Performing gender

Lying on the floor weeping “I am not a man” even as I pretended to be one at work, I believed in a real me, separate from that pretense, which manifested herself when I expressed myself female. Like others, I found that at first presenting male was just normal, and expressing female mind-blowingly wonderful; then presenting male was a bit unpleasant and expressing female was really nice; and finally expressing female was just normal and presenting male unbearable. I had wanted to prepare for transition, with electrolysis of my face and other things, but I went full time before my electrolysis was complete. Then, needing to avoid shaving so I could have electrolysis I was abused in the street, and became depressed and miserable.

Judith Butler says we could perform gender, that is act a gender role, much as my friend said I appeared to be acting when presenting male and just being me when expressing female- have you noticed, I write “Presenting” male, saying that’s something about how I appeared, and “Expressing” female, when my appearance was the expression of my real self? I have expressed (wrote spoke and thought about) it that way all this century. But that’s not what she means when she says gender is performative. There’s no actor underneath, putting on a performance. Instead we act and speak in ways which consolidate the impression that we are men or women, not expressing an internal reality but responding to others as we are conditioned to, following habits which seem to us to be part of some essence. The phenomenon of gender is self-sustaining, people enforcing it on each other.

I need to do more reading on this, but Butler does not fit that description. She was walking down the street and a teenager called out, “Are you a lesbian?” There’s the policing, enforcement, bullying right there- she is not walking in a normal manner, so a stranger calls her out on it- but she does not change. Gaydar is a thing. Gay people can spot each other. Straight people can spot us too. The bullying isn’t working, or not completely. There is something in her which rebels. It might not be something as complex as a gender: the underlying reality could be as simple as a sexual attraction, stopping her from following others’ gender rules and making her own, but the effect is a range of behaviours and interactions which mark her out as “unfeminine”.

Lesbians might be butch or femme. H was particularly disgusted by femme lesbians, “attracted to that type of masculinity”- quite unable to understand them. There are fashions for butches, a butch uniform which is quite as constraining as straight women’s fashions, even if they change less frequently. Is the standard butch expression constrained by lesbians, or by the wider community?

H, particularly highly sexed, at twenty wore jeans and DMs and a crew cut, to avoid unwanted sexual attention, then in her forties her daughter persuaded her to dress sexily and around seventy she still does, with long hair and tight dresses. She talks of “performing gender”, but appears to mean making a choice, having twice exercised a choice and made a huge change. Now her sexiness is power, holding male attention despite her age, controlling the men by skills learned through experience.

Tim, a gay man, told me that in some relationships he was bottom, in others top, and he found his feelings around his body changed as he moved between. The areas which were erogenous zones would be different. He could pass as straight.

There’s something inside so strong. We transition. My father, attracted to women, was a primary head teacher. He had one male teacher and five women in his school, and while he thought the women more talented he noticed them encouraging the male to apply for promoted posts- to Dad’s disgust. Other men might have found their feminine encouragement of the man, and holding themselves back, unremarkable, or even appropriate. If men take the promoted posts are they really more talented and efficacious or do we imagine them to be more talented because we are programmed to see them so? Yet Dad saw them differently, perhaps because he was attracted to strong women, as am I.

Wikipedia is not the best of sources, but there I find a one paragraph criticism of Judith Butler by Martha Nussbaum, saying that rather than political campaigning Butler encourages feminists to subvert gender by speech and gesture, in “unfeminine” ways, subverting gender norms. I imagine both would be possible- walk like a man, refuse to smile and be accommodating, and campaign against VAWG.

When I was presenting male I did not see myself as acting. I was aspiring to masculinity, but it would be one real human being that was a man, going running to make myself fit, and when I was behaving in a masculine way it seemed to me that this was me, being how I ought to be, rather than hiding a “real me” underneath. Later, I either became aware of that Real Me which had been suppressed in fear (as I have always thought since) or that “feminine self” somehow came into being.

Happy birthday to Judith Butler, 64 today (I planned this post before finding it was her birthday). She provided this photo for Wikipedia when she was 57.

This is Martha Nussbaum, photographed aged 61 by Robin Holland.

How do you see these photographs? What does Professor Nussbaum’s makeup, and Professor Butler’s lack of it, signify? Are they feminine? Strong? Open or guarded? Can you read intelligence in either picture separately from the titles they have earned?

Added: here’s long distance runner Emily Halnon on My Boyfriend’s Wedding Dress. She loves his flair, imagines she’s contributing to a progressive shift in how we define masculinity, finally allowing men to be emotional and vulnerable, or to ask for help, or to hug their male friends, and yet was uncomfortable with him cross-dressing. She loves his muscles and athleticism, and his hairy chest, as well as his emotional depth, vulnerability and openness, but she and her girlfriends want men who are bigger and taller than they are, or who are better than them at sports, or who don’t cry in front of them. So- she wants to subvert gender norms, but still finds herself enforcing them because of the gravitational pull of wider society. Or, she’s a heterosexual woman who has particular desires, even if a minority of women might enjoy the support of a more vulnerable man.

Re-transitioning

What would it be like, to transition male to female, revert, transition again and revert again? To be living presenting male after having two periods of several years expressing yourself female?

David transitioned in Toronto in the 1980s. He said his initial motivation was transvestite. How would he know? Transvestites, or cross dressers, might dress occasionally or compulsively for a sexual thrill, but the thrill wears off and they want to dress normally again. Yet he saw a gender clinic and was prescribed oestrogen. He must have had some diagnoscible signs of transsexualism.

It seemed to me that he was being self-deprecating about his motivations. Living female, one might be motivated to express the desire to do so in positive terms: I am expressing the real me, being authentic. Having reverted, the temptation is to see it as a mistake, an aberration.

He was recommended to have vaginoplasty, but is pleased he did not. However not having the operation may have made him feel a fraud, inauthentic in his female presentation, and that might have made it less comfortable. Then he met a female partner, and reverted so they could be together. Having the operation may make it harder to revert, as you have burned your boats and can no longer present male- even though you rarely show your crotch, you are aware of the absence.

Early this century he transitioned again, and spent a few years living female and taking hormones. Then he reverted again. Now he appears to talk about his experiences in a sweater, leggings and tight wedge-heeled boots which come to just below the knee. Boots over trousers, a look I love, is out of fashion. He has an androgynous look, towering over me in his high heels. He has a full head of hair, though not thick hair, cut short. I don’t know how he would dress most of the time, but wearing one or two items of women’s clothing while presenting mostly male or androgynous is brave. He has done the work of self-acceptance.

He sounds regretful and dissatisfied. Neither expressing female nor presenting male has been fulfilling for him. He had a reasonable career as an academic and, now retired, is a councillor.

I think he wanted to fit in, and found with his feminine character he could not fit in to his satisfaction with either presentation. He will experience less respect from others than more “manly” men, often. It’s still better to be yourself than to try to put on a front, and he may be able to be himself better as an androgynous male than as a trans woman.

He came to talk to Norwich Quakers at their listening meeting, to hear experiences of people supporting a change to gender recognition law. He was ambivalent. Having your gender change recognised four times would certainly be easier if only a statutory declaration was required, rather than all the paraphernalia of two years’ documentary evidence plus a specialist psychiatrist’s letter, but vacillating like this might indicate gender recognition was a bad thing, encouraging people to waste their lives chasing a chimera (I’m being devil’s advocate here).

Whereas I take his story as supporting gender recognition. It shows the strength of the compulsion to express female full time, despite the difficulties, and if society supports that with a simple system of gender recognition, it will be easier and lives will not be wasted in the effort of transition and reversion, and all the soul-searching that involves. Certainly he is nothing like the Terf bogeyman of a pervert signing a form to get access to women’s spaces.

Also at that meeting was a trans woman who transitioned aged 54. She has a male voice, her own hair, and does not think she passes but she is accepted, mostly. She says we are harmless. She told of her operation and hormones, and stood up for the Stonewall figure of 500,000 trans people. She admired my presentation, saying I passed much better. I enjoyed the compliment, and regret that we are judged in that way. I

And there was a lesbian who organises Norwich Pride, and was robust in her support for us.

I got the train to Peterborough and cycled home, arriving just before nine. I cycled in the dark on a busy road then a quiet road with steep up and down movements. It was horrible, but bearable- the mode of transport I can afford. In intermittent light rain I was still too hot in a t shirt, jeans and sandals. I am always hot exercising, and blame the effects of the hormones.

Trans men and male privilege

Trans men gain male privilege. I heard of one last weekend, amazed that they were treated with so much more respect, just because of the change of presentation. People see “Man”, and behave differently. It is not entirely gain, of course.

What gains are there? His ideas are taken more seriously, and he is interrupted less. His achievements may be publicly recognised. I kept noticing that if guys wanted an assignment they’d just ask for it. If they wanted a raise or a promotion they’d ask for it. This was a foreign concept to me. As a woman, I never felt that it was polite to do that or that I had the power to do that. But after seeing it happen all around me I decided that if I felt I deserved something I was going to ask for it too. By doing that, I took control of my career. It was very empowering.

People ask if being a man made me more successful in my career. My answer is yes — but not for the reason you might think. As a man, I was finally comfortable in my own skin and that made me more confident. At work I noticed I was more direct: getting to the point, not apologizing before I said anything or tiptoeing around and trying to be delicate like I used to do. In meetings, I was more outspoken. I stopped posing my thoughts as questions. I’d say what I meant and what I wanted to happen instead of dropping hints and hoping people would read between the lines and pick up on what I really wanted. I was no longer shy about stating my opinions or defending my work. When I gave presentations I was brighter, funnier, more engaging. Not because I was a man. Because I was happy.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Men are more outspoken. You drop hints and state thoughts as questions because you fear they will not be accepted. I tend to think it’s a question of power- of privilege. Women can be confident, and still get interrupted.

People now assume I have logic, advice and seniority. They look at me and assume I know the answer, even when I don’t. Well, sometimes we just need an answer, so we can move on. There are a multitude of good enough answers. People also engage with his questions, rather than brushing him off.

Men in that article also talk about a loss of sisterly solidarity. So, women would look at each other sympathetically when a man said something rude about one of them, but now he has to suck it up. Men and women held doors open for him presenting female, but stopped. One found he listened less, and put that down to T. The Black man had had reasonable interactions with the police presenting female, but now was routinely pulled over and humiliated- “Do you have a weapon? Are you on probation?”

Another trans man challenges male sexism, and tells men he mentors, right now, you’re comfortable — but you have no insight into anyone because you’ve never had to be uncomfortable. Several say they feel more empathy, seeing things from both sexes’ point of view.

Here’s a brilliant loss and gain quote: They gained professional respect, but lost intimacy. They exuded authority, but caused fear. The female author continues to summarise: Many trans men I spoke with said they had no idea how rough women at work had it until they transitioned. As soon as they came out as men, they found their missteps minimized and their successes amplified. Often, they say, their words carried more weight: They seemed to gain authority and professional respect overnight. They also saw confirmation of the sexist attitudes they had long suspected: They recalled hearing female colleagues belittled by male bosses, or female job applicants called names… walking home after dark felt easier, casually talking to babies, strangers and friends felt harder. The Black trans man also finds the police far more scary.

Trans men notice psychological changes on T. They feel more sure of themselves, Time says. That could just be fitting their own skin better, as transitioned trans people. It could be the T. Things are more black and white, says one. Another feels freed from the expectations placed on women: he no longer feels he has to smile all the time, and be pleasant.

I need to burrow down into this. Two of the three articles I looked at are on WaPo and Time, large professional sites with professional female journalists creating a story- allowing the trans men to speak for themselves up to a point. To really understand I would have to look through blogs, some of which might state different experiences when presenting male without explaining them with the concept of “male privilege”. I would be grateful to receive any comments, or suggestions of further reading.

Transsexual v Transgender

Do the words we use to describe ourselves stop us being truly ourselves?

For me, the word “transsexual” was permission. I wanted to transition male to female. This was a recognised phenomenon: something that people did, often successfully, so I could too. And it was also definition. It involved hormones and surgery, and after going full time I found myself wanting surgery. I waited a year before seeking surgery, and had it ten months after that, privately. More than ten years later, I started to regret it.

The concept allowed me to transition, which made me much happier, which was the thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. Now, I believe that I wanted surgery not because I was innately that sort of human who is really of the other sex so needs surgery, but because of how I understood who was allowed to transition, and what transition meant. I could not get the gender expression without the physical alteration.

So the word was permission, but also constraint. How can I explain this? I wanted surgery, and listening to the psychiatrist dictate a letter recommending it is one of my strongest memories of complete happiness. And now I regret it, and believe that I wanted it as a symbol, the price to pay for transition, not for it itself. Not for how it would make lovemaking different. It altered how I saw myself, but I saw myself as “post-op TS”, having completed the process, rather than “pre-op TS”, having a way to go.

It is possible that there are people who need to transition to be fully ourselves, and a smaller number of those who need surgery to be themselves; and it is also possible that people want surgery to convince themselves and others that they are truly transsexual.

Chest masculinisation is different. It affects how you are seen. I thought the questions were, “Am I transsexual? Will I be happier if I transition?” Now I think breaking it down is useful.

  • Who am I, really?
  • What will enable me to be most fully myself in society?
  • Do I want to change my name?
  • Do I want to change my presentation?
  • Do I want to change my body, and if so, how?

It would not be a box marked “transsexual”, and possibly another box marked “transgender”, but a whole mass of individuals. Changing the body by facial hair removal, taking hormones, surgery, would be assessed according to what they gained for the individual, rather than whether the individual fitted the one box. One change would not mean that another was inappropriate.

The words are permission to do what we want to do, and also a moral goad, to encourage others to treat us in particular ways. I am not some sort of pervert man wanting to ogle women, I am a trans woman, who should be accepted in women’s space. That makes some people enforce the boxes. A “transsexual”, who has had surgery, is tolerable in women’s loos, but a “transgender” M-F who does not want surgery would not be. I hope most people don’t think about it that deeply. I am “a trans woman”, so I can be expected in women’s loos.

I want the acceptance as a woman to go with presentation as a woman, without physical changes. It would be humiliating to endure groin inspections, even if that meant I was admitted. But transition does not necessarily mean acceptance by others, or even by yourself. We can call any objection to our presence in women’s spaces “transphobic” if we like, and a lot of women are on our side, but some still object.

The words we use can make some ways of thinking possible, and others more difficult. Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, wrote, Seeing then that truth consisteth in the right ordering of names in our affirmations, a man that seeketh precise truth, had need to remember what every name he uses stands for; and to place it accordingly; or else he will find himselfe entangled in words, as a bird in lime twiggs; the more he struggles, the more belimed. Now, we create new words when we need them, but they should not constrain our acts. And I came across this quote in relation to faithfulness in sexual relationships, but it applies to much more than that: We should be aware that these behaviours are incredibly complex, and are likely to be influenced by many factors, including social and cultural effects, personality, genetics and life experiences.

Three Quaker trans women

For a moment, I was a true transsexual, quite clear transition had been right for me. Of course it did not last.

Rarely, with other trans women I feel completely comfortable. I am with people like me, and it is reassuring, empowering, clarifying. More often I notice presentation issues, and judge the other and myself, and am uncomfortable. When I imagine a group of trans women, we’re all staring at our shoes and periodically one will hiss,

“Stop it, you’re embarrassing us!”

And it was lovely to see my friend F, to walk round the park to see its beauties of landscaping and artistry, and the wildlife, to wander and chat, to sit eating looking at beautiful things. I told her that story: on 14 February 1999 I felt a tremendously painful and revivifying change in how I viewed the world- I was “born again”. I gained hope, became conscious that I am on a spiritual journey, and became conscious of something I called first the “Vulnerable bit” being released from deep suppression in my unconscious, and then the “Real Me”. I wrote this poem identifying that Real Me as female. I felt reassured.

And when she left, I was frightened and confused. Possibly, it is unnecessary and even harmful to have the goal of knowing yourself. The human being can be flexible, responding to circumstances, and an idea of who you are can inhibit that. Better to have stories of who you are, that reassure you, help you fit with other people, and are malleable to fit your situation. Yet I still want to know that at the kernel of my being I am Trans and therefore Transition was right and remains right for me; and so I fight for that particular story. It is the thing I have done because I wanted to, despite all the prejudice from others.

I want transition to be my rock, my reality, and felt washed around by the currents and tides. Bluntly, Margaret says, “It’s as if you’re acting when you’re Stephen and just you when you’re Clare” and I am encouraged to transition because it is right for me; Heather says “You have this lovely male energy” and I see myself as a man, and am filled with doubt; and now F reminds me of that experience, and I am reassured. Transition was Right for me. Except that I’m not, because what I believe depends on the strong personalities around me. Am I so moulded by others that there is no self at all?

Actually I had seen myself as male before meeting Heather, as a way of understanding who I am, without prejudice to the sufficient rightness of transition. Perhaps I contain so many truths that I might be moulded, but never so that I am not at least a real part of whole me. Then the moulding becomes a way to find all those parts and realise them.

When I got to meeting on Sunday I had a lovely hug from C, who said she had seen I was in London and hoped I would come. In the Quaker meeting, another trans woman who had been scrolling her phone stood and expressed anger, which I found troubling. Is this right for worship? She had been reading the constitution of some particular Quaker body, which used the term “Friend” to refer to members, and “Attender” to refer to regular attenders. She called this “Bigotry”. I was intensely uncomfortable, thinking, “Stop it! You’re embarrassing us!” Then one stood, and talked of being appointed an overseer but with the letters n.i.m. after her name- whisper it, not in membership, then another talked of becoming a member after more than ten years. The meeting is capable of absorbing anger, if you trust the process.

In the discussion group after we worship-shared on short texts, and I got, When you speak in a group, are you listened to? Do you create space to listen to others? How does the text comfort or discomfort you? I said, yes. I have energy, charisma, and a persuasive command of language, and can make myself heard. I have used my voice to amplify that of those who would not be heard, and am practising listening. A man, not obeying the rules of “worship sharing”, interrogated me and I took this back to the Latin, com fortis. After, a woman said she liked how I had stated my good acts positively, not accentuating the negative as we often do in sort-of humility. I wondered if she was stating what she liked, rather than giving her whole internal response, which is another Quaker technique I have noticed.

Stonewall and gender diversity

Are there really 600,000 trans people in the UK? That would be nearly 1% of the population. Most of that half million would never consider transition, and perhaps many of them would not even cross-dress. They would include cross-dreamers, who fantasise but do not necessarily act out their fantasies, and people who do not fit gender norms but are adamant they are of their birth sex. Some would not think of themselves as trans, and may have different ideas of what trans is- even before you ask whether non-binary people are trans.

My own figure is 40,000 people who have transitioned or are strongly likely to. But that’s a different number from those who are gender diverse.

I noticed with mentally ill people in the CAB that they had ordinary human characteristics, slightly exaggerated. Most people will have gone out then wondered if they have locked their front door that morning, but for some people it becomes a problem. Different people have more or less rigid understandings of gender stereotypes, comply with them more or less, and are more or less distressed about this. It’s not a binary, either fitting gender norms or not fitting them, but a matter of degree. Other aspects of character and personality, and family and community situation, will affect whether the person decides to transition, or not, and how happy they are with their decision.

And that’s fine. Gender diverse AMAB people who are certain they are men are still gender diverse. A lot of homophobia is around how gay men are not seen as manly. A gay man told me “feminine” characteristics were tolerated in gay men, perhaps they are even expected, and most of them do not think they are women. Whether same sex attraction is on a spectrum too, and the culture makes people decide they are gay or straight- well, it’s possible. Whether I am gynephile because of relatively low attraction to men together with strong inhibitions against such attraction- there is no way I could answer that.

Stonewall are confusing two things, gender diversity and gender transition. Gender diversity can cause problems for someone, either from internal suppression or from bullying, and gender transition is one partial solution to those problems. The LGBT Foundation in Manchester defines trans as “anyone who identifies with a gender which is different from the one which they were assigned at birth”- so there are more than two genders- which means that anyone who says they are trans, are. It’s something a lot of people would feel wary of admitting, or ashamed of, so they are safe enough from people who are not entitled accessing their services. But I can imagine someone suffering with gender dysphoria who is terrified of transition, so insists they are a male cross-dresser, who by that definition would exclude themselves.

The gender recognition reform proposal makes the public discussion about transition, . I don’t think there is any point in a man declaring s/he is a woman if they are not going to “live in the acquired gender”- make some stab at transition. It’s unclear what this could mean, whether skirts high heels and makeup, or jeans and t-shirt, male pattern baldness with a bit of length at the back with no attempt to modify the voice to sound female. Cis women are often unfeminine. Do you look like a woman? If your face is particularly masculine, do you make an attempt to look like a woman? For the law in England and Wales, there is no suggestion that there could be more than two genders.

Transition is difficult. 600,000 people in the UK are not going to transition. Yet the rest of Stonewall’s “The truth about trans” page describes trans people as if we are all transitioning or transitioned. This terrifies transsexual separatists- a terf has just shared to a Labour party page another blog post suggesting that there are true TSs, who knew they were the other sex from a young age, and sought surgery “after lengthy physical and psychological assessment”. That excludes the 40% of people going to the clinics who do not want genital surgery, and human rights law says genital surgery should not be necessary for gender recognition. Possibly all the trans women monstered in the Times or the Daily Mail in their campaign against us fit that definition.

Stonewall should stand up for all gender diverse people, and then accept that we are not all trans, that transition is not right for all of us, that we do not even want transition, but should be able to express contrary to gender stereotypes. Those internal inhibitions need loosening. The bullying needs to stop. But not every gender diverse man will transition to permanently presenting as a woman, and those who don’t will not want legal gender recognition as women.

Celebrating transition

The Church of England says trans people should be welcomed and affirmed in church, and proposes a ritual to celebrate transition. They have just written guidance for such worship rituals. A friend held a party for me, some celebration is necessary, and I am glad that the church welcomes trans people, but am not sure I would want a church service. It involves laying on of hands, and prayer for the person, and the last time an Anglican priest did that it was to cure me of cross-dressing.

I have to imagine myself as I was, to see how someone might value such a service. A priest celebrates and leads, and says particular words and prayers for individuals or for everyone. A priest performs a ritual, and through that ritual the congregation achieve communion with God, individually and together. Now, I dislike the idea, which puts too much on the priest and reduces the congregation to his/her followers. We meet each other, we are equal, we meet God together or not at all.

It’s bad enough for weekly worship, worse for a specific service welcoming trans people. The church authorities takes a right to welcome me? Rather they should apologise. I was betrayed. I did accept that leadership, the priest able to celebrate, even to preach to us on the good life, and he rejected me.

“For a trans person to be addressed liturgically by the minister for the first time by their chosen name may be a powerful moment in the service.” I choose my own name. I do not need it to be recognised. It is not a boon he grants me, to call me by my name, but my right.

For those who have been able to stay within the church, I can see that it could be of value. Clergy can make up their own services from bits of prayers, it seems: the service could include bits of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith, where someone renews baptismal vows. Those services are here. The press release says that it provides space for those who have undergone a major transition to re-dedicate their life to Jesus Christ. But that is not the point: it should be a celebration of the person and the decision, not more promises. It should be affirmation of the person as one of the congregation, and delight in their calling by God to transition. Transition is a step on the way of following Christ, and that needs recognised.

I don’t want to rededicate my life; I want people to see transition as fruit and proof of my dedication.

Priests who are trans were involved in creating the guidance, and they have consulted with other trans people. For someone in the Church of England, I can see it might be affirming. The media centre made a mistake: their press release has a link to the pastoral guidance, but that link does not work.

The press release was covered widely, even by the Business Times of Singapore and the Daily Monitor of Uganda, which republished the Associated Press rewording of the press release. The Open Church network, which promotes “radical acceptance and inclusion” of trans people, approved. Christian Today sought a quote from some mouthy transphobe, who said the church is denying God, but then she would say that.

Dysphoria after transition

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.

Are you female, or feminine?

I asked trans men if they were transitioning because they were really a man, or because they were masculine; women if female or feminine, non-binary because their true physical form, or their character, was non-binary?

Several trans men said they were really men. Their female-developed bodies revolted them. Their breasts, their widening hips, had been horrible, a weird, squishy, fleshy thing. Their chest masculinisation freed them to be feminine. Femininity before transition was an act, now they could be their authentic feminine selves if no-one would think them a woman. Female puberty had confirmed that they really were men, if there had been any doubt. Body hair delights them, the voice breaking delights them. So even in a utopia without gender stereotypes, they would transition.

I worried about this, when I heard it. I have no idea what proportion detransition. It might seem to confirm the gender-critical feminist perspective, that teenage girls want to transition because being a woman can be horrible, subject to groping, unwanted advances, sexist “banter”, sexist assumptions and treatment at school, university and in employment, and being a man would seem liberating, and yet being a woman is wonderful, being a mother, giving birth and suckling a child are the purpose of these body parts, as well as the sexual pleasure of their owner. Women can be used sexually in a way men are not, so much. Approximating to being a man is liberating, at great cost in physical mutilation and long term hormone treatment with unknown consequences. These women pay the price of sexism with their beautiful female bodies. Sexism erases lesbians.

And yet, that denies the ability of these trans men to make decisions for themselves, or to know themselves. None will say that they transition to escape sexism, but because they really are men, and that they want their bodies to reflect the fact. They are clear that they are men.

I feel feminine. That is how transition enabled me to discover myself and value myself: I could be my feminine self, and begin to peel back the thick layers of shame obscuring myself. I don’t feel constrained by any particular concept of feminine. It is elastic and fuzzy, covering a wide variety of women. I don’t know how things would be, if I had not had hormones and surgery, but had attempted a transition without, but I transitioned because of my femininity.

Others echoed this. They were feminine rather than female. Many, men and women, were not really masculine or feminine, they thought, but both or neither. “I’m just me” is a good way of being. I feel non-binary is freeing. We should be able to adjust our bodies just as far as we need, and express our personalities without feeling constrained by ideals of masculinity or femininity. Men need to find and liberate their feminine side, not just trans women. Yet it is uncomfortable being feminine, and appearing to be a man.

As people went through the transition process they thought less about these things, and were more simply and unaffectedly themselves. Not everyone. Some detransition, and curse the whole idea of changing sex or gender; but it saves many lives.

And the gender-critical should get alongside us. So, yes, they are oppressed by sexism, by men interrupting and taking up space and not respecting them and suspicious of their leadership and ogling and groping and demanding sex. They are distracted from fighting these things by being drawn to fight a few thousand mostly-harmless trans women. We liberate ourselves from patriarchal oppression as best we can.

Suddenly disclosed gender dysphoria

Just because someone has only just noticed signs of a person’s gender dysphoria does not mean that it has had a “rapid onset”. A parent might report that the child had appeared happy and gave no sign of gender dysphoria, but the child might have had distress which s/he could not name, or even known their own gender identity for years. A child might suddenly disclose because they have decided to take action on their gender dysphoria, which they had concealed because they did not know what they could do about it. And just because someone has not noticed signs of gender dysphoria, does not mean they were not obvious to anyone open to seeing them. Some children repress their gender identity when they know they will gain only grief for it.

There is the suggestion that teenage children, especially those assigned female at birth, may suddenly decide that they are trans and seek treatment. There is a conviction where there was no sign of it before. Those asserting this tend to find the thought revolting.

Those who assert that “ROGD” is a thing, rather than a name for childhood gender dysphoria, say that it might be a social contagion brought on by suggestion, as some say anorexia can be. There are pro-ana groups promoting anorexia as a lifestyle, though it can threaten health and stop menstruation, just as testosterone might. If transition revolts you, you might be prone to see it as a way of fleeing independent adult womanhood akin to anorexia. These feminists know that womanhood, and fertility, can be very scary. Men come on to teenage girls, follow and assault them, do not take “no” for an answer- only “I have a boyfriend”, perhaps, claiming to be some man’s property rather than being entitled to decide and refuse in my own right- and this is dangerous. Claiming to be a man is a way of escaping that.

So they claim that teenage “girls” are “mutilated and medicalised”, rather than treated. The child wears a binder, which constricts breathing, and craves chest masculinisation surgery (“mastectomy”). This revolts the ROGD theorist. Why should you want a healthy part of yourself cut off? We are sad for women who have to suffer lumpectomy for cancer, and the NHS offers reconstructive surgery. I sympathise. I like my breasts and would not want to lose them. But I can empathise: chest-masc surgery changes the way others look at you, and I can understand someone might want it. I have seen the delight people have in it.

If there were a theorist who believed that ROGD was a thing, a phenomenon distinguishable from other types of childhood gender dysphoria, who was not also repulsed by current surgical treatment for female to male gender dysphoria or gender incongruence, I would be more likely to believe in it.

There is a place for people who want to resolve the distress of gender dysphoria by some means other than transition, hormones and surgery. A patient might explore their personality and character with the aim of casting off restricting inhibitions and accepting themselves. Transition is not the only treatment for people who find “femininity” constraining. However, transition alleviates distress and enables people to accept themselves, in a way they could not before.

Those who advance the hypothesis are revolted by “girls” transitioning. They think the “girls” should be supported into accepting womanhood, and supported in subverting restrictive feminine roles as women. They are not fit to research their idea, unless they can accept that sometimes transition is right for a person. Rather than supporting a teenager in becoming an adult, they want to restrict the way the teenager knows he can thrive.

I am told that gender dysphoria can have a rapid onset, where someone with an intersex condition receives a new hormone treatment. That is not what the transphobic campaigners are exercised about.