I lay on the floor weeping, “I am not a man”. So I transitioned.
Raymond Chandler said there were two kinds of truth, in science and in art. We know the Earth goes round the Sun, though the Earth’s gravity makes the Sun wobble, an effect used to detect exoplanets, and our spiral galaxy is spinning and falling towards the Great Attractor. How you express a scientific truth affects how truthful it is. Do we have the concepts to express it properly? “The Earth goes round the Sun” is truthful as far as it goes, but needs qualified.
Art, by contrast, tells us about being human, and how humans can relate to the world and each other. Music and pictures can speak to us emotionally, and stories can place us in otherwise unimaginable situations.
Others say religious truth is different from scientific truth. The two need not contradict each other. Christianity is polluted by having been aligned with State power since the Emperor Constantine, and since the Enlightenment is far too concerned with beliefs as bald statements of fact rather than as poetry or story, but at its heart is about human beings relating to each other in community and to the external world, the relationship between me and all that is external to me.
Before I saw my doctor about transitioning, in November 2000, I phoned the Beaumont Trust helpline. Later I worked on it, when it operated just on Thursday evenings: now it runs 24 hours, on 07000 287878. I wanted a way to persuade my doctor that objectively, scientifically, I was transsexual, and the helpline volunteer said, “Just tell her how you feel”. I had the idea that there was an objective concept, “transsexual”, which could be diagnosed by doctors, and if I fitted it I would be right to transition, and if I did not I would not; and while I decided not to lie I passionately desired to persuade the doctors that I should transition.
While I was preparing to transition, I realised that there were two questions:
Am I transsexual?
Will I be happier if I transition?
The first purports to be an objective, scientific question, but human beings are too complex for that one. Yes, if your definition of transsexual includes me. If it is too squeamish about the possibility of someone regretting and reverting then it won’t, but then it will exclude many people who transition happily, or at least a lot of people will be excluded. Of course I am transsexual. I transitioned.
Why did I want to transition? Now, too late, I think it was because I had too restrictive an idea of how a “man” should be- it can be hard to be an effeminate male, but people manage it, and lots of men would not fit my ideal and seem happy enough with that- and at the same time had female embodiment fantasies. The fantasies would not have been enough, by themselves, if I was not trapped and revolted by this concept of Manliness. Margaret was my friend before I transitioned, and visited weekly to talk and play backgammon. She said “It’s as if you’re acting when you’re Stephen, and just you when you’re Clare”. She was right. Expressing myself female enabled me to be me in a way I could not when I was presenting male- but that was because I believed it, rather than because men really can’t be like me.
That belief about how men should be, and the siren song of the fantasies, were too strong. I could not have understood myself as I have without transitioning. If I hadn’t, I would just have been stuck, wanting to.
There is no objective, scientific truth about who is right to transition. There is only the feeling of desire. Some would claim brain studies show who is trans. I understand one programme uses MRI scans and has seen enough to predict whether a particular scan is of a trans person. “Brains are plastic” say others, and I don’t know if it could predict whether someone would transition. Oh, alright- I withdraw that- if it is knowable whether anyone is right to transition, I cannot know, or formulate a particular definition or test; but I feel it is art, or stories, that best encourage people to transition, and reassure them afterwards. “I am a woman” is a story, not scientific fact.
In deciding to transition, I wanted the doctors to affirm my desire, and so after the NHS psychiatrist appeared ambivalent went to private psychiatrists who did. I could not rely on scientific fact, only my own feelings.
Years after, H told me “You have a lovely male energy” and slowly it dawned on me a man could be like this. I no longer have female embodiment sexual fantasies, apart from in my rare erotic dreams. Those two remarks by female friends who knew me well: drafting this in my head, I thought of calling one the Good Fairy, one the Bad Fairy, but could not decide which is which. Both said what they saw, and both were truthful.