Sunday, 24 November 2019

What it’s like to be trans and how you can help.

I was born in June of 1972. A happy baby as my mother recalls. Growing up I didn’t exactly identify that I was definitely female but I did feel different in some ways to my peers. For example, I was always more interested in what the girls were talking about at school and for this I was teased. I made friends more easily with girls than boys and spent quite a lot of time at a particular girl’s house where we would play with her dolls. When choosing a game to play it would be me that would often suggest playing with the doll’s house when she would often want to do something more neutral like play hide and seek for example. The only toys I remember wanting to play with that could be deemed as masculine were toy cars. This is no surprise though as growing up around cars with a Father and a Brother who were both mechanics I was always interested in them and wanted a career in the Motor industry.

I was fascinated by my mum’s make up and shoes when I was around 7ish. I would put lipstick on then wipe it straight off again in case it stayed on and I would be caught. I would go in her wardrobe and try on her shoes which made me afraid of being caught but at the same time I felt a sense of calm from wearing them which I could never explain. Even as early as this age I remember going to bed wishing I would wake up a girl or fantasizing that there was a machine I would step into and would come out female. I would also have dreams where I would do a good deed and be granted wishes by a genie and I would only wish to be a pretty girl and then have a happy and healthy family. I have been cross-dressing since I was around 7 or 8 but when I reached my teens it started to get more obsessive, I remember stealing a pair of tights from the corner shop because I didn’t have the money to pay for them or the guts to buy them.

Aside from the clothes and make-up etc. there was also something different in how I related to other boys. The best way I can describe it is that I just didn’t ‘get’ them and often conversations with them would leave me bored or uninterested or just confused generally about what they were thinking. I would be very interested in how the girls interacted with each other and tried to join in with them but as I wasn’t one of the popular boys, they would just see me as a nerdy kid being what they termed as a ‘gaylord’ which I suppose meant they saw me as effeminate.

Through my late teens, 20’s and 30’s I cross dressed on and off and took medication for serious bouts of depression starting almost as soon as I left school and started work. I saved up some money and went to Transformation in Birmingham to experience what it feels like to have a proper outfit, makeup and hair. It was the most wonderful experience but of course it couldn’t last. Throughout my time there I never felt any arousal or sexual feelings. Just a deep calm and contentment as if all was finally normal in the world.

I had a child at 32 with a woman in a bid to be ‘normal’. I love my daughter and will never regret that decision but looking back I can now see that it was a desperate attempt to fit in rather than wanting implicitly to be a father. I have had many relationships with women over the years and could never understand why I couldn’t make them last. The truth is I never really felt comfortable having sex and as a result would rarely do it which of course would lead to the demise of the relationship. The only way I can describe it is that it feels like I’m in the wrong role. I don’t feel comfortable having sex as a male and taking the male role. In hindsight I think that being in a relationship was more about being close to femininity than anything else.

A few years ago I went to a fancy dress party as a nun, wearing just a nun’s habit over a black polo neck sweatshirt I already had, with a long black skirt and black flats. I didn’t wear make-up or anything else but for the whole night I felt so free and so happy. Even then I knew something was wrong with me for feeling that way but as I had never heard of the term ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘transgender’ I couldn’t put my finger on why it felt so right. I have since realised that this unknown depression was really the mental struggle to suppress ‘her’ and while I didn’t specifically identify with it at the time, it is so clear to me now that my sadness and depression were all part of being transgender.

Over the years I have done all the usual things to suppress. I did martial arts (muay thai boxing), I learned to ride a motorcycle then subsequently got into debt for buying one after the other as I quickly got bored and needed another distraction. I also started to get tattoos in an attempt to be more masculine but if you look at them most of them refer to my dysphoria. For example, on my back are the words ‘the devil within’. This refers to my feelings of dysphoria. On my arm a tattoo that reads a different word depending on how you look at it. It either reads ‘angel’ or devil’, again a reference to my inner struggles. The angel on my back is holding herself in a sorrowful way. She has tattoos down her arm, it is my interpretation of me, the sad suppressed female within me. Now of course I regret them terribly especially my legs as they will never look feminine unless I have them removed, (the tattoos not the legs). Even thinking about my tattoos makes me want to cry as I have done such damage to my body that will affect how I am perceived as a woman.

I suppose the turning point for me was around 5 years ago when I actually learned what the term transgender meant. Up until then I thought it just meant cross dresser which I considered myself to be although I didn’t identify with the sexual arousal side of cross dressing that is often talked about. I never thought it was possible for the average person to transition let alone do it through the NHS so I guess I never even tried to explore that possibility until now.

It seems that since I broke down in an argument and told my partner how I feel things became far harder than I had imagined they would. Initially it was a relief to be out, then as time went on it became harder as we constantly argued and I know this hurt her which I hate. She was feeling grief as essentially she had lost the man she thought I was and I hate myself for lying to her even if it was by omission. In reality not telling her how I felt sooner was cowardly of me and did damage I’m not sure can ever be repaired even though we are now friends. She used to see me looking at women in the supermarket and would assume that I fancied them. In the argument that led to me breaking down and coming out to her I told her that I didn’t want to have sex with these women like a normal guy would, I wanted to BE these women and all I felt for them was envy.

A few days after that argument I was driving to work and a song came on the radio, ‘Who Knew’ by Pink. It is an emotive song anyway about suicide and the loss of a loved one but on hearing it I cried relentlessly all the way to work which was at that time a 55 mile trip. This was the point that I realised I could no longer continue to live a lie despite how hard transition would be. I knew it was the right thing to do to save my life and to allow me to live an authentic life in the gender that I truly identified with. Of course, every woman wants to be considered attractive but this was never my motivation for transitioning, I just couldn’t cope with being a guy anymore and no-one knowing how hard it was to just exist every day. I had some very dark thoughts around that time before I sought the help of my GP and the Gender clinic and although I would never attempt suicide, it didn’t stop me from thinking that this ‘way out’ would be best for everyone.

When I came out to my friends, family and colleagues it was a huge relief but in the space of 24 hours I lost two best friends, who I had been best man for both of them when they married, and one of my brothers made it very clear I’d never see him again. The other brother soon followed suit shouting in the reception of my Mum’s care home, “while you’ve still got them things in your trousers, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a man, and I have no problem punching your lights out”.  Needless to say, I haven’t spoken to him since and those words can never be unsaid. My Sister, my Mum and my daughter all supported me as did my colleagues at Volkswagen headquarters where I worked. This was it, transition had begun.

Fast forward three and a half years and my life looks very different. I’m a technical trainer for DAF trucks UK, I have so many wonderful friends, some trans some not. I’ve done things I never would have done in my old life, met amazing people and grown as a person in ways I never imagined. Sure I still don’t look like Claudia Schiffer but I’m doing my best. I have a gender recognition certificate now and a new birth certificate which states that my sex is categorically female. This also affords me several legal protections and if I’m lucky enough to get married, it will state that my sex is female on the marriage certificate. On the 17th of January 2020 I will be undergoing gender reassignment surgery. This is for many trans people, both men and women, the final step in their transition journey. For me it isn’t, my penis has never defined my gender. What makes me a woman is between my ears, not between my legs. Consider this thought, if you are a woman reading this or a man, imagine waking up one morning with a penis or a vagina, nothing else has changed, you still have the same face and body but a different set of genitalia. Would you suddenly and without question, consider yourself to be of the sex that your genitalia represent? Of course not, our genitals do not define how we feel about our sense of self, they are simply reproductive organs. In foetal formation, our ‘gonads’ to use the medical term, start out the same, they either become testicles or ovaries depending on whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Hormonal imbalances and chemical influences can alter these processes during pregnancy in ways we are only just beginning to understand but in the case of transgender people, our bodies that grow do not connect with the brain which is in conflict with it.

These conflicts which we call gender dysphoria, can occur at any age. Some will say they knew they were trans at the age of three, some later around seven or eight. Many say that puberty was the real killer because until their bodies changed they were ok with being who they were but the stark contrasts that puberty brings between men and women can be devastating for a trans person, I know it was for me. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t really figure it out until my early forties. We are all different. What makes us all the same whether we are trans or not, is our motivation to be accepted by our friends, family and even strangers. Ever walked down the street and caught someone staring at you and instead of thinking, yeah you think I’m hot right? You’re thinking, what’s wrong with me, why are they staring, do I have something in my teeth, a zit maybe? Men and women undergo procedures everyday to make themselves feel more confident, more accepted in their respective gender. Women may have breast augmentation or a new nose to look more feminine. Guys might choose pec implants or hair transplants to give themselves a younger more virile look. Trans people change their bodies to match their internal sense of gender identity, not for a fetish or a perversion, not to disguise themselves so they can sneak into a women’s bathroom and assault them, but to feel better about who they are, to feel that they are more accepted by society. If you really think about that, it’s the same motivation, exactly the same motivation, we just label it differently and this label, is what causes people to be suspicious of trans people, to fear them, and when people fear something or someone they instinctively become aggressive towards it to protect themselves. This harks back to our early instincts as hunter gatherers.

So what can we do to fix this? How can trans people help the wider society who have little or no knowledge of what it’s like to be trans, be better educated and become allies? Well I think writing posts like this helps, being visible as a trans person and not hiding away. Helping people and being kind and considerate. All the things you would expect any decent human to do regardless of whether they are trans or not. For those who interact with trans people, there are a few simple things you can do to make it easier for you and the person you are talking to. Here are some easy points to remember.

·         Asking a trans person what their ‘old name’ was or asking about their transition particularly in larger groups is not a good idea. This makes the person feel vulnerable and the last thing they want you to know is their old self, the person they could no longer stand to be. Being trans is not a novelty, it is pain, it is suffering and it is bloody hard. We don’t want to relive that every time we meet someone new.

·         Never ask a trans person, particularly trans women, if they’ve had ‘the op’. I as a trans woman would never question your genitalia, please don’t question mine. What’s in my underwear is of no concern to anyone but me.

·         Deadnaming is when someone refers to a trans person in their original name. If this is done maliciously this is considered a hate crime in the eyes of the law. If it is accidental then just correct your mistake and quickly move on. Making a big deal of it is the last thing a trans person needs as it just draws more attention which is of course unwanted.

·         Questioning a trans persons choice of bathroom or changing room is unnecessary. They know which is the most appropriate one, they do not need you to judge on their behalf. I get stared at a lot in women’s bathrooms by women who clearly think I have no right to be there. I go there to pee, I keep my head down, don’t engage in conversation and get the job done, wash my hands and leave as quickly as I can. I wish I didn’t have to feel this way but this is how it is. The media have created a fear in society that trans people are predators, who are disguised as women to enter female spaces to do harm. Let’s break this down, would a rapist, really go to the trouble of transitioning, or even just dressing as a female, to enter a safe space and attack someone. Rape is about control, the perpetrator has no need to conceal themselves, if a person is going to commit rape or sexual assault, they will do so regardless of what they are wearing. Globally, there have been no recorded incidents of rape where a trans woman entered a female bathroom and committed a sex crime. Trust me, when it comes to bathrooms and changing rooms, I am the vulnerable one.

·         Misgendering occurs when you refer to a trans person with the wrong pronoun. This is usually accidental but again if done maliciously it is considered a hate crime in the eyes of the law. It is often likely to happen with telephone calls, as the person you are talking to cannot be seen and the voice that you hear may not be what you expect from a person of the gender which their name may be aligned to. For example, when I make a call or answer one, I always start with, “this is Amy Carter”. I have been asked extra security questions by banks etc. This is both time consuming and embarrassing. I have even been accused of lying about my identity and verbally abused by call centre staff who clearly have had very little training. If you accidentally misgender someone, just correct it and move on. Don’t apologise excessively, it isn’t necessary and just draws more attention to the situation. We all make mistakes and it is better to just move quickly past it.

·         Lastly, just don’t make a big deal of the person being trans. Just treat them like any other person of that gender. I was in a pub once and saw some colleagues I hadn’t seen for a while. This woman poked my breasts and loudly exclaimed to the rest of the pub how well I was doing and how much the hormones had changed me. As you can imagine I needed to ground to open up and swallow me.

I haven’t posted anything for a while, mostly because there wasn’t much to say as life is just moving forwards nicely. I’ve also been crazy busy at work and frantically dieting and exercising to make my target weight for surgery. So hopefully there will be more blog posts, possibly covering my surgery and recovery but I’m also trying to rekindle my interest in writing a book so we will have to see. I will leave you with a poem by a wonderful trans feminine artist called Travis Alabanza. It’s called ‘Warrior’.

I want you to know, before you step outside, that you are a warrior.
You are a warrior who is allowed to be soft.
A warrior that is allowed to be scared.
A warrior that is allowed to ask for help.
But still, a warrior.

I need you to know that when I am writing this,
I have changed my outfit 17 times,
I have removed my makeup for fear of insult,
I have changed the way I walk down the street,
But that I, am still a warrior.

I need you to know that when I am writing this,
I have told myself that it is okay to wish for something easier,
I have told myself that it is okay to sometimes want to give up,
I have told myself that it is okay to feel alone,
But that I, am still a warrior.

I want you to know, before you step outside,
That there are others stepping there too.
That people have stepped before us, with us, and will step long after us.
That the pavements can feel so lonely, but I know that I have stepped there too.
That we have existed before, and exist in the present, and will exist in the future.
We come from a line of warriors. We did not choose to fight, but we know how to survive.

Before you step outside, we love you,
Before you step outside, I love you,
Before you step outside, breathe,
I love you…

Thanks for reading.

Amy Kate xx

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What it’s like to be trans and how you can help.

I was born in June of 1972. A happy baby as my mother recalls. Growing up I didn’t exactly identify that I was definitely female but I did...