This was at least partly inspired by a post made by my good friend Ruth a week or so back. Her post was largely about other things, but just in passing she made reference to a casual conversation with another woman in a queue at M&S. This conversation was completely banal, but it just struck me that in many ways moments like this are the most precious of all.
As trans* people we have many significant moments. Admitting to ourselves who we are, telling loved ones, first time out in public, seeking external assistance, going full time, even surgery. All very significant events, not all of which I have yet experienced, or may ever experience. However for all their significance, I don’t think that they are necessarily the things from which we derive happiness or contentment. It’s the tiny things, apparently at the other end of the significance scale, that really make a difference.
If I can try to define what dysphoria is for me, it’s the soul-crushing drudgery of having to look and act within societal parameters according to the male gender I was assigned at birth. Presenting as male feels like wading through treacle, or like being stuck in a traffic jam in the rain. Then when I get to “be” female again and free from the male drudgery it’s like the other cars have pulled off, the sun has come out and I’m sweeping along the most picturesque clear roads without a care. This is why sometimes I talk about getting a feeling of being suffocated by maleness. I’m getting it right now.
This, for me, is my dysphoria. This is as distinct from dysmorphia, which I have to an extent, but not perhaps as strongly as others do. I haven’t really written about this before, but just as the clothes are the surface, they have to sit on a physical frame which is the wrong shape, which says “man!” with its wide shoulders and narrow hips. I really hate my narrow hips so much, they need to be wider. I want curves. I need some junk in my trunk! As for the “bits”, I really don’t have any particularly strong feelings, it’s just there. It’s my body shape that I hate and the bits don’t really interfere with that. “Out of sight, out of mind” I suppose is the best description. But if I imagine a post-transition future, the bits are gone, although more as a tidying-up exercise than anything else. For example, I go to the gym regularly and I would feel distinctly uncomfortable (never mind how the other women would feel) getting changed in the communal changing area with those bits still in place. But this is all something of a pipedream anyway, so I’ll not dwell on it any longer.
The purpose of that digression into what dysphoria feels like for me is to illustrate what it is that I’m trying to combat. The thing from which I’m seeking respite is that very feeling of suffocation, of wading through treacle that comes from spending the majority of my time as apparently male. And I find for me that the best way to achieve this isn’t the “big” occasions, but the little ones. A mother telling her child to “let the lady past”, meaning me. An interaction in a shop which just feels like any other interaction, the joy being just how unremarkable it is, being treated like any other person and not like I have two heads. My book group, where I am accepted as a woman called Kirsty, and all those little interactions with other people while I am there – some or all of the other members may realise my background, but I feel complete acceptance for who I am. And overall, just doing normal everyday things makes me feel like I’m about to explode with a mixture of elation and relief.
I had a great example of this just last weekend. Andrea and I had a lovely Sunday afternoon’s shopping in Belfast City Centre. It was gloriously normal. Normal, but far from unremarkable, as I accompanied Andrea as her official photographer and hand-holder to get her ears pierced. She was rather nervous beforehand but once it was over she was almost overwhelmed, or so it appeared to me. But don’t take my word for it, you can read her account here. I had a very enjoyable afternoon myself and made a couple of purchases; a lovely new top from nv and a rather stylish pair of ankle boots from Evans. In fact I’d barely call them boots, they don’t even cover my ankles. And in nv, since Ruth had described the art of the changing room selfie as “doing a Kirsty”, I thought I had better keep up my reputation and whipped out the phone for a quick snap in my new top.
All this was a joyous afternoon precisely because it all seemed so normal. Getting all dolled up for special occasions is well and good, and there is a place for it, but it’s in the everyday things that I feel the greatest relief, sense of well-being and just general “rightness”. In particular, there was one moment when Andrea was trying on an item and called me over for an opinion. She was standing in front of a mirror and as I appeared beside her I saw is for exactly what we were – two girlfriends hitting the shops. Nothing more, nothing less. And if felt great.
I had another lovely evening on Wednesday with Andrea and Michelle. I don’t want to dwell on it too much here as it’s seriously off topic for this post, but I had such a lovely time and a wonderful meal too. For the second time, we went to The Plough Inn, in Hillsborough, Co Down, only a short drive from support group HQ in Lisburn. I had done around 180 miles of driving for work that day, and Michelle was kind enough to act as my chauffeuse for the evening. I had decided to go a little more glamorous than I had for a while, in a rather elegant black and blue dress and cream heels, which I think was befitting our surroundings. At least, it was fitting for upstairs in the restaurant, but we had to run the gauntlet of going through the public bar to get to the restaurant, where I really did feel like a fish out of water, completely overdressed. But upstairs was great, great food, great company and a great evening. Duck spring rolls to start, melt-in-the-mouth pork belly for my main and a shared assiette of desserts. Plus, I got a couple of nice pics with my friends.
In an apparently unrelated development, I have been corresponding a fair amount recently with a new Facebook friend, one whom I have yet to meet in real life, but who sent me a friend request after reading this blog. In the course of our exchange of messages she asked me if I would be interested in a new trans* evening that someone she knows is trying to set up. My initial response was negative, in that I don’t really “do” trans or LGBT-specific venues as I feel that they just mark me as different, and I just want to be like any other woman. If I could put it in a handy phrase, it would be that I don’t want to be a trans woman, I just want to be a woman. So the sort of high camp, higher heels trans* clubbing event that this sounded like just did not appeal. I have a bit of a fear of appearing like a drag queen. Not looking like one, because I clearly don’t, but having anyone else confuse me with one. Plus, I was getting memories of how much I disliked the evening discos at the Eastbourne weekend last year, with their strangely masculine exhibitionism. (Did I really just use the word “disco”? I think that’s the sound of 1978 calling and asking for its vocabulary back) I’m more of a quiet, slightly geeky girl and I’m happy just having a quiet meal and a chat with friends, or going around tourist sites, visitor attractions and museums. But you know what? After reading a little more about this proposed event from the organiser, it’s maybe not what I feared after all. So I’m open to going, at least once, just to see what it’s like. Maybe I need to cut loose every so often.
But for all that, it’s not the big glam events that really appeal, it’s the little moments. And I really can’t see that ever changing. Because what I crave is acceptance. Passing is probably too ambitious an aim, but acceptance is achievable, and I believe that in fact I have already achieved it from time to time. And every time I feel it, my heart sings.