I’m writing this article a few days in advance for my third trans birthday on April the 24th. That date will mark three years of living in a female role quite in contrary to society’s expectations for me. I’ve also been on hormones for about a year and a half.
I remember the beginning of my transition, when the internal process I was going through was so intense I had to (or felt I had to) hold myself back from absolutely flooding my blog with posts about it. Despite my efforts, at least half of all my blog posts at the time were about the topic.
It’s now been quite some months, I guess half a year at least, since I have felt a strong urge to write about my transition process. This is a reflection of the fact that the mental aspect of my process seems to be largely done. Sure, my body will continue to change for a few more years, and I will help it along as necessary, but that process has become largely a matter of trudging along, working through as much bureaucracy as I can stomach, and, most of all, letting time pass.
A couple of months ago I had an interesting thought. “Oh,” I thought, “gender isn’t really such a big deal after all, is it? Man or woman, in the end, I’m just a person most of all.”
This is an interesting milestone because it means I’ve started to think like a cis (non-trans) person. When you live in alignment with your own gender, then gender really doesn’t seem to be a big deal. If it greatly affects your everyday life, it’s because of sexism, and even that is constructed in our society to be easy to ignore. Mostly, gender is just the particular way in which your soul clothes itself.
When you don’t live in alignment with your gender, however, gender suddenly becomes very real, very much a big deal. It becomes huge and painful and awkward. It’s like your soul is clothed in a giant Disneyland Micky Mouse suit and you have to waddle your way through everyday life feeling absolutely abnormal in every moment. Then other people might say that one set of clothes is not so different from another and in the end we’re just people, but there is no way you are capable of thinking like that, even if you want to.
All this came to me after I reflected on my spontaneous little thought that maybe gender wasn’t such a big deal after all. What my thought meant, was that I’d become so used to being in alignment with my gender that I was able, if only for an instant, to forget about the experience of gender discord. Looking back, this is almost unbelievable. For some years the experience of gender discord dominated my life.
This means I can kind of finally live my life. No longer am I Sophia the woman, or Sophia the trans woman; I am just Sophia. The largest part of my energy is being spent on other things than gender.
That was the goal, wasn’t it? I did it. I won.
To think of it like that, I feel kind of giddy. Once, I thought this was beyond impossible. It was a taboo for myself to even think about it. Now, it’s not only possible but done. I battled my enemies and tore down obstacles and nearly destroyed myself in the process. Now, I’m recovering, and still coming to terms with the full reach of my decision and the actions I took, but by God, I did it.
I would be making a grave omission if I didn’t point out that my victory was due in part to one thing; the fact that, nowadays at least, I “pass”. That is, people rarely if ever see me as anything other than a woman. It has been about half a year since anyone called me “he”, “sir”, or similar, and even back then, it was rare. I no longer brace myself in interactions with strangers, waiting for the inevitable moments where they would remind me of my Mickey Mouse suit.
Not every trans woman “passes”, and I feel a great need to acknowledge my brothers and sisters (and other siblings) who I left behind in that dark place where society will never let you forget that you are wearing a giant fucking Mickey Mouse suit.
I feel a debt to them somehow. A friend I talked to called it “survivor’s guilt”. Guilt or just a healthy sense of responsibility, I don’t know, but I will never forget where I came from.
When I lived in my Mickey Mouse suit, society’s reaction to me was so awful that my mental health took a huge hit. There were different factors to the huge nine-month long depression I went through, but I know it wouldn’t have happened without that factor. I often felt inhuman, like I violated people’s expectations and requirements so much that they forgot that I was even a person.
I don’t know how my life would have been if I had never escaped from that situation. I know in the low point of my depression I craved death so much it was maddening. I don’t know how close I really was to killing myself, but I did have the strong feeling that I was, at least, close to the point where something – whatever it was – was going to break. Things got better from that point because hormones had started to take effect and I was beginning to be able to experience a “normal” life again. My biggest stress factor was removed and I could start to recover.
Perhaps if I had never gotten out of my Mickey Mouse suit I would have found ways of coping. Yet, even then my life would have been stunted. I would have had to continue to use huge amounts of energy just on trying to feel okay, and there would have been little left for my big ambitions in life.
If I’ve “won” now, if I’ve succeeded in putting my transition mostly behind me and in starting to live a normal life again, it’s because I’ve achieved an appearance which doesn’t give away my trans status. That’s a big privilege, and I don’t intend to forget it.
Nowadays, I also “pass” in my own eyes. I mean that when I look in the mirror I see a woman – just a woman. I don’t have a particularly strong sense of discord there. I often just forget about being trans when I look in the mirror, and enjoy having a normal life.
I only noticed that I had reached this point when a friend of mine asked about the topic. In her case – and this is how things used to be for me – she still sees an uncomfortably masculine image in the mirror even when other people can’t even tell she is trans. It seems that our self image takes time to catch up with our new appearance.
I don’t know when it happened – I suppose it was too gradual for me to pick out any one moment – but I no longer see a man in the mirror. I just see a woman; actually, I just see me. I’m not immune to self image issues but now at least I don’t experience them in a way that is much different from how cis women experience them.
It helped me to learn the technique of intentionally zooming in on masculine traits in cis women’s faces, which I then would find many of, exposing the double standard where we make an excessively big deal about the masculine traits in trans women’s faces. Indeed, nowadays I often find it rather hard to tell if another trans person “passes”, because my brain has been rewired to focus on gender-harmonious features rather than discordant ones. For me, most of the time, everyone passes.
I think, though, that the biggest reason I no longer see the “man in the mirror” is because being trans has become much less of a big deal for me in all regards. I just don’t think about it that much; I don’t stress out about it. So, I’m no longer analysing and nitpicking and agonising whenever I look in the mirror. I’m just myself.
The one exception to this is my genitals. It’s true I have made some headway in seeing my thing as a “woman’s penis”, helped in no small part by having sex with other women whose penises did absolutely nothing at all to make them any less women in my eyes. However, that only goes so far. If I stand fully naked in front of a tall mirror, I still get that shock of discord. I protect myself by blocking it out, but that certainly means I can’t enjoy my fully naked appearance. Energetically speaking, it’s hard for me to keep a full sense of awareness in my whole body.
I know now – as I’ve known for a while – that genital surgery is the right choice for me. It’s not a totally clear-cut choice as it might be for some people, as I’m able to use mental workarounds to be able to use my thing in sex, and I have to say I have a lot of fun with it. But I believe the benefits I will get from surgery will be a level more profound than any kind of sexual fulfillment. Besides, there are sexual plus sides to having a vagina too – and at least so far, it seems we humans are obliged to choose. With that in mind, things are clear to me.
A cis friend of mine recently brought up the topic and seemed rather perturbed by my absolute lack of doubt. I found myself answering rather impatiently; despite the fact that I had agonised over my doubts with her a couple of years before, I found the same conversation kind of invalidating now. I told her, “I’m a woman just the same as you. Has anyone ever asked you whether you might one day regret being born with a vagina and want to get a penis?”. This excessive doubt that was cast my way seemed to come from a double standard. Most cis women are expected to be fine with their vaginas, so why wouldn’t I be?
I feel that as I complete the other aspects of my transition, I crave having a vagina more and more. It’s the biggest discrepancy left for me, and I become more and more aware of how much more mentally stable and grounded the change will make me. I’m well versed in the art of redirecting my attention, though, and so far I’ve avoided suffering too much because of it (as opposed to just having a reduced quality of life).
Bureaucratically speaking, I’m not much closer to getting my surgery covered than I’ve ever been. It’s frustrating, but I can at least remind myself that I’ve been spending my energy on other, more pressing matters, and that has paid off. Soon, though, this will have its turn to be the most pressing matter for me.
I recently participated in a documentary about trans women, one which centered around a friend of mine but also interviewed some trans female friends of hers. The scene we were shooting was set in a hair salon, and featured her talking while she got her hair done by another trans woman. I found myself feeling rather out of place. All these trans women around me had makeup on, and all but my friend were wearing heels. They also spent quite a long time talking about cosmetic matters. Despite being pretty femme in my own way, I hadn’t actually brushed my hair in a week, had no makeup on, and a little bit of my beard was showing as I hadn’t shaved that morning. I found I had nothing to say in discussions about makeup and hair. I also didn’t find a very receptive audience for discussions about the finer points of structural oppression.
I understand the urge to be hyper-feminine, being a sort of rubber band that snaps back after a lifetime of repression. I had my hyper-feminine stage. Yet, I no longer felt much like a part of that. The hairdresser was talking about how she always puts on fabulous makeup and earrings when she goes out, even if it is just to buy bread. She quite rightly argued that if people didn’t like that it was none of their business. I remember having a phase like that myself. But I no longer feel identified with that.
I don’t know if everyone is supposed to evolve past this stage, and I suppose it doesn’t matter because whatever the case it’s quite valid. However for me, nowadays I enjoy not thinking too much about being a woman, and a side effect of that is that I feel a bit averse to immersing myself in all the paraphernalia of being a woman. I like presenting feminine so long as it’s not too much work. As soon as it becomes too much work, I prefer to spend my energy on reading, writing, making love, cuddling, playing video games and saving the world.
Is there some femme-phobia in there? Quite probably, as I know that femme-phobia is rife in our society, and trans women face it doubly strongly (yet another double standard). Yet, I’m in a stage in my life where I’m enjoying shedding an old way of being and finding a new one. Let it not seem too much like I’m criticising these trans women I met. It’s rather more the case that I just found them useful as a foil to learn more about what I am and what I am not.
So overall, this year in my process I’ve reached the point where being a woman – being myself – is very natural to me and no longer feels like an effort. I feel in some ways like I imagine I would feel if I had been born with the right body from the start. This has freed up a lot of energy, which I am now using to just live my life, which I couldn’t really do before.
I’m looking forward to the moment where this will be all over. By which I mean, the moment when I no longer contemplate doing any more work in order to align myself with my gender. I’m certain that time will come, sometime after surgery and recovery and completing my voice training. Provisionally, I’m thinking of my tenth trans birthday – I’ll be 32. Then I’ll really just be able to forget about this whole mess. I mean, not totally forget about it, but at least to have that weight off my back.
In the meantime, I’m trying to enjoy the process and not live too much waiting for tomorrows. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at it, though that might just be because I’ve got less stress to deal with nowadays.
Eventually I want to serve the trans community, not necessarily through direct activism, but by being visible as a trans woman who is living her life and doing a damn good job of it and achieving really cool things that actually don’t have anything to do with the fact that she is trans. Because the media, even when it gets past making us invisible or ridiculing us, still doesn’t think to demonstrate trans people just being cool, accomplished human beings. I intend to be one example of that.