The wrong trousers

David Thomas’s trans­gen­der diary

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In my un­of­fi­cial role as a self­ap­pointed Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor of Tran­sol­ogy, I came up with a con­cept a few years ago that I called The O’brien Point. The OBP de­scribes the point in a per­son’s tran­si­tion at which they say, ‘Enough.’

This may come at the very end of the en­tire process, af­ter ev­ery con­ceiv­able op­er­a­tion has been un­der­taken. Or it may come much ear­lier, when a per­son stops and says, ‘That’ll do me.’

Per­haps they are con­tent where they are and don’t need to go any fur­ther. Or they may have in­tended to go fur­ther, but suddenly re­coil, as if walk­ing into an elec­tri­fied fence, think­ing, ‘Ouch! That’s a step too far.’

The point takes its name from Richard O’brien, the cre­ator of The Rocky Hor­ror Show, who de­fines him­self as trans­gen­der. In 2015, O’brien told this news­pa­per that al­though he would rather have been born fe­male, he had never wanted surgery be­cause, ‘I would never be a wo­man, I could only be an idea of a wo­man.’ It was enough just to tell him­self that, ‘I’m trans­gen­der. OK. Ac­cept it for your­self and the rest of you ac­cept it too. Get on with it.’

When I was taken to see The Rocky Hor­ror

Show, as a 15th birth­day treat, I en­coun­tered the word ‘trans­sex­ual’ for the very first time and thought, ‘Maybe that’s what I am.’ Now here I am, 45 years later, won­der­ing, ‘Have I reached my own O’brien Point?’

I do feel I’m about to ar­rive at my elec­tric-fence mo­ment. It’s not just that I am ex­hausted and im­pov­er­ished by the end­less in­tru­sive, painful pro­ce­dures that tran­si­tion en­tails. It’s not even that the fin­ish­ing line seems as end­lessly un­reach­able as the mo­ment when we all fi­nally say, ‘Phew! That’s Brexit done and dusted.’

As to­day’s new photo of me – and oth­ers to fol­low – demon­strate, there have been big changes. Trou­ble is, I still have a long way to go. My face needs work: jaw­line, brow­line, nose and lips to be pre­cise. And I am scared by the prospect of a six-hour op­er­a­tion on my face and the dis­com­fort that is bound to fol­low it. Ditto, the op­er­a­tion af­ter that… you know, that one.

The big­gest is­sue of all for me is anaes­the­sia. Gen­eral anaes­thet­ics for pa­tients over 60 can cause post­op­er­a­tive delir­ium and post-op­er­a­tive cog­ni­tive dys­func­tion. These self­ex­plana­tory con­di­tions not only have se­ri­ous short­term ef­fects on pa­tients but may in­crease the risk of de­men­tia. And de­men­tia ter­ri­fies me.

My mother is an aca­dem­i­cally bril­liant wo­man who by sheer ta­lent and hard work trans­formed her­self from a sub­ur­ban housewife to the deputy speaker of the House of Lords. To­day, she has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home, un­able to form a co­her­ent sen­tence, or care for her­self in any way.

Mum is kept per­ma­nently semi­co­matose. One re­alises why when the drugs wear off and the full hor­ror of her ex­is­ten­tial tor­ment – trapped in a nightmare from which there is no es­cape – be­comes ap­par­ent.

I dread that fate even more than death it­self. So is any­thing worth the risk, how­ever min­i­mal, of ac­cel­er­at­ing, or even pro­vok­ing my slide into the sev­enth cir­cle of a liv­ing hell?

Then again, what is the al­ter­na­tive? Well, I guess it has to do with the kind of self-ac­cep­tance that O’brien seems to have achieved. I’ve been work­ing on that and I think I’m get­ting bet­ter at it, al­though I don’t know if I could ac­cept the fail­ure (as I would surely see it) of not see­ing tran­si­tion through to the bit­ter end.

But also, it’s a mat­ter of love. Yes, that old chest­nut again. At the time of his in­ter­view, and to this day (for all I know), Richard O’brien was in a ful­fill­ing re­la­tion­ship with some­one who both knew and ac­cepted that he was trans­gen­der. That in it­self jus­ti­fied his de­ci­sion not to tran­si­tion. But could I ever be so lucky?

My ex­pe­ri­ence has been that whether I hide my true na­ture, or am ab­so­lutely out, it’s im­pos­si­ble for me to be known, ac­cepted and loved. I get fleet­ing glimpses: giddy, deliri­ous joy­ful snatches of ro­man­tic bliss. But the hope of any per­ma­nence has al­ways been dashed.

The pur­pose of tran­si­tion has there­fore been to recre­ate my­self in a more lov­able form. But maybe I should ac­cept my­self as I am, and have faith that there might yet be a right wo­man for me. So here’s my per­sonal ad…

Tall, dark, slim, sort-of male, sex­u­ally un­re­li­able, over­com­pli­cated, oc­ca­sion­ally self-loathing, but also (he hopes) kind, emo­tion­ally aware, highly af­fec­tion­ate per­son who can also cook, sing in tune and do his own laun­dry, seeks broad-minded, long­suf­fer­ing, lov­ing fe­male com­pan­ion to share his beau­ti­ful country-house apart­ment and im­pres­sive, cov­etable, size 12-14 wardrobe.

It’s a stretch, I ad­mit. But I’m open to of­fers. Re­ally.

I am scared by the prospect of a six-hour op­er­a­tion on my face… Ditto, the op­er­a­tion af­ter that… you know, that one

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