September 2018: Fear, lies, truths and transitioning
Do not be like the cat who wanted a fish but was afraid to get his paws wet – William Shakespeare
Although dysphoria is promoted as the emotional consequence of being transgender – it is after all the one that is diagnosed and ‘treated’ by the health system – dysphoria is just one of a range of difficult and extreme emotions that arise from being trans.
When I talk to other trans folk, be they long transitioned or in the early stages of questioning their gender, the emotion that repeatedly gets put alongside dysphoria is fear. We fear what may arise if we explore, accept and act on our feelings and as such we deny, hide and excuse them. Some are never able to conquer that fear and remain burdened throughout their lives. Others may partially conquer that fear through controlled expression. And, for some, a point is reached where to survive they have to transition, which means fully confronting that fear.
It was fear, I explained to my consultant psychiatrist when, having reached breaking point, I finally sought help, that had held me back for over 50 years. His reply? ‘Well it almost certainly won’t be as bad as you imagine. Try it’. Challenged to confront my fear I considered what I was afraid of. After all ‘If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.’ What I ultimately came up with were the following seven areas of challenge and fear …
Should you choose to do so, you are likely to go through some tough medical treatment so you can better live in your true gender. The process is slow, often painful with no guarantees for the outcome. And it’s permanent. Of the multiple consequential fears, one the biggest is that things don’t turn out as well as you’d hoped and that you end up less happy than before.
And yet in my experience, and that of others I have spoken to, yes, it’s tough and yes you may not come out as the Aphrodite or Adonis you dreamed of, but who you become in pursuing your truth is always better than who you were – which will ultimately make you happier.
Learning to be
What we have to learn to be, socially, ‘a woman’ or be ‘a man’ is immense and is actually what we spend our childhood and teenage years doing. We learn the gender ‘rules’, experiment, make mistakes and gradually carve out a unique gender personality that we take out to the world as adults. But when we transition we have to throw that away, start again and create a totally new gender personality. And we have to do that instantly without the 20 years of learning and experimentation.
It is of course impossible and the whole process of re-learning about clothing and outward presentation, social behaviours, verbal and visual communication and so on is a massive and frightening undertaking. While many come to transitioning having already gone someway down this path, my longtime denial meant I had much to learn and much apprehension. But I found the process exciting and fun and it wasn’t long before I had my new ‘personality’ established.
Another given is the fear of how people will respond to and treat you as a trans person. The expectation is of rejection, mockery, discrimination, mistreatment and possibly verbal and physical abuse. This fear is understandable as, historically, this is what trans folks did regularly encounter.
However, while you may still occasionally encounter this, it is no longer as common as it once was. My own experiences (and that of others I have spoken to) suggest that actually the majority of people are very accepting of, and warm towards, trans folk, even if they don’t really understand ‘the trans thing’. It is important to get out there and continue to engage socially, even if it is scary.
Making it official
So, in transitioning, you become a new version of yourself and this is something you need to formally register. This is then followed by the process of educating everyone you deal with in an official capacity to ensure they refer to you in the correct way. That is pretty daunting – not only because of the numbers involved but because of all the different hoops you are required to jump through for each individual organisation: deed poll, medical letters and reports, evidence of living in role, and so on…
It is, as I found, a pain and often frustrating. But things continue to improve and it is only a minority who do not now provide a relatively straightforward and timely method of registering your new identity.
Work is such a major part of life. The fear of how it will be affected by transitioning means that, for many, it is the last place they come out. How will you be received, will you encounter discrimination, prejudice, rejection to the point, possibly, of losing your livelihood? How will it affect your ability to work? It was a major fear I had, running an IT consulting business as I did.
Of course everyone’s situation is different, so consequences vary considerably. However you are now protected by law while greater awareness and acceptance of trans folk means that, while issues do occasionally arise, nearly all of us have experiences that are at least neutral, if not positive. I myself found my customers and suppliers hugely supportive and I was able to continue to run my business successfully while transitioning.
Big fear this one…. that you will lose your family and loved ones with painful consequences for all. Of course, we hope these relationships will survive and possibly even thrive. After all becoming the real you has to be for the better, right? But the sad reality is that, while some occasionally do survive, breakdown of close relationships goes with the territory, as those who are closest have the most to lose. No matter how hard you both try there comes a point where you can no longer provide what that other person needs and breakdown, often acrimonious, occurs.
To have to choose between being true to yourself and your nearest and dearest is incredibly tough but the good news is that time is a great healer. Relationships can and do recover, and of course new ones do arise. For me I ‘lost’ my partner and mother but my children think I’m as cool as hell!
This challenge put simply is ‘Will I ever truly, subconsciously and unequivocally see myself as the person I have in my mind’s eye? Will I be able to shed myself of the old me or will they continue to haunt me? And how do I assimilate them and their history into my now?’
The reality is that putting yourself through all the medical processes and making all the personal changes in the world doesn’t guarantee that you will ever fully become the person you had envisaged. But what does happen is a gradual coalescing of all the changes, both mental and physical. The old you merging into a new you with whom you feel at one and at peace. It takes a long time but as you start to express your true self you actually become less aware of self-identity. You just become you, and that is awesome!
Of All the liars in the world sometimes the worst are your own fears – Rudyard Kipling.
So that is it. My seven deadly banana skins! They were all big fears and indeed challenges. But they didn’t turn to be nearly as bad as I’d expected. And now..? Well not only am I considerably happier having transitioned but, having faced up to those fears, I am incredibly proud of who I am. Is life a bed of roses? No. But it’s immeasurably better than it was.