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Chronic Illness and Trans* Identities

The last few weeks have been tough. I live with a chronic illness, a genetic liver disease called alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency which has led to cirrhosis of the liver. It doesn’t mean too much, I don’t take medication I just have to have check ups. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I have to be careful with medications, but none of those have really ever bothered me.

However, the one thing it will now affect is my choices in transitioning. I will most likely not be able to take testosterone to masculinise myself – the risks are high and I have to weigh that up. Risks of liver cancer aren’t small, is it worth it to see a few changes? It was not something I thought about really, taking hormones. It wasn’t on my radar as there are only a few things I every considered wanting to change – my voice and my body shape are what make me most dysphoric. I thought I would be able to work out to make myself look more masculine, I thought my voice wouldn’t be too big a give away.

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Yet I feel less and less like myself and less and less able to change that. I have no choice, it has been taken away from me. This is the first time in my life I have grieved for the life I would lead if I were physically well, the things I would do and the person I would be without alpha 1. I didn’t miss drinking, or smoking. I didn’t miss nights out. But now I mourn the person I cannot be. Every man is a taunt of who I could be. Every “ladies” directed to me is a reminder of the body that betrays me.  I feel the stab of jealousy for signs of masculinity that I won’t have; well fitting suits and strong shoulders. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it is that I hate being feminised and viewed as a woman so much.

I’ve said previously that I had hoped my surgery would somehow change the way people view me, that it would lessen the misgendering. It hasn’t, and every day is an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a non-woman. As a “not your darling”. As a “mate”, not “pet”. Nothing seems to change that and I wonder constantly whether hormones would make a difference.

I have fought and fought for the ideal that our outward appearance should not reflect our gender – that my gender isn’t reliant on the body that people perceive me to have or how they match that to pronouns. And I truly do believe that. I believe that my non binary gender is not dependent on me having a sexless body. I believe non binary people can be femme and masculine and both and neither. But for me it is becoming more clear what is means to me to be viewed as more male or more female. I feel comfortable moving in male spaces, I feel comfortable being feminine. But the world is not comfortable with that. They cannot cope with a man who is feminine and they cannot cope with a non binary person who is masculine. There are days when it doesn’t seem worth it, when it feels like no ground will ever be taken.

Sometimes standing on the parapet is terrifying, one slip and the ground will swallow you. Sometimes it means standing above everybody, neck out. Sometimes it means getting shot down in flames. But no matter what, it means I have to explain constantly why I am there.

Nearly 30 years of living with a chronic illness has never stopped me, until now when it may just stop me being. Full stop.

Authenticity tells lies

**Edited for TDOV – 31.03.2017**

Today, 31st March, it is Transgender Day of Visibility. Here I am, trying to be visible. I am trying so hard to live my authentic life right now, to live fully and honestly as myself. Yet every step I find myself telling lies. Not malicious, not “big” lies. But lies nonetheless.

I find myself coming out as a transgender man, asking for male pronouns and male privilege. But I know that I am not really male. Some days I feel more male, and most of the time I am happy to pass as male, but I am not and I don’t think I ever will be.

However, I find myself answering the questions of “did you always know you were a man?”, “do you feel like a man now?”, “when will you have a beard/low voice?”, with the untruths that I always knew in some way, yes I do, and I won’t ever have a beard or low voice due to not taking hormones. I utter lies when I say that I’m devastated by this, when in fact I’m upset some days, horrified others, but mostly fine with it. I didn’t ever imagine I would be able to take hormones, so it is no real loss. What I lament is that I won’t ever fit society’s vision of a man without hormones, so I won’t be recognised as “not a woman”.

I come out again and again, I remind people that it’s “he”, not “she”. It fits better, but it’s not my authentic self. It’s not really me. I come out, and by doing so I hide myself again because I am not declaring my true identity.

There are few places I can truly be myself, and those are queer places, not gay spaces, not straight spaces, but those spaces that welcome those of us who fall between the cracks. The “real” world, the world of work and bills and taxes, it has no place for me as a non binary person. There is no “NB” box. There is no Mx option on most forms.

I am doing my best every day to live authentically and yet I feel like I fail at each hurdle, though not for lack of trying. I wonder how to continue, when every day is so exhausting yet I am still telling lies, to a degree. I wonder how authentic I can really be, without full honesty. And I wonder how to change the world so my true identity has a space.

It is transgender day of visibility, yet so many of us cannot be visible because the world will not see us.

Sometimes coming out doesn’t mean being true to yourself, but true to the idea of what people expect you to be. Sometimes coming out means agreeing you feel trapped in the wrong body, because that is easier than trying to explain you are happy with the body you have and it is not “wrong”. Sometimes coming out means still having to tell lies, to appease the fears of others, to sweep past their fear of the unknown. Sometimes, Authenticity tells lies.

 

All Men (and Women) Are Equal

This week Jenni Murray of radio 4 was given a huge platform, in The Sunday Times, with which she was allowed to publicly proclaim that transgender woman are not “real women”. She wrote “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood? It takes more than a sex change and makeup”.

And yes, a man cannot lay claim to womanhood, however a trans woman IS NOT AND NEVER WAS A MAN. That is the very crux of this matter, the false belief of the cisgender world that trans people somehow “become” their gender, that they come to a point where they suddenly change, from man to woman, from woman to man. Yet that is just not the case.

A transgender person’s sense of their gender identity is just as innate and real as anybody else’s. Yes, a trans woman’s experience of womanhood will be different to yours, Jenni Murray. But so will every other woman’s. The experience of a woman in the UK is different to that of a woman in India, or China. The experience of a white woman is different to that of a black woman. You would never say that they are not real women, so why say that about a trans women simply because her experience differs from yours?

Of course, we are socialised according to our designated gender. I have been socialised as a girl and a woman. I have experienced misogyny, sexism, I’ve suffered verbal and sexual assault because of my perceived womanhood. And that is exactly what it is, perceived.

Just because you view someone as a woman or a man, it doesn’t mean that is who they are, it is simply how you perceive them. The fact that I was raise as a woman is not an indicator of my gender, my parents didn’t know my gender because I wasn’t able to articulate it to myself, let alone to other people. But my ability to communicate my gender does mean that it is not real.

So, Jenni Murray, and anyone else who says that trans people aren’t not “real” men or women. Just because I wasn’t born with a body that you deem acceptable for my gender, it does not mean my gender is less important, that my experience is less real. In fact, how about this….Trans people are MORE of a woman, or a man, than their cisgender counterparts. Because trans people spend their entire lives fighting to be recognised as their gender. They undergo humiliating tests and invasive questioning to be allowed to transition. They spend hours correcting your misgendering, fighting for gender confirmation treatment, for the right name of their paperwork.

Trans people’s experiences are valid. And just because they are not the same as yours (Jenni Murray), it does not mean they are not “real” or authentic, it doesn’t mean that they are less worthy of the position of woman or man or human. After all, we are joined in our experiences as humans, and separated in our experiences as individuals. That is all there is to it.

EXPOSED: The Truth About Top Surgery

CN: surgery, surgery pictures, images of wounds, top surgery.

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So it’s about time I updated you on my surgery. What surgery? Well, on 19th December 2016 (that is a date I will never forget!) I had a double mastectomy, or “top surgery”. It is a surgery many trans* men and non binary people have in order to reduce dysphoria and feel more comfortable in their bodies. I had the surgery for the same reasons. I was previously very large chested and I was binding every day for long long hours and that HURT.

Top surgery, and in fact almost all medical interventions for trans* people are spoken about with such rose tinted glasses, it’s hard to find a story about the difficulties or sad times. Particularly the social aspect of transitioning and the impact of surgery on these things. So rather than a simple before and after I want to share with you journey of this.

The whole run up to going down for surgery I felt nothing but calm excitement. I knew that this was the right thing for me, I’d planned and planned and thought it through so much. I’d talked it through, I’d asked questions. But the only image of myself I truly had was that of a breastless person.

I woke up with my family there, something I feel truly blessed with. I have had lots of people, including GIC Drs, tell me that my relationship would not last as my partner is a lesbian. What the outside world doesn’t know is that my partner and I talk, we’ve talked these things through, we’ve discussed the implications, we’ve aired our worries, and we’ve come to the conclusion that our love for one another is more than gender or bodies.

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(my first post surgery selfie!)

I spent the first week sleepy and worried. I was worried that my chest was swollen, full of fluid, bruised, the nipples were gammy and awful. It looked horrible and not like the pictures of top surgery that I had seen. However I quickly learned that this was because people don’t put the “yucky” pictures up. Just the nice healed ones. So here is a yucky picture just a few days post surgery.

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Recovery was sore, but the physical side was relatively easy. That’s the bit that’s documented, that’s talked about. What isn’t discussed is the rest of it. The way your body shape changes, the fact that now, without breasts, my hips suddenly seem so much more female. Or, most importantly, the fact that having top surgery does not suddenly mean people view me as any less of a woman.

A quick reminder here: I am non binary. I identify as neither male nor female but I identify far more with male. Therefore in places and situations in which I have to adhere to the gender binary and choose, I choose male. I live as a trans man to the wider world, however I am still non binary. My non binary gender identity is still valid.

 So back to the topic. I had this wild idea that having my tits off would make me appear more male. And I guess, yes, it has. If I’m topless. However I’m rarely topless outside the house. And so, short of lifting my shirt to every person I meet, I am still read as female. I thought that this HUGE step, this MASSIVE surgery, would somehow have a huge massive impact on my transition and they way the world views me.

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But it didn’t. And this is the hardest part. Not the pain, not the recovery, not the worry over whether I would keep my nipples or not (the grafts can fail and leave you nipple-less). Not whether I would like the results or not. The hardest part is that on the days I feel most myself, the days I feel connected to my body and comfortable, I still face consistent misgendering.

I have what is now viewed as a male chest, and suddenly it is deemed socially acceptable for me to be topless. But no-one prepares us for this. I have spent my life being conditioned, as a woman, to keep my chest covered. Even more so because I was big breasted – I was subjected to assault and cat-calling in the street and bars and clubs so I learnt to hide my chest. Yet now, I don’t have to. And I know I should be ecstatic, excited, thrilled…but I’m terrified. I feel exposed and naked. No-one prepared me for this. No-one talked about the social side of top surgery. So I’m doing it. I’m telling you.

Surgery will not change the way people see you, unfortunately. Rewiring the social conditioning that we had as children will not be undone by an operation. You may feel like it wasn’t worth it. You may feel startled by the changes. You may feel overwhelmed. But if you know it’s the right thing for you, it is SO worth it. The weight lifted is not just literal, I feel lighter and more free. Despite the fact I wasn’t gendered correctly once today I feel more comfortable within myself. I feel more myself. It wasn’t as easy as waking up minus breasts, but my goodness it was worth it.

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The Reality of Non Existence

The reality of life as a non binary person is that of non-existence. That statement might seem dramatic, yet it is true. Certainly in some, if not all, areas of existence. The simple act of going to the toilet is one of deciding who you are, male…or female? Will my appearance get me thrown out of one? Do I feel comfortable using the other?

Sometimes, or in fact most of the time, the world around us insists on a binary gender system. On a system of male / female. Therefore a non binary person is often forced to play the role of male or female. They are made to assume the feminine  or masculine appearance that most closely aligns with the way they feel or want to be regarded. Can you see the difficulty here, for someone who is neither male nor female? In our society there is no real way of presenting as neither, every person it seems simply must be categorised as one or the other. There is no grey in between.

A non binary employee is forced to change in the disabled toilet so as to “not upset” other staff members. They don’t have a male body, nor do they present as female. There is no space for them.

A non binary person is not welcomed at either the male nor the female sports teams. They were assigned male so “have the advantage over women” yet they do not look “male enough” with their make up and skirt to join the men’s team.

A non binary person hold the desperate urge to pee because they do not feel safe in the men’s or women’s and there is not disabled access.

A non binary person stares at the form in front of them, there is no box for their gender. No option for their title. No acknowledgement of their identity.

There are days when it truly feels as though I (we…the enby population) are non existent. There are days when I have the energy to fight for my identity, and other days when I accept that a binary gender is just what I have to deal with.

However, when we discuss other “in betweens” we seem so much more ready to accept that the world is not black and white. A white person may be half middle eastern. A black person may be half Caucasian. We readily accept that addiction isn’t as black and white as a choice to continue, that poverty isn’t just caused by overspending or unemployment. We are fed the lines “it isn’t that black and white” from a young age.

And yet, here I am, trying to convince you and the world just that. Gender isn’t black and white, it’s just not that simple. Take some time to consider the ways in which you recognise the grey areas of existence. Realise that there is no easy black and white answers. And come to terms with the reality that maybe, just maybe, you are the one who needs to change your thinking.

Why Jenny Swift’s Death is a Tale of Our Times…

Jenny Swift, a woman, was found dead in her cell in an all male prison this week. That is what the headlines should have read. Jenny Swift was denied her ongoing medication and life saving medical treatment while in the care of the state.

“A friend said Swift, 49, had asked to be placed in a women’s prison and had become miserable, sad and ill after being refused female hormones in HMP Doncaster.”

(credit: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/05/transgender-woman-jenny-swift-found-dead-at-doncaster-prison)

Instead headlines focused on the fact that Jenny Swift was a transgender woman, and that the life saving medication she needed was her hormone therapy. We are not discussing just another death in a prison here, and we are not discussing whether or not Jenny Swift was guilty or whether she should have been in prison. And this is NOT a discussion of mental health and suicide in prisons. This needs to be a discussion about why transgender people have their experiences ignored. Why a transgender identity is given little consideration or respect. Why a transgender person is treated as less of a human being.

Despite this being a conversation about transgender people we don’t need to preface every description of Jenny with transgender. We just need to know that she was a woman, and when we drop the unnecessary adjective we come to the plain old truth which is almost too awful to believe. We come to this…

A woman was knowingly incarcerated in an all male prison.
She was denied female clothes.
She was denied life saving medications.
She was called Sir/Mr by prison staff.

If this was not a trans woman we would be in uproar. If this was a cis woman there would be no question of the illegality. And this is where our conversation starts..

WHY IS A TRANS* WOMAN LESS OF A WOMAN THAN A CIS WOMAN?

She’s not. But you would think otherwise with the way she is treated. If we really believe in equality the treatment of trans* people would not differ from that of cis people in these cases. The fact that Jenny Swift was jailed in a male prison shows us that the view that trans* people are in fact “dressing up” or “playing a role” is still a widely held view. It is one that is perpetuated by the mainstream media with everything from RuPaul’s drag race to Nike adverts.

This is what needs to be addressed, and not in a week, or a few months, but now. It needs to be addressed before more of our trans* siblings are killed. It needs to be addressed now. A woman, whether trans* or not, is a woman. And she does not belong in a male prison. We need to start respecting gender identities, however they present. We need to respect all trans* identities, trans* women who don’t like to shave, trans* men who hate their body hair. Trans* men who like to get their hair or nails done, trans* women who lift weights.

In a country where a trans* woman is jailed with men, we are not living in a country where trans* identities are considered equal or valuable. It may seem incidental, an accident, something you see in passing in the newspaper, but the story of Jenny Swift’s death is a tale of how invisible trans* people are and how much work there is still to be done.

New year, new you?

The end of 2016 is fast approaching and what a year it has been. On a global level we have grieved over the loss of many icons, we’ve watched in horror at the atrocities happening in Syria and we’ve stared in disbelief at the USA election results. For me, and I suspect for many in the LGBT* minority groups, it has been blow after blow, losing icons, losing fights for equality and feeling the ground tilting underneath us.

It may seem that we live in a world of wide open eyes, of acceptance and equality. We have, after all, got equal marriage rights in the whole USA and UK now. (Steady there…I know it’s a shocker but it really has happened!). However 2016 has been the year to prove us wrong. It has been the year of the so-called “bathroom bill” which calls for transgender people to be forced to use the toilets of their assigned-at-birth gender.

2016 was a year of changes for me too. Mostly in the right direction, I have come out more fully, begun the process of transitioning (though I still don’t fully know what that will mean for me) and I now sit here with some smarting scars in the place of my unwanted breasts. I am becoming myself. So what will next year hold?

I don’t make resolutions, I have found too often the pressure to execute them perfectly have driven me to anxiety and illness. In my mind I imagine I will sit here in a year’s time with a buff body, slim hips, a face that passes more as a man than not. I will have aced my second year at uni and be breezing through my third. I will be married to my beautiful wife, it will be perfect. And yet, in reality, I know that only the last in that list will really happen. So you see why resolutions are unrealistic.

Instead the new year will bring a different kind of new me. I will fashion a new me from actions and words, a new form sewn out of relationships and strengthened with self confidence. I will endeavor to look in the mirror and like what I see, or find something each day to like. I will try my best to love more, to love stronger, to be kinder. And I will continue my fight to make a place in this world for me. For us. For those of us who fall between the lines, who slip between the cracks. I will shout louder and shine brighter so I cannot be ignored. This time next year I hope that I can sit here and say that, somehow, I made a difference. I brought freedom. I brought hope.

Happy New Year everybody. May the next one be even better.

Post Op Post


So here I lie, 3 days before Christmas and 3 days post top surgery. It seems both a long time coming and no time at all… I know for some people the time I waited will be nothing compared to how long they wait for surgery. People around the world wait years and years just to have their gender identity confirmed by a couple of strangers (doctors). I recognize the enormous privilege I have that I was able to have the surgery privately, though the fact I did have to go private angers me. Though it is technically elective and cosmetic, this is life saving surgery for me and others. From puberty to now I have tried to take my life too many times, I have hurt myself and neglected myself in order to inflict injury and pain. I have punished myself for not being the right thing. 

Heading down to be drawn on, then waiting for the op, walking to the anesthetic room…people commented on how chilled out I was, was I not nervous? No. Not in the slightest. Not even a tiny bit. Because I was going to wake up with the body that I should have. 

And I did. I woke up sore and groggy but smiling. My worst fear was that I lose the person I love by becoming myself, but she was there waiting for me. She hadn’t run away. And when the surgeon came in to have a look I cried. In fact, I cried about 3 times that evening each time the blanket was pulled back and I saw my chest. I cried tears of relief and joy. 

I am finally post top surgery. I am finally my authentic self, and apart from some excess fat from my front, I have lost nothing worthwhile in finding myself. 

Dear Colleagues of Trans* People….

Dear Colleagues,

It has now been three months since I, the trans* person, entered your midst and there are a few things I’d like to get off my chest.

  • No matter how “well intentioned” it is never, NEVER appropriate to ask me what surgery/hormones/interventions I have had and will have. My body does not equal my gender, and the parts I was born with don’t matter. Facial hair doesn’t matter. My voice doesn’t matter. I have told you my pronouns and how to refer to me, that is all that matters.
  • There’s not excuse for excuses. You tell me it’s tough for you, hard to get your head around, it will take time to get used to…But it’s been 3 months, you’ve had time. You never knew me by any other name or gender, so what’s to get used to? However hard it is for you I can GUARANTEE it is much harder for me to be constantly misgendered and subject to indirect (or direct) transphobia.
  • Remember when you were discussing that Doctor and you said he worked on this ward…then someone said “oh she’s female actual” and you switched to female pronouns? Yes? It is simply THAT easy to gender someone correctly. It is that easy to gender me correctly.
  • You have invited all the blokes to join in groups and sports, except me. I have come to you as a guy, all be it a trans guy. But a guy. And if you exclude me from the male spaces you are essentially saying you do not see me as a man. You are erasing my identity and invalidating me. It may seem like a  small thing, but it makes the world of difference.
  • Your tomboy daughter or drag queen nephew do not mean you have “experience” with and knowledge of the trans* community. Just. NO. Once again, this invalidates the identity and experience of trans* people by likening the gender of somebody to the dress style of another person. Clothes do NOT equal gender, a drag queen is NOT a trans* woman.

And to those of you who have accepted me, thank you. To the colleague who discreetly bought my tampons when my period started whilst at work, when I was distressed and panicked about what to do, thank you. To the colleague who quietly but persistently corrected herself and others with my pronouns, thank you. To the people who have quietly changed from “love/pet” to “mate/bro”, thank you.