I found my true gender at the peak of my happiness, waiting for me, patiently, persistent. On an evening spent celebrating with dear friends, having returned from a whirlwind world trip achieving some of my lifelong dreams, I took stock of my life and realised I was – at last – truly satisfied with where I was. In that moment, being a woman was as factual to me as my name. Being happy and being a woman were symbiotic states. There was a feeling of “finally”, a rush of “at last” and a sense of peace, as the male front I’d been allowing to navigate my life, pulled over and let me take the wheel. I was startled by the feeling of so many dots connecting in my memory of things my synapses had been working for three decades to keep unrelated:
Sitting next to the first friend I made in reception on a bus and telling her I was ‘a secret girl’ who made myself a boy just before I was born because that’s what my parents really wanted.
A reader at a spiritual festival solemnly shaking their head and saying “no” when I told them I was a man.
The psychiatrist I talked to about my eating problems asking me about my gender identity because he felt I carried myself with phantom breasts and held myself more than just ‘effeminately’.
Working on my solo theatre show and finding a new name for myself that sent me on a serious gender dysphoria spiral, which I couldn’t fully talk to my best friend about because I was so scared of what it could mean for my life.
The last time I wrote about gender – something I did with great trepidation because I feared making any concrete statement that could come back to bind me to it – I didn’t feel the difference as I do now of manhood being something I was doing, not necessarily something I was truly being. People who cared about me asked me several times if I was sure of my gender and I got defensive. People who cared about me noticed my habits of evidencing my manhood by talking about my femininity, noticed how I was unable to commit to ways and means of living and identifying, noticed how relationships – particularly romantic relationships – couldn’t forge or blossom. These were questions I couldn’t answer, but now make sense to me. It’s something quite wonderful to make sense to yourself.
That’s the purpose of sharing my trans story, because it was the story I needed to hear, and it hasn’t been the story I’ve been told or sold, which I think played a big part in holding me back from my transition, from myself. My story isn’t unique as such, though I suspect stories like mine aren’t shared as often because it describes being trans as a personal discovery to be celebrated, not some societal anomaly to be examined.
Let’s start here. Being a woman doesn’t mean that my life spent identifying as male has been a waste or a tragedy or something I want to pretend never happened. Growing up male protected me from what was already a tough time at school, a complicated time at home and a consumingly confusing time in my mind. I didn’t know anything about trans people; what I did know was that being read as gay was hard enough and my energy evaporated in the management of that, especially when I experienced sexual trauma pretty early and ostracism from certain circles. I held tight to whatever chips I thought I had – in this world, having a male chip or looking like you have one can count for a fucking lot.
I don’t regret my boy life. In that life is every corporeal interaction I’ll ever have with my brother, in that life is unexpected travel, priceless friendships, spiritual awakenings, flutterings of love, my artistic leaps of faith and even a handful of great sexual encounters. I thought being trans meant that the gender some person I don’t know and who doesn’t know me wrote on a piece of paper thirty years ago was a gender I had to hate and unbearably suffer at the experiencing of. For other trans people it is, but doing what it takes to survive in the body you’re born with doesn’t make anyone less trans. There is no one way of being trans or gender diverse.
I watched Disclosure recently, a documentary about trans and gender diverse representation in entertainment, and it all came rushing back how awful it felt to watch people be exposed, ridiculed, and murdered in films and shows I’d watched when I was little. That’s on top of how people like me were portrayed in the news and how people theorised they would treat someone like me if they encountered them. When I shared my true gender with members of my family, one responded with “I didn’t realise you were unhappy”. She and I and many people had been taught that being trans was something people did as our last option, our final choice, our only hope and alternative to hurting ourselves beyond reversal or repair.
I had been looking over my shoulder for my womanhood only in my darkest moments and my deepest pains. I cast my senses out for my trans-ness only when I was low, and I didn’t find it. What I would find at rock bottom was my male visage and the issues it was causing in my life. Gender dysphoria felt to me like being unplugged, like I couldn’t connect to anyone or anything, I was just floating indefinitely down streets and on trains. I felt it when I wore suits, and when I went past second base, and when I stayed too long in one place and began to settle. In those moments, I figured that if the prospect of being a woman didn’t make that feel better, then I couldn’t be transgender. Looking back, I realise that my keys to recovering from those battles were all my most womanly traits: powerful strides, flirtatious glances, internal yearnings. It’s just that I’d tightly sewn those traits to my male persona. I’d completely configured my psyche to help me pass as cis so I could escape this fate I’d been manipulated to think was waiting for me of tragedy, failure and isolation.
It strikes me that in trying to tell a story of how being transgender truly can come from a place of joy, I’ve referenced a lot of sadness and difficulty, but it’s important to say that being a woman never made me feel sad, but the way I felt treated by people around me for my femininity did. The difficulties I’ve experienced aren’t because I’m trans, they’re because I spent so long and worked hard not to be. Accepting myself as a trans woman came from putting down my walls and being willing to be still. Being trans in and of myself, and with my trans friends makes me feel great, it’s the prejudice of the world that makes it hard and heartbreaking – and yes, even dangerous.
Make no mistake – I am and feel extremely lucky to have had the experience I have had. The amount of work that has been done to change families, workplaces, healthcare providers, retail venues, public spaces such that I could have the experience I have had of joy and acceptance is galactic, herculean. Not just work done, but personal endurances made, unfathomable sacrifices, lives risked and lost. The people before me and beside me in time made my trans life possible, and many lives other than mine. Being trans has a known impact on people of colour – particularly Indigenous sistergirls and brotherboys – people living with experiences of disability and neurodiversity, people of low income, less education, poor mental wellbeing, people from conservative families and religions, all of these and more demonstrate so much strength, passion and power in their simply existing. I transition with commitment to a debt to them I will gladly expend my life repaying. Which is why I’m sharing this, to pay it forward, in hopes to help someone – trans, non-binary, even allies and people of any diversity come to terms with the possibility that it could be really great, even just inside.
To those whose experience of gender diversity have been unlike mine, have been experiences of trauma and exclusion and pain, I see you and I’m sorry, I lift you up and I’m working to be a better ally. I have privileges aplenty, and the cost of those privileges is empowering and protecting those without them. I’m of the belief that if you’re in any position to do the right thing for someone else’s benefit then you automatically have a responsibility to do so. There’s a steep climb ahead of me I’m loving every ache of to learn, to empathise, to assist, to advocate. I’m not going to take my new beginning for granted, I’m going to share the spoils of the support I’ve received and find ways to ripple that among community.
I’m aware that it could cause some controversy, might cast some doubts and even draw some aspersions to say now what I wish I’d been able to hear from my closest friend back then:
‘have you considered the possibility that being trans could mean being truly happy?’.
Being happy doesn’t automatically make things easy or fun, but it can make you feel whole as you take on whatever it is that comes your way. To me, it’s a chip that makes every bet feel like a sure one.
13-19 November 2020 is Trans Awareness Week, followed by Transgender Day of Remembrance, commemorating all the community we’ve lost to transphobic and gendered violence on 20 November 2020. If you’re seeking more information, take a look at the below:
If you’re concerned for your own or others’ safety, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.