Gender non-conforming

What does “gender non-conforming” mean to you? To me it’s quite clear: there are gender stereotypes, most people more or less fit them, gender non-conforming means you don’t and you don’t want to pretend that you do. Gender-punk I quite like: the person who told me about it is clearly AMAB, and wears skirts in public without breast forms or make-up. Cross-dressers and trans women genderally try to look like women,  but this person chooses the pronoun “they” and doesn’t, though their height might make it difficult. They mix it up, choose what they like. The clothes and mannerisms are symbols, which indicate an underlying personality, and they break expectations. I usually see them in skirts which don’t look feminine at all, just practical.

-Ooh look, a man in a skirt! shouted someone at them.
-Ooh look, a woman in trousers! they riposted.

So depending on how non-conforming, or how uncomfortable with gender stereotypes you were, there would be say 10% of women and 10% of men who were so far from the stereotype as to be gender non-conforming. That would include all lesbian, gay, bi or trans folks but a lot of others too, and we could all join in one big happy family because we had that in common, and advance our rights together.

Yeah.
No.

Some people think gender stereotypes matter, and they will be judged and punished for breaching them. We observe the bullying of non-conforming boys, we were bullied like that, we have an idea of masculinity which we don’t fit and it crucifies us. Some people are comfortable with a wide range of behaviour, some of which might seem to fit the gender stereotype and some not. And the stereotype itself is fuzzy- how rigid or restrictive is it, really?

I was chatting with a gay man about “gender diversity”. He agreed with my definition of gender diversity, and we agreed a woman we know might fit in a “gender diversity community” or a “queer” group. I don’t think she would agree. A feminist perspective is that women are oppressed- disrespected, treated as sex objects, disadvantaged because of their reproductive systems, as women. Then the gender stereotype is part of the oppression of women, and no-one fits it, not really. It is a series of demands and expectations, such as being the carer in all sorts of situations, which oppress every woman.

Though not all women are feminists in the same way, and some find feminism means they can choose those “feminine” roles- it is the right to choose, not the particular thing chosen, that matters. Then some are clearly gender conforming. It does not follow that those who are not will ever identify as gender non-conforming. Just as heavy drinkers think they are average drinkers, women particularly distant from the gender stereotype think all women are equally distant.

I don’t understand. I knew before I transitioned that even if I reverted, I needed to go through transition or I would be stuck in my desire for it. To live as a man I needed to transition to female. Does that make any sense at all to you? I don’t want to revert now, it would be too much trouble, yet I wish I could have avoided it. From this particular position, I don’t understand anyone else. I don’t understand the trans woman or trans man who talks of their gender identity, which looks to me like a verbal justification for a particular act, not an objective measurable thing. My identity is me, which formerly was “a trans woman” and is now “a feminine male”. I am a trans woman because I have transitioned and not reverted. As I see gender roles as important and limiting, I don’t understand anyone who breaches them without seeming to care.

For gender non-conformity to mean something we need an idea of what feminine gender is, and to believe that some women fit it. Many of those women I think are gender non-conforming deny there is a coherent concept of femininity, or that anyone fits it. Being gender non-conforming, they believe, makes them feminist, not part of some queer subculture.

So it is possible to identify as gender non-conforming, to feel something in common with other GNC people and find some value and self-understanding in the term, but not possible to define it or apply it to anyone who does not apply it to themself.

The Mythic Archetypal Feminine

“In most mythologies and archetypal psychology, the feminine principle has greater interest in the inner, the soul, the formless, intuition, connection, harmony, beauty, and relationality in general; it is more identified with lunar subtlety than the over-differentiating light of the masculine sun god or the literalism and linearity of the left brain. … Jesus himself illustrates these feminine qualities…and God is variously described as a compassionate mother, a hen protecting her chicks, and even “The Breasted One” or El Shaddai.

“The masculine principle, as I experience it and have observed it, is more interested in the outer, the mental, exterior form, idea, the movement or action of things, the naming and differentiation of things one from another; solar clarity of individual things, as it were, as opposed to the relationship of one thing to another. It prefers the ascent of mind to the descent of soul. It often moves toward “agency” and action before relationship or intimacy. Just watch little boys play, and watch how men love to fix, build, and also demolish. It is often a more “focused consciousness” than the “diffuse awareness” of the feminine principle, as Carl Jung noted. We see examples of these characteristics in Moses, the Hebrew judges, the practical, eager disciples, and in many images of God as lion and king.”

That’s Richard Rohr. I find his comments harmful. People need to experience both to be fully rounded. He is clearly more comfortable with the masculine principle than the feminine: he ascribes the masculine specifically to boys and men, but not the feminine to girls and women. With the possible exception of the judge Deborah, he does not name women- even, he implies that Mary Magdalen was not a “disciple”. In describing the feminine, he specifically contrasts the masculine, in negative terms, but describing masculine he alludes to the feminine as “descent of soul”: he is frightened of critiquing what he calls feminine.

What he calls feminine is necessary to serve what he calls masculine. It is all very well to “fix, build and demolish” as long as you are not in conflict. The “feminine” relationality means we can co-operate, and eases the self-doubt of the man when he fails. I see female architects building, which creates a shift: the work of supporting is for all of us, not just females. Monks and male priests, men of peace, ideally take on that feminine role, using intuition, compassion and connection.

The “descent of soul” is a matter of maturity, not just femininity. We learn who we are, and come to accept the whole in unity rather than just the active, confident mask. Men have to learn to do this for themselves, without women supporting them. Then we can support each other, and move between soul and intellect, intuition and action, as necessary. We can be co-operative rather than hierarchical. We will have diverse voices and so greater collective understanding.

In “The State of the Art”, Iain M Banks’ character observes that a particular Holocaust memorial is a cave to walk into, “a cunt rather than a prick”. The man approves, but they are two parts that fit together, not symbols of discrete roles. One might think of the active yoni “enveloping” the phallus, and of monuments being just that, stone symbols of commemoration, not penises.

The result is a union of archetypes. Each person’s gifts are valued. Couples may be partnerships without “men’s” and “women’s” roles. These separate archetypes have value, but as active and contemplative, or nuanced and decisive, rather than masculine and feminine. God may unite them as of equal worth without being seen as mother or father.

Avoiding transition

-Doctor, I am a trans woman. I want to transition, and I want your help and support to do that: I want testosterone suppressants and oestrogen, and I may want surgery at some time, I have not completely decided on that.

-Many people transition, and find it makes them happier and better adjusted. You can certainly transition. Why do you want to?

-I knew there was something wrong before I went to school, and when I went to school I worked out what it was. I was a girl, and I am a woman. I did not feel as the boys felt. I did not want to play with the boys. Now, I do not like to be with the blokes. I much prefer being with women.

-What does it mean to be a woman? When you say you are a trans woman, what is it that you are?

-I am feminine, by which I mean I am sensitive. I have strong feelings, and I like to express them. I am good at reading the feelings of others. I loathe conflict, and like reconciliation. I want people to be happy. I have a strong aesthetic sense: I love beauty, and enjoy flower arranging.

-I wonder if that could be a description of a man. Have you ever heard Alfred Brendel play Beethoven, or Maurizio Pollini, Chopin? Can you hear the strong feelings, the sweet yearning gentleness, expressed there? Or have you seen the paintings of Henry Raeburn or Allan Ramsay: there is strong feeling. The painters well those passions read, which yet survive on the living canvas. Both painted women as well as men. As for wanting people to be happy, Jesus would not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick. Jeremy Corbyn, always speaking out for peace- is he not a man? Or Carl Rogers, who founded person-centred counselling? Why is being a man so difficult for you? What does it mean to be a man?

-Rudyard Kipling’s If. The Scout Law. Self-reliance. Rationality. Preferring things over people, rationally organising. Relishing conflict, and overcoming.

-These are difficult for anybody. If all around are losing their heads, and only one is keeping his, are the others not men, or not real men, or what? What should they do? Give up their Man card? Can you think of anyone who is like that? It seems to me your difficulty is not with being a man, but with your idea of what a man should be.

-Well, in my case I want to transition. I am happiest when I am Clare, and when I go back to being Stephen it is horrible.

 ♥♥♥

The lightbulb must want to change. By the time you see the gender psychiatrist, you know who you are, and what you need. No-one goes to the psychiatrist because they might be transsexual. Now, years afterwards, I am well aware of the breadth of male and female emotional expression and rationality, relish for conflict or desire for reconciliation, interest in things or people. I can value my gentleness. Now, with the new concept of gender-schematic, I can see that imagining some concept of manhood separate from my own gifts and inclinations is poisonous rather than idealistic, pointless and harmful, and while one might escape it into transition it would be so much better to escape it into appreciation of onesself as a rounded human being.

As for “femininity”, women are not all like that, and to some extent neither am I. So often in a group, the trans woman is the only one in a skirt, the cis women are far more spirited than our passive ideal. One sees that “femininity” is often oppressive. Equality is better than subordination- By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: the very being and existence of the woman is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband, wrote Blackstone (quoted by Rebecca Solnit). Concepts of femininity might be closer to who I am than the concept of masculinity I grew up with, but still require me to deny parts of myself. It seems such a long way round to self-acceptance.

People will continue to transition. Many people are satisfied with the result of their operations, and others’ dissatisfaction as well as my own goes with poorer results- pain, and lessened sensitivity. If I advise people not to transition, that may fall on deaf ears. Yet there are better ways to health. How to unpick the desire? I do not advocate conversion therapy, but self-acceptance: yet acceptance of body as well as character. “Why are you so unhappy?” might be a good question.

On trans rights, having transitioned I am entitled to be treated as a woman. So are any others who go through this. It is hard enough to be trans, without the covenant we have with liberal human rights, by which we are members of the acquired gender, being overturned.

Gender-schematic

Gender-schematic people use gender stereotypes to organise information in their world. People who identify strongly with their gender stereotype adopt attitudes and behaviours consistent with it, and use it to judge others. That seems me to fit trans folk. We imagine that “masculine” and “feminine” have meaning. Trans women I know tried desperately to fit the masculine stereotype, perhaps even ultra-masculine, and then become ultra-feminine, at least in presentation.

Cordelia Fine did not say how the Attitude Interest Analysis Survey decided what was masculine and what was feminine. Hundreds of specimen attitudes, emotions, personality traits and occupational choices were put before American school-children. Those which elicited strongly different responses from one sex were included in the survey. So it is a test of conformity: those who score as particularly masculine or feminine are those who want to conform. Trans people can report that does not mean we accurately estimate who we are.

The Bem Sex Role Inventory, made by S.L. Bem, asked adults about the desirability of traits in men and in women. It had separate scales, one for masculinity, one for femininity, and so could produce results as masculine, feminine, androgynous (both) or undifferentiated (neither). I found this pdf for the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, which indicates the scores with the questions. I scored myself high feminine, low masculine, though wondered whether others would score me the same. Would their estimation of me equal mine? For this test, to be “excitable”  in a major crisis is thought feminine, to be calm, masculine. But the weaker person with less control might be resigned, rather than excitable. Excitable might go with panic and fruitless activity or passion and directed activity. One might think it “British” to be calm, and “Italian” (well, we are talking stereotypes) to be excitable.

The source I looked at said PAQ measured “desirable” traits. I don’t see excitability in a crisis to be desirable, but then I am British, and conform to that stereotype to a great extent. Also, it said “feminine” in the test meant expressive, and “masculine”, instrumental. It says it is masculine to be competitive, but not feminine to be uncompetitive. Fine says that women can be competitive, in sports and for academic advancement.

PAQ says women are sensitive, in the negative sense that their feelings are easily hurt and the positive sense that they are aware of the feelings of others. I feel these traits go together.

I don’t know what I would have said when I was struggling so gamely to make a man of myself. I know that I was not aware of my feelings, and might have been similarly unaware of my attributes. I remember claiming not to be easily hurt, and Moira incredulously denying that. I would deny it myself, now.

I feel my self-perception now- that I am easily hurt- is more accurate than it was then. This seems a matter of learning about myself as I age, but could equally be conforming to a feminine stereotype. One does not feel as one ought to feel, but as one feels, and that can be difficult to understand. I find the idea of what feelings are appropriate can be a barrier to knowing what one actually feels. I remember being surprised in the hour of my mother’s death that none of us were crying.

It could then be that trans people are just particularly gender-schematic, that we understand people through the concept of gender. Unable to fit as men, trans women transition. This may go along with arousal at cross-dressing, not as a prime cause but as a factor making transition more likely. The end of the concept of gender, as a way of understanding others or ourselves, would liberate us to find out who we really are.

Psychology Research and Reference on masculinity and femininity.

Battle of the sexes

Some feminists see the world through the question “How do women lose out?” There are so many ways- sexual violence, poorer work prospects, supporting men emotionally and with physical care… AFAB trans mutilate their bodies, AMAB trans encroach on women’s space. If trans is rejection of gender roles, it is highly stylised. Surely it would be better to be your true self without dressing up and pretending? I agree. Transition was my way to being my true self, but at such a cost! I did it because it was the only way I saw.

Men compete, viciously. In Siri Hustvedt’s academia, she enjoys the argument. The more you know the better your position. “Bite back, hard, and never cry,” she advises a colleague.

George Orwell despised softness and snivelling. He was an intellectual and political analyst, on the Left, and a fighter who had survived his Prep school, as well as Catalonia.

I hoped the law would be a cerebral, rational haven, and found it a battlefield. Even on the Left I find women fighting for equality and seeing me as against them. The Right is for a neo-liberal privatisation of all human activity, controlled by private wealth. The Left is about what we do together, social work, a safety net for those in need, public spaces, new antibiotics and caring for our biosphere- all the many market failures the Right ignores or devalues- but we still compete.

I write, and read that literature is a feminine pursuit, so devalued, worth less than rigorous intellectual manly pursuits.

I need to be at ease with my emotions, aware of them, able to express them, and find I am so imbued with the idea that this is weakness that it is a continual struggle; and my society finds it uncomfortable. That, too, is a way we struggle with each other.

Hustvedt shows how we split off parts of ourselves, labelling them “feminine” and thereby devaluing them or denying them. My femininity is a social construct and my engagement with it makes me wonder if “masculine” traits are in me yet devalued because I must assert my femininity or demanded of me but not in me. Transition helped me find a stereotype which is so much closer to Real Me yet capable of deluding me.

We spend our time, and we spend ourselves- usefully or frittering. Sitting at home I imbibe microplastics in tap or bottled water, tiny particles which fall from clothes and possessions as well as from throw-away packaging, then accumulate toxins. So many threats! Who would save their life will lose it. Everything is a struggle, so I must struggle for something I find worthwhile.

Grayson Perry

I am a transvestite; I am turned on by dressing in clothes that are heavily associated with being female…How can I, brought up as a man, know anything about the experience of being a woman? It would be insulting to women if I thought I did.

This is enough for some people to write Grayson Perry off as a transphobe- it implies that trans women insult women too. He speculates about how his mother, venting her rage about men, or her partner, the Minotaur who could be the only masculine one in the household, might affect his gender- it’s nurture, not just nature. Then he refers to his “gender dysphoria”. Later he says boys fear that putting on a dress will turn them into a girl. (If only!) He may be a trans woman who cannot admit it even to himself, but the truth keeps leaking out. Or, loathing makes him express it negatively- cross-dressing is “childish”, a “fantasy of femininity”- but also he (p52) calls it “adopting femininity”. He wears little girl dresses, the clearest transvestite fetish opposite of the serious trans woman in women’s trousers, and finds women dote over him like they would over a little girl, drawn into the narrative of the costume despite the incongruity of the wearer.

He conflates things we would differentiate, and states etiologies we would dispute. He boasts of using the men’s toilets “even” when wearing a dress, “out of respect”. Most say “cross-dresser” rather than transvestite. Yet he challenges Masculinity, which has poisoned us and which we flee. I would go beyond the failure to see trans as we see it, to his whole view. We can’t impose an orthodoxy on everyone. Many people will say “Trans women are women”, still, thank God. Does anything he says advance our cause?

Unfortunately, his book The Descent of Man is confused. It seems he has thought a lot about masculinity, as a transvestite, but not read widely or systematically. Parliament being half women would bring in consensus, steady debate and empathy in leadership. So women are other, and I don’t get the same sense of women’s variation. High-achieving, ambitious men revel in the status quo. “Sexually promiscuous,” he calls them. That could be envy, though he is married. Men lower down the pecking order still benefit from the patriarchy. But “those who lose out”- probably “unmanly” men like him, have nothing to lose and might rise up alongside women. How many? “A lot of them,” that is, no idea.

Later, he writes “A lot of men are sold the narrative of male domination, but lead lives of frustration and servitude”. So the macho men who dropped out of education and have no job, but who beat up their partners, might rebel? They would rebel in quite a different way. Men compete unconsciously, talking of their achievements, possessions, and strengths. I have noticed that sometimes I do not feel the need to compete, sometimes I compete, and sometimes I can add nothing to a conversation, as if invisible (once on Saturday). I am aware of it. Not feeling a need to compete is a relief, but perhaps it was that I did not see the man telling me his boastful story as competition.

The props, gestures and script which signal gender are temporary social constructs. Yes. I would like a discussion of how our symbols relate to our underlying qualities, real or feigned, but it is not here. But he has interesting things to say about passing. He mimicked the “pimp roll” of older boys, being keen to pass as a real man. All men do, he argues. Authentic manhood, merely expressing ones inner qualities, is the ideal, and men have ways of pretending to that, such as leather biker jackets. We work at passing in many ways: sexuality, class, race, occupation or nationality. However for me, we imagine our interior selves fit our ideal. We do not know ourselves.

What is a “woman”?

“My femininity is different from your femaleness,” I said. “Oh, that’s good,” she said, writing it down. The gender non-conforming woman insists she is a woman and women are oppressed because they are women. Freedom for women requires a strict definition of “woman”, excluding trans women even though it includes some with disorders of sexual development.

My Radical feminist Friend (I have more than one- do not assume any individual) wrote, The illusion of gender difference is the one making it possible to let one sex be dominant and the other subordinate. Any definition of “woman” which includes me would exclude her, or restrict and limit her to “femininity”. Trans is no escape from oppression: she mocked the trans “man”, 5′ tall with a high voice and feminine mannerisms.

A social conservative arguing for traditional marriage, even for women to remain at home looking after children, wrote, Men’s gift, physical strength, is at the same time their greatest liability. It enables them to be extremely helpful but also enables them to get what they want without regard for what is good for everyone. Suddenly I saw this social conservative was on the Left, in seeking common goals and goods rather than individual dominance. We would argue over our differences while here is this clear agreement.

Rather than state advantages for the GNC woman’s definition of “woman”, I might couch them as fears, what she seeks to avoid, to show that I too seek to avoid what she fears- or can gain the advantages she seeks. I can assuage your fears, I say, reassuringly. However it seems they are fears, she is protecting what she has against possible loss.

If I am a woman because of my femininity, then the GNC woman feels she is either restricted to femininity, or excluded from womanhood. She will not accept either. So her definition of woman relies on sexual dimorphism, and whatever fun we can have with intersex or disorders of sexual development, the distinction holds. Including an androgen-insensitive XY woman does not mean she must include me. My side could argue the different intersex folk show sufficient fuzziness at the edges of the definition for me to squeeze in. She does not accept that.

Who needs protected? The GNC woman says women, the XX people, from men, the XY people, because of men’s physical strength and gendered propensity to violence and expressing anger against others rather than internalising it against themselves. Possibly I could say with that social conservative that those needing protection are those who seek “what is good for everyone rather than what they want”, but not all who transition are on the left, and she would say transition is a conservative phenomenon. Both sides are mostly on the left, accusing the other side of being on the right. “You perpetuate gender roles!” they say. “You write for The Spectator!” we reply.

My radical feminist friend told me of girls brought up as boys in Afghanistan, because without a male relative a woman cannot go out. So a widow takes her “son”. One such boy-girl revelled in the freedom that gave her, and one pined for feminine pursuits. People have gender, it just does not correlate to sex.

To answer “Who is a woman?” I would say, everyone who wants to be one or considers herself one- not in the moment on a whim, but as a settled conviction and desire for all of life. Then, “What is a woman like?” Anything women born women want to be, without restriction, but complete diversity including that femininity which appeals to some women, and to all of us who transition to womanhood.

Not all women

“Not all women have vaginas,” tweeted Munroe Bergdorf, a trans woman. “Think about your message, use your voice for all women, not just yourself.” She objected to pussy hats on the women’s marches.

I disagree. Yes, there is pressure on trans women to have genital surgery. No-one should need to be sterilised to be recognised for who they are. Trans women are women. Dwelling on reproductive rights and reproductive matters can be a way of excluding trans women, deliberately. We feel rejected and excluded, and lots of things can remind us of that. Rejection hurts, and a rude comment in the street could depress me for days when I transitioned. Yes, all of that, and a vagina is still a symbol of womanhood.

I am not saying we should not object to allusion to vaginas because objection is impolitic. TERFs might express anger about avoiding discussion of reproductive matters, which affect most women, though some are infertile, and not all women without uteruses are trans women. Ordinary feminists might hear that and agree. Our extremism may alienate potential allies, especially when we tell them what to do.

The reproductive system, the beauty, pain and danger of it, is central to feminism. We should be allies on that, not because it is politic, but because it is right. If you don’t empathise with women’s concerns, you are still a woman, but lacking in some humanity. All oppressed people should oppose all oppression.

Our oppression is around our bodies, too, judged, scrutinised and assaulted. We may feel alienated from our bodies because they are seen as male. Yet not all talk of bodies has the purpose of excluding us, and it must be possible to talk of bodies and the oppression of bodies.

Munroe Bergdorf was objecting to a symbol, not a campaign: a cat-eared hat, because Dolt 45 boasts of grabbing pussies. It is a symbol of genitalia which most women have. How wonderful, to wear a symbol of genitalia on your head, for they are private but not shameful. The hat shows pride in every part of a body, even the ones we hide. Men wore them at the marches in solidarity, and surely trans women can too.

Perhaps there is nothing all women have in common. Not all women have the same gender identity, which is shaped by experience. Gender identity matters most to those who have to assert it, like trans people. Some women are close to stereotypical femininity and some rail against it; and non-binary people may have another gender identity and women’s bodies. What is your gender identity anyway- is it “woman” or “feminine”?

There is a slippery slope here. Refusing a wedding cake to a gay couple is not the same as restaurants excluding black people, which impinges on all of life. The wedding cake is only a symbol of rejection, but everyone has suffered rejection and is vulnerable to it, even cis white non-disabled well-educated males. The law forces service providers to provide services equally because the symbol matters and there is widespread rejection of gay people who don’t pass as straight. Needing to pass is oppression. The slightest rejection or erasure hurts, but the lack of logical consistency in the term “woman” is the very thing that allows us to call ourselves women, so perhaps we should not draw attention to the lack: the logical consistency simplest to comprehend excludes us.

Reproductive rights matter to all who can get pregnant, and should matter to all women. Biology matters. Munroe Bergdorf’s tweet brought out the TERFs, mocking, angry, yet appearing sensible to lots of people who have not thought about the matter (so it is important to be politic in these things). Gaby Hinsliff is a writer for the Guardian who generally writes on feminist issues and rarely on trans. There’s a woman alive now to contradict pretty much any given statement about what a woman is, she wrote, arguing to include us on all-women shortlists, but she was exasperated by Munroe’s tweet. Just let women, and men, be what they want to be. The rules are that there are no rules, she wrote earlier. I agree, for that is the best way for us to be included.

Possibly, at some time in the future someone will come up with a verbal understanding encapsulating what it is to be a woman and including every woman, but not men. And people will stop squabbling about that, and go onto something else.

Sex dysphoria

Some find that the most distressing thing about the dysphoria they experience as trans people is their physical sexual organs.

For me, transition was an attempt to express my true self. My gender is feminine, I am most comfortable responding in a feminine way, and part of my problem is that I conflated the symbols of femininity, such as the soft floral sweater, with the underlying reality, the will towards support and reconciliation; or that symbol of masculinity, the penis, with what you do with it- do you penetrate, or become enveloped?

People conflate symbols and reality. How could I communicate my femininity except by transition? Body language can communicate femininity without particular clothes. We also conflate transsexualism with transgenderism- the protected characteristic in the Equality Act is “gender reassignment”, the protected group “transsexual persons”, and doctors give hormones and surgery to a man who is feminine.

There was one thing I could do: become transsexual, which means expressing myself differently, but also dressing like a transsexual and altering my body like a transsexual.

That tweed skirt suit with the frumpy little frills on it, fashionable some time in the 1980s, that you like because you know no better- or those gorgeous elastic-sided long boots, with a bit of a heel- these things are unnecessary, and some make a thing of it. “I wear jeans far more than I wear skirts”. And I would rather wear dresses. It makes me feel more comfortable. Using the symbol gives me permission to express myself in that way.

And “I am female. Being male hurt” said someone. I read that, I may be wrong, as needing the body to be changed. That is not a signal, as you show it to very few people- unless it is a signal to yourself. Yes, I am a true transsexual, I have had the operation. I feel I had the operation because of social pressure. It was expected.

It is a package. Way of being + way of presenting + physical changes. If I could have tolerated the way of being without the way of presenting, that would have been better, but it seemed impossible to me. Then, if I could have had the way of being and the way of presenting and realised that did not necessitate physical changes I might regret…

I understand that some people have physical changes without fully transitioning. AMAB people who present male but have had surgery, or hormones meaning they need a binder to get through the working day. So I have heard, but never heard from anyone like that directly. If this is you please do say. And some have the operation because it is what matters most, and transition, but don’t go for the “feminine” presentation. Though women wear jeans, and can use them to look feminine/signal femininity.

Just because I now feel I had the operation because of social pressure does not mean that everyone does, and certainly not that anyone else would believe that of themselves. Dysphoria arises from my place in society, and I felt that surgery would alter that place- it did, but not enough. Still there is the feeling that real trans women want surgery, as well as the feeling that trans women should not have to be sterilised to be recognised, both held strongly.

We could accept each others’ variation if we did not feel so scrutinised by the general public. You do not need an excuse to be as you are. Neither do I, it just felt that way. I do not need to find excuses for others- this fat person has a slow metabolic rate, that gay person was the opposite sex in a former life; but people do.

Being trans, in society

Trans folk share something, but we don’t know what that is, because it is distorted by the demands of wider society. How we imagine ourselves is shaped by the stories we tell and that society tells, about what is normal, masculine, feminine, acceptable, shameful. We can’t know how we would be without those ideas, and that shame. In trying to understand, I asked, is it like something else? Is it like an addiction, where if you indulge you become less able to resist? I see others’ paths, and wonder, is that path right for me?

Curtailed by the anger of others, the abuse in the street, the rejection by friends and family, or our own shame inhibiting us out of fear of those things, we don’t know how we would be if merely accepted for whatever harmless thing we did. What we do is harmless, but people feel threatened by what it symbolises.

The abuse is far more significant for me than the acceptance. Abuse re-traumatises me quickly, it takes a great deal of acceptance to heal.

I don’t know what we share, precisely, because there are differences too. Some of us are AFAB, some AMAB, and that means entirely different pressures and entirely different desires, despite the similarity of changing gender. I begin to see the attractions of masculinity when I see people who actively choose it, but it is a difficult exercise in empathy.

Of those who are AMAB, some of us are gynephile, some are androphile. The suggestion that the androphiles are true trans and the gynephiles are autogynephiliac perverts is merely silly, because that is a mere play on words: it is a claim about what “trans” means  not an observation about people; it is an attempt to achieve acceptance from wider society by distancing a particular group from some characteristic they would call unacceptable, which can never work. No straight person divided trans people into the disgusting and the normal.

Yet the law decides who will be protected, and the community decides who is acceptable. Someone who intends to change from masculine gender presentation to feminine or vice versa, life long, is protected. Someone who expresses gender differently is not. Now I hear voices saying trans folk should not need to be sterilised to achieve recognition, but when I transitioned trans folk distrusted those who did not want an operation and doubted they were “true trans”, and now I still read of people’s delight at getting an operation or frustration at delays.

There is a strong idea in law and society that there are two genders, masculine and feminine, closely mapped onto men and women. If a man does not fit “masculine” ideals that is shameful. Belief in transition, the concept of the trans woman, closely fits that. Not male is inferior, but being really female is a partial solution. I don’t believe that. There is no gendered behaviour in either sex which the other does not exhibit. Ideas of gender oppress both men and women. Transition is a partial solution for trans people in the world as it is now. Self-conceptualising as non-binary, so permitting onesself to exhibit all gender behaviours, is a better solution.

How would I be without society? I don’t know. Possibly, I can have an idea about how I would be without society’s understanding of a trans person is, from how I was before I read anything much about transvestites and transsexuals. I fantasised about being changed into a woman, physically, in my teens. But I knew then it was OK for women, not OK for men, to show particular gendered traits. If I were a woman, then it would be OK to be me.

Trans would not exist without that falsehood, that there are two genders. There are as many genders as there are human beings; or there is only one.

Given society as it is, with transition recognised in law and having a measure of acceptance, and fitting with the general understanding of what a trans person is, I would like increasing acceptance of alternative ways- we continue to assert trans women are women, and recognise various ways of being non-binary. Law would prohibit employers or service providers from treating people differently on the grounds of gender presentation or behaviour.