A little while ago, Lynn Jones invited me to participate in her “meme-tag” based on the "Our Different Journey" site’s portrait of transgendered lives. Here’s the link to that site.
and the link to Lynn’s blog post about her meme-tag and answers to the questions
As it happens, answering the questionnaire was not difficult as I was able to cut and paste largely unaltered from the biography page of a personal website I had hoped to set up a while back but which is still with my web designer friend (who either owes me a website or lunch in lieu!)
So here are the questions and my answers. They could be tweaked for ever but let’s run with these for now.
AWARENESS: When did you first feel trans? How did it make you feel? Did you embrace or run from it?
My story will be familiar to many trans people as it follows a well-documented pattern. I first wanted to be treated as a girl (admittedly just an honorary one in my mind) at a very early age, probably from about 5 or 6 years old. I would often dream of a kindly woman, known or fictitious, who would invite me to select suitable girl’s clothes from her wardrobe and, having dressed me, would invite me to join her in her plans for the rest of the day, however mundane they were.
It wasn’t until two or three years later that I first realised that I didn’t just have to think about being treated as a girl but that I could come a little closer to being one by dressing as one. I distinctly remember putting on a sister’s red skirt and blue woollen tights the first time I tried crossdressing. It felt strange, yet wonderful and somehow right. Dressing as a girl became an activity so regular throughout my childhood that it almost became second nature but, like so many other trans people, I was sometimes told (and it was generally understood) that it was wrong, so I kept it secret. My stashes of girl’s clothes were discovered on more than one occasion, though no direct accusations were ever made. I became adept at hiding stuff in very unusual places around the house.
Naturally, I tried on my mother’s and sisters’ clothes but, from about the age of 11, I began to buy my own, starting with simple pocket-money items like sheer tights, and would ‘rescue’ old items destined for reinvention as dusters or cushion stuffing.
ADOLESCENT COPING: How did you cope with growing up? What about puberty? How was school, or teenage life?
OK, so boyhood wasn’t so bad. Toy cars, soldiers, football, space stuff … it was all good. But I liked the idea of playing with dolls and skipping ropes, too, and often did in secret. I just wished there’d been a Barbie or a Cindy in the house that you could dress in pretty clothes rather than the masses of plastic babies that my sisters kept being given. But when out with my boyhood friends, I’d frequently dress in knickers and tights under my trousers. I was so tempted to dress like that at school, but I realised that, when you are sent to an all-boy school, there are certain things that will get you killed, and being discovered with girly kit on was definitely one of them.
And so I grew up a transvestite – I think I first came across the word when I was about 12. It had a certain grown-up frisson. I loved being a transvestite, loved how I looked, loved how the clothes felt on my body, and loved how I felt more like a girl. Between the ages of about 6 and 12 most children regard the opposite sex with suspicion and contempt. So I had to pretend I did too, but secretly admiring the life of the girls around me and wanting to be part of it.
Generally speaking, I perceived adolescence at the time as not too bad (though with hindsight I realise that my upbringing was unconventional and repressive). I survived without too many apparent scars, but without huge enthusiasm either. And being trans had to be a total secret. Whoever said that childhood represents the best years of your life is talking nonsense; being an adult is much better as you have more choices, more freedom, more money and more control over your destiny.
Religion was important in the house I grew up in. And, as far as transness goes, the god that they told me about wanted only boys or girls and anyone that had pretensions to be the opposite of that appointed, or neither one nor the other, was so abominable that hideous punishments awaited those who did not conform to the dictated norm. I spent my teens and 20s trying to justify who I felt I was to this brutal deity who was evidently wracked with hatred for his creation. I tried thinking that some kinds of behaviours and some kinds of clothes might fall below the god’s Damnation Radar. “Surely the Scots proudly wear kilts?” I said to Him (definitely a him). “Look at King Louis XIV in this history textbook of mine. He’s got high-heeled shoes on. And those acrobats at the circus were definitely wearing tights. A pleated skirt, a pair of tights and a nice pair of heels is near enough to the costume of any Franco-Scottish king who lives in a circus, surely?”
Nothing doing. Guilt wracked me all the time, as did fear of discovery and punishment.
EARLY LIFE/ UNIVERSITY / COLLEGE: Having grown up - at least physically, how was life? Did you fit in or fall out? Did you stay home, work away or go to University, college or work?
University was great, but the religion was there very strongly, only it was now becoming clear that the version I had been brought up with was at odds with the mainstream and so it was a struggle to be myself and please the deity, a sort of Orwellian Big Brother. Like many in their late teens and twenties I purged my stuff, i.e. got rid of all those clothes I had accumulated, and lived like the man I was required to be. But relapses into femininity and crossdressing were frequent and the god would thunder angrily. I once managed whole year without dressing as a woman and consciously banished all thoughts and desires of being a woman whenever they arose. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
But I managed in the end to work through the theology of this awful religion that hated me and cast it off altogether. I was 29.
CAREER: What you do and how you think it has shaped you (for better or worse). Is there something you long to do?
I started a career in the public sector. Initially with enthusiasm, but then things started to go wrong not long after I had dumped my religion and embraced my transness in private. Workplace bullying, corruption and physical injury kept me busy with the help of the union and lawyers. After nearly 18 years, because of cutbacks, I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse and left with sufficient funds to take time out to study successfully for professional qualifications and accreditation, write a book, take on a new part-time and wonderful little job in a shop, and now I work primarily for myself. It also means that I live how I like, mainly as a woman. I have had the opportunity to try some periods of “real life experience” to see if living as a woman full-time is a good course of action. The future looks a contented one, at last.
RELATIONSHIPS: Single, married, long term relationship, divorced, happy to be single? How is family life?
I am currently single and OK with it as it has its advantages, but I have had two delightful if ultimately unsuccessful relationships (with women). I like being one of a couple and am quietly looking to find another partner, hopefully for good. My partner would have to be very OK with my being trans, which has been a sticking point in the past with girlfriends. So it’s limiting.
Sadly, I have had to make a conscious decision not to have children for a number of reasons – a painful decision, but one has sometimes to realise that some bad things may be for the best.
COMING OUT: Have you? Would you? If so, how was it? If not, why not?
Yes, it’s been a gentle, gradual process. I’m not one to rush major things.
I started by going to a dressing service (the Boudoir) in 2004. After a hiatus caused by being in a relationship, I returned there in 2008, twice, and made real progress on my look and understanding of hair, makeup and other things. In 2009 I first went out dressed with women’s outer garments on, though presenting as male – just jeans or leggings, sweater and flat shoes, though it did raise some comments. In January 2010 I had my first ever night out fully en femme and from that summer started going out from home, outings which soon became frequent. Towards the end of that year I started carefully telling all my closest and oldest friends, one at a time.
My long-term close friends, with a couple of exceptions, now know me as both male and female and have been very supportive and encouraging, even enthusiastic. Several have been out with me in female mode and have met several of my trans friends. This is fantastically positive and I am happy and thankful to have so many wonderful people in my life. I have also made dozens of friends in the trans community, who delight me.
THE WAY FORWARD: What’s next for you? What are your hopes - trans, or otherwise?
Carry on as at present. I think I’ve found a good balance. And I’m finding much happiness, at last. I won’t be going full-time female for a while (it was good to have extended periods to see how I felt about it) and have decided to keep my male name, at least for a time, and enjoy a few aspects of maleness that I find OK. But I have dressed at some point during every single day for over 16 years now and I can appear femme most of the time, pretty much whenever I want. The lack of tension over my femininity now is the best thing about my current situation. Let’s try to keep that.
Let’s just make it clear, though. I haven’t been lucky. I’ve actually worked damned hard to create a situation that works for me.
WORDS OF WISDOM: Anything you’d like to share to a younger you or to other trans people?
If I had my life over again I would wish it was all different. And not trans, just plain male or female.
I wish that I had known earlier how to question the absolutism in which I was brought up.
My philosophy of life now is Epicurean: avoid needless pain, seek what gives you lasting satisfaction, think things through, don’t let gods or ideologies interfere in your life, don’t worry about the fact you’ll die one day.
To other trans people I would say:-
- You are not alone. In fact, there’s a lot of us. The variety is immense, but your kind is found somewhere within that variety.
- Although you may stop expressing your gender difference, even for years, it will never go away, it will return; be prepared for that.
- Although you may get episodes when your hormones or thoughts go mad and you feel you must live as your chosen gender or explode, try to hold it, try to approach things and people rationally. The fiercer episodes pass. It’s like the ebb and flow of the tide.
- The world is generally tolerant and accepting, or else indifferent; only a very few people are nasty and bigoted. Some trans people are bigoted also.
- No one can convince you that going out dressed is generally safe, fun and acceptable; you have to overcome your fears for yourself. When you have pushed your comfort zone, you won’t believe what you are capable of.
- Smile. It shows people that you aren’t a threat and that you’re confident and maybe someone worth getting to know.
- There are lots of ways of living a trans life. No one way is better or more right than another.
Finally, Lynn suggests we each nominate seven other bloggers to take up the challenge. So I’d like to invite:-
Tina (of Tina’s T-party) http://tinastparty.blogspot.co.uk/,
Grace (State of Grace) http://stateof-grace.blogspot.co.uk/,
Em Vicky (In Transition) http://the-not-so-secret-life-of-emma.blogspot.co.uk/,
Emma W (More Earth than Sea) http://moreearththansea.blogspot.co.uk/,
Bobby (Things) http://bobbysox1965.blogspot.co.uk/,
Lizzie (Liz Indoors) http://elizabethbyrne.blogspot.co.uk/ and
Becca (Mutterings of a half-baked life) http://rebeccas-introspective.blogspot.co.uk/.
That doesn’t mean that anyone else shouldn’t play if they want to. And you ladies above are, of course, under no pressure to accept.
A recent photo for the site? How about this? I think I scrub up OK, and the smile these days is genuine.