I lost my life.
There are delighted squeals as I walk up the path: “It’s Uncle John!” They have seen me through the window. We are going to the swimming pool, but there is time before for what S called “Rough play” and now they ask enthusiastically for Roughplay!! So I pick them up and turn them upside down, and they giggle excitedly.
When I transitioned, S refused to allow me to see them, and I did not see them again for years. There were tensions in our relationship, but it would not have come to that. When I last saw them, three beautiful, self-possessed people in their early twenties, we had almost nothing to say to each other, and it is quite possible that I might never see them again.
One Christmas after my mother died, I went home to my father, who cooked turkey for just the two of us. We sat down together with the turkey and a wine box about 3pm, and went to bed about 3am, having joyously sorted all the problems of the world, in easy, unaffected, fast-flowing conversation. He remarried, and after I transitioned, his new wife refused to allow me in the house while she was there. Again there were tensions, but she could not have done that if I had not transitioned. Last year, he died. I hardly spoke to him on the phone the first half of that year. In June he went into hospital, and I visited him there; then I spent a week with him when his wife went on holiday, when we got on well together- he surprised and delighted me even then. In the few weeks before he suddenly collapsed and died, I never spoke to him.
I lost my church. This was a big thing for me. I served at the altar for many years, enjoying the theatre of it, which adds to the Otherness, a way into spirit. I worshipped almost weekly all my life. I met my best friend M at the church, and she visited weekly to talk of our lives and concerns for years. I was on the Parish Church Council: in our working class church, meetings were short as we simply agreed with the priest. Then I decided I could no longer worship God disguised as a man. Passing, dressed female, I called in to see him, and he said,
“You mean you want to go about, looking like that?”
He said he would try to make sure that I was not driven out of his church. So I left.
For several years, I lost my ability to walk down the street, unselfconscious and unconcerned. I practised going out expressing myself female in public, which frightened me, and sometimes people insulted me. A toddler pulled insistently at Mummy’s hand, shouting,
Mummy! Mummy! Look at the strange man!
Once, a drunk assaulted me.
You ask me what I have lost, and I could not have admitted to myself how much it was, how important to me: my self-image, and the structure of my world.
I lost my lies.
My boss was a major in the territorial army, so I applied to join. Perhaps because of my cultured accent, they suggested I try officer training. So I put down Jane Austen, and picked up Clausewitz. Then they said I should do a year as a private, because I was “insufficiently military”: I found that hurtful at the time, but now think it a huge compliment. I started reading The Good Soldier Schweik. I did not last long with them.
In the year after I decided to transition I spent quite a bit of time curled up on the floor, weeping and repeating I am Not a Man! I had always seen myself as inadequate, and like so many of my kind I tried to make a man of myself. I don’t care, now, whether I am really female or whether I simply did not fit the Patriarchal, cultural view of what it is to be a “man”- much of which is good in itself, just not good for me. It is also wider than the round hole I tried to bash myself into. There is a wide range of behaviour permitted before people will call a man “unmanly”, but I could not relax into that, for fear I would go too far.
Nearly two years after the last day I ever presented male, I lost my penis and testicles. I paid to have my gonads removed. I sat in my psychiatrist’s office as he dictated a letter recommending the operation for me, in a state of bliss. It was what I wanted more than anything else. I had been taking oestradiol, and a testosterone-suppressant, for years, I had had my facial hair removed by electrolysis, I sat to use the loo and tucked the thing away all the time, and now I was rid of it.
-Most women get a great deal of pleasure from penises, I told a friend.
-Yes, but I wouldn’t want one of my own, she said.
I would have made a rotten father. A man I know, now thirty, only came out as gay in his mid-twenties, which is shockingly late in our comparatively accepting culture. His father is a trans woman who only transitioned after he left school. The father’s self-suppression and pretence convinced the son he could not be authentic either. I would not want to put a family part-dependent on my income through what I went through alone deciding to transition and carrying it out.
It means that I cannot be a parent. I would have been late starting, but I could have made a good parent.
What have I gained? The truth.
Authenticity. I took my title from J.H. Newman, who felt he had gained the truth from his great change. Now, mostly, what you see is what you get- mercurial, changeable, satirical and emotional, I am myself with people. When I was trying to make a man of myself, I had a few girlfriends, but it only lasted a few weeks, as I could never let someone in. I got nothing from sex, as I could not let down my guard. Before I decided to transition, I met a lesbian and we went out together for 18 months, because I could express myself female and be myself with her.
No longer holding myself in such rigid control, I can see other people better, and relate to them better. Demanding so much of myself, I was intolerant of weakness in others. Inauthentic, I could not see authenticity, preferring pretence.
I see heaven in a wild flower. I was appallingly negative, and now see what being positive might mean. I learn to be positive.
When I was looking for work, I got job interviews easily, and it is possible that I did not get offers because of transphobic prejudice. Certainly my trans experience made it worse- one interviewer told me after that they did not think I could relate to people well- but I get read, and the only job I have taken up since transition was offered by a gay man. Life is not easy, but it is better, and I would not go back.
I move towards health. I bring to consciousness the barriers I could not admit to myself- aged twenty, I had no idea what my feelings were, or what genuinely gave me pleasure.
I have gained my life.