Expect Problems

A transition blog.

After quite a few conversations with trans / queer friends, I've begun to realise something we all deal with to varying degrees which in some ways I can define as a privilege: that there's no socially-defined plan for our lives and our relationships.

If you're a cis het person, whether or not you choose to challenge/ignore it, you will probably be told by media and society generally that your life path looks something like this:

1) Get partner of opposite sex
2) Date for a while
3) Have sexual intercourse with each other
4) Move in together
5) Get married
6) Have children

The specifics may vary, but give or take some details, there's a blueprint for our lives which is more or less mapped out for us, to follow or ignore at our discretion.

Unless you're some combination of trans, non-het & in a relationship with someone of the same gender... or any number of other things.

It depends entirely on the person, of course, but as a trans woman whose dysphoria is bad enough to all but prohibit anything resembling "conventional" sexual intercourse, I find a combination of both elation at suddenly finding no social pressures to conform to this plan exist... and a sense of utter loneliness and decision fatigue considering how little idea I have about what form the relationships in my life will take.

I try to focus on the positives - not everyone is built (physically or emotionally) for monogamous, marriage or child-focused relationships, and if you are in the category capable of such you may go your whole life without second-guessing this assumption.

Which means any category of queer people may find that without that assumption thrust upon is, we're forced to think outside the box and may actually find it easier to develop our own way of functioning.

On a good day... that's my focus. That I get to explore a lot of these ideas - from alternate ways of sexual interaction to polygamy, without feeling I'm breaking any social rules... because the normal rules literally cannot apply to me.

I think of all my friends who're cis/het, but found those assumptions - kids, marriage, traditional sexuality, monogamy - not emotionally useful or possible for them, and consider that in some level it must actually be harder to break from those if you're constantly told "You Must Do Life This Way".

But some days, I can't focus on the positive.

I can think only in terms of numbers, and how I feel in the moment.

Which, sometimes, is bad.

I am a woman who can't bear children.

I am a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women.

I am a woman who has difficulty with her sexuality.

I am a woman who has parts which make people assume things about her which aren't true.

I think of the people I've had feelings for who might have been partners of mine before, but who aren't interested in me now.

I think of the fact that somewhere around (if I'm unlucky and somehow the census stats are true) 97% of Australian women are highly unlikely to be interested in me - more if you discount lesbians who are simply not interested in me sexually because of my genitals.

I think of the fact that I could legally get married to a subset of women - as long I suffered the indignity of being legally referred to as a 'man' at my own wedding, because of the accident of my state of birth and my inability to afford lower surgery.

I think of my hormones and a thousand ads constantly telling me to have kids, even if I can't have them and don't even really want them.

I think of this and it's hard not to find myself crying alone, making the problem worse as I do so.

Some days, I love the feeling of exploring things I never considered before - of not being beholden to any societal relationship strictures... but today isn't that day.

The other day I had a small observation about the process of my transition, from a mental point of view: I have realised that I hold onto affectations, items or aspects from my previous life.

I would wear feminine clothes, but keep my old male underwear, until such time as I stopped fitting in them (the whole... weight redistribution thing). I kept my hair the same as it was for far longer than I should have.

I kept wearing pants long past the point of it being about physical comfort.

I wore shoes bought from the male section of shoe shops for far longer than I had any reason to.

I even wore flattening sports crop-tops under t-shirts, rather than bras that would have accentuated my bust, for quite some time.

I still carry a gender-ambiguous Moleskine satchel, despite having bought a handbag I really rather like.

I still haven't pierced my ears, despite kind of wanting to.

It took me a while to figure out why - because each time I'd jettison one more thing, it consistently made me feel good.

Yet, despite realising that, I'd double-down on the Next Big Change, be it something major like wearing low-cut tops or dresses, or something much more minor.

So, if I consistently knew it'd make me feel good, and knew I wasn't actually scared of whatever-it-was... why hang on so hard?

Is it some subconscious attempt to hold onto some part of my past life that I miss? There are some aspects I will always miss, but far less than what I've gained in terms of comfort and happiness within myself.

Is it an attempt to slow the process of transitioning down? I've always been given the choice by my endocrinologist whether or not to slow down or speed up - any time the choice to up a dosage or whatever else come sup, he lets me make the choice. Each time I've chosen to go faster, and I don't regret that for a moment. So I don't think it was an attempt to slow anything down.

If anything, I'm amazingly glad that I've found my body being affected as fast as it has.

So, my theory (and it's always a challenge psycho-analysing yourself like this) is this:

I've always been terrified of losing control. Between that and my fear of body change / body horror, choosing to do this was a huge step.

I think holding on to these things - staging certain really specific aspects of my changing life - is a way to hold onto something I have very little control over.

I can't affect, now, how my body changes. Even if I for some reason wanted to, I couldn't just "stop" taking oestrogen now - I've got an implant, and it's not going anywhere.

So these little things, increasingly minor, I think are a way of giving myself a safety-cushion - the illusion of control over something, to make me feel more comfortable about just how helpless I've felt at times on this weird-arse rollercoaster.

Thing is, the more minor the thing, the longer I seem to hold onto it. The more inconsequential, the more it seems to matter to me.

Another aspect is this: transitioning, as a term, implies that it's finite.

I've occasionally caught myself saying, "...since I transitioned". It's only been in the last month or so that I've said this on occasion. I don't like saying it, because it's not really right. I will still be 'transitioning' for a long time. There will always be more changes, more to get used to. But I realised that on some level it now feels like something I've "done", at least in large part.

I present female. My name is changed. I board flights, go into shops, get carded, and every part of that process I am Elissa.

So in that sense, it feels like something that has passed. Done. Executed. Maybe not complete, but something which is no longer a looming fear in my future, and instead something which is just part of my life. The scariest parts are mostly over.

Thing is, as bizarre as it sounds to vocalise or even just turn over in my mind... knowing I was going to transition, going through the early stages... this has been a part of my life now for over a year. It feels like even longer.

I wonder if some part of me is putting off these minor things, because 'transitioning' as an active process that involves being nervous about The Next Thing I Need To Do has become on some level part of my identity - part of my world.

So as long as one or two of those little things I want to change still (but haven't) exist in my life... there's more left to do, and I don't have to move onto whatever else in my life needs to be dealt with.

Or maybe I'm just over-thinking it.

Either way, I'm going to switch to that handbag some time soon...

There are a lot of terms you read about trans-related stuff. Especially if you're foolish enough, like me, to routinely read psychology or sociology papers about trans issues.

These terms change over time. Some fall out of fashion - reading books printed even 10 ten years you see 'transsexual' used a lot. These days, dropping the suffix and not delineating or judging is what is preferred. We just use 'trans'.

Most of these terms, however, don't bother me. Even some of the older ones. I recognise the reason for jettisoning them, and even agree, but the terms rarely actually bother me unless their usage is intended to be malicious.

One phrase, however, is a personal bugbear of mine: gender presentation.

It's a perfectly reasonable thing to discuss and I do not feel the term should be flat-out excised, but what bothers me is the subtext here - that by using the term 'presentation', you imply that it's intentional. That we are acting.

I did engage in a lot of gender performance. I really did. For most of my life. I was performing 'male'. Or, more accurately, I was performing what media and Australian culture told me 'male' was. Depending on my level of insecurity at the time, this varied from moderate to flat-out toxic and sexist in a desperate desire to fit in and not be 'noticed'.

Being trans and being stuck with people treating you as the wrong gender was, for me, about living in a constant fear of being 'found out'.

Now, I behave how I am comfortable. I am not 'performing'. I act a certain way, and I am told I seem feminine.

Thing is, though, I've begun to notice this varies quite a bit, and there're a few patterns as to when. Mostly? It's when am presenting particularly femme. Which, increasingly, is frequent.

I love dresses, now they fit me. For me, they're more interesting to play with, and feel more comfortable on my body.

But I still sometimes wear pants or have a daggy-arse day at home.

And when that happens, I have noticed I seem a little more 'flat'.

Some part of me feels myself in a dress, is aware of what I look like, and for whatever subconscious reason my behaviour slips into a more 'feminine' form... and the thing is this is how I am most comfortable.

It's changing a bit, but I have begun to realise that my love of wearing dresses and makeup doesn't just come from it as a style thing that appeals to me, but also because it helps me feel more comfortable with myself.

When I am comfortable with myself, I can behave more like myself.

Yet sometimes I find a more gender-neutral, dominant, 'masculine' way of speaking and interacting is of benefit to me. I slip into these tones when in situations like... when I'm working.

This says a lot about the internalised sexism we face. Despite all the conscious effort I've gone to do disassemble gender and avoid doing things 'because it's feminine' or 'because it's not masculine', I still find myself plagued by certain toxic ideas, like that by behaving in a more masculine way I will be 'stronger'.

Despite that I feel weaker and less real when I do it.

It's something I need to move past.

But for now? I feel like I am often what I wear, and the idea that our clothes and style empower and change the way we behave is not something unique to trans people.

How do you feel when you wear different things?

Right before boarding a plane (the second plane trip since I began transitioning) I read a story on twitter by a fellow trans woman who had a truly ghastly and unforgivable experience on a QANTAS flight from Thailand back home to Australia.

My first reaction was fear - I sat in the waiting area for our gate, wondering how I'd cope with these kind of things on even the very short flight I was about to embark on, with Virgin Australia.

I mentioned this to my brother and we used the remaining time before our flight to have a wine at a nearby terminal bar.

Nothing happened. I had a lovely flight, was never misgendered and suffered no issues on the flight, related to being a trans person or not. I was addressed as ma'am by everyone, and the politeness was precisely what I would expect, and what I received in the many times pre-transition I'd flown presenting male and with a male name on my boarding pass.

On that flight, I mused on two aspects to this.

Firstly, that this doesn't actually need to happen to me in order to be terrified of it. In the same way that one or two transphobic incidences can be enough to have my nervous and lacking confidence when in public, hearing about the experiences of women which I know could happen to me will stick in my mind forever.

I've never had an issue in public toilets either, but knowing that abuse and awkwardness happens is enough to have me nervous every time I use one.

It's important for these experiences to be publicised, obviously. HUGELY important. And companies who let it happen on their watch deserve to have their businesses and public images suffer as a result, whether or not that actually happens to them.

The second thought that popped into my head - that I have not been misgendered in at least three months. It's of course quite possible people clock me as or suspect I am trans, but at no point has anyone awkwardly assumed it, brought it up, or made my experiences interacting with them awkward as a result. This is a huge privilege.

I never in a million years guessed I'd be so lucky. My genetics and simple luck have given me the privilege to choose who I come out, and thus far largely avoid the transphobic abuse that so many of my friends have suffered, from misgenderings to flat-out abuse.

I do not hide being trans. I don't tell every person I run into on the street, of course, but I am proud of doing what I've done to make my life bearable.

It's something I try to remember at all times - not every trans person has this luxury.

Privilege isn't a zero-sum thing. You can tally up, if you're that sort of person, a collection of privileges you have, but it's not as simple as 'trans or cis'. Many things factor in to your experiences, from your gender identity & your assigned gender, general appearance, hormone levels pre-transition, time (if any) you've spent going through HRT, its relative effectiveness, your financial situation, your ability to cope mentally, your lineage, where you are able to live...

I am aware that it's still quite likely that I will suffer transphobic abuse in future, that 'passing' isn't something magical you either do or don't manage. I won't ever, I suspect, quite shake that it's often on my mind. "Does this person know? How will they react to their suspicions about me if so? Do they care?"

It shouldn't matter, but it does for our personal safety and comfort.

In fact, some trans people I know quietly appreciate the blend of features they have as a result of their situation. But it's tough to do that if you're constantly told that you simply must look perfectly "male" or "female". If we can move past 'passing' as a required aspiration, it'd be great to find ourselves in a situation where more and more trans people could be comfortable enough with our bodies to learn to appreciate our uniquenesses.

Once or twice in the last while I've had someone give me a 'compliment', noting how they'd "never know I was trans", or that I "pass really well". It's an awkward compliment to receive because while a factor in all this is how I carry, dress and style myself, it's still something which was largely out of my control. A compliment on something you can't do much about, such as discussing a specific body part rather than a choice in personal style or something you've accomplished is a rather uncomfortable thing to hear.

Just ask any woman who's had someone tell her she has nice breasts. For most of us, that's just uncomfortable.

Please consider, if you can, that 'passing' is a complicated and problematic subject, if many of us seem fixated on it it's simply because we're trying to manage our own personal safety - and it only exists as a concept because of the inherent transphobia in our society.

This probably isn't going to be about what you think.

Not about "passing" for female in public, anyway. That's something problematic, and yet a huge social privilege that not all trans women have, especially if they are unable to access or unable to have hormone therapy.

In a perfect world it wouldn't matter, and things are improving, but it's going to remain a factor for a long while.

These days, it can be stressful being in public. Residual concern over someone mis-gendering me persists, despite not being a likely thing any more. But that stress is a new one - it's solely based on concern over awkward social interactions at best, and personal safety at worst.

But what this got me thinking about is how different this anxiety is compared to what I had to deal with before: "passing" for male.

It seems a funny thing to say, but that's what it felt like. Far more uncomfortable than "passing" for female is now. Now I just be myself, and that behaviour mode and the way I like to dress is what people take for female. So it's not "passing" so much as just being myself for the first time ever. As I said - the stress is about social awkwardness if people get it wrong, NOT stress over performance and dress.

But "passing" for male before was a huge, complex and frustrating issue for me.

I wore a beard, acted gruff and picked up a ton of actually-shit behaviours in an attempt to over-emphasise being masculine.

I even artificially deepened my voice, but in such a way I hoped most people wouldn't notice it was an act. When people tell me now, "wow, your voice is so different", no... it's just me. BEFORE was more an exercise in vocal training than now.

It seems, given how much stock we place in physical appearances and bodies, that "passing" for male would have been easy for a bearded guy.

But psychologically, it sucked. I had no idea why for many years, but I lived in constant fear I'd be "found out". Exposed. I'd walk into a men's room and feel this gnawing discomfort that I was in the wrong place, and surely somebody would notice sooner or later.

Like I was wearing a man-suit, no matter how 'good' it looked it was still a facsimile.

So when I think of "passing" now, I increasingly realise that's what I was worried about before.

Passing for a guy, because I was told I had to.