11 The wrong trousers

‘I told my friend I felt as though I was just pre­tend­ing to be a man. He looked up and said, “Dude, we’re all do­ing that”’

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Content -

The first in­stal­ment of David Thomas’s trans­gen­der di­ary

DON’T WORRY, I GET IT. If a mid­dleaged male friend sud­denly told you, ‘I’m go­ing to change sex,’ it might come as quite a sur­prise.

If he then sold his house and cashed in part of his pen­sion to fund his tran­si­tion from male to fe­male, you’d be for­given for won­der­ing whether he’d lost his mar­bles.

A mo­ment’s fur­ther thought could un­leash a flurry of in­creas­ingly anx­ious ques­tions. ‘Should I re­fer to him as “she” now? Will he, or she, or they, be of­fended if I say the wrong thing?’

The hor­ror and panic in­ten­sify. ‘He’s not go­ing to turn into one of those an­gry, shouty trans­sex­u­als, is he? Telling us we’re evil if we don’t ac­cept that men can have ba­bies and you don’t have to be fe­male to get pe­ri­ods?’

Well, I am that man, and I quite un­der­stand if it all seems baf­fling. It felt so to me for decades. But I prom­ise I’m re­ally quite sane… just ask my psy­chi­a­trist.

So, to specifics: do I ac­tu­ally think that I am a woman?

No, I don’t. I may be­come one in time, but not yet. For now, I de­fine my­self as gen­der fluid. I don’t mean that as some kind of swanky, hip­ster badge of fash­ion­ably an­drog­y­nous cool. I mean fluid as in liq­uid.

My gen­der slips through my fin­gers. It ed­dies back and forth. It freezes. It cracks. Some­times it evap­o­rates com­pletely. Very rarely is it still and clear.

Of course, many peo­ple have a sense of not fit­ting the roles as­signed to them by the la­bels ‘male’ or ‘fe­male’. I once lunched with an Amer­i­can friend and as we were talk­ing, he flicked through Tinder, look­ing for the night’s ac­tion.

I told him I felt as though I was just pre­tend­ing to be a man. My friend looked up and said, ‘Dude, we’re all do­ing that.’

He, though, does not have the slightbe est urge to any­thing dif­fer­ent. I do.

Need­less to say, it all may go hor­ri­bly wrong. A com­plete tran­si­tion will re­quire at least two ma­jor sur­gi­cal pro­fa­cial ce­dures – and gen­i­tal – at a time when an­tibi­otics are in­creas­ingly powa­gainst er­less post-op­er­a­tive in­fec­tions. Even without such com­pli­ca­tions I could be left in­con­ti­nent and in­sen­sate down be­low, and un­con­vinc­ing up top.

I worry that even if the ops go per­ap­pear fectly, I nor­mal and my de­signer va-jay-jay func­tions per­fectly – the plumb­ing works, and so does the elec­tran­si­tion tric­ity – my will make me an em­bar­rass­ment to my friends and loved ones. Yet I’m set­ting about it, be­cause I ab­so­lutely know that I have to. At the very least, I’ve got to try.

Why, though, add to the pres­sure by writ­ing about my sit­u­a­tion? It would be so much eas­ier to hide away in my apart­ment, like a cater­pil­lar in a chry­sainto lis and turn a but­ter­fly in peace. But I’m a writer. I can no more stop turn­ing per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence into words than a shark can give up swim­ming, killing and eat­ing. I also feel a moral duty to write about this par­tic­u­lar sub­ject, be­cause part of the process of com­ing out is the sud­den re­al­i­sa­tion, ‘Oh, that’s me they’re talk­ing about.’

When some me­dia pun­dit who should know bet­ter spouts ig­no­rant, prej­u­di­cial non­sense about the lat­est trans­gen­der is­sue to hit the head­lines, it hurts me, per­son­ally. When­ever yet an­other mil­i­tant trans cam­paigner starts putting ev­ery­one’s backs up, it’s me they’re claim­ing to rep­re­sent.

That raises the ques­tion, what do I want? How do I think we should pro­ceed? My an­swer lies in all the peo­ple I’ve come out to and how kind and ac­cept­ing the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity have been. They de­serve con­sid­er­a­tion.

So yes, trans peo­ple ab­so­lutely should de­mand tol­er­ance, but it makes no sense to then be wildly in­tol­er­ant to­wards the slight­est dis­agree­ment. The right­ful strug­gle for recog­ni­tion and re­spect for our iden­tity should not re­quire ev­ery­one else to re­de­fine their en­tire con­cept of what it means to be male or fe­male.

And while there are times when in­ap­pro­pri­ate words re­ally can cut one to the core, it’s surely more con­struc­tive to ex­plain why they do, rather than rush­ing to con­demn the speaker, let alone re­port them to the po­lice.

I was chat­ting to the owner of the yoga cen­tre where I take classes. He wanted ad­vice on how to speak to trans clients without caus­ing of­fence. I told him, ‘Don’t worry. Your in­ten­tions mat­ter much more than your words. You’re a kind man. Any­one with half a brain knows you mean well. If any­one takes of­fence, it’s their prob­lem, not yours.’

On the other hand, if a per­son is filled with mean­ness and spite, all the ‘woke’ words in the world won’t help.

So, my hope now in this col­umn is to re­dress the bal­ance by record­ing the men­tal and phys­i­cal process of chang­ing sex in a way that pro­vides in­for­ma­tion, en­ter­tain­ment and hu­man­ity.

Yes, that process is scary, ex­pen­sive and of­ten ex­ceed­ingly painful, but it’s also an ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­nity, filled with hope for the fu­ture. Lots of peo­ple think, ‘I was never the per­son I hoped I would be.’ But how many of us have the chance to rec­tify that?

In that re­spect, tran­si­tion is al­most a priv­i­lege: a path to be­com­ing a bet­ter, more con­tented hu­man be­ing. Or maybe not. There’s only one way to find out…

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