“Why are you a transwoman?”

Why can’t you just be a feminine man?

Possibly, transition is a hack. Being a feminine or effeminate male was utterly forbidden, through the door marked Death, but I had not picked up that transition was equally forbidden, because it was unimaginable. So when I imagined it, it was my escape. I wanted to follow the rules of my society, and I found there was this path my society barely tolerated.

I think of a boy at school, a year or two older than me, telling me I am “soft as shite”. It stung at the time. It still stings now: I remember the remark with unusual clarity for a conversation at school. He was claiming I was unmasculine, so inadequate, less than others. Now J sees that I am not flexible, able to be a “feminine man”, to contain contradictions which I had found unbearable: so J also judges me as inadequate or less. I am so knocked about by such judgment that I can barely resist, and my “femininity” makes resistance harder. I want reconciliation, not conflict. So my femininity works against me and I judge it too.

But Honor Logan denies femininity exists: it is merely a patriarchal tool of oppression. It is “something given and taken away on man’s whim”. Are we good enough? So I do not share some mythical “femininity” with other women, but I do share the condition of being oppressed.

I felt it excluding that the women’s group talk of bleeding, until I thought, but this is their way of defying taboo and claiming freedom. This is a place for us to claim freedom together however we do it. That is my answer to the suggestion that it is “transphobic” to say 1970s feminism had allowed young women to explore their own vagina and clitoris as intimate companion. Young trans women did not have this experience; but different women have different experiences, and that does not mean any of us are not women. It is anti-feminist, rather than transphobic, to suggest all women have the same experiences. And perhaps I could get to know my vagina as a source of pleasure.

We can split into tiny warring camps, or find a solidarity that celebrates our differences. Women who deny femininity exists must find a way to be with cis women who celebrate it.

I don’t think “femininity” is a coherent concept, either in the culture or as a property of most women and few men. So, what makes me a woman, if not femininity? Two possibilities: my long-standing desire to express myself this way, and the acceptance of others. Everyone relies on the acceptance of others in order to survive, but dependence on it makes us liable to oppression, which we must meet with self-affirmation.

How much do we create ourselves, how much recognise and realise ourselves, how much are we moulded by other people? If I accept what others say I should be like, I allow them to mould me, but it seems to me there is a real me underneath. I am submissive. It feels like recognition. Attempting to suppress it feels like self-abnegation, paradoxically: to self-abnegate by fighting my self-abnegation. It is part of me. If I suppress and deny it, I cannot allow for it and how it affects me, so others see it and use it. It becomes a source of pain for me, so I work harder to suppress it.

I feel that trauma causes me to suppress parts of myself, rather than to alter them. I do not think my submission could have been created by trauma, though the trauma played upon it.

So I will guard my submissive nature as precious. I will protect it. I decide to see it as part of me that can be beautiful for myself and others, a gift, and seek evidence of this. Perhaps my kindness and gentleness are evidence: three qualities fitting together. This is shadow work: I have used words to define a part I can cut off and deny, then projected all my fear and anger onto that shadow part. Liberating my shadow self is liberation from my own judgment.

Days after the question, still stewing on it, I thought of why I could not be a feminine man. Perhaps I’m just a bit second rate. Perhaps I did not see the possibility. Perhaps I was too suicidal and terrified to properly understand what I was doing. Possibly I am a sexual pervert, and therefore a threat to women and children– there are lots of places on the internet you can read that. And, just perhaps, I am trans. James Baldwin: “It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself and half believed before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”

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.

belting it outI 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 protectionwhen 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…

Yes!

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

Me

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

Renoir- Les Parapluies, detail

This continues: Positively Clare.