Yesterday was my fourth transgender birthday! In other words, it’s been four years since I started living full time as a woman.
As I said to a friend recently, the “age” of four seems like a significant one. Perhaps it’s like the age of 18 in cis years. (Yes, we talked tongue-in-cheek about “trans years” and “cis years”). At this age, I’m no longer a beginner in the whole matter of transing. I don’t have too much more growth to do; at least, it’s not at that frenetic pace it used to be. I’m just cruising along.
Accordingly, I’ve started feeling ever so slightly out of place in trans meetups. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, I find trans meetups are mostly populated by early transitioners, those who particularly need to find guidance and validation from other trans people. This is crucial for them, but after many such conversations it’s beginning to feel old hat to me. I’m starting to want to sort of forget about the struggle of being trans, and just live my life.
I’ll never say I’ve stopped being trans, that I’ve graduated from being trans and am now cis (some people do that, which I find questionable), but I can sort of understand the attraction in such a thought. I don’t want to always see myself through the filter of a label; I just want to be me.
I recently met a later-transition trans woman in a trans meetup, something that happens rarely enough that it’s of note. I think she had been living in her true gender for twenty years or something like that. I found her fascinating, somehow. She was absolutely indistinguishable from a cis woman in appearance, which is always something that I find interesting; but apart from that she seemed to have really settled into her gendered life. For want of a better word, she seemed really normal.
OK, I know it sounds terrible to imply that other trans people are not appearing “normal”. But… let me explain.
When I started my transition, I wasn’t much like an average everyday woman. Gender was an intense part of my general consciousness. It was intensely present in the way I showed myself to the world.
At its extreme, I might have seemed like I was wearing a costume. I know people say such things as a way of criticising trans women, as a way of saying that they are fake, and that is wrong. I was never fake. But at one point I was expressing a single repressed aspect of myself so intensely, that it might have almost looked like a caricature. I don’t regret it; it was a stage I had to go through.
Now, I’ve largely shed that intense self-awareness. I’m more casual in the way I present myself. I put less energy into my presentation. I’m okay with being boyish in some ways. If the women’s bathroom is full I’ll walk into the men’s bathroom. I’m more likely to just let a transphobic joke slide. Gender in general just feels less world-shakingly important.
So, this woman who came to the meetup… I think what I enjoyed seeing in her, was the completion of this process. For her, gender was about as important as it is for, well, cis women. She had short hair, a t-shirt, and jeans. In her words, she had previously been very much a makeup and dresses type person… and then at some point she had simply stopped “doing gender” so much.
As for me, well, I’ve gotten so far as to consider trying on some jeans and seeing if I would be comfortable in them.
OK, I’m not her and there is no reason I necessarily need to end up like her in all regards. Personally, I feel that I can probably only completely forget about gender when I pass fully and no longer feel my gender is put into question by others, and when I no longer need to make any constant effort to maintain this state of affairs. Then, perhaps, I might give short hair and jeans a go. I may or may not end up keeping that style. But, in any case, I admire and look forward to reaching a state of just generally forgetting about gender in my day to day life.
In accordance with this, but perhaps worth reporting on in its own right, I’ve discovered that I no longer identify as “really feminine”. I still wear skirts and dresses and have long hair, for sure. But other aspects of me seem to be rather more butch. I now usually tie up my hair with a headscarf, which I find gives a slightly masculine — or less-feminine — impression. I’m now happy to wear sports shoes and not specifically women’s shoes. And I’ve embraced a kind of tough, rough, no-nonsense personality, which I think was always part of me but which I didn’t quite integrate into my self-image until now. All things considered, I don’t think this adds up to an especially feminine or masculine picture; just a mix of traits that is more or less within the normal range for women. I mean, if I suddenly turned back into a man, this form of self presentation would look gay as hell. But as a women, I think I register as pretty normal in this regard. Maybe just about butch enough to turn up on some people’s gaydar… I really don’t know about that, but, yeah, probably.
Something that helped me reach this point, surprisingly enough, was BDSM. In the summer of last year I discovered I was into this spectrum of sexual practices; specifically, I was turned on by playing the role of a dom. I posted about this on Facebook, feeling kind of self conscious:
“I just found out that I’m actually a dom. I know right? Who would have thought it! I seem nothing like a dom at all!”
And then, some of my friends replied something along the lines of, “No, I could totally see that in you.”
This rather shook my self image; until then I had seen myself as a very feminine person. And, while perhaps it doesn’t have to be this way, culturally speaking it’s certainly true that being dominant is considered a masculine trait. It clashed with how I saw myself.
Spurred on by my friends, however, I started looking within myself and I saw that indeed, I did have some rather butch personality characteristics. I think I had previously ignored them, or had been ashamed of them, imagining that they were remnants of my male conditioning. Now, though, I began to embrace them, and integrated them as part of my personality. I noticed this helped me feel more whole, and stronger.
For a while, I chose to explore the concept of female masculinity a bit more. I started contemplating characters in fiction I found inspiring, such as Korra from The Legend of Korra and Erza from Fairy Tail. I also developed a mild fascination for Athena, the Ancient Greek goddess of wisdom, craft, and war. I found that those focused, brook-no-nonsense personalty traits were a rich source inspiration for my sense of self.
I had a phase where I felt particularly drawn to these butch-er aspects of me, and now, just as with femininity, that phase is becoming less prominent again. I now no longer feel that masculinity or femininity are core personality traits of mine. I perhaps even feel a bit more butch than femme, as contrasted with the expectations that society has for women. This may be a remnant of this exploratory phase, or it may last; I don’t know yet.
Something that is new for me in the last few months is that I have a monday-to-friday job and have to consistently deal with the same group of cis people every day. In my four years of transing* I’ve never been in such a situation before, and it’s an interesting one. Until now I’ve mostly made sure that the people in my life were either trans themselves, or at least queerfeminist, and if I had to interact with people who didn’t fit in these categories, I’ve tried to keep it short.
*In case you’re wondering, I mostly use “trans” as a verb in order to sound silly.
The people in my work are generally leftist or liberal themselves, so it’s surely not such a bad place to be trans. In fact one of my co-workers is openly gay, and no one seems to make a big deal about it. Accordingly, I’ve been comfortable enough letting slip that I’ve been with both women and men in the past, but I haven’t mentioned being trans.
For me, someone just being liberal and gay-positive isn’t enough for me to want to come out as trans to them. I don’t exactly fear being overtly discriminated against, but I suspect that there may be some awkwardness, some othering, some misgendering, and some “philosophical” differences which are not affirming to me as a person. In other words, everyday, unexamined, cultural transphobia.
Complicating this is the fact that I’m not certain if I am passing or not. I know I pass most of the time in short interactions. However, I’ve never been in this position where people interact with me day-in, day-out. Does a person’s initial read of me “stick” and never change? Or do people start making an account of little clues that hint to my trans status, and eventually realise what I am?
So I’m in a strange situation now where I don’t know whether I’m passing or not. It’d be nice to know, because if they’ve already clocked me I might relax a little with my voice and my facial hair. But it’s hard to tell, because of course if I ask them that would be effectively coming out. Skirting around the topic would also be dangerous, because I might get asked if I’m trans, and be put in the position of having to either come out or to lie. So for now I accept the slight stress of having to make sure I don’t slip with my presentation, knowing that I could actually be playing a role in a damn farse only to find out three years later that it was all unnecessary.
I think I will come out one day, just because I want to experience how it is to be openly trans in such an environment, and because I’d love to see their jaws drop when I tell them. Certainly I don’t think it will be the end of the world if they find out. But for now, I’m doing things this way.
If you’ve followed my updates about my transition you’ll notice I’ve been following some general trends. I’ve become less excessively feminine, less obsessed about gender, and generally more chilled out about everything as time has gone on. I’ve also become more comfortable with my body, both because it’s changed and because I’ve began to mentally integrate these changes and overcome my insecurities. Finally, I’ve learnt to become more and more comfortable with being trans in itself.
It’s a strange juggling act. Transitioning, in a way, means striving to not “look” trans. This is both because that’s how I know I will feel comfortable with my appearance, and because that’s what will encourage others to validate me in my identity. However, wanting to not “look” trans also lends itself to a transphobic attitude. Do I want to pass because of positive reasons, or do I want to pass because I loathe my non-passing self? I think for most trans people, it’s a mix.
Complicating this is the fact that I’m trying to stay in the closet about being trans. I’m doing this for my comfort, for a harmonious work environment and to continue to receive the validation I desire, but it’s easy to feel like I’m doing it out of a shame for what I am.
I’ve tried to remind myself recently, to some success, that I am proud of who I am, and I am therefore proud of those qualities in my appearance that might mark me as a trans woman. I’m working to change those qualities, but while they’re still there, I’m proud of them. It’s a mental balancing act, but it’s just about possible to do, or at least to do better than before. I’m not totally free of that internalised shame which follows trans women about wherever they go. But as it goes, I think I’ve done a pretty good job.
In other news, this last year was significant because I finally changed my legal name and got an updated passport with the name and a new photo. I have to admit there was something amusing and oddly affirming about the arguments I got in with people who thought I had my brother’s passport, but I’m also very glad that’s over. I no longer have bureaucratic headaches because of this stuff, and I no longer have to deal with frequent, jarring reminders of my old identity.
I also finally have health insurance, so one major hurdle is removed from some medical aspects of my transition. Asides from getting hormones more conveniently, and some proper medical supervision regarding them, I can now begin the long stupid process of doing enough therapy to prove to bureaucrats that they can trust me to modify my body with surgery. I have appointments with two different therapists in the next couple of weeks, and I’ll see who I might continue with. Hopefully, I can manage to get some value out of the therapy by working on some real issues of mine, even if there’s nothing to talk about regarding my feelings about surgery.
From the beginning of my therapy it will be two years before I can have surgery, but in a way that’s fine; if I had my surgery right now I think it’d be a lot to deal with, emotionally speaking, and anyway I need to come up with three thousand euros as the surgery I want is only partly covered by insurance. I long for it, but I’m also more patient about it than I’ve ever been; I have become comfortable with the fact that transition is a marathon, and not a sprint. Even if it takes another two years, I’ll still have plenty of years in my life left to enjoy feeling whole.
In a way, I wish I’d felt that way before. I was so focused on getting transition over with, making transition disappear, that I didn’t spend so much energy on simply experiencing it. And while it was certainly hard, it was also an amazing and very rich experience. It was worth treating reverentially and not wishing it away. Well, now I can continue this path a bit more peacefully, perhaps.