It’s TDoV again, and I’m still here.
There was a point in my life where that wasn’t really such a certainty. In the four and a half years since coming out, the three years since getting hormones, the two and a half since top surgery, I have lost a grand total of zero friends as a result of transition. I’ve faced zero familial objection (this may be because I had the luxury of not having to ask anyone’s permission and of being able to present the situation as a fait accompli [even though, with two more surgeries impatiently awaited, it’s not strictly accompli; there’s also the GRC looming, for which I do not much fancy having to surrender my passport]; either you accept your son, or you don’t, but you don’t have a daughter); not everyone is so lucky.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time introspecting and about the same amount of time being annoyed by the relentless force of a very tiresome and very loud minority determined to make life harder for people who already have it very hard, and grown adults who feel they have a moral duty to bully children, often on the front pages of national newspapers, because nothing says “moral rectitude” and “maturity” like using a nationally-circulated publication to harass seven-year-olds for wearing The Wrong Kind Of Clothing and Weeing In The Wrong Toilet (if I recall correctly from my own childhood it was generally just considered positive if small children weed in A Toilet as opposed to in their chair, and wore Some Kind Of Clothes instead of removing them and running around with no knickers on, but it’s possible my friends were the exception).
In the midst of that I’ve been quietly proud of the younger generations for whom gender becomes more and more optional and whose support for their peers is so much more committed and usually better-informed, despite these pointless Mumsnet campaigns.
That said, even in the 90s nights in rural nowhere in a school largely intended to keep bothersome fuck-ups away from “real people” (because further isolation is of course what all abused teenagers need; we had a large mural in our building painted on a personal trip by none other than celebrity nonce Rolf Harris in the 1970s. I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to the nature of the school), I found a bemused kind of support for my 16-year-old declaration that I was “going to become a gay man”. I had no more idea how I was going to make this happen than anyone else, but I still have a leavers’ book signed by my peers and a vivid memory of an encouraging message penned in clumsy biro letters by one Gemma Petherick: “You go be a gay man. I believe in you.”
Well, Gemma, it’s taken me a further 16 years–an actual lifetime–to get that started and it’s still a work in progress (a paralytic lack of confidence in my charming personality doesn’t help with putting the moves on real live gents, for one thing), but I got there. I did it. You were right to believe in me.
Not in me alone: no one in this world does anything by themselves. Generations of trans people before me fought for this: Michael Dillon, Lou Sullivan, Reed Erickson. Friends who’d made the same trip before me gave me their advice, tips, names, taught me what not to say or do in order to avoid undue stress from interrogation or additional delays. I lucked into a time when consciousness of this irritating mismatcjh between body and self is expanding; a certain intolerance of intolerance had already given me a circle of friends committed to No Bullshit Transphobia before I came out.
And that’s actually what I want to focus on this year: friends and allies.
Because being trans is often a historically lonely experience where isolated individuals thought they were the only person labouring under a unique and horrible curse, because cultures seek validation from tradition, because people will insist on treating gender variance as a trend that’s popped out of nowhere, I’ve been lookign to the past like trans Sherlock Holmes for traces of my “trancestors”. There’s in fact an easy litmus test to determine between “woman escaping from the strictures of the patriarchy” vs “actual trans man” when looking at the past: “did they ever stop being a man voluntarily?” or did they, like the nameless weaver reported in 17th century France by Louis Crompton in his Homosexuality and Civilisation, caught out with the wrong genitals and offered the chance to “repent”, instead respond more or less, “Non merci, je préférerais être pendu.”?
In a couple of these cases I see not only the courage and determination of men refusing to be forced into a life that wasn’t theirs on the basis of anatomy, but also the anachronistically stalwart loyalty of their friends. James Barry‘s good friend Lord Charles Somerset; the fellow-soldiers of Albert Cashier who had him buried with full military honours under the name he had chosen, and unwaveringly maintained that he was a man regardless of his genitals–correct in their knowledge that he was their friend and comrade Albert, regardless of the circumstances of his birth.
I think also of the war surgeon Harold Gilles who not only reconstructed shattered soldiers during WW1 but also performed the first known phalloplasty on the young doctor Michael Dillon. I think of Magnus Hirschfeld, who first argued that the best treatment for what would come to be known as gender dysphoria was to allow the patient to transition–whose valuable work and research was burned by the Third Reich. I think of my friend Sandra Duffy, international trans law expert travelling the damn world trying to fix it; I think about the recent spectacular success of hbomberguy’s stream to raise money for the UK Mermaids charity which supports transgender children and their families and its support from game developer John Romero and US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and all the other people who visited and donated. I think of the parents I’ve seen at trans pride, proud as all hell or confused but loving, with their recently-out children.
I can’t pretend to know what it feels like for an unprepared cis person to find out their child, parent, sibling, friend or partner isn’t the gender they thought they were. My experience of this as a trans person (even before I knew that’s what I was) has always been a peculiar mixture of envy and alarm before I transitioned and now, with the process well underway and misgenderings down to never, a kind of paternal (well, avuncular, anyway)pride as a person blurred by separation from themselves begins to come slowly into focus and springs into life. As they begin to shine. I can at last fully empathise with the (trans) friend whose own response to my coming out was: “oh thank God, I’ve been waiting for you to say this for ten years“.
It’s not that this is some cult, that I want every person on earth to go get a new gender from the gender bin and throw away one that works for them. But I do think it’s useful to look at yourself and ask, “am I happy like this? How would I feel if my gender were different?”. Even if the answer is “nah fam, I’m good”,. sometimes there’s a niggling question buried in there: “do I have to wear make-up/have to not wear it?”; “what if I have a test run of just not having a gender at all?”, “I feel kind of trapped by the expectations attached to my gender”. Maybe it gives people the freedom to pick-and-mix gender signifiers instead of feeling that they’re required to perform a role that doesn’t entirely fit.
Those of you who wear bras might like to liken it to taking off one that just does not fit. The relief! The freedom! The vulnerability, sure–but it’s so much easier to deal with anything else when that particular pain is gone, and the red marks go away eventually.
Anyway, here I am: thirty-six not out, weird and ridiculous, still can’t dance and no longer care. I go to the gym, work in a job, cook my own meals, occasionally even remember to clean the kitchen; I write to MPs, I vote, and I never, ever, ever watch anything that credits Graham Linehan as a writer.
(If you’d like to learn more about trans men in history, Wikipedia peppers them in here among those of us who are alive and famous enough to have a Wikipedia page–I haven’t published enough books for that yet. If you’d like to take some of the sting out of the expense of post-surgical taxis, my Ko-Fi is here.)