So for the uninitiated – I’m transgender. I was born with a male body, but I have always identified more with the female end of the gender spectrum. I identify these days as transgender female (as opposed to cis male or female). I present female and I like to be treated as a female (she/her), but I don’t seek to claim that “I am a woman”. There is so much about growing up female and being a woman that I can never truly know, nor know how it feels. After all these years, I don’t want to be a cis woman, I don’t long for it (anymore) – I just want to be who I am. Of course from a gender perspective, who I am is a complex equation. In fact my own gender identity is something I hope to explore further as part of this series of posts.
Just as there is so much about being a woman I could never truly understand, so too there is a lot about growing up trans, fighting it with everything you have until finally you just accept it and start to transition that no cisgendered person could truly understand. In this series, I’m going to try to put down in words my own experience so that hopefully it can help people of all types better understand the world of a person who is transgender.
I fully realise that no two transgender stories are the same and please accept that the experiences and understanding I will put down here in no way invalidate, nor prove the statements or experiences of other people. These are just my experiences and I give them as is.
I’ve been told by many people that my story is a little unusual (even for a trans person) and hell – why not? My brother always thought I was a robot!
I was born in a small city (which has a very country attitude) to middle-class family and I was brought up as a male in a comfortable, yet rather homophobic, macho, patriarchal environment. I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent and very early on (after much listening, some teasing from others and trial and error on my part) I learned that to be male, you had to be strong and tough and that anything which could possibly be considered “girly” was somehow undesirable. My experiments with tights, Barbie, being loving & attached to soft-toys, desiring the company of girls over boys and being FASCINATED by the beauty and colour of girls’ clothing and school accessories all convinced me that I had to avoid all of these things (yes, all right – except the soft toys)…(and the colourful clothing – who could avoid that!?!).
I tried my VERY best to be as male as possible so that nobody discovered what I was actually feeling inside – which was that the idea of being a girl made me feel great!
Well at least until the guilt set in.
I became pretty focussed on being more male and acting tough. Yes – this is absolutely normal behaviour for a young boy, but I had a habit of over-doing it. I tried to stand tough, walk tough, sit tough, talk tough. My Dad used to record our family saying “hi” and talking about our lives for his brother and their family who were living in the USA and when I heard the recording of my voice, I usually became upset that my voice sounded so high & girlish – so I re-recorded my part & tried to speak with a lower tone. I was probably six. When every boy in my class’ voices were breaking rather violently in late primary school (elementary school for US folks), my voice still sounded like a bird chirping, so I faked a voice break and started affecting a deeper voice. In the end, I never actually had my voice break, it just gradually became deeper (so again, I forced it to go further).
As I grew older, my muscles were not developing NEARLY as much as I wanted them to, so I started going to the gym every day. Well apparently my genetics really aren’t conducive to huge muscles and (thankfully, in hindsight) I just ended up with much stronger spaghetti arms and chicken legs.
Right when I started puberty, my desire to change the way I looked became too strong to ignore and I began to experiment with dressing and presenting female…to my mirror. When nobody was home. I had a tiny box of clothes I’d made myself which I would sneak out if I was ever by myself in the house – ONLY if I was absolutely by myself in the house. I became an expert at concealing what I was doing. Before I took out my box from under my bed, I ensured that I knew exactly what was in front of it, what position everything was in and where it needed to be in order to most quickly return it to its position. Nothing was overlooked. Though I longed for a day when I could finally begin to be female outside my own room (preferably full-time, outside my own house), I was so absolutely terrified that someone would discover my secret that I hid it deep under my bed and even deeper inside myself.
I had seen the isolation, abuse and hate transgender people experienced and I wanted no part of that. My life was pretty good and despite the fact that I felt my body was all wrong, I didn’t feel losing my family and all of my friends was a reasonable price to pay to change that. What I really wanted was to find some magic amulet which allowed me to change in an instant.
Oh how I envied Ranma Santome.
Many times, for whatever reason (hormones, some experience of the day, whatever), I would feel such guilt about my secret box that I would take the entire contents and throw it away, being careful, of course, to ensure each item was concealed in the bin, wrapped individually in garbage so that no one could ever find it. Of course shortly after throwing away all of my carefully collected and modified clothes, I would feel the need to dress again, to be myself again and I would have to start creating new clothes from scratch and would inevitably feel stupid for getting rid of them in the first place.
Now here’s where it gets tricky – there are many people in the world who are cross-dressers and not trans. I do think, though, that as being trans becomes more common, understood and accepted in general society, people like myself who are trans and would have turned to cross-dressing in private as a means of expressing who they are because the world was too hostile will more commonly accept that they’re actually trans much earlier. We can only hope.
As much as any trans person can suppress what they feel for a time, they can never get rid of it, no matter how much they or the people around them may want to. Being trans isn’t a choice, it’s just who we are.
Since puberty, I have been through many phases of suppressing and alternately embracing my transgender identity, buying dresses and high heels, hiding them at the back of the cupboard or throwing them out, dressing as a female for a costume party and feeling so happy and comfortable, then crashing back to Earth the next morning (usually with a raging hangover to boot) and pushing those feelings away for months. Of course by the time I started attending costume parties, my hair had mostly fallen out (thanks, testosterone) and I had resigned myself to the fact that I could never realise my gender identity.
I convinced myself that I could get by dressing occasionally as my “release”. I always chose a female avatar in computer games (in those 5 games in which I could choose one), I always chose female rollplaying characters and I ensured I was gender-neutral in web forums. I came out as a cross-dresser to most people I knew (including my family) in order to allow that “release” more freedom of movement. Interestingly, the overwhelming reaction to the revelation of “my dark secret” was amusement more than anything else.
This was a state I spent a long time in, though the sense of myself inside became louder and louder.
Until around 3 years ago.
Call it a mid-life crisis, call it what you will, I was sitting on the end of my bed staring into my open cupboard and feeling desperately unhappy. I’d been angry with the kids and basically a bundle of rage for several months without explanation, nor understanding on my part. In that dark room, alone, the thought of having to put on a suit or a pair of baggy jeans and boxer shorts upset me so much that I decided I didn’t want to do it again.
Though my fight to suppress my internal gender identity is not the biggest challenge I face in my transcape, at the time, this fight had been the biggest and longest challenge of my life (yes, that includes being primary carer to 2 children under 3).
That night, sitting alone in the dark, I stopped fighting.
I was 38.