Glass Walls One Year On: An update and a thank you.

Being transgender is a slow, gradual process of change. There is no one day you can look back on and think: That was when my life changed forever.

There are many significant milestones along the way, and dates that feel worth remembering. The day you first admitted it to yourself. The day you told someone else. The day you came out publicly (if indeed you ever did, because it’s not a prerequisite). The day you changed your name legally. The day you started hormones. Surgery dates. The first time you get called sir instead of madam by a stranger (or vice versa).

Today is a significant date for me, because this time last year I posted on my real name Facebook profile (as oppose to my author one) and told a lot of people who had known me for a very long time that I was actually a man on the inside. I also explained that I’d spent a very long time feeling ‘wrong’ and not quite knowing why, and I hoped by transitioning I would be able to get to a place where I felt ‘right’ at last.

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Around that time I wrote a poem, Glass Walls, about how I’d finally dug through the denial to come to my realisation. In that poem I talked about how I’d been trapped for a long time. I felt as if I’d reflected back what people expected to see when they looked at me. Whereas on the inside of those mirrored walls I was someone completely different… and I was lost. Breaking free of those walls seemed terrifying because I was leaving that facade to expose my true self to the world.

This time last year I was literally shaking as I pressed Post on some words that I would never be able to take back once they were out there. I knew I was choosing a road that was going to be hard, and painful. But I also hoped it would be transformative and ultimately bring me a sense of peace that I’d always been lacking.

So where am I one year on? I changed my legal name shortly after I came out. And as I’m fortunate enough to have been able to fund my treatment privately so far, I’ve now been taking testosterone for 8.5 months, and I had chest reconstruction surgery almost 4 months ago.

Chest surgery was a huge game changer. Living life free of binders (things that squash boobs flat to hide them), and sports bras is miraculous. I had a lot of anxiety leading up to the surgery but I haven’t regretted it for a second since it was done. I have huge scars, but they’re fading, and I see them as a badge of honour in my battle to free myself from that glass prison I was in for so long.

Male puberty is in full swing with unpredictable voice changes, patchy facial hair, greasy skin and spots. My face is changing to look more masculine and my body fat is redistributing to a more male pattern. I still don’t get read reliably as male, especially when I talk to people. But I don’t turn heads in the gents, and rarely get questioned about my identity on the phone anymore.

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Most importantly, I’m happier with my body and myself. After years of not knowing who I was and feeling a disconnect between my mental and physical selves; now, when I look in the mirror I recognise the guy looking back at me. Sure, he might still be an ugly duckling in puberty years, but I know who he is. And even if he never turns into a swan, I’m okay with that.

Mentally I’m in a better place than I’ve been for a very long time. This year hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to deal with a relationship break up and negotiating a new family structure at home; the stress of appointments; surgery; dating etc… But despite all of that I feel pretty good most of the time: contented, peaceful, and filled with a new confidence that whatever life throws at me, I can probably handle it.

I’m very grateful to all my family and friends who have stuck by me and supported me. Not in huge, obvious ways, but simply by getting used to my new name and pronouns, and by accepting me for who I am. It means a lot.

Thank you.

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Gender and Sexuality

When I came out as transgender it didn’t occur to me that I’d need to come out as gay/queer too. But it seems this isn’t necessarily obvious to everyone.

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As I started coming out to friends and family, I was surprised to be asked by more than one person things along the lines of,

“So… are you still attracted to men?” or “Does that mean you like women now?”

To me, it’s always been completely obvious that gender and sexuality are two quite distinct things. You can be cisgender, and be either asexual or anywhere on the Kinsey Scale between gay and straight, and the same applies if you’re transgender.

Gender and sexuality are unrelated.

Just to break it down into some concrete examples because I think maybe that helps…

If someone who previously identified as a lesbian comes out FTM transgender – they’re now a straight guy.

Someone like me who previously identified as a straight woman – now a gay guy.

Previously straight man who has come out as MTF transgender – now a lesbian.

Previously bisexual man who has come out as a trans woman – now a bisexual woman.

With nonbinary gender identities it’s more complicated to express, but the principle is the same. It’s not the sexual orientation that changes, it’s just how it’s defined by your gender that changes. You’re still attracted to what you were attracted to before.

Disclaimer: Of course human sexuality is infinitely complicated and there are some people who may experience a shift in their attraction, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.

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The Kinsey Scale (Source: Wikipedia)

 

I think sometimes it can be less clear cut if someone transitions at a stage in their life where they’re still working out their sexuality as well as their gender. Also perhaps some transgender people are more ready to explore their sexuality after transition where previously dysphoria was holding them back. But transitioning doesn’t change your sexuality, and in my case I’ve already worked through my sexual identity crisis.

So, where I would previously have put myself as a Kinsey 1 (mostly attracted to the opposite sex). Now I would call myself a Kinsey 5 (mostly attracted to the same sex).

 

Bravery or Survival?

You’re so brave

You’re amazing*

You’re inspirational

Trans people get this a lot.

I’ve heard these things so many times already, and while normally I try to take a compliment graciously, these type of comments make me feel a little uncomfortable (only a little, so please don’t freak out if you’ve said this to me). I’ve seen other trans people saying they feel the same about being told they’re brave/inspiring, so I know I’m not alone in this. In this blog post I wanted to try and explain why it bothers me.

Disclaimer: I do understand that these sort of comments come from a place of support. I don’t want to sound churlish, or make anyone feel guilty for saying or thinking them. I’m just being honest about why they make me feel awkward, because I think it’s something that’s worth saying.

Imagine you’re in a burning building. A tall burning building—maybe a hotel—and the fire escapes are blocked. You run to the roof as the fire spreads, and the building is starting to creak ominously.

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You look down, and through the smoke you can see a swimming pool. You’re high enough up that jumping into the pool isn’t a guaranteed escape. You might risk injuring, or even killing yourself on the fall, but with the fire getting closer and the building about to collapse underneath you, you don’t have a choice anymore.

Stay and die in the fire, or jump and hope?

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Jumping is an act of survival, not one of bravery. And that (to me) is how it feels to come out as transgender.

Bravery implies a choice, and nobody chooses to be transgender. They just are. And coming out and transitioning is simply dealing with that reality. Personally, I don’t see it as an act of bravery. I’m just living my life in the best way I can.

*I am amazing, obviously. But that has nothing to do with me being transgender 😉

The Road to Now

So I said I wanted to write this blog, and I do. But it’s hard to separate out the strands and choose one thing at a time to write about. My process of self-realisation, my feelings about it, and the path that I’m on are so complicated. It’s difficult to know where to begin.

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I decided to start with where I am right now—finally out of the closet after years of questioning my gender and trying to ignore the insistent part of me that wouldn’t let it go. For those of you who saw my announcement on Facebook in October, that was the end of a long struggle to get to that point. So in this post I’m filling in a little of the background in more detail than I did in my Glass Walls poem.

My coming out process started a few years ago, but was incredibly tentative. After learning that FTM (female to male) transition was possible, the idea of it wouldn’t go away. I started saying vague things to people like: I’ve never really felt like a typical woman (what does a typical woman feel like anyway?) But deep down I knew it was more than just being gender nonconforming. I had enough dysphoria (more on that in another post) to realise that something was wrong, and I couldn’t ignore it.

Through my obsessive reading about gender I came across labels like nonbinary, genderfluid, genderqueer, agender. I tried them for size to see if they’d fit me. For a while, I thought non-binary or genderfluid might be right for me. I believe that gender is a spectrum. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that identifying as nonbinary wasn’t enough for me. I might not feel 100% male on the inside, but I’m definitely much closer to male than female. And in order to find some peace, I now know that I need to transition physically so that I look male on the outside.

The floodgates finally burst open in June 2016. I spent the weekend at a conference for LGBT writers and readers. Surrounded by people from that community I could no longer deny that I felt part of it, not as an ally, but as someone who needed to claim their space under that umbrella. On the Sunday morning while surrounded by LGBT people and their allies, we got the horrific news of the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was utterly devastating. Yet, something about that horrific tragedy pushed me into a place where I didn’t want to hide anymore. I was terrified about coming out, afraid of making myself vulnerable in a world that can be hostile to LGBT people. But I couldn’t pretend anymore.

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A few days after I got home from that conference, I came out on my author Facebook profile. I was still confused, so it wasn’t a definite announcement like the one I made a few months later on my personal profile. At that time I finally knew, and was admitting out loud that I was transgender. However, I still wasn’t sure whether I was transmasculine or genderfluid, and whether I wanted to make any physical changes or not.

At that time I told my husband, my sisters, and one of my oldest friends. But I wasn’t ready to tell anyone else because I still wasn’t sure what, if anything, was going to change. I made the decision that I was going to give myself some time to explore it, and I made an appointment to see a therapist who specialises in working with trans and gender questioning people.

At my first appointment I explained my history, the years of feeling wrong and unhappy but not knowing why, the realisation that I was transgender along with my fears about transition, and my doubts that maybe I was wrong. Maybe it was all some terrible mistake and I was just crazy.

She asked me. “In an ideal world, what do you want to happen?”

The only answer I could give was, “I want to be man. I want to take a pill, go to bed and wake up male. And not lose anything or anyone.”

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If only it was that easy.

Over the next three months I came to terms with my realisation, and gradually became sure that the only way forward for me was to transition. I knew it wasn’t going to go away. The genie was out of the bottle. I could never go back to faking it as female now I knew. Even when it was only something I knew at at a subconscious level it was hard being me. But the idea of carrying on being female to the world now I knew the reason for my unhappiness was intolerable.

The only things holding me back were fear and guilt. Fear about the future, fear about how people would respond, fear about what I would lose, fear that even after transitioning I would never be happy, never feel male enough, never feel right. And guilt about my family. I felt as though I had pulled the pin out of a grenade and was standing helplessly among my loved ones waiting for it to explode. There was no way that I could transition without hurting the people closest to me. No matter how supportive they are, there is always loss for the family and friends of a transgender person because they have to let go of the person they thought you were in order to embrace the person you’re becoming.

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By September it was clear to me that something had to change, because the limbo was unbearable. After coming out, my dysphoria was a million times worse than it had ever been. I was trapped and desperate, and found myself considering self harming for the first time in many years.

I’m a logical person. I couldn’t go back; I couldn’t stay stuck; so the only way was forward. So I made an appointment to see my GP and asked for a referral to the gender identity clinic in Exeter. Once I’d taken that step, I needed to come out to everyone.

I told a few close friends who live locally to me, then I told my children (who were amazing), and then we told my husband’s family. Once those people knew, I wanted to rip off the band aid. Nervous but desperate to get it over with, I made my post on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response. Thank you so much to those of you who liked, loved and replied to that post, or who reached out to me in the aftermath to offer your support. It means so much to me.

The day after that, I told my choir. I teach a community choir in my local town and I was terrified about coming out to them because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I decided to tell them at the end of a choir practice rather than by email, so I could gauge their reactions and wouldn’t be dreading having to face them. I was literally shaking when I read the speech I had prepared, but their response blew me away. They queued up to hug me (how delightfully British) and I felt such unconditional love and support, far beyond even my most optimistic hopes.

So… here I am. Out and proud, and it feels pretty amazing. I still have some anxiety about the future of course, I know the process of transition won’t be easy and it will be a long road. But I feel so much better than I did a month ago. Like a ship that’s come through a storm and survived, I feel a strange sense of peace—an unusual feeling for me. I’m so confident that I’m on the right path and that it will be worth it, however difficult it is to navigate. I’m finally able to feel excited about my future.