I’m transgender. Except I’m not. Except I am. Basically, it’s complicated. But why does it have to be? Nothing is ever black and white in this world, as we all know, but why is it that gender still seems to be coded in such binary terms? Yes, I know that steps are finally being made in the right direction towards representing those who are gender queer but the world has a long way to go until the gender norms that have defined human history are eradicated completely. Transgender rights are acting as a trail blazer in this respect, but there’s still a lot of work to be done until those who don’t identify as either wholly ‘male’ or wholly ‘female’ are represented as they should be. What follows is the story of how I came to terms with my own gender identity and how I came to realise that categories such as ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary’ only go so far in helping us make sense of who we are.
‘You’re a straight, white male. You don’t understand.’
It’s a statement I regularly hear whenever I try to show my support for a person or a movement. I wont lie, in a lot of ways they’re probably right, I don’t fully understand because on the surface it’s true, but it’s still a statement that hurts me on the inside. Underneath it all I’m not male, neither am I female. I know I’m not agender, but I’m somewhere in between, straddling the two piles God decides to throw us into dependent on whether we have a vagina or not. From birth, we’re implicitly forced to conform to certain standards of behaviour, dress and appearance in order to get ahead in the world. Don’t try and pretend that we’re not. It’s still a problem and it’s not going away anytime soon. Sometimes I feel like I’m male, and sometimes I feel like I’m female, to try and categorise one’s gender identity into one single defining statement is more constricting than liberating, at least for me. But I’m sure there are others who feel the same way.
I remember that when I was at prep school I would always be called gay because of all the usual childish things: I hated sports, loved theatre, make-up and generally conforming to all the stereotypes one would associate with being queer. We were teenage boys; you can’t expect anything else. I hated it but ultimately got used to it. So much so that I started to believe I actually was gay. By sixth form I thought I’d discovered myself, no one cared anymore and it was considered okay, even in the backwater of provincial Exeter. I experimented with boys, nothing too racy, but it never satisfied me. Most of all I was uncomfortable with it because it just wasn’t me.
Increasingly, I came to realise that I wasn’t conventionally camp and I definitely wasn’t homosexual, or even bisexual. Even if I may have appeared camp to the outside observer, there was a subtle difference. Instead, I discovered that the way I moved and the way I sat was not entirely camp but what some could perceive as ‘feminine.’ Because of my body it just suggested the illusion that I was merely camp and I started to use this to my advantage. I didn’t care if people thought I was gay, so I hammed it up, did what I wanted and generally appeared ‘camp.’ It was only later that I realised it was a desperate attempt for the woman inside me to scream out for release, through an admittedly heavily distorted lens.
University has been fantastic in helping me realise who I am. I’ve finally found a friendship group that’s extremely open to any deviations from the straight/cis norm. So much so that I was finally confident enough to come out, slowly, to my friends. This as back in Easter Term last year and, I must admit, it was the most liberating times of my life. I was able to just say it like it is, even if I wasn’t acting upon it by appearing like a woman, people understood what I felt like and were supportive of the journey I was ready to take towards freedom: freedom from the shackles of one’s sex.
Suddenly, however, reality hit home. I realised that the confidence I felt was sheltered in a delicate ecosystem of tolerance. I realised, first of all, that I could never come out to my parents. It would be too awkward to say the least and I’m too scared to take that leap, especially whilst I’m still financially dependent upon them. I wouldn’t like to say that they wouldn’t be accepting, but I don’t think my relationship with my mum would ever be the same again. I did, however, come out to my friends at home. This was harder than I thought. Although they were ultimately accepting, their tone was considerably more abrupt than I had anticipated. I was met with the suggestion that it was ‘just a phase’ and that I ‘only thought like that’ because I was ‘you know, into theatre and prancing about onstage.’ This lack of understanding reminded me that the real world wasn’t as tolerant as my friendship group.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about ‘coming out’ so to speak is trying to explain ‘what I am’ to people. I can’t have gender reassignment surgery, nor would I want it. I’m happy with my penis, I just wish it wasn’t there all the time. It sounds indecisive, but that’s what I’ve got to deal with on a daily basis. However, what frustrates me the most about dealing with it, is that I shouldn’t have to. But I certainly don’t have the confidence yet to just flaunt our still heavily rigid gender barriers as I’m scared of the repercussions.
So where does that leave me now? It’s a good six months on since I first came out and I’m still just the same person as I always was. Still trapped in this body and caged in these clothes, but a little happier. I know what I want and what I want to be, it may just take a little longer to get there than I anticipated. Why, it was only a week ago that I did something I thought I’d never be brave enough to do. It was a Saturday, I woke up, showered, got dressed and walked to my rehearsal. What was different you ask? Under my coat I was wearing a ‘girl’s’ top. My chest was freezing but my heart was racing upon leaving the house. I strutted down the road listening to Kim Carnes’ ‘Bette Davis Eyes’ and cried (so cliché ikr). I knew it didn’t matter if I was wholly ‘male’ or wholly ‘female.’ I knew, in that brief moment, that underneath it all, I was wholly me.
Photograph: Public domain via Wikipedia