Thursday, January 22, 2015

PERSONAL: On, well... me.

I think about writing posts like this a lot, and rarely do I start them. I never finish them. Maybe that will change this time, but it's not certain. Well, if this gets posted then it will be certain. Anyway. I don't tend to talk too much about personal things, in real life or otherwise, though I am prone to occasional late-night venting sessions on Twitter. I want to... write a post about my experience with being transgender – or, should I say, having a trans identity – and how much it affects my life.

In short, being transgender for me means living through a constant mental hailstorm. It means rarely having a day – if ever – where I don't question who and what I am, what I want and where I am. It means doubting myself, even at my most confident, and wishing things were different. It isn't... exactly about wanting a series of corrections to my body (though I'll get onto that later), but more about how other people perceive my body and my being. It's often the case that the transgender narrative is about the wrong body or feeling wrong, but I take the position that it's not about the wrong body or feeling wrong, it's more how the world reacts to you that is wrong. What upsets me more is the idea that people will judge or hate me for dressing how I would want to, or for correcting them on my name, or for wanting them to use certain pronouns. I would be so much happier and more confident if my name was different and people used the right pronouns. That tiny pair of social conditions would change my life for the better, and I doubt I'm the only one.

See... the world is geared for Men and Women. Or, to be more specific, society and culture in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and much of Europe (at the very least) is geared towards people being in specific categories. You have men in one, and women in the other. Men are told they are able to do these specific things, and if they don't then they're effeminate or gay or something else (in other words, they are lesser than other men). Women also have this, with masculinity often being conflated with sexuality (see the concept of the 'butch lesbian', for want of a much better term). This has often been quite strange on both sides. Women are bombarded with things that are pink, or soft, or decorative, or frilly, or utterly pointless. Their bodies are judged and commented upon in almost every situation irrespective of its appropriateness, and even official regulations seem to push women to wear as little (or as tightly-fitting) clothing as possible – look at the vast differences between what the top runners wear at, say, the Olympics. Or the volleyball teams. Or a lot of other events. Yet at the same time, no-one would really blink an eye if a woman walked around wearing one of her husband's t-shirts – but if her husband wore one of hers? Think about it. Which one seems the most strange to you? It's him wearing hers, right? Western culture imprinted thinking for you right there.

The problem with being transgender is you don't fit into this world, or you are seen to “invade”. People will want to know details about you, what you do, why you are what you are, why this is a thing. I'm fortunate to have not encountered this too much beyond some really bad counselling sessions I had (I remember being almost grilled on why I found formal wear so appealing as something to wear), but I haven't really gone out in public 'dressed as a woman'. I've mixed-and-matched, of course, but that's about it. You're a source of curiosity for many, and I've caught myself thinking that way about other people, because you're something different. But are you? You just want to live your life your way, and not have to justify it. Most people don't have to justify their lives at all. Can you imagine what it'd be like if someone came up to you and went “Hey, Bob, you're a guy, right? Why are you wearing that suit?” or “Hey, Barb, you're a woman, right? What's with the skirt and tights?”. It's utterly ridiculous, isn't it? Your reaction to that is a transperson's everyday.

There's another thing, though. It's easy to not fit what is called the “standard trans narrative”. It's a very strict sequence of events that some people – including health professionals – use to define whether someone is “truly” trans or not. One such event would be something like “feeling in the wrong body since a young age”. I would like to point out that I really became aware of my gender variance around the age of 16, and many trans people don't act on these feelings or get help until they're adults and for many reasons. Not fitting what is considered the 'standard' can very much affect how you feel about yourself, because this is core to your identity as you understand it. You are brought up to see the world in these specific boxes and styles, and you're there sat outside them looking extremely confused. The truth is the standard narrative is one valid set of experiences, it isn't the whole picture. Some people wake up one day and realise everything isn't okay. Some people struggle with it from Day 1. Some people shrug and carry on as 'normal', occasionally dressing as they identify. Some people move back and forth. All of these experiences are as valid and as true as each other, but this is perhaps a controversial opinion within some transgender communities, and within the healthcare communities that are supposed to help us.

Another problem that crops up is sexuality. It is hard to work out your sexuality when you are unsure of your gender identity or not living in a way you identify as because many ways to 'phrase' sexuality rely on two sets of identity – the observer and the observed. A lesbian identity, for example, is basically defined as a female-identified person who is attracted to another female-identified person. A gay identity has its main meaning as a male-identified person attracted to a male-identified person. This becomes much less simple when you factor in attraction or preference to specific sets of genitals or physical features (a straight identity for a male-identified person typically means an attraction to a female-identified person who is biologically female). Now try navigating this as a trans person who isn't sure about their body, and who is a mix of conflicting social expectations, understandings, hormones (whether naturally-produced or otherwise) and feelings.

All of this is what is on my mind all day every day. It doesn't matter if I'm in bed, at work, in the shower, walking somewhere or anything. All of this is being processed, rethought, reprocessed and so on. I can't escape it. It's here and will likely never go. When you add in fear, caution and self-preservation it can lead to someone being very insular, protective and vulnerable, and this gets exacerbated because people just don't know what's going on, so they try and push them to do things that this person doesn't want. Imagine being called by the wrong name and talked about in the wrong way with the wrong set of expectations and ideas about how you should act, what you should do and all that. Imagine that every day in every social interaction in every situation. Imagine being scared or apprehensive about watching or reading things because you feel like the next trans-centric joke is just around the corner.

I... think this is basically all I can say, at least for now. But maybe it will help people understand me, and perhaps some other transpeople, a little better. Maybe it'll even help me.