I'm a transgender woman—and having a clearly defined identity helpsby Abigail Maxwell / April 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
I was at a party at the weekend, sitting in my friend’s garden in the sunshine, when Cassie, who is four, asked, “Is that a boy?” I have a stock answer to that question: “Some would say yes, some would say no. I say, ‘I am Abigail.’” Before I could say it, her father snatched her away. I said that I wanted to explain and he replied, “I told her there are only girls here.” But I didn’t want her to get the conventional answer, but one she could challenge. “I would not want to interfere with your upbringing of your daughter,” I shouted, weakly, across the garden.
In her article, Lionel Shriver argues that gender identity and therefore the trans movement depend on stereotypes. Yes, of course, not every girl who plays football or every boy who does ballet is trans. Qualities thought “masculine” or “feminine” co-exist in all people—nobody believes there is a great gulf fixed between the two, even if most people can discern broad trends.
And then there’s me. I wanted surgical alteration. I have no idea why. None of this makes sense to me, except that I wanted it more than anything else in the world.
My turning point came at church, which I started attending in female clothes. I told the vicar that I could no longer worship God disguised as a man. He said, “You mean you want to look like that, all the time?” My dress sense and make-up skills have improved since then, but the answer is yes regardless. I would rather look like an obvious tranny than present male.
Not everyone needs a defined identity to justify their choice of clothes or activities, but some find it helps. “Butch lesbian” is one way humans can be, and if a woman decides that she is one, suddenly her feelings can make sense to her. Identities give us licence to become who we are. When I told myself “I am transsexual,” dressing as I wanted began to seem achievable, rather than shameful.
Shriver writes dismissively that “the whole trans movement does seem to have awfully to do with clothes.” But clothes are a huge part of communicating identity, they are how we express ourselves and present ourselves to others. And I too spend most of my time in jeans, and do not own a pair of stockings.
A great deal has changed since the 1950s. Masculine women and feminine men are more and more accepted, diversity more and more valued. The growing acceptance of trans people and other identities subvert cultural gender differences and facilitate that growth in freedom.
Shriver worries that had she grown up now, her tomboyish behaviour might have led to hormone therapy. But that is very unlikely—trans people may call hormones “the sweeties” but they are not handed out so easily. There is a great deal of assessment before surgery or hormone therapy happens. Psychiatrists know the damage hormones inflict on the ability to conceive or even have sex. A surgeon will only remove breasts or testicles if they are convinced that it is right for their patient.
Shriver also expects an angry response to her article on social media. This isn’t one—there are far worse examples of cis-sexism than hers, such as the women who collect stories of cross-dressed men committing sexual assaults in an attempt to make us the bogeymen. We suffer a great deal of mockery and prejudice. When a man I had never seen before hissed “fucking nonce” at me, and another stranger tried to push me in front of a passing car, I wondered at the hatred we inspire.
Yet we try to live our lives as best we can. Like other people, we do our best under difficult circumstances. Really, we are mostly harmless.