Almost exactly three-quarters of a year ago, I started to live as a woman rather than as the gender I was supposedly born into. In the post whose title makes me cringe at my poor choice of vocabulary – “Sex Change” – I explained my early experiences with this process. Since then I’ve written several updates on what I was thinking, feeling and going through.
At first, it was almost hard not to write those posts — I had so many thoughts about the topic, they were pretty much spilling out of my head. I was talking to a lot of friends too about it. I wanted to talk about it every day.
As my process eventually cooled down, I tried to cut back on the amount I was talking about my transition because I thought I’d be bothering people or talking too much about it. In retrospect, I think that wasn’t such a thing to worry about. My close friends never seemed to mind me talking at length about my feelings on the matter, and I got feedback from several readers of my blog that they were finding my updates particularly interesting.
So, spurred on by those readers I want to stop holding myself back and express myself freely again.
How have these last months been? What have I learnt about myself? What have I experienced?
The above comic from the trans-oriented comic What’s Normal Anyway struck a cord with me when I read it. Actually not because I had had one of those days. But because I realised I so sorely needed one of those days.
It seemed until then that since beginning my transition I had not had a single day where I didn’t think about my gender. It is quite likely, in fact, that I hadn’t. It was a little excessive, to put it mildly.
Not that I didn’t need to think about my gender; however, I think giving my thoughts some space to breathe might have helped. If you imagine the larger part of a year thinking about my gender seriously every day, you can see how I might have been stuck in a loop there at times.
And there’s the thing: a few weeks ago, or a couple of months ago, I noticed how the thoughts I was having seemed to lead nowhere. It took me a long time to realise this; I think I had to reach the point of ludicrousness for me to do so.
Using a tactic modelled on the Zen koan which I’ve used sometimes to stop thinking loops, I simply kind of stepped back and let my thoughts tie themselves into knots. I just co-opted their momentum to get them to be so ludicrous they were untenable. By doing that, I could observe the knot of thoughts, and be outside of the knot. And let it drop away.
What I was seeing was that I had thought over every possibility a thousand times. If I still wasn’t sure about my gender, it was really fear that was blocking me, not the need for some new answer I hadn’t thought of yet.
What I knew was that in the present moment, when I was not getting all caught up in “what ifs” and second-guessing, I knew it: I am a woman. I enjoy being a woman, living as a woman, expressing myself as a woman. I didn’t need to prove that to myself. That was for sure.
It was things like, “What if I could change in the future?” or “What if I might be able to enjoy being a man just as much somehow?” which kept me in my thinking loops. As well as more absurd fears such as “What if I’m just doing it for attention and lying to myself and by extension lying to everyone and am actually really a horrible person who no-one could love ever??” … or stuff like, “What if X makes me not really trans?” — where X is some action or tendency of mine that would reveal that I was really a man at heart and was fooling myself.
Well, at some point I started to realise that these thoughts were absurd.
In order to solve my knot of self-doubt and hopefully feel able to start committing more fully to my transition, I started going to a therapist, Federica Fiore.
Federica hooked me with a little bit of promotion she did on Facebook. She explained how she wanted to be the sort of therapist she had always wanted to see in Berlin: one sensitive to LGBT, polyamory and gender issues, who you didn’t have to explain everything to. I also just got a very positive feeling from her and decided to see if she could help me out.
Getting the outside perspective on this was absolutely great. In two sessions I’ve had so far I made some serious progress.
In the second session with her, we came to one point which was obviously important: my parents.
I seemed to have a conflict there, as while I wanted to believe I was rather neutral towards them emotionally, some probing of my emotional body definitely suggested that my block had to do with strong feelings towards them.
In particular, I realised that a lot of the heavy energy attached to my self-questioning came from them. They had told me that I should question myself and be sure of myself before doing anything permanent. Which I had been doing. But I think that if they had been honest, they had really wanted to tell me not to do anything permanent – they just knew I wouldn’t listen to that, so they told me to question myself.
I think I picked up on their real meaning subconsciously, and was in a bind because really I could not satisfy them by questioning myself more – they would just never approve of my change. So I really could not win, and just as no answer would satisfy them, no answer seemed to satisfy me either.
I want to confront my feelings towards my parents a bit more and maybe have a talk with them. Even so, I think I made a major improvement just by realising what I had really been looking for and how I could never get it.
Now that that knot is resolved, I still intend to persue a few more avenues of self-questioning. But interestingly, by removing that knot of fear, thoughts which previously went in loops seem to be resolving themselves. By vocalising them, I seem to see the absurdity of each fear I have, and I don’t seem to need to hang onto them anymore. I even am starting to see the absurdity of the few avenues of self-questioning I want to try out. I’ll still see them through though, until I have nothing left holding me back.
In “Being Trans Is A Big Thing And A Small Thing“, I grappled with how such a simple thing seemed to be blown so out of proportion by society. Or was that by myself? My fears made being trans such a huge thing. Then it was impossible to cope with. But without so much fear attached to it, it’s not such a huge issue, and being sure about my next moves isn’t so hard either. In some ways, it’s just ever so simple. This is what I feel; this is who I am; it doesn’t need any more justification than that.
In a week or so I’m having a reading with the psychic Erin Pavlina. Erin helped me once before and I have a huge confidence in her abilities. Whatever information she can bring me should give me that satisfying overkill of surety I need to start a series of irreversible changes in my body.
I’m rather pleasantly anticipating it 🙂
So that’s what my questioning process has been like so far. But what’s life as a trans woman been like?
The annoying thing is that I spent such a large part of this last year obsessing over if I was a trans woman or not, I missed enjoying and experiencing just being a trans woman a lot of the time. In more recent times I’ve tried to correct that a little.
Berlin is a good place for being trans. I get far fewer comments and looks from strangers there than in Barcelona. In Barcelona, I would notice if I hadn’t covered up my beard shadow with foundation because people would be gaping at me or otherwise treating me as ever-so-slightly sub-human. Here in Berlin, I don’t perceive such a huge difference in how people treat me depending on how well I cover up. People just see me as a person above all, and that seems so much more mature, so much more decent.
Interestingly one of the few times I’ve had problems in public in Berlin has been when I was riding next to a group of Spanish passengers on the metro. Thinking I couldn’t understand them, they said incredibly offensive things like “touch her between the legs just to be sure!”. I would have said something, but for my own reasons I just kind of stared at the worst offender, which seemed to unsettle him 🙂
There have been some times when German people were asses towards me – or people who I assumed were German anyway. But most of the time it doesn’t happen, and the few odd looks I get seem to be from visitors to Berlin from other parts.
Those times when I’ve been to parts of Germany other than Berlin, by the way, I’ve experienced more conservative attitudes. In the smaller city of Lubeck, a young couple basically stopped in their tracks and gave me the evil eye for walking hand in hand with a male friend. They were staring at our backs for minutes on end as we walked away. I tried walking backwards and staring back. They managed to get the message after a while and at least kept their glares to themselves.
That was weird. I don’t know, I seemed to have ruffled their feathers by being queer on their straight territory or something.
Well, I don’t know what Berlin has in it, but this stuff doesn’t go on there in the same way. Somehow, Berlin is just special.
Something which I still think I haven’t been doing enough is connecting with other trans people. I started to do that in Spain but didn’t get too far before I moved. In Germany, I just know a couple of trans people and don’t see them very often.
Talking with other trans people has so much value. There is the validation, the understanding and acceptance. And then there is the sharing of information and experiences. The trans world is small enough that the internet isn’t as totally infallible a source of information as it is for other things, and talking with new trans people can be an excellent source of information, especially about location-sensitive issues such as local laws and so on.
I got a great deal of value reading through What’s Normal Anyway (see above). Simple things like the comic I featured in this article led me to little clicks of understanding. Stuff that I thought was unique to me turned out to be not so weird. And perhaps some conclusions I hadn’t quite come to yet were laid out for my introspective benefit.
I was just reading a zine today about trans female sexuality (link currently broken, don’t know if it’s going to go back up). I didn’t expect it to be so good, but damn was it good. Our experiences are so different to those of cis (non trans) people, and are unknown enough to common society, that the sort of things one trans person can say to another can be nothing short of revelations. There is so much out there to be said which isn’t reaching all those people who need to hear it. Even the author admitted it – for the sort of sexual techniques she was talking about she had no previous literature to refer to, no role models. She had to draw up what she could from her own experience.
I got some info today about trans meetups in Berlin so I’m hoping I’ll manage to get more involved in the scene over here soon. I think it will be very very worth my time.
So what about fashion? 🙂 Some readers will be happy to know I’m still very into looking good. I have chilled out a little about it since I started, partly because I want to save time like everyone else, and partly because I wanted to face my fears of not passing as a woman by not trying so hard so hard to pass.
One thing I’ve decided for myself recently is that I want to make the effort to cover my beard shadow at least, every day if possible. Previously I normally either did all my makeup or none of it. I love having a full set of makeup on but it’s really the beard shadow that makes such a huge difference to how I see myself. Sometimes it’s subtle and I don’t realise it, but on those days when I don’t cover up my shadow I’m far more likely to feel ugly or just disassociated from myself. The kind of simple satisfaction I get from seeing myself when I more or less look the way I want to look is so fulfilling. I think this is really important.
Asides from this I’ve been slowly improving my fashion sense, overcoming the inevitable mistakes trans women make when they start out. (I didn’t abuse heels – hate the things – but overdoing on eyeshadow or doing extremely bad clothes combinations, yes). This winter I got several great jumpers and two coats from a sale at C&A. It was new to me that I could get clothes that felt so simple and yet stylish and just… right for me. Actually, it was kind of a surprise that I could like jumpers so very much. I’d always seen them as a tiresome necessity when I lived as male.
I’ve also enjoyed jewelry, particularly expanding my earring collection. There are just so many cute things to wear in this regard! I still feel like I want to get more accessories, particularly now bracelets, necklaces and rings, though I’m taking my time.
One more thing I intend to change is getting a bit more diligent about my hairs – well, my eyebrows and my body hair. Chest hair in particular doesn’t go well with certain garments, even if winter can hide most of the rest for me. Two separate people felt the need to mention this to a friend of mine in the JES festival – though were too polite to say it to me directly, it seems 🙂
I managed to get lazy about these things because of the instability of moving house and not having beauty professionals I knew I’d feel comfortable with in the new city. But now I’m settling down a bit, I plan on finding some and getting that done. I really think this point is one of those 80/20 things – the 20% of effort that gets 80% of the results. In my case, the results are feeling at peace with my body. I should get it together with this and act like I’m worth it. Cause I am worth it 🙂
One thing I’ve changed since starting my transition has been constantly second-guessing whether something is female or not.
In the beginning, I was constantly monitoring every word I said, every gesture I made, the way I moved, and so on. It was immensely tiring.
I think behind that was the thought that I had to create my gender rather than just stop covering it up. (Some feminists insist that gender is constructed – in my case, the only thing that was constructed was my masculine facade). Perhaps in the beginning I was less aware of the fact that I really, really was a woman underneath, and not just trying this as an experiment or because some aspects of being a woman called to me.
I was scared of not passing as a woman – silly, as I was going to not pass anyway, at least sometimes. Or I was secretly scared that something I said or did would somehow prove that I wasn’t really a woman and had been fooling people this whole time.
What I’ve seen is that whenever I ask myself, “Would a woman do this?” I’m making an image in my head about what a woman is – and a very limited image at that. Whenever I tried to live up to that image, I felt constricted and weird. And often degraded, because that’s the sort of image that society gives to you for womanhood.
The more I’ve let go of a fixed idea of what womanhood was supposed to look like, I’ve fell in love with different aspects of my personality that came through. With my chosen gender as the frame or context for those aspects, I could enjoy them so much more than before.
The conclusion I’ve come to – which should be an obvious conclusion, and it’s telling that I had to come to it – is that women are much more complex and polyfaceted and individual than I might have thought. OK, even that sentence makes me feel dirty. Women are people. Period. They’re not “more complex” than I might have thought, they are exactly as complex and multifaceted as all people are. And not because they are equal. – What does equal mean anyway? – Just because gender has nothing to do with any of that.
I had a strange epiphany when looking at a card game I was playing with my partner’s family.
The cards had images of people in medieval attire in keeping with its fantasy theme. The interesting thing was that the cards were exactly equally split into male and female. I told my partner I thought a woman had designed them – because all of the women were kind of nondescript, while the men tended to have their shirts off and great muscles showing 🙂 It made a refreshing change from the art found in similar games where women tend to be very sexualised and drawn to very high standards of attractiveness while men are clearly not drawn to evoke the same kind of reactions.
But the epiphany I had went like this:
I looked at a card with a female character and, after a moment, thought, “Oh, it’s a woman.”
Then a second later I had a strange thought. I thought that if the picture had been of a man, I wouldn’t have thought anything. It would just have been a person. But somehow being a woman is somehow a thing, somehow makes you something, while men are just people.
It’s such a subtle thing, it’s so easy to miss. If the cultural paradigm was that women were bad, it’d be maybe easier to spot that and discard that belief as wrong. But this very subtle thing where women are something while men are just people, it makes women subtly different, subtly “other”, subtly things rather than just people with different facets like anyone else (just that one of those aspects is a vagina).
I think with all other systems of oppression, including those which oppress races, sexualities and species (e.g. non-human animals), there is a similar tendency towards people being things. Anything: women are this, black people are that, animals are the other… it doesn’t matter what they are, but in this sort of talk their personhood is subtly taken from them.
When people are things, it’s easy to ignore them, or to discriminate against them, or to subtly treat them differently, like they were less than human. It’s easy to shunt them into a different social strata where they will have less power and have to play by different, disfavourable social rules.
In general, all of these bigotries are much more subtle than people just hating people. Hate is when it gets very strong, but at weaker levels subtle, unacknowledged bigotry supports systems where people are kept at a disadvantage. Many people who profess to be against bigotry still maintain these systems with their subtle “othering” of people in different groups.
How does this tie into being trans? Well, because I noticed I had been “othering” myself as a woman and how damaging that was to me. And also because being trans opened me up to realising this, where I might have missed it for years if I had kept living as a guy.
By means of closing up this article I’d like to present you with something I wrote in my journal today.
I mentioned earlier in this article that I intended to persue some avenues of self-questioning to be sure about my next step in my transition.
In between writing that and finishing the article now, I wrote this journal entry.
I think it suggests that I’ll be concluding my introspection time soon…
I’m introspection-ing now about my trans-ness.
It seems, as it has been seeming for a while, but ever more so, absurd. I just feel good as a woman. There’s nothing more to it.
— Still? Still should I force myself through an imagining of what it’d be like to be a man? Or have I reached the point where I really, really don’t need that sort of over-the-top self-doubt?
Isn’t this all just absurd? I feel what I feel, right? I know I’m trans.
But, okay. Let’s do this.
In this Scenario I imagine I’ve decided to embrace an identity as a cis man, and am outwardly quite masculine, even if I incorporate sensitivity and “traditionally” feminine things into my persona. I’m not challenging society with my way of being.
I’m Leo. I’m a guy.
I like dressing smart, wearing collar-button shirts and dress trousers. Since my trans experiment, I’ve learnt what it means to care about my appearance. I wear a nice, expensive watch, and a pleasant male perfume. I keep my stubble short and orderly, and have a nice ponytail. I also decided to dedicate myself to losing weight and toning up my musculature a little, giving me a very sexy body which I’m proud of and feel happy sharing with my lovers.
I like women and men, most of all women. Women love me because of my sensitivity and non-machoness. I’m strong and gentle and aware of male privelige. I try to counteract that privelige in my life. I do workshops on conscious masculinity and explain my perspectives.
(Note to readers: I forced this out of me but in the end could not see myself in it at all. It was like I was talking about someone else entirely. In fact the guy in my mind’s eye had blond hair and a different face to me. When I tried to force him to look like me, I just wanted to shudder).
In this I imagine I’ve embraced being a feminine man.
I’m a queer guy. I don’t mind anyone knowing I’m queer. I’ve embraced it, and love my feminine gestures, feminine voice, flowy, flowery clothes and gentle mannerisms.
I have clothes that are male but are decorated with flowing flowers and such. Sometimes I wear skirts. (How often? Uh… let’s just imagine this isn’t all the time).
I love flowers so I have a flowery perfume. I may have found some way of making that almost seem cis, or maybe I haven’t.
I love being treated as a woman and making love as a woman… OK, I’m a woman.