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 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…