One of the things I have to deal with as a result of transitioning, is people calling me brave. Brave for what, I wonder. It’s all very nice for people to give you complements, but what does this word ‘brave’ actually mean?
I read a blog by Anne Hathaway the other day, which said:
When my brother came out, we hugged him, and that was that…There are people who’ve said that I’m brave for being openly supportive of gay marriage, gay adoption. With all due respect, I humbly dissent. I’m not being brave. I’m being a decent human being. Love is a human experience, not a political statement.
It got me thinking again on the topic of what is brave. I believe most people see brave as someone doing something that they know is right, it’s hard, and they do it anyway.
The on-line Oxford Dictionary has bravery as – ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has – mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
The on-line Urban Dictionary has the ‘top definition’ for bravery as:
to be able to look at your biggest fear and face it in the eye. What may be a challenge to one individual is unimpressive and easily overcome by another. A typical example of bravery is facing down an enemy in battle or facing death in the eye. Another example is to completely endanger your social standing and completely ignore all social implications and do whatever you want.
What about the opposite of courage? Wikipedia says that cowardice is – a trait wherein fear and excess self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good and of help to others or oneself in a time of need—it is the opposite of courage.
I personally have faced situations where I have demonstrated cowardice and backed down, as in refusing to fight a boy at school, or when I failed to help a friend in distress.
I have also faced situations where I might be thought to have displayed courage, as in facing down a bunch of guys with very big machineguns in Africa, or standing up to an abusive teacher on behalf of a weaker boy whom the teacher was intent on intimidating. My worry with these examples is that I don’t recall being particularly afraid…maybe a little. So, perhaps I wasn’t so courageous after all? I do recall being absolutely terrified of diving off the ten-metre board at a swimming pool in England…and doing it anyway…five times. So yes, I think I can safely say I have been both a coward and courageous in my life. I guess we all have.
So why now do I get called courageous just because I happen to have the luck or misfortune to be transgender? To be entirely consistent, people who now call me brave for coming out, must have thought me a coward all my life for hiding my true identity from the world: which is fair… to a point.
I had thought that I could carry out my role as normal cis-gender male for my entire life without ever disturbing the fabric of the universe by doing something silly like admitting I wanted to be…oh such shame…a girl. I thought I could save my wife and family the shame, let alone my own shame. I thought it was an interesting quirk of my nature and nothing more. I actually didn’t know what ‘transgender’ meant, or that it was even possible for me…ME…to transition. Yes, I had heard of transsexuals, and I vaguely knew that they changed sex through some rather painful mutilating surgery, and that they already made beautiful women the moment they slapped on a bit of makeup and a wig. In fact that idea is perpetuated through endless YouTubes of young people transitioning into beautiful women. There is nothing on-line about ugly old guys like me transitioning into ugly old gals. I wonder why?
I only considered the merest possibility of transitioning, of admitting to the world I was extremely socially odd, when the drive to make some sort of transition (I didn’t know what that meant to begin with) overcame my fear of exposure. I liken it to the feeling of wanting to sneeze or vomit – the power of that feeling overcomes all your defences at some moment, and you can’t stop yourself doing it. However, people don’t ever say – well done, you’re so brave for throwing up or sneezing.
What had I done to deserve the accolade of brave? I had satisfied the Urban Dictionary definition of bravery by – completely endangering my social standing and completely ignoring all social implications and doing what I wanted.
Did I show fear? Yes, of course I did – an inordinate amount of fear. All my masks, my protections were suddenly stripped from me, and I was exposed to ridicule…and boy, I got a lot of ridicule. It is the sort of thing people have nightmares about – to be exposed before your peers, as Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ would say. So I could be accused of courage by facing the fear of social destruction, and doing it anyway. Yet, I had no option. No more than if condemned to death by hanging, I was duly hung.
My wife, on the other hand, had no such compulsion. She could have chosen to react to my coming out in the way that her peers thought she should act – by leaving me. They were amazed when she said, no, it never crossed my mind, actually. She displayed simple human love, a normal human experience, and not a political statement. Her values were challenged, and she simply accepted those values and moved on…and that was that.
To be fair, the vast majority of our friends, and all our family members, demonstrated love and compassion, and never questioned my right to self-identity and self-expression. But what of those who sat back in their comfortable socially acceptable leather couches and proclaimed or implied their justifiable disgust at the whole thing? What about all those parents of transgender sons and daughters who disown their own flesh and blood for the sake of…what…social expectations? What of those wives and husbands of transgender people who suddenly find cause to leave their partners when they are bold enough to come out? How do they rate on the bravery scale...those who see what is wrong, it’s easy, and they do it anyway?
Experience of gender
I’m at a camping ground, nothing on, in my sleeping bag, unshaven and busting to pee. How, oh how to do it? The problem is that I need to use the ladies toilet, and I look too much like a guy, feel too much like a guy. I hide and ponder, and hold it in. In the end we go to the loo, me and my wife…and the only person we meet is the cleaner – Morning ladies. Morning.
My son – he was delighted, so proud of you dad, being yourself. But it gave him permission to be who he wanted to be. To the level where his friends said – you know, Kevin, you’re the most know yourself guy I know.
Anita came home early from cycling, found me dressed woman. Oh, sorry – she walked out to leave me in peace. We have to talk, I said later. It’s more than I want to dress girl. I want to be girl, desperately want to be girl. Oh, I didn’t realise it was so important to you. Let’s go shopping then, get you some proper clothes. OK.
I’m especially lucky in having made a soul-mate kind of a friend from the very first days after I came out – she came out too, just weeks after me. Me the big sister. Her the really good person with a bikey background and a partner who took the journey unwillingly, and had to get off the train in the end.
An antagonist where you learned something
The girls at my badminton club asked a guy-friend of mine to ask me to please not use the ladies toilet. You’re very welcome in the men’s toilet, Steph. We won’t beat you up, honest. You just don’t get it do you? I’m a woman, female, girl. Who gives the ladies the right to deny me or anyone else, entry into ladies-only spaces? Yeh, Kaitlin Jenner looks OK, we’ll let her in, but fifty year old Josephine, bald, bad wig, poorly fitting Salvos dress, male features and 5 o’clock shadow – who will let her in?
For the first year or two I had to keep changing gender – and this is quite apart from hiding girl from certain people who didn’t know, and avoiding girl at work. In the end I spent about a year being girl on 5 days per week, and boy on Tuesdays and Fridays when my wife was at home – and never ever wear female stuff in bed. Now, thank god, I’m just one person again – me. But I still don’t wear girl stuff in bed. Nobody crosses that boundary.
We go through phases, don’t we? Everyone. But I suppose my recent phases were particularly resonant, to me at least. I could feel the pressure building up and I had no idea where it was going. I was convinced that I could keep a lid on this female thing until the day I died. After all, to become female was not an option, impossible, unviable, just a dream. Right? So many arguments against female-me flooded my mind. So that was one very long phase of gender-guy, with let’s dress female whenever we can and there’s a low risk of being discovered. My kids nearly caught me several times near the end, so I knew logically it couldn’t keep going like this.
Then the turning point, where my wife was so good as to support me being more open. Leading soon, very soon, to going out as woman for the first time to the Carrousel Club. Other guys, all guys, dressed as woman – though a few of them had gone over the wall and were full-time woman. Convincing women mostly, though one looked a bit Auntie Jack. K the twinkly princess with shiny too-much makeup – topped the Christmas cake of overdone-ness, that repelled me more and more with time. Hairy B and T bottomed out the full spectrum, with the other ranged in between. I was one of ‘them’. OK, I could accept it, but it was weird. I learned about the tranny world, and their miming shows in glittering costumes that B seemed so taken with. But I found them pointless, unless they actually sang. I found people behind the dresses and masks were actually just normal, lovely people. But they weren’t who I wanted to be. So after a year or two as Secretary of the club, I stopped altogether, and stayed well away.
Somewhere along the line I made two commitments – stick out full transition until 2 years after coming out. We set 31 March as Transition-day. And while we were waiting to be sure to be sure, I was guy on Tuesdays and Fridays. Those days were awfully stressful, so I became more and more gender neutral on those days – jeans (tight), t-shirt, long hair, but no makeup. But we made it, until the last day of March and Dr L confirmed me as starting my first year as full-time girl. I’m there now – just wanting to fade into the background girl that people don’t look at twice.
Messed up names and pronouns
We all get it wrong. I get it wrong, my wife, the girls, my friends and colleagues, and people in shops and public places. I love it when they get it right, and feel a bit crestfallen when they go wrong. I feel so stupid getting me wrong. I hardly ever dream girl, and it always disappoints me.
I am already over-tall, so putting heels on is counter-productive if I want to fade into desired background. Even for the coming wedding.
Clothing, sizes, shapes, shoes…
I went through phases. I wore thrown away stuff from family until semi-transition, so nothing ever fitted. Afterwards the main joy was getting womanly clothing, very womanly clothing, from op-shops. They were good for jeans and really basic stuff, and for things I would never want to wear again. Filled my wardrobes with useless clothes, and shoes that were too uncomfortable to wear. Gradually I settled on very casual clothing from real shops, and flat shoes, that I felt comfortable with – I found me…almost. It is still a work in progress. I have this thing against artificial fibres, and against non-leather shoes, and I walk out of shops that clearly have none of these – which means most shops. But when I tell my daughter she says it makes her feel bad. So I am trying to ween myself off natural fibres and take in some of the artificial stuff.
I am now much more concerned with safety. I was super-sensitive when first out as a girl, but now I just feel a bit uncomfortable around groups of young thugs hanging outside a pub at night, or in deserted bits of town.
I have noticed changes in my feelings over the past several years, starting long before I took hormones. Perhaps this started after I came out nearly three years ago, or even before that when I building up to the crisis point. I don’t know any more. All I do know is that I become uncontrollably emotional when I read or see or listen to something that involves hurt to vulnerable people. I have been sensitive to hurt to women and children for as long as I can remember, but now it is much more intense, and it includes the trans community. I can empathise with the darkness in their souls. For brief moments I see what they see…and it’s dark, forbidding and scary.