Why transitioning is about so much more than genitals

It was my birthday and my then-girlfriend paid for us to go to London as a present.

Things had been tense between us for a while over my ‘issue’, one that impacted on just about every relationship I had.

Near the end of the break, we were in the hotel and getting more than a little friendly. She moved her hands down my body and towards my crotch. Instinctively I recoiled. Like someone who has been abused flinches when someone raises their hand or makes a sudden movement.

I hadn’t been abused but, unless extremely intoxicated, this was always my body’s response with absolutely no input from me.

My girlfriend got angry. She saw it as me, once again, rejecting her. Sensing that this was a tipping point in our relationship I went to the bathroom and came out completely naked. It was one of the hardest things I had ever done because that was just never a state I felt comfortable in, even on my own, although I had no idea why at the time, just as she didn’t understand why I always pulled her hand away.

I lay down beside her on the bed, hoping the gesture would say all the words I couldn’t find. I wanted it to tell her that it wasn’t her, that it really was me and that I didn’t want it to be that way, that I wanted her to touch me so much and I didn’t know why I felt so uncomfortable when she did, why I felt so wrong.

Without saying a word she just turned her back on me.

It was too late.

Being naked, especially in front of someone, is a leap of faith and a massive act of vulnerability. No matter what words they say, how you feel about yourself will trump all. Being naked in front of someone when you are trans and not even aware of it is worse than every ‘naked in school/work/shopping centre’ dream you’ve ever had.

When I was first ‘diagnosed’ as transgender, I didn’t really have much clue about dysphoria – the crippling feeling that everything is wrong with your body. For me, like most people when they think ‘trans’, it all centred around my genitals.

Those were the real problem.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Facial hair, facial shape, bigger muscle mass, wider shoulders, voice. Oh my god, the voice thing.

I always thought it was just because I was ugly that I didn’t want to be in photographs, or because I always, somehow, looked as if I was stoned. Now I don’t care what I look like and have happily been photographed looking completely ridiculous, pulling weird faces, and shared those, willingly, with thousands of people on Twitter. You know, like most people.

It wasn’t that I was ugly, it’s that what I was seeing was wrong.

Just like you don’t notice the air around you that you breathe constantly until it’s not there, it’s only when there is a disconnect between the brain and the body do you realise there’s a problem. Or that there can even be a problem in the first place.

I spent decades trying to deal with this issue without knowing what the issue was. I explored every possible cause, tried therapy and self-help books, drugs and relationships. Lots and lots of drugs and relationships. Nothing helped.

I often hear people describing being transgender as feeling like you are in the wrong body, but it’s not like that for me. I’m not in the wrong body, it’s just that my body was wrong. A subtle difference, but an important one. Therapy can help when you’ve picked up some dysfunctions along the way in life but it won’t ‘fix’ your transness.

Being transgender is not a personality disorder, it is a biological issue, and no amount of thinking will ever physically rewire my brain.

That’s why the only answer was transitioning. For me anyway.

It’s not a case of laying down new habits or unlearning behaviours. That’s like being left-handed but hoping that talking with a therapist will suddenly make your brain realise that you’re right handed after all.

It’s just not going to happen.

Gender Identity Clinic: 1st appointment

When the calendar rolled from December 31st to January 2013 I had a feeling that this would be a very special year.

There’s no reason why moving from 2012 to 2013 should be any different than moving from a Tuesday to a Wednesday at any other point of the year, but, as we all know, it’s seen as a chance to make changes. It’s also a reminder of time passing, never to be returned.

Perhaps the optimism I was feeling about the year ahead was a reflection of my own mindset rather than the events which I knew were waiting for me. There was a confidence about how I was feeling, a renewed, or even a discovered sense of optimism that things were heading in the right direction for the first time I could remember.

One month in to the new year and I found myself attending my appointment at the gender clinic after an eight-month wait since my first GP appointment. In the run-up, my friends asked if I was nervous, scared, apprehensive or any other of the wide range of emotions they believed I should be feeling. I wasn’t.

The morning of the appointment was a different story. I woke with nerves twisting my stomach but they didn’t last for long, more my apprehension about going somewhere new that I always have rather than taking the next step on a life-changing journey.

It all felt as if it was the most natural thing in the world and, there’s the rub – life isn’t hard when you’re doing what you are supposed to be. Sure, external events can cause hardship, but when you are working towards your own self-interests, the ones you are supposed to be moving towards, not the ones you try and force, it all comes so easily.

Ninety minutes of questions about everything from my family history to sexual appetites flew by and I answered honestly, frankly and found it all very straightforward. Another hour of waiting while the ‘team’ discussed what I had told them and then I was called back into the room where I heard the words I didn’t even realise I had been waiting on.

“We are convinced that you need to be here and are prepared to take you on as a client. There is no stronger opinion we can give about your situation than we are accepting you here.”

I’ve paraphrased that. I can’t remember the words exactly but it brought a smile to my face that has refused to shift since.

The validation. The opinion of experts with decades of experience in this field, agreeing with me, letting me know that it wasn’t all in my head, something I’d imagined. I hadn’t for a moment considered that it might have been but I also didn’t know how much that validation would mean to me. People talk about gatekeepers, but for me someone else agreeing with me helped immensely.

The next steps were set. A counseling session once every four weeks for a minimum of six months. At that point, if I’d shown ‘gender consistency’ (best pop all those dresses I have back in the closet eh?) then I could start hormones and there was a possibility I could be going for my first operation (double mastectomy) as early as one year from the date of my first appointment.

Of course, these were all minimum timescales and while the scope for disappointment increases if you take them as gospel, they are the timescales I’ll aimed for. I’ve wasted enough time already.

From the appointment and the cloud I was floating on I was brought down to earth a little bit as I went to see my mum and fill her in on everything that had happened. Incredibly supportive she is, like any decent mother, concerned about the surgeries. Not entirely clued up on what is going to be involved she thought that the testosterone would take care of my chest without the need of an op. My fault for not explaining it properly, I guess.

So this is it, the point where it all really started to get going…
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DURHAM, NC - MAY 11: A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at Oval Park Grill on May 11, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

Stuck in-between

There is nothing worse than being one place when you want to be somewhere else.

Once I realised that I was most definitely transgender, a process that took well over 30 years to come to a head and then exploded in a matter of weeks, perhaps even days, I wanted the world to see me as male. Now.

Every time I went into a shop or a cafe and was greeted with ‘how can I help you, ma’am?’ a large part of me screamed WHY ARE YOU SAYING THAT?!

Of course, it wasn’t that person’s fault. No matter how well I thought I was passing, before I started on hormones I mostly looked like a butch(ish) woman. What were they supposed to do? Oh yeah, not gender me when there was no need.

As I negotiated this place in-between I became painfully aware of how often strangers gender others when there  is no need. ‘Can I help you ladies?’ ‘Table for two, girls?’ ‘Are you ready to order, person with a vagina?’

It serves no point yet is seen by the majority in the service industry as a way of being polite. I understand that but I also see that every time you gender a person incorrectly you may as well just kick them in the stomach and scream in their face ‘I SEE EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG WITH YOU’.

It’s a constant reminder of the way the world sees you, that they are presented with this form you hate and are so desperate to be rid of. And it is completely and utterly unnecessary.

The whole concept of gender is, if we’re honest. Why are we so hung up on a person’s genitals to the point that it is the first thing absolutely everybody wants to know when a baby is born or on the way. What’s that about?

It took me a long time to get my head around the fact that penis doesn’t automatically equal boy and vagina doesn’t necessarily mean girl, that gender is a brain thing not a flesh thing. I’m not going to get into all now, frankly, I’m not even sure that I could if I wanted, such is the minefield of gender. I’ve spent a large part of the past six years trying to undo everything I was raised to believe.

My point, if I was making one and I probably should otherwise why would you carry on reading, is that gender and sex are the most important things when a person comes into this world and they don’t have to be. A penis guarantees you nothing about that child’s life any more than their blue eyes. It doesn’t tell you who they will love (if they love at all), where they will live, what they will have an aptitude for or if they will have a happy life.

Transgender people may be rare enough that it seems a safe bet to assume penis = boy, but thinking gender exists solely in a binary of binaries, man/woman, tran/cis is as bananas as thinking sexuality exists only as heterosexual or homosexual absolutes We all know that’s not true.

But none of that is what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to moan about something else entirely. I guess the two are interlinked because if there was no insistence on the gender binary being the norm then I wouldn’t have felt so out of place in the middle because people around me wouldn’t have felt the need to gender me all the fucking time.

Then there was the matter of dealing with people adjusting their pronouns, something people, myself included, really struggle with. Had I lived my life as a straight woman and then came out as gay I doubt anyone around me would have had much trouble remembering that bit of information, at least long enough to stop setting me up on blind dates with guys. But gender? Jeez, that’s like trying to hammer a piece of cheese through a concrete wall.

On top of that, you have the whole awkward dance when you correct someone if they get it wrong. As a transgender person,  we end up having to reassure the mis-genderer that we know they’re trying, it’s really ok, and they shouldn’t feel bad. Or, if we’re unlucky, we’re just told to stop being so sensitive. Don’t you know how hard it is for people to change a few words in their brain? Why can’t we be more understanding?

Yeah, ok, my transition is all about how hard it is for you.

Truth be told, I’ve been very lucky in that I haven’t been surrounded by assholes. That helps, as you would imagine. Only a few took have taken it personally when I pulled them on calling me ‘she’ long after I’d come out. One guy insisted on greeting me like all the other women he knew, with a kiss on the cheek. So, tiring of this, I asked him if he was going to keep doing that when I had a beard. He laughed and said he would but, oddly enough, the next time I saw him he extended his hand and gave me a hearty handshake.

Sometimes you need to use the sledgehammer on the tough nuts.

My mum was a different story. I let her get there at her own pace and, as my friend explained (correctly) it’s really quite hard to misgender someone when they have a beard. I could probably track my mum’s transition to using the correct pronouns with my ability to grow facial hair. Only one step-aunt insisted on calling me by my old name long after I’d grown what could reasonably be called a beard, but she’s a bitch to everyone. Her issue, not mine.

The further along the path you get in your transition, the more you change.  The more you start to finally feel at home in your new skin, the less these things bother you. At the start, when all you have is words, the ones people choose to describe you mean absolutely everything. That’s why they cut so very deeply.

But, as you grow and change (assuming that you opt for that route) and the face looking back at you in the mirror begins to reflect who you truly are, what other people think or say no longer matters as much. Now, when a friend or family member mistakenly says ‘she’ in front of someone, I don’t cringe at them accidentally outing me because I know I who I am and new people see me as male regardless of what others say.

The place in-between where you are and where you want to be is horrible, but it is temporary.

Transition is not permanent, the name itself tells you that. It’s easy to feel like things will be this way forever, but they do change, and more quickly than you often imagine.

Once you get there, you’ll end up wondering why you let something so insignificant as another’s ignorance or opinion get under your skin so much.
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Denial is an amazing tool, perhaps the most useful one I’ve managed to acquire during my time on this planet.

Of course, it’s bloody useless as well because until you can see what you need to do you have no clue what you need to do. Useful and useless immediately makes me think of the penis I wasn’t born with so had to construct. More on that at a later date no doubt.

All the times I quipped ‘Ha! I’m such a straight bloke’ were more than just casual remarks. The inability to have anyone touch me ‘there’ wasn’t because I was nervous or insecure or any of the other defects I convinced myself I had and then tried to cure myself off. It was because what was ‘there’ wasn’t what was supposed to be ‘there,’ nor did it work the way I wanted it, expected it or needed it to.

It was all wrong. I was all wrong and no matter what I seemed to do nothing seemed to make it right.

And then I met a trans guy.

The floodgates opened no more than a few minutes after I heard him tell his story. There was no more denial, no more getting away from what I’d tried everything in my power to hide from. His story was my story and none of it could be denied anymore.

It is difficult to know where to begin a story which has encompassed my whole life but, in real terms, only began about six years ago.

This handbook is the tale of a straight guy who lived the best part of his life as a lesbian as he tries to navigate this strange new world.
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MCLEAN, VA - JUNE 13: World Champion hockey star Alex Ovechkin shaves his 'playoff beard' with the Gillette Fusion ProShield Razor during an official Gillette Shave event on June 13, 2018 in Mclean, Virginia. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for Gillette)

Men have it easier

One of the great’ things about always knowing you were meant to be born in a male body but having to spend most of your life in a female one is that you get to experience a lot of things from both sides.

Early on into my transition, it was painfully obvious that men, if you missed the memo, have this life thing a lot easier than women.

One of the common responses from men when they learned of my transition was ‘good luck with shaving, it’s a real pain’ because that’s clearly all this transition involves – growing facial hair.

It might be a pain, but what is an *actual* pain is bleeding to death for five days every month coupled with massive oestrogen-induced migraines which make you want to saw your head off at the neck. Emotions, which have you crying because you accidentally killed a fly that, just a few moments ago you swore had been sent here by the devil himself to torment you, are the cherry on top. As for the cramps, imagine being kicked in the balls every five minutes for around 36 hours and you’re almost there.

No more of that thankfully.

Men have it easy.

So far, the only downside, and I use that word very lightly indeed, of the male hormones has been an ever-increasing libido. Testosterone is the nuts. It increases your confidence and body strength, chills you the fuck out and makes you think you are magnificent. I know that’s not just me. People who think it causes roid-rage have clearly met people who had anger issues to begin with. I’m so Zen, you’d probably want to punch me.

As for being treated like a guy instead of a woman? So I don’t get let on the bus first anymore. That’s a small price to pay for not fearing I might get raped instead.

Even the abuse I receive online is different. And I used to get a *lot* of abuse as anyone who follows my football account will know. I no longer receive gender-specific insults. A few guys have said ‘look at the state of you’ in regards to my looks, but that’s it. The insults are a lot less specific. I no longer get told I don’t know what I’m talking about simply because of the genitals I was born with and the way society decided to raise me. People also want me to go to the kitchen a lot less and their ironing seems to have ironed itself. Bonus and bonus.

I’m the same person, my views haven’t really changed. They just aren’t as easily ridiculed now because I’m more socially acceptable writing about football as a guy. It’s sad, but I’d always suspected that might happen and now I know.

If only they knew I was trans!

In fact, it says it right there in my Twitter bio, but most CIS people (that’s people who have a gender identity which matches the one the doctor assigned to them when they popped out of their mum’s womb) don’t even know what that means. They see it and either ignore it or think I ran out of characters and was trying to spell a longer word. Maybe they think I’m a transformer. Robot in disguise. Sort of. Not really. How cool would that be?

Men really do have it easier in so many ways.

But that’s not to say there isn’t lots for trans guys to learn nor that their journey is an easy one, far from it.

Here at the Trans Guy Handbook I hope to address all issues that impact on trans guys who are so often left out of the discourse.
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