The wrong trousers

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

David Thomas’s trans­gen­der diary

I was at a party filled with peo­ple I hadn’t seen in years, or even decades, when an old univer­sity friend of mine came up and said, ‘There’s some­thing I’d re­ally like to talk to you about.’

Well, I had a pretty good idea what the gen­eral sub­ject of that con­ver­sa­tion was go­ing to be. I mean, if she’d been dy­ing to ask, ‘What do you think of the new-bour­geois look for au­tumn ’19?’ I’d have been de­lighted to tell her, ‘Dar­ling, if I had a sin­gle spare penny to spend, I’d be all over it like a rash.’ But, frankly, the odds were against it.

My guess was that a young per­son’s pos­si­ble trans-ness was go­ing to be de­bated, per­haps even one of my friend’s own chil­dren. So I turned to her and said, ‘Sure, how can I help?’

It turned out that my friend’s kids were quite con­tent with the gen­ders they’d been born with. Phew! But she had re­cently met a woman whose daugh­ter, now in her 20s, was a fe­male-to-male trans­sex­ual. This daugh­ter was in the process of tran­si­tion and had un­der­gone a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy, to re­move all traces of her breasts.

The young woman’s mother was sup­port­ive of her be­ing trans but had been very dis­tressed by the thought of her beau­ti­ful girl mu­ti­lat­ing her youth­ful, healthy body. My friend sym­pa­thised very deeply with the mother’s an­guish and she won­dered what I thought.

I replied by say­ing that I could com­pletely see why any par­ent would find it hard to un­der­stand why their child, whose body they deeply loved, wanted to carry out what might seem like an act of self-des­e­cra­tion.

I added that I was very cau­tious in­deed about en­cour­ag­ing chil­dren and teens who have been di­ag­nosed as trans­gen­der to do any­thing to their bod­ies un­til they are old enough to make their own, adult de­ci­sions. Af­ter all, they may de­cide not to tran­si­tion, in which case they need the bod­ies they were born with to be as healthy and wellde­vel­oped as pos­si­ble. But in this case, the ‘child’ was in her 20s. By any stan­dards they were an adult, en­ti­tled to make their own, grown-up choices. If they wanted to tran­si­tion, then a mas­tec­tomy was an in­evitable part of that process. I re­flected that, from their point of view, it would not feel like mu­ti­la­tion or des­e­cra­tion at all, but a pos­i­tive step to­wards the bring­ing to­gether of their phys­i­cal and men­tal iden­ti­ties. For them, they would be be­com­ing their true self.

In­tel­lec­tu­ally, my friend took my point. Emo­tion­ally, how­ever, she quite un­der­stand­ably felt a stronger bond to a mother’s pain than a young transper­son’s lib­er­a­tion.

Truth be told, I don’t re­ally blame her. One of the things that stopped me for decades from em­brac­ing the truth of my own gen­der iden­tity was pre­cisely the fact that it seemed not only un­wise but also some­how im­moral to mess with the body I’d been born with.

How could I be so un­grate­ful? I was tall, healthy, rea­son­ably ath­letic. I’d have to be an id­iot to give that up.

True, there were things about my ap­pear­ance that bugged me: my jagged teeth, my fleshy jowls and the de­press­ing dis­ap­pear­ance of hair from the top of my head. But none of those flaws was worth the at­ten­tion of a plas­tic sur­geon.

And yet, as I talked to my friend, I did so hav­ing just booked – and put down the de­posit on – a six-hour op­er­a­tion to com­pletely re­shape my face.

It means that on one day in late Novem­ber, I will have a lower facelift and brow lift. In or­der to hold my repo­si­tioned flesh in place, plas­tic ‘car­pet grips’ about 10cm long will be po­si­tioned be­neath the skin of my cheeks and fore­head. The grips will take sev­eral weeks to dis­solve and, when they are gone, my face will have healed it­self into place.

The fleshy tip of my nose will also be re­duced and re­fined. Fi­nally, my up­per lip will be lifted, by re­mov­ing a tiny strip of flesh just below the end of my nose and then pulling every­thing up tight.

This lat­ter pro­ce­dure, so mi­nor that it could be car­ried out in around 45 min­utes un­der lo­cal anaes­thetic, if that was all I wanted, is the only specif­i­cally fem­i­nis­ing el­e­ment of the en­tire pro­ce­dure. Every­thing else is just what plas­tic sur­geons like to call ‘re­fresh­ing’ one’s ap­pear­ance.

But still, I am go­ing to put my per­fectly ad­e­quate face un­der the knife. So when my friend told me about that mother, and how hard it is for her to ac­cept her daugh­ter’s choice, I im­me­di­ately thought of my own fa­ther.

I may be old enough to have grand­chil­dren, but I am still his son, his boy. And all I can say is, Dad, if all this is hurt­ing you, I swear I feel your pain.

One of the things that stopped me for decades was that it seemed im­moral to mess with the body I’d been born with

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