How I learnt not to feel a fraud in calling myself a woman

…well a trans-woman.

So are you a woman? my wife asked. It felt weird answering ‘yes’.

At some level I am not a woman. I don’t have the body of a woman, I don’t share the life experiences of a woman. I have grown up with both the privilege accorded to an English male and without being ‘hassled’ in the way many women are.  My body is male, biologically I am male and always will be. And I am not unhappy about that. I can’t change that even if I wished so why fret over things I cannot change?  And truthfully I haven’t always known that I was ‘a woman’, transgender, trapped in the wrong body. I am not sure that I really experience dysphoria, at least not in the way I read that others do.

And, maybe in 4-6 months, after waiting more than a year, I’ll get my first appointment with the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) in London and will find out if they will allow my transition. Except that my transition is ‘well under way’. No one has the right, nor the wisdom, to be able to say whether I am transgender or not. Only me. So am I and if so how do I know?

In thinking about this, I came across some really insightful articles that I will quote from and of course, link to. The first is from Natalie Reed. ( I encourage you to read the full article)

When you spend enough time hanging around trans folk, and talking together, sharing, reminiscing, telling stories, kvetching about all the irritating things the grues do, articulating your experiences and listening to theirs and finding those pangs of recognition that assure you (at last!) that it isn’t / wasn’t something unique to your own little mismatched brain, you begin to recognize commonalities. Recurrent themes. Motifs. Certain stories that get retold again and again across our lives, varying the genres and settings and principal protagonists but not the arc.

Amongst these are the stories of denial. The methods we used for convincing ourselves we can’t possibly really be trans, we simply must be making a mistake. They echo the concepts that thread through cis society and are used as a means of invalidating us. “It’s probably just a kink, a sex thing”, “it’s just a phase… if I just settle down with a woman, maybe have some kids, and learn how to be a good man, it will go away”, “doesn’t everybody, on some level, sort of want to be the opposite sex?”, “I should just learn to live with being a feminine man”, “I just need to man-up, be more masculine, that will make it go away”, “maybe I’m just a self-hating gay man?”, “maybe I can just cross-dress on weekends? That will be good enough”, “It’s just my asberger’s”, “just my OCD”, “just my depression”, “just my lack of confidence”, “just my hatred of my identity”, “just…”.

And deepening this denial is the assumption that in order to accept the possibility of being trans, we have to prove it to ourselves. This, again, eerily echoes the external invalidations, demands and expectations placed upon us, as in the gatekeeping model. “But how do I know I’m trans? What if I’m wrong? What if I’m making a mistake? What if I regret it?”

These doubts typically persist well into the process of beginning transition, and usually don’t abate until the actual medical, physical processes (with their attendant joys, comfort and relief) have begun.

She continues

After all, surely if we’re going to risk so much, put so much at stake, in such a monumental “decision”, we should approach it carefully, and make sure to be certain, right? Shouldn’t we be looking for proof that we’re trans before gambling our whole lives on that being the case?

Well, maybe… if proof of being trans was even really something possible, beyond the simple proof of subjectively experiencing your identity and gender as such. But more importantly: we never ask ourselves for “proof” that we’re cis.

I am sure I am not alone in wondering if deep down I am not fooling myself. That if it were possible to scan my brain, I would be exposed as a cis-gendered male or that in meeting with the GIC, they will conclude that I don’t display the right evidence of gender distress. What if I am asked for all those times throughout childhood, adolescence and adulthood (at 68, I have loads of years under my belt) when I felt certain that I was a woman, cast ‘in the wrong body’, in other words ‘evidence’ that I am indeed trans. Well I don’t really have any.

In previous posts I have talked of being a ‘gentle man’, by which I mean that I did not/do not feel I am like what I feel a typical man is like (a subjective test to be sure). I certainly have always seen myself as being a ‘feminine man’, whatever that truly means.

I was very fortunate to come across a wonderful UK doctor who operates on the basis of ‘informed consent’ and I have been on hormones for around 9 months now. Since taking hormones I feel confident of my identity as a transgender woman. I am much much happier; sudden mood dips that I have had on a monthly basis for years have totally gone. I am growing more certain that I am a woman as I experience living as a woman. Holly Berry says it better that I can, so I quote

……after living full-time this way for a year, I know I am transgender and that I am a woman. How can I be so sure now? Because I have come to subjectively experience life as a woman and hence, after this fact, to define myself as one – and while I am alive I am the one who gets the final say in defining who I am. To me, “woman” denotes a set of concepts, images and expectations, some of them biological, some of them social, some of them aesthetic. I am a woman because in my mind the label “woman” and its general connotations align nicely with who I have become (or at least who I try to be), and applying it to myself feels good.

I don’t think my being a woman pre-dates my outward expressions of femaleness and my relationship with the world in that role. One of the reasons I felt like a fraud in the beginning was that I didn’t really feel female (or like the infamous ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’) before transition, or have much of a tangible experience of ‘dysphoria’, which is a concept so vague and broad that I could never really be sure what it meant or what it should feel like. I wanted proof of an objective female essence within me, a concrete diagnosis of a medical condition that would force me to transition. But, as the existentialists would say, ‘existence precedes essence’ – that is, a human being does not possess any inherent identity or value and must create these things for themselves. An artist is an artist because she creates works of art, not because she has potential to create them. The same concept extends also to gender; ‘one is not born a woman, but becomes one’.

She ends with these words, which quite frankly I cannot better

The liberating but terrifying truth regarding my decision to transition – just like every decision I’ve made in my life – is that it (the transition) really was a choice. And it was a choice that I, and all of us, have every right to make. I know I am transgender because I chose to assert this identity and this way of expressing myself as opposed to following the path expected of someone with my initial outward appearance. I am proud of making that choice and am proud to be transgender.

Some people experience great pain in being in a body that does not reflect the gender they feel is truly theirs. This is not me and I suspect there are many of us who do not experience such pain. We should never lie about that because we make it hard for others like us who sense they may be happier living life as another gender but are not sure. My experience, just like Holly Berry’s and many, many others is that you’ll never know until you allow yourself to experience what it may be like to live as you feel you ought. In the early stages at least, transition is never a ‘one way street’.

I notice that by coincidence I have written this on ‘national coming out day’, October 11th. I am out to many in my life but not everyone. I am happily living my life now as a trans woman, out at work and increasingly so socially. I have no skill at make-up but ‘do my best’, I know I don’t pass but carry on regardless. It’s important to me to be out expressing who I truly am. It’s important for all us trans folk to be out as we are and thus showing others that we exist and are happy and proud to be ourselves. Take care of yourself, you/we are special; every one of us. Much love Tony

 

17 thoughts on “How I learnt not to feel a fraud in calling myself a woman

  1. This is a wonderful post. I had one thought I wanted to share and I hope you don’t mind my tiny bit of input. I was thinking of the body and how the body is such an identifying part of identity in so many people. Yet, I thought of a woman who just recently lost both breasts and her uterus to cancer. And I have read her thoughts on her body and feeling feminine. It made me sad really that we base so much of our identity in our gender on our body. Is she less of a woman without those woman parts? No way. Is a trans woman less of a woman because she does not have these parts? No way. Society put so much focus on them though that we feel we can’t be who we want to be without them. I am not at all diminishing or lessening the value or importance a trans woman may have in obtaining the body she wants to feel more on the outside what she feels on the inside. My comment is more just an observation on the pressures that society puts on us to have our body match what we have on the inside. My body doesn’t match my insides. I have a bone disease and a muscle disease and my body is saggy, atrophied, flabby, and not what it was long ago when I was an athlete. It doesn’t represent who I am at all anymore and that upsets me. Even I am upset at the fact that my body doesn’t match my inside. I’ve pretty much rambled on here about bodies. I hope I’ve made some sort of sense!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Your reply makes great sense , I’d add that as we age even if we are not afflicted by disease, our bodies ‘look old and worn’ and yet our minds, our sense of who we are remains young and healthy. We all need to love ourselves, and appreciate our bodies, warts and all. Much love to you xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post, Antonia. So is your view – or the view of the ‘wonderful UK doctor’ – that taking hormones functions as a kind of diagnostic test? That they confirm your identity, about which you were previously in doubt? As someone in a state of doubt myself, I’d like to think that is so. I’m also in England and my impression so far from dealing with the medical establishment is that you have to convince them you’re trans *before* they will prescribe. I was also struck by the line from Holly Berry: ‘I didn’t really feel female’ before transition. If I told a consultant that I ‘don’t really feel female’, are they realistically likely to conclude that I’m a candidate for ‘gender reassignment’?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dabrela

      No I don’t think hormones serve as a ‘diagnostic test’ and I am certain my gender doctor would be horrified if I gave that impression. What I was trying to say and maybe so was Holly Berry is that living as a woman (including being out to others, in my case being known as a transgender woman by my work colleagues) has helped to solidify and confirm my decision to live this way. There is a famous quote from William Hutchinson Murray along the lines that “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness …….that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too”.

      You are right the medical profession generally will throw load of obstacles in your path to transition and given the GRS is such a big and irrevocable step, that is not unreasonable. However in the early months if you stop hormones most changes will rewind. For me one of the biggest changes was that I felt so much happier. I was pretty certain I was transgender before I saw my GP, who referred me to the London GIC; with a waiting time of 14+ months for a first appointment and another 6-7 months before a second at which they might have agreed to hormones. Now 68, I am not prepared to wait such long times. My gender doctor works on the basis of ‘informed consent’, but that doesn’t mean that I was not carefully screened.

      Let me add that many transition without hormones and a very high percentage who go on to hormones never wish surgery. Being a woman is about identity and your sense of self.

      So if you truly believe you are transgender, go see your GP and get a referral to the GIC. Start living as a woman , as you really are. The gender clinics will want to see evidence of ‘real life experience ‘including name change, change on bank accounts, drivers licence etc as well as being out at work, so start now. Good luck. Feel free to email me if you wish through this blog.

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