Transition to expressing myself female was what I had to do. It was liberating. After trying to make a man of myself, I was able to be me. And the work of liberation has continued, and been difficult, over the sixteen years since.
I grew up with definite ideas of what it meant to be a man. It meant fighting, if necessary. Being dominant, athletic, not expressing emotion- the concept fits, even fulfils, some folks.
I had possibly my first celebrity conversation recently. “I feel as if I know you,” she said. She had been on the tiered seats at Yearly Meeting, looking down on me as I spoke before hundreds of people, and then read my articles. Modestly, I pointed out the new outreach leaflets which have my words about me in them. Oh, wow.
I want more of that.
So I was telling a friend, and she observed that I am expressive when I am delighted by something: it is always quite clear. Same with dislike. This expressive self might not be 20th century British, with the “stiff upper lip” ideal, but we are all more expressive now. I am not sure it is “feminine”, particularly, more extreme extrovert, or perhaps for those more powerfully connected to feeling- it was a lot of work to suppress my feelings. Given that I am like that, I am glad to be able to express it without an internal censor. Even if it is no more “feminine” than “masculine”, I don’t think I could express it without having transitioned. I was too buttoned-up. Forty years after some teenagers find it, I finally realise I can be Fabulous! And my attempts are as in need of practice as theirs; and my trans woman’s self doubt and judgment are as strong on this as anything.
It is not just my femininity I have liberated, it is all of me. And yet the constraints on me, my own beliefs about what I must suppress in myself, continued to hurt after transition. It has been a long road, and is not over yet. My discomfort and embarrassment at who I am continued. It may be hard for anyone not trained into it to attain dignity, but self-acceptance is essential and transition was only the first step.
I was still embarrassed, and especially in the first year I faced a gauntlet of mockery, derision and hatred walking down the street. That will increase self-doubt unless, with tremendous strength, you ignore the opinions of the haters and decide to love yourself regardless.
Andrea Long Chu, writing in the NYT, says she is suicidal since transition. She is conscious of her appearance- she is a trans woman, so she looks like a trans woman, with some mannish characteristics. She picks on the length of her index fingers, and denies that she is beautiful. Hormones make her weep, and all the pent-up pain of having to present male for decades has exploded. She wanted to be a woman, and she gets to be a trans woman. Her vagina is a “wound”, not a human organ linked to a womb. “There are no good outcomes in transition,” she writes. We are not made well, just made better- it is a choice between two dark shades of grey. So psychiatrists and surgeons should recognise that incremental improvement, and be satisfied with it. It is what we want. It is the way they can “do no harm”.
My hips are narrow, my waist and shoulders relatively wide, and my face mannish. Facial feminisation may be more important and more beneficial than vaginoplasty. I am conscious of my mannishness; but also intensely conscious of being a body, a physical animal, loving to walk barefoot, to cycle, and to feel wind or sun on my bare limbs. Before, I was stuck in my head. And this increase of conscious feeling has involved intense emotional pain. If you want equanimity, not to be troubled by strong feeling, do not transition.
The doubting, blaming and hating of myself continued after transition, and to an extent still does. I am not the woman I wish to be. I am dysphoric. Yet I am more myself, I see myself and love myself better. Transition was what I had to do. I can’t be certain I would be alive without it.