Pre-transition

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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Denial

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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