After 12 months of being on the waiting list for the Gender Identity Clinic, I should get my first appointment in a couple more months. It would seem I am not alone in having some trepidation about that first meeting. What if I don’t meet their criteria? Does that mean I’ve been fooling myself; that I am not ‘truly’ trans?
Beyond the fact that they act as a gatekeeper to the NHS transgender services like hormone provision, voice coaching, and surgery (for those who want to go that far), I am not sure I care what they think. As far as I have been able to glean from blogs that other trans women write, not one of the professionals I may see has any personal experience of being trans. They are all cis gendered and operate on whatever criteria are currently required to be met (remember once, not so long ago being transgender, like being gay, was a mental illness). Am I being unkind? Maybe, I am sure they all approach each client with integrity and humanity; I hope so.
For much of my 68 years I never questioned my gender. Cis people don’t; they just take their gender (assigned at birth on the basis of visible sexual organs) for granted. They never think about how do they know they are male or female. They may assume, as I did, that gender and sex are one and the same. In everyday language we act as if they are. When we are asked to tick a box giving the option of M or F; the questioner wants to know our sex (even though the question is often headed ‘gender’). They want us in neat categories; they don’t want to know that we consider ourselves agender or bi-gender or some other gender that does not match our sex or their ‘model’ of the world.
I was never ‘male’ in the way most men are ‘male’. But I couldn’t be ‘female’, I had a penis. It was only in my 60’s that I began to understand that gender had little to do with ones sex, that gender was a term that sought to describe ones sense of self; a social construct that came into use in the 1960’s and was taken up by the feminist movement in the 70’s.
So how do I know that my true gender is female? There is no way to know objectively. I can measure my physical characteristics; I know I am 5 feet 11 inches tall. I can only ‘know’ that I was born on 20th September 1948 from evidence recorded by other people (which may be wrong, perhaps my parents were slow in registering my birth). But whether I am happy or sad, a woman or a man or neither can only come from self reflection. How else can I know my gender?
Some trans folk talk about feeling that they are a ‘woman trapped in a male body’.That’s not a feeling I have. Further I don’t hate my body; it has served me well, I am healthy. There are bits of my body I’ve never really liked. My testicles and scrotum have always seemed ‘weird’; hot and sticky in summer, bulky and uncomfortable in my underwear – more so now it is of the feminine kind.
For me some of the confirmation that I am transgender, that my true gender is female comes from how embracing being trans, being a woman makes me feel. Given an option ( there isn’t actually one) of taking a pill to align ones gender with ones sex, I’d firmly reject that as horrid. It would feel like living my life in black and white. Given the other option of taking a pill to embrace the female gender feels like being permitted to live my life in full glorious colour. The ‘choice’ is clear. I know the joy I have experienced since starting transition; my only desire is to continue that process. I never again want to be ruled by testosterone, it’s a poison; I want and need and love what oestrogen gives me; it gives me my life in colour and high fidelity and with great feeling and a sense of rightness. I love it when others gender me as female and use the appropriate pronouns. I love what oestrogen is doing to my body and my mind. I love my small but growing breasts, I love the way my skin feels softer and smoother. I love even the way oestrogen messes with my emotions, making me so much more vulnerable.
There are a few names that are fairly androgynous. Tony and Toni are relatively common both as boy names and girl names. In some countries Toni is a boys name, in others more often a girls. Similarly with Tony; in the USA, Tony ranked as a girl’s name in the top 1500 in the 2000 census.So changing my legal name from Tony (Anthony to be precise) to Toni was a no brainer. It is phonetically similar, so I can’t get dead-named, which is a bonus.
So now I am Toni. I may never pass, I may always have to accept being mis-gendered, but I am being authentic to my deep true self. I am not a cis woman, but I am authentically a transgender woman.
For most of my life this side of me was unknown. As the man I took myself to be, I have loved and married; I have never mis-represented myself because I knew no other. With time and with new knowledge comes the realisation that I was not living my true gender (maybe my gender has changed -is that possible?). I value every moment I lived as a man. As a trans woman I now can look at a dress and love the cut and the colour and the fabric and enjoy how it feels on my body. As a man, I looked at that dress and loved the cut and the colour and admired how it looked on my lovers body – if only she would wear it!
Almost 12 months after walking into my doctors surgery and finding the courage to say that I believed I was transgender, I am well on the path of transition. I have been blessed with a wife who loves me so deeply; she never expected to find herself married to a trans-woman. I never expected to be one. I am blessed with finding a doctor who specialises in supporting folk who need to transition and who works on the basis of ‘informed consent’, so I was able to start hormones with proper medical supervision. I am blessed with having a body that Charles Atlas would have made fun of, but which lends itself to being female (how did it know?).
I am truly, truly blessed.