This post has been amalgamated into the essay Positively Trans.
It is so easy to pathologise my femininity. It is not femininity at all, it is effeminacy or unmanliness. Femininity is a construct of patriarchy, a trap set by the culture which does not fit the speaker so she cannot imagine that it fits any woman, women who pretend to it need their consciousness raised, and trans “women” are tools of patriarchy. I am not “feminine”- what I think of as feminine in me is weak, sick, perverted, disgusting, ridiculous, illusory, misogynist.
When I am just me, in a carefree manner, my reactions are just So Wrong: I try to be something else, some stereotype masculinity, but am simply inadequate.
My feelings are anger, resentment, frustration and fear.
I have retreated to my living room, and I despise myself for it. It is Ridiculous! Weak!
This journey takes so long! I accept my femininity. It is real, me, how I react when I do not police myself. Yet I am still stuck here, in my flat, frittering my life, existing, because I do not want to do anything else. I do not have access to my desires, beyond a desire to hide away. Again I despise myself for that. It is a complete waste of all my life, so many experiences I have not had, always, hiding-
I accept my femininity? Oh God, I think of her as a man. I hate that. I judge her: her tight red dress is not appropriate for her age or the place, her wig is poor, her face is so masculine, I feel, and these are bad things. Judgements of others are projections of things about which I feel uncomfortable in myself- the measure you give will be the measure you get– so I learn of my shame from this encounter. It is deep. She was kind to me, a feminine characteristic: I talked of my job interview, and she told me of interviewing, how she was looking for a person whose character fitted, rather than the attributes the person might think mattered. She was being reassuring in that deep, husky, soft voice. Kind. Sweet. We hugged.
I can accept others if I can accept myself. Well, here am I in a dress where women would be in trousers. It is what I want to wear. We are all in skirts and dresses, well, we are hyper-feminine, or we would sort-of be able to make a go of presenting male. I am at the Positively Trans workshop, tunnelling towards something positive through all the shit, looking at shame and stigma, and I realised I had not just been ashamed of being feminine, but also of being submissive sexually, and of my Performance side. I was singing on Sunday at the Quaker garden party. I was belting it out, knowing my voice was strained and I was not hitting all the notes- for I have not practised my performance skills, the inclination is there, possibly even the talent, but my shame has eaten it, and I have been reserved, suppressing myself. This may be why after performing I often get a very low mood: it is back to ordinary life. All that shame, then in my daily Spiritual Practice email I get:
Your past is not your potential. In any hour you can choose to liberate the future.
And I think- fuck you? Not more Work?
It is wonderful to be in this loving, supportive environment. I express myself strongly, and others relate to what I say. I am a recluse, I have withdrawn from the world- others relate to that. My shame bound me in iron, unable to express myself naturally, and even now those bonds feel like protection– when I take them off I feel vulnerable, yet then I am real, free, truthful, enabled to feel. The bonds whisper to me, you are pretending, you are not like that really, we are your True Self- but I know they are Wrong.
I was bullied, controlled, erased.Their concept of me was superimposed on me, the real me ignored and devalued. The psychologist starts to riff, talking enthusiastically. It is beautiful. I write it down hungrily:
experience is rich and complex, full of emotion and pain
That was what I first noticed, and wrote, so I ask him to repeat himself
full of desires, wants, needs, yearnings… JOY…
It is hard to be outside the binary. It takes courage. I would stare at someone as feminine as you said my friend in Linlithgow. I don’t see you as male or female, I see you as you said more than one person, attempting reassurance. But it is how I see myself that matters, whether I restrict myself in my bonds, my false protection, or step outside them
as I realised, delightedly, I had done walking through Winchester to my job interview. I did not tourist the cathedral, but near it I saw a bust of a man who “saved it with his bare hands”. So I asked a woman what that meant, and she said it had been subsiding, so in the late 19th century he excavated underneath it, supporting it with masonry, and it has not moved since. We shared our admiration of him. This is what I do: I make connections with people.
I dug into my shame, and saw it was not just around being feminine, but being submissive, and dramatic, too, seeing my father who could not admit these things. It made me feel inadequate and disgusting. It made me very careful, never spontaneous, born middle-aged. I coped by trying to follow the Ideal I was forced into, and suppressing my feelings. I was made to feel bad by my parents because of their fear of Society and of me: they were trying to protect me.
I said to the group,
I am submissive.
I felt no shame. It felt wonderfully liberating.
Are these experiences still affecting you? I am reclusive. I have no experience of being submissive in relationship, little experience of performance, and though I took my opportunity on Sunday I am wary I overdid it. I have not made my opportunities. I am still careful and reserved.
It is a long journey out of shame. First I hide and repress myself. Now I focus on this is who I am. I seek support from friends and Charing Cross. Suppressing the shame will not work, but pride is a useful antidote. I feel shame at deception: I am revealing my Self, but others feel I am hiding my maleness- unless I am projecting again.
Laugh at shame. Contact with trans people increases pride in trans identity.
Love, acceptance and compassion are the best antidotes to shame, along with community, visibility, recognition by others. Consider how I would respond to another: I am always harder on myself. Practise metta.
If I can acknowledge my pain and difficulty I can celebrate my struggle. To get where I am I have been brave, truthful and determined. When aware of my feelings I am better able to cope with how they affect me. I can choose my own identities.
The answer is Love.
Through the negativity to something positive and beautiful…
Four years ago, I awoke at war. There was my negative, mean-spirited self, and there was a positive, better way of seeing things: love drives out fear. The point of the seminar at Charing Cross was moving through the negative to something positive.
I realised at the seminar that my bonds of shame did not only discount and reject my femininity, but also my submissive sexuality and my dramatic way of presenting myself. I hid myself away and pretended to be other, and eventually this grew so painful that I have hidden away in my flat.
Negative: I have wasted my life, pretending to be something else, and my hiding is weak
Positive: I have been on a spiritual journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and now, on the cusp of self-acceptance, I am liberated. I have all the time I need to be myself. The hiding was the best I could do: I have always done my best. I can develop that beautifully dramatic persona. I can be free, as me.
Or the job interview.
Negative: I don’t know that I want it or could do it but was terrified of having my benefit cut. My answer to that one question was completely dreadful…
Positive: With these people, I was truly myself. We spent ninety minutes together, showing their valuing me, plus a tour of the meeting house. Winchester is beautiful and the meeting house peaceful, though I saw two people sitting in sleeping bags by the side of the street. I could do that job. They thought my account of my Quakerism, in particular of being clerk, spot on. Yes it is disappointing not to get the job. There will be others.
So, the seminar, led by a psychologist, a gay man using his own research. He was lovely. 1% of the population are gender-variant. Through our values and the dominant culture, we tend to think of binary rather than spectrum.
The exercises brought out decided answers in me. What identities do you have in your life- parent, sibling, gay/straight etc? I am Abigail. I am
Anything else is too painful. I am Abigail, or I am dead-grey, not wanting anything but to hide.
Which of these identities is gendered? Me is definitely gendered, feminine.
Who chose these identities? Do you like them? I choose Nothing. I am myself, or I am forced into the dead-grey, initially by my mother and now by my shame and fear. I am myself, or I resist myself. I like Myself.
How do you identify in terms of gender identity- pick as many of trans, straight female, non-binary…? I am Abigail. Man, woman, transsexual, feminine- all possible; the constant is Abigail.
Which of these identities is positive? Abigail! Yes!
How would you like to be seen or identified? Dancer Actress Performer Poet
Joyful, playful child
This continues: Positively Clare.
It is lovely to work with Serra at Charing Cross. She is brisk yet warm, professional, encouraging, sympathetic with a beautiful smile.
How fascinating to see the mechanism of my projecting! I am really happy about that, but I have doubts and fears too; so I project the doubts onto her, and the fears as imagined judgment onto them. These feelings are mine, I have no idea what others think or feel about this. This does not mean that I can stop projecting, but that I might notice it and be clear about what I am doing
-at least in hindsight?
-perhaps, with practice, while it happens.
I am frightened of my feelings, even happiness. I change my goals: I want to feel them all, more.
On Sunday night to Tuesday morning I was scatty, pacing the floor, weeping, hurt and terrified. I saw myself as permanently bewildered and hurt by bolts from the blue, which in theory might be predicted yet I never could. I thought I have a particular view of Quakers because of the way I joined, and the thought that my view might nevertheless not be divorced from reality helped me out of it.
I saw I was depressed, but it appears rational at the time. Could I challenge these depressive thoughts? The realisation that one of them was wrong brought me out of my temporary depression.
All my life I have been completely ashamed. At first I was ashamed of my real self, I always felt inadequate, and now I feel ashamed that I could not be my real self earlier. Aged twenty I was very attached to my parents’ attitudes and ideas and trying desperately to make a man of myself.
-Why were you like that?
It is the right question at the right time. I know this stuff, but I need to articulate it before a witness and myself. I say,
Because it was the best I could do at the time. I need to forgive myself my misadventures, for that was always true. I will work on this with her.
This puzzle-world is more difficult than I might like.
I could be proud of discovering and accepting my femininity. She says many people do not get to know themselves, then,
I think you are beautiful. That makes me glow.
I am off to see my wise, warm and witty friend.
-You should spend time with such people.
W makes a better connection with women than with men, deep and emotional, but wants a relationship with a man. She wants an authentic man, true to himself with a sense of purpose. She mimes her hand, palm flat, moving out from her face to point forwards. She sees that in me- though a partner having a penis is important to her. Sorry. That’s OK, ducs. I love you too, but not in that way.
At ChX I met A, who is here for her first assessment. She has what is commonly thought as a gender marker- women with it are seen as weird- along with bright red lip gloss and a tiny bow in her hair. She is herself, and most people are happy with that, though she lives with her parents and there are tensions there. She has a discrimination claim against the sports centre for demanding that she change in the disabled changing rooms. She did not know the word “transbian”- a word we use when apologising for existing. I explain it, and she says “You’re a Lesbian”, reassuringly. She is androphile and sees that as heterosexual. This is a breath of fresh air. All the trans women I have knowingly spoken to this year have been older than I. A is so much freer, not worried at all at my hang-ups. Though even she could not have transitioned as a child. If only!
To Charing Cross Hospital, to see my psychotherapist. Serra is a psychologist, who starts by taking a history: how do I feel? How have I felt?
Right now, wonderful. I met Ian on the train, and he told me a lovely story about increasing confidence in his daughter, who is 22. He is married to a Quaker, meditates with her, and proposed that we meditate together. With my eyes closed I was aware of the young grandmother’s banter with the toddler, and my passing thoughts, so varied, so unimportant. The train was over half full, and I asked someone to move to a vacant seat so we could sit together: I would not have had the courage to do that, at one time, but the man moved readily. I asked Ian what his mantra was, but he could not tell me, as that is part of the Rules and Ritual which give it meaning. He got it from the London School of Meditation, who will give him a new one when it wears out. As we walked through St Pancras, its bricks appeared brighter.
The waiting room contrasts with Serra’s. The whining air conditioning irritates. I eye up the bonny young trans men. The receptionists are disdainful: after, one asks me to wait for an appointment letter for next time, but finishes other work before printing it for me. I think of that Trans Privilege conversation: a week ago I saw it from H’s point of view, and now do not. I am twenty minutes early, and she is ten minutes late starting.
Serra is about forty. Her left eyelid droops: her right eye is on me all the time, but when her left eye looks up at me it has all the force of sudden eye-contact. She is friendly in a brisk, professional way. At the gender clinic, I can say “I have come to terms with autogynephilia. I don’t believe it, but I don’t need it to be untrue,” and “I have come to terms with how feminine I am, and how femme-phobic I have been,” and have that just accepted. She agrees with me about my trans privilege conversation that this is not privilege, and notes (with approval?) my comment “I did not see her and she did not see me”. I tell her of my Blessing. This will continue. She clarifies- I am unsure of the distinction between “will” and “shall”, but I am predicting, not stating a grim intention to cling on.
My main problem is that I am work-shy, or phobic. I had a series of difficult experiences (I said that to other-H, and she said “Doesn’t everyone?” I wanted more sympathy)
-Do I have to give the details?
-Tell me how you felt.
-I have to give the details. So I do. I felt angry, frustrated, out of control, frightened. Her face shows sympathy, twisting in pain at one point. This is a contrast to psychotherapy in 1998, when I found it difficult to recognise feelings and the man refused to treat further, saying the risk to my defences was too great. And I can be confrontational.
Do I want to come again? Yes. Eventually, I am tearful, but not too much. She asks me to set goals, which is a lot easier than last time:
- To be less frightened
- To support myself
- To make a contribution
We will set more goals, she says.
I go to the Tate.
The Hungarian woman I talked to on the train shocked me. “I like talking to people on trains,” I announced, and she had no objection. “Do you like yourself?” Well, it is what I want to know.
She thinks she does. She notices that people in England tend to be unhappy in their twenties and thirties, taking on their parents’ neurotic fears. “The sins of the fathers are visited on the children” I quote, and she assents. In Hungary too. Even for people born after 1990? Yes, because the school system is the same as it was before. She blames the politicians. It is better now she is forty. She has degrees in biochemistry and nursing, and was head of department, yet earned £300 a month when the prices were the same as here. She was living on toast.
So she came to England, and worked cleaning ten hours a week, because she spoke no English. She refused to claim any benefits. Now she works as a nurse: her accent is noticeable but comprehensible, and her vocabulary fluent.
She finds the politicians here too lax on immigrants. That shocked me. People born here should be able to claim benefits because their parents and grandparents paid in, but immigrants should not.
At St Pancras, I always check out the policemen’s weapons. I have not seen guns lately, but today they are in black rather than hi-vis, and the clubs at their belts seem bigger than normal. Then I saw two men with rifles. I asked why. One, well over six foot, replied courteously enough that they were there to disrupt criminal or terrorist activity, hoping not to use the guns but able to if necessary; the other faced away from us in an alert pose. I don’t like it.
I went to see Stuart Lorimer at Charing Cross. I told him of Essence, and he said I appeared serene. I told him of wanting to clean my teeth because I wanted to, and he assented. So now I stay at home, I will have coffee with friends two times this week, I join the Quaker meeting and the Green party.
“Both lovely organisations”, he assents. “It sounds a lovely lifestyle. Stress is overrated. I am on my first day back from three weeks away. I was reclining by a pool, and I thought that I could go to museums and archaeological sites, and I did not want to. I just wanted to stay by the pool.”
I don’t feel I am suppressing emotion- he says that is not how I appear. I wonder if there could be more to life. I don’t want anything particularly. It is not that I feel dissatisfied as that I assess intellectually that most people aged 48 would want more.
He suggested seeing a clinical psychologist for counselling when I first saw him, and this has not transpired. He will chase them up. What would I want from these sessions?
I want to know what I want.
-An existential question.
-Is it an appropriate question?
-Yes, I think so.
-I saw a counsellor in Marsby. She wanted me to set goals.
-Goals are also overrated, he says.
He would like to see if this serenity persists. I believe it will, I say. I am in truth telling mode, knowing the truth of it as I say it. Actually, given that my inner critic was nagging me to get a job continually to November, and I was in my sulk, perhaps merely accepting and enjoying my quiet life is worthwhile.
Clanking back slowly on the Piccadilly Line, I feel absolved. It is OK to be doing what I am doing. It is a lovely feeling. It has been quite a pleasant day, on the buses, trains and tube.
He is compassionate, and I bloom. Just like then.
After we last met in October, he lost my notes, and has only just written to my GP. He will copy me in. “Incompetent” is not a judgment I am qualified to make, but this is disorganised. He sees my testosterone level is 0.4, which he considers a bit low, and it may be worthwhile for me to use a topical gel. He explains that women have testosterone too, produced by the adrenal gland- that is why I still have testosterone- and that it may help with the motivation. I am quite happy to take testosterone, counter-intuitive though it may seem, I say. I am happy to take your recommendation.
As if he had not heard me, he explains that we are used to seeing testosterone as the enemy, but lack of it may indeed cause a lack in motivation, and women’s levels are typically 1-3. The gel would raise mine to 1, say. He will get me an appointment with the endocrinologist. My oestrogen level is still a little high- I must be particularly good at absorbing it.
I see the problem as this. After a number of painful experiences- Quakers, CAB, the German woman etc- and suffering emotional lability which he confirms may be partly hormonal, I retreat from the world in order not to get upset any more than I can help. Reading in the morning and watching pre-recorded telly in the afternoons- if the benefits office, or you, told me that was not much of a life, I could not but agree- and yet I don’t want anything else. I thought I would be found not entitled to ESA, but rather than doing something about it I battened down the hatches. He agrees that the motivation may be partly seasonal.
He is impressed that I passed ATOS. I didn’t exaggerate, exactly- he says that everything they ask is geared to finding one able to do things, so you have to push back against it. He would be happy to help with a letter if it becomes a problem at the next assessment. I explain the CAB incident to him- aspects which are more clear fact rather than interpretation- and he says I was victimised.
In the train, and now, I am nearly in tears thinking of this. It is such a relief. I thought I was swinging the lead, really- I thought everyone would think that- and the expert is supportive. I had come thinking that my oestrogen was reduced, and that was it, he could probably help me no more, and he thinks my hormones may profitably be adjusted.
I rushed back to the tube, got on just as the door was closing, and as the train jerked away I fell in a man’s lap. Embarrassed, I apologised, and he said quite kindly “as long as you’re all right.”
I expect a curse and a kick. Yet here I am-
–not being kicked
-It is rare for us to see someone at your stage in transition. Why are you here?
-About two years ago, my GP, knowing that one stays on HRT for a limited time, stopped my hormones, and my emotions went wild, I was shouting and weeping in the office and in the car. I went back on them within six weeks, and back on the full dose within six months, but my lability continued. At the time, I asked to see an endocrinologist here, to see if there was something to do with hormones- there are no double-blind studies, but you get to know your patients- and finding myself at last referred to a gender psychiatrist, I am here to see what good we can do together.
He is concerned that I will think the way he uses the consultation a waste of time, but I am in his hands. Insisting on my own way of using the time cannot be better than merely co-operating. He takes a history.
-What is your earliest memory related to transgender?
This one confuses me, because it is not a five-year-old’s memory, but a 47 year-old’s. I know we reconstruct memories every time we consider them, and twist them for our own satisfaction, but- I envied my sister’s party dress. It was yellow velvet.
Apart from that, I did not fit The Script- know there is something wrong aged 2, know I am a girl by aged 5.
-If they are honest, a lot of people do not fit that, he says.
I self-identified as a fetishistic transvestite. And, here cutting my long story short, when I was 35 even though I was terrified of transitioning and thought I would be sacked and ostracised for it, I knew it was what I had to do.
-How did you feel about the changes of puberty?
-Growing body hair really pleased me. I wanted to fit in, then, I was ashamed at how slight my arms were.
Giving my history reminds me that I had several times off with depression while in Oldham, the longest six weeks. My emotional problems were before I came off the oestradiol.
He suggests it would be good for me to talk about these things, so suggests counselling, at his clinic in London as local counsellors can get hung up on the gender issue. OK. He sends me to the phlebotomist, and thinks it would be useful for me to see an endocrinologist there. He makes me another appointment with himself: May is the earliest possible.
There, I see a woman aged 19, who is diffident with the receptionist, one hour early, and who huddles in the corner staring down at her phone, the picture of our extreme meekness; and an older woman, with a male voice, helping a trans man with registering as the man cannot manage the forms. She explains to him, possibly inaccurately. Having nothing better to do in London, I take the train home, and phone Jayne to meet for coffee. She tells me all about the hassle of organising a lunch for a group of which she is now vice-chair. I would have told her of the GIC had she asked.