Wednesday, 12 February 2014

My identity; How I view myself is important and mine alone to judge

Recently through conversations and through media attention I have realised how little people seem to know, or even care, about trans peoples identities. The focus is always on 'the surgery' or hormones or 'the change', like we are icky exemptions from the 'norm' to be gawped at. We are seen as freaks that made a choice to be what the world thinks we are not, and often we are made to be the butt of the joke and dehumanised. It takes away from the very real issues trans people face in life and reduces us to our genitals and other secondary sexual characteristics, without showing we are rich, varied and complex people in our own rights. The hardcore bigots will never see this, but education can change the views of the silent majority who have seen nothing beyond basic media portrayals of trans people, then they can see us as actual people.

I want to give a view of my identity, which I know I have talked about before, but I want to describe it in more depth. Before I do this though I want to clarify a few things. I can only speak for myself and my own self-identification. The trans community is wide and varied, there are as many views and opinions as there are trans people. We do not think with one mind about anything, and we are certainly not all going to view ourselves in the same way. My identity is mine, it is how I identify myself, it is me and me alone. There will be people, trans and cis, who disagree with me and who view themselves in other ways. I don't claim to speak for the trans community as a whole.
Also I am a woman, so I can't comment for the identities of trans men. They have different views of themselves and I can't speak for them either. I cannot speak for non-binary people either who have a much different view of who they are as well. I am the only person I want to and can speak for in this article.

Now as anyone who has read this blog knows by now I am a trans woman, but this is a complex and deep identity, much deeper than the media would have us believe. I want to explain how I have made no choice in who I am. How I am and always have been who I am and that will never change.
I am a woman, that seems simple enough right? I have always been female; mentally and biologically. This is where people get tripped up and can't understand it. To do this I need to explain a little about how I came to be. I am medically defined as transsexual, this means I have a physiological condition that has caused my brain to develop female, but my body developed differently. The study of this condition is in its early phases, but the prevailing hypotheses suggest that hormone washes in the womb during the early stages of gestation cause differing paths of development for brain and body. While it is still being studied the evidence shows a biological problem, a physical intersex condition and the only way to correct this is via medical means to correct my body so my brain can feel comfortable within it. This all sums up to mean I have always been female, my brain was female and my body was female but suffering from a birth defect.
I have not, and never have been, a man or male. I was assigned this by a doctor who saw I was born with a penis and said I must be a boy. I was raised as a boy because that is what was expected because of the shape of my genitals, but I was never a boy. I have always been a woman.

To make my life happy and to be a productive member of society I need to correct the mismatch between my brain and body. To do this requires medical intervention in the form of hormone therapy, surgery and other procedures. This is the accepted treatment for transsexualism and one I am following. I have been taking hormones for almost a year now, my body now is an estrogen based system, the cells of my body have been exposed to estrogen and lacking testosterone for so long my endocrine system is like that of a woman who has had a hysterectomy or is post-menopausal. It has gone a great way to alleviate the stress and discomfort I feel constantly. I am still going through my physical transition and have a long way to go, but I know it is working. I know this because as my body becomes what it should be the dysphoria attacks lessen and become less stressful.

The dysphoria is the most prevalent symptom of the disconnect between my brain and body, it is ruinous and stops me doing a lot of what I wish I could do. It has caused me many major side effects, namely severe depression and almost constant anxiety. It makes me uncomfortable around people, sapping me of any confidence I have in myself, leaving me feeling weak and not worthy. It has driven me to the edge of not wanting to exist any more, and makes me push away people who care because I am convinced no-one could like me as I wish to be seen. It makes me afraid of violence aimed towards me and ashamed at times to have this condition. Gender dysphoria is a very real and very stressful symptom I have to live with and one that needs to be fixed; and it slowly is. I undergo many medical interventions that are often excruciatingly painful, very embarrassing and reek havoc on my body. Some treatments leave me in varying levels of constant pain for days, weeks or even months at a time. I still have surgeries to come, with gender reassignment surgery being the most major of these, which will leave me bed bound for a week or two in a fair amount of pain, and recovering for up to a year afterwards; if the surgery goes perfectly. Even the medications I take to control the levels of hormones I have in my body have many side effects that can cause anything from discomfort to severe illness. They affect my liver, can cause blood clots and even possible damage to my brain. Despite all of this I still take my meds, am going to have surgeries, and keep getting the procedures because I have to make my body right. It is worth the pain, embarrassment and risk to be me, afterall I can't be anything else.

This is the crux of the matter, I am me; a woman who needed help fixing a medical condition that has plagued my life and once I have finished the medical treatment I need I will no longer be transsexual, but simply a woman; one with no qualifiers. This medical condition does not define me though, I am more than doctors, hormones and surgery. I am also more than my gender identity. By focusing on these two things it is easy to forget that trans people are people. We are not an abstraction or some odd concept that is peripheral to the world. We are human beings and deserving of respect just like anyone else. Me personally I am more than my body, I have interests and likes, passions and goals. I feel great joy and deep sadness. I face hardships and issues that are difficult to cope with at times; like abuse and occasional violence. I have faith and love science, I believe in knowledge being key to improving the world and that education should be lifelong. I have a passion for knowing about the past and seeing what it can tell us in the present. I have a deep depression that can make it hard to relate to people at times and anxiety that can make me want to run away when I'm in social situations. I love vintage style and enjoy shopping for it. I am hyper femme and love to wear makeup, do nail art and get jewellery. I have a deep desire to know more about the Second World War and the people involved in it. I like to be with people; I fear being alone and isolated, I have issues with abandonment. Studying at uni has brought wonder into my life and I am passionate about it and want to do it as a career. I have people in my life I truly care for and would do anything for. I am a lesbian and proud of my sexuality, I feel no shame for loving other women. These are the things that are the important parts of my life and when someone asks me "Have you had the surgery?" all of that is reduced to what is in my underwear. It says that I am only a woman if I have the right set of 'parts'. It denies the joys and horrors I, and other trans people, face in just being myself. It is dehumanising and humiliating, especially because you wouldn't randomly ask a cis person about their genitals It is something private and unless you are about to sleep with me or are my doctor you have no right to know and I am under no obligation to tell you.

I have written an insight into my identity, how I see myself. I am my identity and I have always been a woman. Only I can define who I am, it is not for others to decide if they agree with my definition. When I am told things like I 'used to be a man' or 'biologically you're still male', when I'm asked about my body or genitals it is saying that I am not who I say I am, or when someone uses the wrong pronouns or gendered language to describe me, it infers I am a liar or a fraud, and says that someone else's view of me is more important that who I say I am. Of course I understand that most people are curious and just want to know more, but please before you ask me questions think if you would ask them to someone who wasn't trans. Not all trans people want to be an encyclopedia of knowledge to be questioned at will, I know I don't. I will answer questions to people I trust, but a lot of what people want to know is intensely private and is only for me to decide when to divulge. When I do give you answers, think about the information I have given you and how it fits into my self-identity. Don't use it as ammunition to attack who I am, because that is not your right. Only I get to decide who I am and I am, always have been and always will be a woman.
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Sunday, 26 January 2014

On combining my faith, being a lesbian & being transgender

Faith can often be a divisive topic to talk about. The idea of having faith and being a member of the LGBT community are seen as mutually exclusive things by both the radical right and from some in the LGBT community. For the record, I am a lesbian, I am also a trans woman, as anyone who regularly reads this blog will know. I am also a Christian. I go to church most Sundays, I pray, and I believe in the tenants that Christ taught us during his time on Earth, I believe in a loving God, though more on that later. I would like to state that all of my religious views are my own interpretations of my faith, the texts it uses and how it relates to my life. Like any large topic when discussed by humanity there will be a huge variation in opinions and views and while I state my particular ones, I am happy to listen to other peoples views as long as they are made respectfully.
I want to look into and discuss how I can relate my faith with being a lesbian, how it relates to my gender transition, and how I am often ashamed to admit I have any faith at all.

My faith is often derided and many people assume that being trans and a lesbian means I can't possibly be a Christian. I am completely used to, if perpetually irritated by, the conservative right condemning me for being homosexual, spouting Leviticus at me and tell me how God hates me. They tell me how I will burn in Hell, how who I am and love is a sin and that God hates me. While I don't condone them: I at least expect it from them. What I wasn't prepared for was how many people in the LGBT community would feel about me being a Christian. I can understand that there are a lot of atheists in the community, a lot of people have suffered abuse from the radical right, from conservative religious families and have rejected faith. I can see how faith can be seen as something bad. What I didn't expect was the idea that you couldn't be LGBT and have faith, that faith was to be ridiculed and I would have to defend it so often. My faith is an integral part of who I am, I am as much a Christian as I am a woman, as I am a lesbian, as I am a vegetarian, as I am a student, as much as any other part of my identity, it makes up part of who I am. My faith gives me strength in my life and guides me, it doesn't make me a blindly following idiot. I am a rational person, I believe in the Big Bang theory and evolution and that the Earth is billions of years old. I wholeheartedly believe science is a force for good. I am pro-choice, I think a woman has the right to have complete control over her own body. I don't espouse rhetoric, or condemn anyone who doesn't believe in my faith, and will politely explain my faith if asked, while still respecting the views of other people. All I ask is that I receive the same respect back, though often this doesn't happen. Often I am told that I am irrational, that I believe in a 'sky fairy', that I can't possibly make sensible rational decisions because I am a woman of faith.

The most common thing I hear from the LGBT community, is how I can be a part of a religious system that tells gay people they are wrong, evil and condemned to Hell. I don't feel I am condemned, God doesn't hate me for being a lesbian or for being trans. In my belief we were told by Christ that God loves us all, and that love is universal. You may tell me that the Bible contradicts me and says many things against gay people. This is true, but the Bible was also a book written by humans often hundreds of years after the events it portrays. It has also been selectively edited by the early church to put across a particular message. While I do believe the Bible can give us an insight into the historical beginnings of Christianity, I don't feel it is the sole word of God, it is not divine and unalterable. This is my interpretation and many Christians will feel otherwise. My faith is not based entirely on the writings in one book, it is more than that. My relationship with God is what defines my faith, the love I feel in my heart and the love I give back is what matters. Christ taught us to not pass judgement on each other and to treat each other with love and respect. This is what my faith means to me; to love my fellow humans and treat them well while helping those less fortunate than me. I do this knowing that the God I believe in holds no judgement on my sexuality or my gender identity, She made me this way and loves me for it.

This is the great forgotten part of faith these days, faith is about love, respect and kindness for each other, not doctrine. There lies the fundamental difference between faith and organised religion. Faith is personal, it is unique, it is about love and kindness. Organised religion is about control, doctrine and power. Religion is responsible for the bigotry people associate with Christianity, the spouting of anti-gay rhetoric, the endless hatred. The people who say these things are no Christians, they don't follow the faith I believe in. They drain the love from it and twist it into something dark. They drown out the honest loving Christians, they make me often so ashamed to admit my faith. Why should I be made to be ashamed of something that gives me so much strength? Why should people on both sides make me feel the love I get from God is wrong for me. My faith helps me cope with a life of difficulty, of pain, and of anxiety. No one has the right to take that away from me, no more than trying to strip away any other part of my identity. I have no idea why God made me the way I am, but I do know she loves me as I am.

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Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Unravelling myself from the false life I created

I spent a long time hiding away, I created a whole persona so the world would never know my terrible 'secret' and used this to interact with the world, all the while the woman I am was locked away inside slowly wasting away. This seemed essential, I had to be a fake person to make sure I was accepted, that nobody could know I was so different to everyone else, because there was no one else like me out there, was there? At least at that time I didn't know there were. My life was consumed by maintaining this persona, a false identity that would scream 'man' to everyone so they would never know I was actually a woman. I was so afraid people would know, so I delved into becoming exactly what I wasn't; a man. I tried to add all the traits I thought would make me look anything but feminine; I tried to be the opposite of what I wanted to be more than anything. It destroyed my life and my will to live. Having to pose as something you're not destroys you in ways you cannot imagine. I suppressed my feelings about who I was so far it pulled all my emotions with them and I became hollow, I didn't feel anything but sadness and a deep longing I could never hope would be fulfilled.

It was this framework I was socialised in, this fake persona was established from a child. From the age of 4-5 I knew I was different and I knew I had to hide that difference because it was 'wrong'. My family never knew I was really a girl as far as they were concerned they were raising a normal healthy boy. So I was forced down the route of socialisation not normally give to my gender. I was taught that men are strong and tough and keep their emotions to themselves and like aggressive 'manly' pursuits. I was bought 'boys' toys, guns, video games, action figures etc, when I really wanted to be playing with the girls and their toys. Even at the age of 5 I somehow knew this wasn't what I wanted, but I couldn't be who I wanted to be. I had to live with being told that I 'was a boy and should act like one', with the socialisations that come attached to that. This wasn't right, but no one is to blame as they didn't know, I hid my true gender away out of a deep shame that I was abnormal. I managed to cope, even if it all felt wrong, until puberty came along, then my world was shattered. Maybe despite everything I held out hope I'd still become a girl, that the beginning had just been a error and if I wished hard enough I would wake up as the girl I knew I was. Instead my body morphed and altered into something that wasn't like the girls, it was wrong and ugly, I wasn't right. How could I have been so betrayed by mother nature? Was I destined to only become something I wasn't? I became depressed, sullen and withdrawn, I didn't want to take part in the world anymore and the world didn't seem that bothered either. I knew it had to be over; this was the first of many times I tried to take my own life. I failed spectacularly, I am grateful to say, but it escalated my depression and social awkwardness as I had yet another thing to be ashamed of.
While this was happening I was becoming a 'young man' as people around me never failed to repeatedly tell me. I had to learn how to be a man and do what was expected of me, do well in school, go to university get a good solid career and provide for a family and children. None of which I did; I got into my late teens and had barely had much in the way of friends. I didn't bother to work hard at school and fell in with, what I know now, were people that had a bad influence on me. I started drinking a lot, then taking drugs. I let my academic side slip, how I got into sixth form I shall never know. I eventually dropped out of school and went between dead end jobs and jobseekers allowance, just hoping the next party, the next drink, the next pill would drown it out of me. All the while the backdrop to my life was 'be a man, be a man, be a man'.

This was how my life proceeded until I stopped the destructive patterns, came to uni and realised I need I had to be myself. The facade I had created to interact with the world was crumbling down, the cage was open and the woman I am came stumbling out into the light for the first time. This was wonderful and the light was so warm, but the past didn't just drop its grip on me. I had spent decades being socialised to be someone I wasn't, this is not something I could shake off overnight. I never got the childhood I craved for, I didn't get all those experiences I should have had and never learnt the things I needed to know. Instead I spent those years trying to fake it, living a solitary existence in absolute terror. Now though I can break that social conditioning and be the woman I am, well that is what I am trying to do at least. I had to break down the conventions I had developed during my earlier years. So much of it was fear and shame. I had to learn to be comfortable using a public toilet or changing room appropriate for my gender, something that still strikes a note of fear in my heart every time I open the door to either. I had to get used to wearing the clothes I do now and going to buy them. I had to remove the 'male' traits I was brought up with, and had adopted into the false me to 'pass' as a man. Ironically being raised male, but never having any link to the privilege associated with masculinity, I was a good copy of a guy, but I was never one of them, to this day I still don't really understand men at all, but I learnt to emulate them to survive. When I came out I dropped so many things that we're never really a part of my core identity at all. I'm now able to embrace things I could never have looked at before, genuinely have passion for them as well.

This was all so difficult, because attached to everything I tried to do was the fear and shame that what I was doing, what I am, is 'abnormal' and I am the reject, a human gone wrong. These feelings are still there, the shame hasn't left me yet. It is a powerful emotion drilled in by myself and society for decades. It has only been recently after being out for nearly a year that I am finally starting to remove the shackles of shame and be proud of who I am. This is the most liberating part of my transition, but is one that is so painful. I still feel I am a fake because of all the time I spent hiding away, I only know how to be a shell. Coming out didn't liberate me in one instance, transition hasn't been a 'phoenix from the ashes' moment for me, it is a slow dawning realisation of who I really am. You can't drop a lifetime of falsities and just carry on like nothing happened. This has been a long and difficult process so far, some parts of it have driven me right to the edge, but it is worth it to be an actual person, not a shadow moving through a world of colours.
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Sunday, 17 November 2013

What life is like with gender dysphoria and depression controlling it

Gender dysphoria is a complex and difficult condition to live with. It is nigh on impossible to explain to someone who doesn't suffer with it what it is like; even other people with it have vastly different experiences at times. I have found that this lack of understanding can lead to confusion; often the symptoms of gender dysphoria are what are visibly seen. In my case, and often for many other people, these symptoms are depression and anxiety. I want people to know what it is like to live through, how my happiness can be torn apart by the simplest of things and how it is a medical condition, one we are slowly gaining knowledge of now that it is becoming better understood.

Wikipedia describes gender dysphoria as 'a disorder used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex they were assigned at birth and/or the gender roles associated with that sex'. This is the most basic medical explanation of what it is like to live with, but doesn't come close to the actual feeling of being this way. For me dysphoria has been a part of my life since I can remember. It is not constant and has fluctuated in strength over the years, but has always been there in some form. It has had, and still has, a grip on every part of my life.
Often I try to describe how it feels and words fail me. Many people resort to clichés such as 'living in the wrong body', but this is nowhere near the true feeling of dysphoria. The sense of being wrong is correct, but in a different way. My body is not right, but it is still my body, I am it and it is me. There are parts of it that don't match how I feel they should be, how they should've been born as, this is where a large part of my dysphoria stems from. I know that physically I will never be right, my body will lack all the features and parts it should've had if it wasn't for a small hormonal imbalance in the womb. I will never be complete physically ever, I will never have the reproductive organs I should have, I will always be too tall, have big hands and feet, a face that is wrong and many other things. A lot of things about me I can correct with hormones, time, practice, money and a whole lot of painful surgery. The surgery will correct the most major source of my dysphoria and make me feel much more like the woman I know I am, but the dysphoria will still always be there. Until then I have to live with a pain that destroys me every day. It takes me ages to be able to get changed for fear of seeing my own body, taking a shower leaves me in tears and often wanting to vomit. The physical disgust I have for my own body makes it impossible to do live an ordinary life. I have to be constantly vigilant that things stay where they should, that the flaws are hidden away so I don't get clocked. Even on the hottest of days I will remain completely covered up, the idea of swimwear terrifies me. At least for now so does the idea of being touched, of anything intimate with anyone, after all who could love a freak like me? This is how my mind works, what the dysphoria does to me every day, and these are the mild effects.

When it hits me hard all I can feel is the detachment from the rest of the world. I rarely feel like I am a 'normal' woman, just one of the girls. I am an outsider, an intruder into a world I shouldn't be in and will never fully understand. There are just too many things I'll never understand or missed out on. Dysphoria makes me feel othered, makes me be on edge constantly because I always feel the women around me merely tolerate who I am, but don't really see me as one of them. My mind pushes me into a separate place telling me that I am not, and never will be, who I think I am. I return to the shadows that I was in when still hiding in the closet. 

Then sometimes I can't function living with this idea of being wrong. Imagine being told to wear an ill-fitting, slightly too small set of ugly clothes, then being told you can't remove them all, maybe some will be able to come off with a lot of pain and effort, but the majority you will have to wear for life always flashing a sign at you that says 'I am different, mock me' every time you're in public. This is a vague idea of what it is like to live in my body. How I feel I am viewed by people, a freak to be mocked, abnormal, something not worthy of anything good. When it becomes this strongly felt it becomes hard to live at all. Often a good day for me is one where I don't feel suicidal feelings. These days have been few and far between. The depression and anxiety start to sink in deeply. I find it almost impossible to socialise and be outside alone. I struggle to talk to people, to be in lectures, to even be near people at all. All I want to do is hide, so no one can ever see me again. This is the hardest time for me, I am a social person and like to be around people. I want to make people happy and enjoy spending time together, but when the depression, anxiety and most of all the dysphoria start to become really bad all I can do is hide. Often it is because I don't want my woes being projected onto other people, I feel if I hide they wont have to see me this way and hear of my pain and this is the right thing to do, but these moments are when I need people the most. I dealt alone for decades, hiding because I didn't dare let anyone see who I really was, but now they know and I don't have to hide anymore, or at least I didn't think I would have to. In a way a part of me just went further into the closet, no one should see how dysphoria shreds a persons mind into nothing but terror, fear and sadness. 

Dypshoria has been there always, it gets better at times. The hormones I take have helped to control it and as my body changes it chips away at the hold it has over me. Eventually surgery will help remove a large amount of it and make my body feel somewhat 'right'. It is still here though, like a predator stalking me. It is always in the back of my mind, whispering to me I am wrong, I can never be accepted, my body is nothing but an abnormality, that no one will ever love me. This is the feeling people mistake for me being a 'bit sad' or thinking I'm not pretty enough. This tears into my soul and all it pulls out is depression and anxiety, telling me that I, and everyone around me, would be better off if I was dead. I live with this every day.

I know it may still seem hard to comprehend, and honestly I truly hope you never do fully understand it. I wouldn't wish this on anyone, it is often too much to bear. My only hope; that I bury it away, keep smiling, and pretend that everything is ok. For if I just let people think I am coping and nothing is wrong, maybe I can convince myself the tears aren't real and that I can hold on one more day. This is the only way I can deal with it for now and I just keep hoping that it'll get better before it finally finishes me off. Eventually it has to get better....

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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

I shouldn't let the things I face destroy me.

Previously I described how my life has reshaped forever by my transition, how my privilege has been altered and how being transgender has very much changed how the world responds to me. Nothing in my life has remained the same, and while there have been many positive things, there was a lot that has left me scared, fearing for my life and often unable to leave my flat.
These fears have taken over my life and given me debilitating social anxiety. They have convinced me that I can't be safe, to hide away and deny myself. They have convinced me I can never be the person I know I am, that I will only ever be a fraud or at best a poor imitation.

I am sick of this. I don't want to feel ashamed anymore. I don't want to feel anxious every time I leave my flat, consumed by the fear I won't be coming back. I don't want depression and dysphoria triggered by the words and attacks of people to twist who I am. My life should not be constantly pulled downwards by bigots and idiots. My life shouldn't be in their hands. My life, my gender identity, my sexuality, who I am, is mine, and mine alone. No-one has the right to tell me anything about any part of it.

I live my life with a constant barrage of how I am doing it wrong. I am told by people on the street I am a 'tranny' or a 'bloke in a dress'. I am told by doctors I need to be more feminine and obey the rules. I am told by other trans women I am too feminine and portray a stereotype of women. I am told I shouldn't ignore being trans because it's selfish to not be a 24/7 educator and activist. I am told by people of my faith I will spend eternity in damnation because I am homosexual. I am told by straight cis people I am 'too sensitive' because I find the expression 'that's so gay' or 'tranny' jokes offensive. I am told by some other lesbians I can never be a lesbian because I was assigned male at birth. Worst of all the world treats me as less because I am a woman.
This is my life, a life of constantly being told I am wrong, having to treasure the very few people who tell me I am right. I am attack and abused, dehumanised and denied my own agency. I refuse to accept it anymore. The negativity I face with alarming consistency has driven me to the point of wanting to end my life and I still frequently feel like this is the only way out.

Why should I have to face all this merely because I am trying to be a genuine person and not hide behind the facade I created for years? I endured for years living in a gender role I knew wasn't mine, facing a puberty that twisted my body into a form I couldn't cope with and led to a depression that has limited my life. Now that I have finally accepted who I am and am trying to be a real person, people want me back in that cage. I am a person and I refuse to be treated as less than that because some people disagree with the life I lead. Am I meant to just accept this, be timid and scared because I am in a minority? No, I won't accept that I should be seen as a non-human and worthy of ridicule. I need to take back the power I have had taken from me and regain myself as a complete person.
I can do this because I have been made stronger by the challenges I have faced. As any LGBT person knows coming out is one of the most traumatic things you can do in your life, telling the world in most emphatic terms "I am not straight" or "I am not cis". Essentially in the hetero and cis-normative society we live in you may as well be screaming "I am not normal". You don't know if the person you tell will accept you, shun you, or worst of all, hurt you for trying to be who you are. No cis straight person will ever know this terror and understand that once that genie is out of the bottle there is no turning back, your life is altered forever. All you can hope is that it's for the best.

I came out this year to a few at first, then to a lot, then to everyone in one massive go, then finally and the most scary, to my family. This was traumatic, but for me I was lucky it all went well. What I didn't know then was the trauma that would follow. I've had the fear of coming out to doctors and having to deal with an often belligerent medical profession. Self administering hormones with no idea if they were damaging my liver and kidneys, or possibly going to kill me. Going full time in my gender identity while still looking like my old one. Abuse from random strangers. Constant misgendering. Actual attacks in the street. Difficulties with getting my hormones prescribed and being told I have to unnecessarily wait 2 years for a surgery that would drastically improve my life. These are just a tiny example of how much my life has been ruled by fear for most of this year. These things have debilitated me, exacerbated my depression to insane lows and driven me to become so social anxious it can take me hours to be able to leave my flat. When I do leave I constantly worry whether I'll ever come back or become one of the nameless statistics, another murdered or raped trans woman no-one cares about.

Now this is enough to make anyone break, and I have come so close so many times, but my transition has brought so much beauty and wonder into my life I refuse to let the fear take it away. I have met people I honestly love with all of my heart and soul for being wonderful and helping me through some of darkest times of my life. The simple ability to be who I really am is liberating beyond words. This is a feeling few people will ever get to experience, to not only open the closet door but to burst out of it and just keep running. I have been liberated from a life that was nothing but vague images and dark shadows blurring past me. I have an identity that is mine and is only for me, not the shell I created for the people around me. This is why I won't let the bigotry, the transphobia, homophobia and misogyny destroy me and crush the life I have only just got to start living. People tell me I am strong, I am brave, but I don't feel these things. I am really scared, timid and shy. I struggle to cope with what the world throws at me on a daily basis. Despite this I need to carry on, the other alternative is not good, and I've already been there before and it is not an option again, not now that I am finally able to live as who I am and be a complete person. I know there is still plenty of struggles ahead, the road won't be smooth for me, but they are all a bit easier for knowing that I don't have to hide any more.

I finally get to go over the rainbow, see the blue skies, and really have my dreams come true.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The loss of 'male privilege'; how my life is has changed now I live as a woman

There can be no doubt that men in our society enjoy pride of place. They have all the advantages that a patriarchal system can afford someone. There is no glass ceiling, their options are limitless and this is something I have tried to change. The thing is I didn't quite know how pervasive male privilege was until I started my transition. The stranger thing was a fair few of my female friends didn't notice these things until I mentioned them as they have often been socialised to accept them.
I want to state now, I never saw myself as male and never thought I had male privilege. This was something applied to me by society, and I was an unwilling participant. It was something I thought was not a part of who I was, but now I live my life as the woman I am I can see truly the difference in how our society views men and women, let alone genderqueer/fluid people. I do apologise to everyone who has a gender identity outside of the binary, this post is focusing on my experiences and the binary gender construct society envisions as the 'norm'. I cannot hope to speak for people outside of this. I would also like to stress that when I say men in this post I am not assuming all men are bigots or misogynists and that the large number of men are good people.

Our society ingrains the belief in a certain set of behaviours in both men and women. We are taught that men are strong, aggressive, and powerful, they can do almost anything, any career and future they want is open to them. We are also taught that women are to be submissive, nurturing, caring and that there are only a few options open to us, at least until we have children. Femininity is seen as weaker, something best avoided by males in our society. This is built into the psyche of the majority of people, it seems it is something a lot of people accept and are mostly unaware of. At least until you transition gender. I have experienced a wide variety of changes in how society perceives me now I am a woman to them. These have been both good and bad, and all express how women are seen as less by society than men.

There are many superficial changes when you transition from male to female, you have to use different toilets and changing rooms, your clothing choices vary considerably, you are expected to fill certain roles and parts in life. These are obvious changes to anyone and I have witnessed them in the extreme patriarchal cis- and hetero-normative attitude that is massively prevalent in mainstream media. Women are expected to look, act, behave and be treated in certain highly unrealistic ways all the while being objectified in ways men will never understand. This has really affected me in many ways.
I am a very feminine woman. I wear a fair bit of makeup every day, I am nearly always in a skirt or dress, I accessorise to match what I wear, I enjoy buying shoes and wearing heels, my bedroom is a girly paradise. These are just a few examples of how feminine I am by societies standards, but this is never enough for society. The ideal woman is a fallacy that is impossible to attain, I may wear the right clothing to be 'woman enough' but then I'm also too feminine and seen as twee or dumb. I can lose weight and have a good figure, but I'm also too tall. I can be intelligent and well-educated, yet still it's assumed that I need simple tasks explaining to me. The prevalent examples of how the vision of the 'perfect' woman is unattainable are too numerous to list. The pressure now to follow this is extreme, something I never knew how hard it was to deal with before. I also have the added pressure of being seen as a female stereotype due to being trans as well. This experience started as I went full time, and to just dress and act as I please without caring is a hard thing to do.

The simple act of choosing clothing is a drastically different thing to how it was before I started to transition. The array of clothing that women have access to was at first bewildering, I still find it a wonderful thing to embrace. The creativity that is afforded to me; the way I can express my who I am and how I feel through my clothing, creating a new sense of style and showing the world what I want them to perceive of me, in theory. Shopping is now a fantastic experience, finding styles that I like and match my personality. I can spend hours now just looking whereas I hated shopping before.
This is counter to the actual process of choosing what to wear. There is a million subconscious questions that need to be answered every time I open my wardrobe such as; What am I doing that day? Will I be doing something different later? Do I need to change for whatever that event is? Will it match my the makeup I put on in the morning or will I need to change it to match the other outfit? What about the weather, will it change and should I dress in accordance for it later or now? These are just a few examples of the questions I ask myself every day, though none of it is conscious. It has just become normal to do this and it was amazing how fast I became knowledgeable on what styles work for me, how to combine colours and what I definitely can not wear. This is all influenced by the expectations put on women by society. There is a huge pressure to conform, to obey the current fashions so you don't stand out, but also stand out enough to not be wearing the same thing as anyone else. Often I find that I am choosing clothes based on what styles are available rather than what I would choose to wear, though as much as possible I reject this and embrace my own personal style.

These are the more well known differences, some of the others are a bit more scary. Now I have to consider many things about my own personal safety that were never concerns before I started to transition. The darkest of these is that now rape is something I worry about often. I am a lot physically weaker than I once was, I worry about defending myself if I'm attacked. This concern over being attacked or abused has altered how I behave quite drastically. Walking around on my own, especially at night, has taken on new fears. There is a need to be constantly vigilant of my surroundings and watch out for people who may be a threat. I try to avoid being out on my own at night, especially in badly lit areas. Luckily where I live is a quite safe, liberal city, but I still feel it every day. When I know I'm going to be out alone at night I will text someone to let them know where I am and when I'll be home, and I will want my friends to do the same if I know they'll be alone. These fears are not something I experienced before I transitioned, they weren't a concern. Though I often didn't feel safe at night before, it wasn't like this, there was no fear of my body being violated and abused. I had no fear of passing drunk guys trying to flirt with me and upon rejection becoming violent towards me. I didn't have to consider if what I was wearing would make me more of a target, or the shoes I was wearing was would hinder my ability to run if I needed to. There was no need to plan everything to make sure I wasn't alone, and hope a friend could walk with me. These concerns are something I think about every time I go out and not just about me, but my female friends and other women I don't even know. The prevalence of rape culture was something I was aware of before transition, but is now an integral part of how I think and feel. This is the scariest part of my transition so far and it shouldn't be this way at all.

The fear of violence isn't the the only thing I now face when interacting with men. There is the inherent view of women as weaker and of less worth. This is often ingrained throughout life to become a subconscious part of the male psyche. I would like to state this is not a generalisation, many men treat women in a fair and equal way, but there is a socialisation towards viewing femininity as something lesser. One prominent example of this I have experienced more and more as I transition is 'mansplaining', the concept that women will by default find any complicated subject beyond their grasp and need a man to explain it to them. I, and the vast majority of the women I know, are well educated and intelligent and very capable of understanding a wide range of topics. Despite this I still get my knowledge seen as somehow lacking in many conversations with men, as if I couldn't possibly grasp the full weight of the information I just gave them. It is infuriating to be looked at with the expression of 'Awww, look she thinks she knows something', to then have my own point made again and accepted because a man said it. By no means am I saying this happens every time or that all men do it constantly, but when it does happen it makes me feel my knowledge is of less worth and makes me less likely to give my opinion in future.

These are a few of the examples of how my life has radically changed now the world views me as a woman. They may not apply to every woman, they may even be unique to me, but they are certainly present. The way I deal with the world has altered as much, or even more so, than the physical aspects of my body. I have to cope with the idea of being viewed as weaker and being objectified. I have to live with the threat of violence in ways I never worried about before. This is in addition to the abuse and violence I face, just for being transgender. The names I get called on a daily basis, the constant misgendering, the occasional attacks, these I live with for being the woman I am. I am seen as weak, lesser, dehumanised for being someone who is outside of the conventions of the cis-normative gender binary and for being a gender that is viewed as inherently weak, dumb and overly-emotional by a society dominated by heterosexual men. I shouldn't have to fear attack, fear being alone at night and certainly not fear being raped, just because I'm a woman. This is not how the world should work, and most of all it shouldn't be so accepted as normal.

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Saturday, 17 August 2013

How I view myself has changed; From hating myself to trans* being everything to it just being a medical condition

Being trans* has been a part of my existence since I was a small child, maybe 4 or 5. There have been times I have recognised it and embraced it. There was also a very long time of hiding, fearing and denying it. It is part of my life. I was born and a doctor assigned me a gender that was different to the identity I had. I have not and never will be cisgendered. This has taken a long time for me to accept and an even longer time to actually do something about. How I have viewed this elephant in the room that has taken over my time on this planet has changed wholeheartedly.
When I was young and still working out my gender identity, unaware that being trans* was even a thing, it seemed simple. It was something to be feared; I wasn’t ‘normal’ and I should suppress these feelings, deny what I knew to be true and attempt to be like everyone else. I had no idea that other people were like me, I saw myself as a deviant and I should be ashamed. My family didn’t help with this; shame is a way of life in a mostly Italian and mostly Catholic family. I then discovered the internet around the age of 15. I was lost in the wonder of all the knowledge I could access; most importantly finding out there were others like me, putting a name to what I was and knowing I wasn’t alone. I think this is when I first allowed being trans* to become a part of my identity. I started to see that maybe I shouldn’t be ashamed, but I still couldn’t get over the shame I felt. I wasn’t normal; I was still a freak though; wasn’t I?
Fast forward a decade and I reached the inevitable existential crisis. Mid-twenties and I had spent the last five years on a constant stream of drink, drugs, clubs and abusive behaviours to try to destroy these feelings. With hindsight it is obvious to see this wouldn’t work, it was only slowly killing me; which on thinking about it is probably what I was subconsciously trying to do. Life had become unliveable; death seemed like the only option. Being trans* was to me a death sentence whatever I did. There was no way I would be embracing who I was, let alone being proud of it. This would take another five years.
My twenties were ending; I had spent them generally abusing my existence. I worked jobs I hated, had unfulfilling relationships and was in the Mariana Trench of ruts in my life. I decided to return to education. I wanted to study again and applied to university and was accepted to read archaeology. This is where my identity would finally blossom. I met my best friend and came out to her. She encouraged me to explore who I am and embrace myself. I started to lose the shame behind my trans* status and saw transition as a possibility. I began to see being trans* as something that was my entirety; I was a transgender woman. I hadn’t gone full time yet but I was proud of who I am. Trans* is me, and no-one could take that away. I can’t speak for other trans* people, but for me it helped cope with the overwhelming emotions that are a part of coming out. It was a buffer to repel the bigots and idiots; a shield to allow me a safe space.
This served me well, but things changed as I went full time. I started to see myself differently; not as a trans* woman, but just as a woman.
I was reading a lot of articles, studies and opinions. Being trans* shifted its place in my psyche. It became just something wrong with my physical side not with my mind. My brain, my heart and even my soul had always been female, not trans*. The discrepancy between the gender I was assigned at birth and the one I am has become simplified; it is a medical condition. I know this can seem incredibly reductive, but for me there is no ‘trapped in the wrong body’. My body is female; it just has a birth defect. This defect has caused me untold pain for many years, but it is entirely a medical problem. Something for those very same medical professionals who got it wrong many years ago to correct. With the use of hormones, surgery and voice therapy a lot of the damage that was ravaged on my body by this condition will be fixed. My body will be as close to how it should be. As this has come to be it has led me to consider my identity even more.
My identity is complex comprising of set of sometimes conflicting factors. I am female, a lesbian, a Christian, a vegetarian, a student, a devoted friend, among many other labels assigned to me by myself and by society. These are all major parts of who I am and, for me, they all come above being trans*. Those parts of me are who I am, being trans* is there, but isn’t who I am. This has been reinforced by the people closest to me. My friends, the people on my course, my lecturers, and even many people I randomly come into contact with just see me as a woman. This is the way I want to be seen. To be trans* makes me feel singled out, different, not like every other woman. As cliché as it sounds; I just want to be ‘normal’. The transgender umbrella combines so many different gender expressions, all perfectly valid ways of identifying and conveying gender. It gives a sense of community and hope to many people. I just don’t identify with a lot of the forms of expression. I am a woman; I will always be a woman and don’t want to be confused with people who use gender expression in different, but no less valid, forms.
This is not to say I am ashamed of being trans*; far from it. I can’t change the fact I had a medical condition from birth. It is something that happened and I will have to live with the fact that some people will forever judge me based on that. It doesn’t mean I have to let it dominate my life or become the single factor in my being. Right now I am at the beginning of my transition and being transsexual is a focus that will occupy a lot of my time for several years. Though this is inevitable, it won’t dominate my life. As I move on from transition and heal from the medicine that will bring my body in line with my mind, I will no longer see myself as trans* at all, just another woman with all the unique and wonderful parts of myself that make me a person.
This may not be a popular view, it may seem I am hiding who I am for the sake of acceptance, but I can assure it is not. I am not ashamed of being trans* and don’t think anyone should be. I have a deep respect for people who wear that label with pride and stand under that umbrella of inclusivity. I can appreciate the want for a solid community of people who identify and express gender outside of societal norms and won’t shy away from other trans* people in fear of being ‘read’. Hell, most of my university of thousands of students know I’m trans*. I just don’t feel like I fit under that umbrella and prefer to be out in the rain.