There’s often quite a long period between ‘coming out’ as trans, and actually receiving any sort of medical help with transition. In many cases this is intentional, as doctors like us to complete a period of ‘Real life Experience’, that is, living full-time as your identified gender in a ‘normal’ variety of social situations. I believe this is intended to make sure we know what we’re doing, mean what we say and appreciate the difficulties that may lie ahead for us. Much as I see a need for doctors to ascertain that a trans person isn’t just some sort of fantasist, the RLE is extremely controversial, and can put trans people into a position of rejection and danger at a time when they are extremely vulnerable, and yet still receiving no medical intervention. Trans groups in the UK are appealing to those who “write the rule book” to find a robust, safe method of working with trans people pre-transition, but this is going to take years.

Fortunately for me, the period of my RLE was a matter of months rather than years. Going into a new social situation armed only with the knowledge of your own gender identity, an extra-short haircut, a male name and clothing bought in the men’s section is terrifying. Let’s face it, after 18 months of testosterone and chest surgery I am STILL taken as a woman more often that not, so what chance did I stand back at the beginning?

I remember a colleague of mine saying some weeks after I started, that when the supervisor brought me over and asked if there was a seat for Mark, she looked around and behind me to see where Mark was. People’s minds are not sufficiently nimble to work out what’s going on, however kind they might be. Part of my decision to be very out and open about who I am stemmed from situations like this – I’d rather if people are talking about me behind my back that they’ve got their facts right.

So how do you cope with this interim period? In my case I tried extra hard to match my behaviour with what I felt was ‘male’ behaviour. Yes, I tried to match my walk with the men I saw in the street, and tried to squash 39 years of social conditioning as a woman. The trouble is, I wasn’t very good at it, and I was told (much) later by a friend “We thought you were trying too hard, but didn’t want to say anything”.

Going on testosterone, whilst having had a dramatic effect in some ways, has not made me look as undoubtedly like a man as I thought it would. It’s early days yet, and my age does count against me. Youngsters transitioning ‘ping’ into shape much more quickly, as their bodies seem much more susceptible to hormone treatment, and change generally. Transitioning at my age still “works”, of course, but this not-quite-middle-aged body has been set in its ways for much longer. No ‘ping’ing for me!

In many ways, then, I face the same trials I had before I started medically transitioning. I helped a woman off the train yesterday, and she was keen to tell her son all about ‘this nice young lady who carried my suitcase’. What can you do? I smiled and wished her a nice holiday.

I guess the difference now is that because of the hormones and surgery I’ve had, I feel a lot more comfortable in my body. I also feel that if questioned, I’ve had more time inhabiting the male sphere than I had at the beginning, so feel less defensive over my right to be there. In truth, though, I just can’t be as bothered as I was to try to look, act or sound a certain way. I’m told I’m rather camp, which doesn’t bother me. I’m told I’m hard to read, as I seem to fuzz between male and female, which is fine. I would love to start looking more definitely male, but if my behaviour doesn’t fall into most people’s definition of ‘manly’, well, who cares.

I am in the privileged position of having male hormone levels and a flat chest. I am also fortunate enough to know exactly who I am, and I am not being forced to prove it on a daily basis. Others earlier in their journey don’t have it quite so lucky.

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