I'm a transgender woman—and having a clearly defined identity helpsby Abigail Maxwell / April 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
This piece is a response to Lionel Shriver’s piece in our May issue: “Gender—good for nothing”
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…