faced such an identity crisis can imagine how such a situation can arise.

And it is all about self.


Have you ever even needed to think about self, about what and who you are and perhaps why? Or do you live an altrusitic life, saving little for yourself – giving, thoughtless of return? Or like most of us, do you invest, with friends, with family, with certain material things – just so you feel physically and emotionally equipped to give generously to others and find enough space to replenish and do it again? How much sense of self do you have – not just things you can do, your personality, how you get along – but in the long dark reaches of the night, or in the ecstasy of a peak achievement? Being transgender forces you to find truths most people never even know to look for. We see differently because we have to.

I don’t think many of us believe to a great extent in self-denial. After all, we are precious beings, whether or not we sense a place in anything greater or numinous or spiritual. We need enough of self in order to be giving, in order to empathise, in order to understand what it is like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need self simply to love at all.

I need a sense of self, a bit of self-actualisation if you like, if I am to fulfill any purpose in being human.


Anything less is to fall into a grey zone of being self(ish) – never quite realising what it’s all about, just making headway, doing enough, staying alive, keeping out of trouble. Am I being self(ish)? I hope not! It is neither as noble as being a self-denialist, nor as ruthless as being selfish, but it surely isn’t what we are here in this life for. If we all do nothing but put ourselves behind everyone else, the queue or front line, whatever, simply recedes forever in a false etiquette of ‘after you; no, after you!’

So if I stand ahead of another to pay for my milk (OK, or beer) is that an act of selfishness? Again, I don’t think so. It is in my interests to pay when it’s my turn, but it is also in my family’s interests that I arrive home before letting everyone else (presumably happy to be selfish) go first. It would be selfish to jump the queue as if I was more privileged or important a person.


OK, you know what I’m getting at. I realised – I finally gave in and stopped fighting – I am transgender. I do not fit the picture or the presumption always given about the nature of my self. For me, it is an awareness in episodes, an understanding in retrospect, from over 40 years. That is a long time to be only self(ish), and I’m not exactly jumping the queue out of a sense of self-importance now. I am gradually emerging, asserting who and what I am, trying to find the kindest way to become whole.

And yet I am not the first to be thought of as selfish: how dare I think I can be transgender and upset so many lives by being myself? How could I have lived so long out of my true self that I couldn’t continue in self-denial? It’s so selfish to have a self! Yes: I should jump under the bus so the bus is stopped.

As if, just because self is at our centre, we are therefore self-centred.

It’s all about life choices, and things you do not have a choice about. After that it’s about other people’s choices; personal and moral. It’s about their self, their self(ish) compromises, and selfishness. We can all, in anger, misunderstanding, loss and grieving, think of each other as selfish as we face a new perspective on our own self, realised for what it is, hardened from self(ish)ness into true self.


I do not feel I have a choice if I am to be true to my self. It is no more choice than a disability or an injury that was completely not my fault. The problem is that in the case of the latter, loyalty and commitment kick in and override everything else. It isn’t a kind thing that a partner or relative ends up as a carer, but we sort of expect both might find some fulfilment in making the most of circumstances. And yet it isn’t necessarily reprehensible that some potential carers simply know they cannot cope, and third party accommodation and care is found instead. We might say ‘for better, for worse, for richer for poorer’ but do we really feel bound by that any more? No. Some caring is just too much. For all the love we want to show, it just isn’t adaptable enough. This is fact, not bitterness; many cared-for do not wish to be a burden, because they know how it would feel the other way round. But the person with MS in the wheelchair, the soldier with no legs, or the child with cerebral palsy – they are not being selfish. A little help, a lot of love, and their lives can still be rich, self can still be actualised as far as possible. Their greatest fear is to be only self(ish) and not to be loved. So what does it mean to love them while still retaining a clear sense of self? What does it mean to love a transgender person, when you know they are simply finding themselves, and your own assumptions about love, sex and gender are dropped into the melting pot?

That is one question that I cannot answer.

But I hope all my friends and family and colleagues will think more deeply about self, about being self(ish) and realise that I am not being selfish by understanding a little too late that I am really not the man they thought I was. I made a good enough job of it, I think. But I have resigned. And I cannot imagine any act of selfishness that could give rise to so many hurdles and such loss of entitlement, and grief, despite the relief and joy of finding myself. No-one would choose, in the context of this gender-binary society, ever to be transgender, except to be true to self.

Those of you who venture into Realisations can now read ‘Not like a bone’ in context.


« What is a sense of gender? Losing my touch (I counted on you) »


3 Comments on Selfish. Self(ish). Self.

  1. […] Some long while ago I wrote on this blog in response to the accusation many people born trans face: that they are being selfish. (Self, Self(ish), Selfish) […]

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