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.
Oh wow. Such honesty. I think I was holding my breath for a while.
Thank you so much for sharing!
A friend’s boyfriend is going through this process right now – being born physically female but identifying as male and waiting for the operation.
I wish you all the best!
I am glad it speaks to you. Thank you for letting me know. Welcome.
I hope it goes well for both of them.
When commenting, you can if you like include a link to your blog, Becoming a Family. I had not heard of live action role playing games, though I have met people who dress up for the Sealed Knot civil war re-enactment.
Thank you, I will 🙂 I’ve never done actual re-enactment, but I have camped a few times with medieval re-enactment groups at medieval fairs and it’s real fun.
Clare. This is my most favourite post of yours that I have read, and I like a lot of your posts.
It seemed to flow so easily, beautifully and naturally.
I like what you have gained
Oh, and yes, I love a penis and no, I wouldn’t want one either.
I learned much about your struggles and your heart from this post. I hope not to be discouraging to you, but rather, in some way, eventually to be your real friend. I understand it seems impossible at this time.
Dear Susan, on the contrary, I am very glad that you are here.
I read your post on how sin will not be overlooked, how Jesus will say to some, “Depart from me,” how most refuse God’s offer of forgiveness, how you are becoming burned out emotionally from the onslaught of “gayness” because you see gay people in shops and in advertising.
I know that your mother does not speak to your aunt because of your aunt’s transition. I hope eventually you will see that God has healed your aunt, and left your mother in darkness, without ears to hear. Here, you see my healing, and especially here. God is healing in me the hurt of generations. I hope that you will reconcile with your aunt, and in some way bring your mother round. It is hard for you to kick against the goads- or you would not be as disturbed by seeing a few gay people now and then as you obviously are.
Clare! You are lovely as a blonde! Lovely post, feels very vulnerable. Hugs from Colorado.