My next GIC appointment is coming up in a little over a week. At the previous appointment, I was given an exercise to do, something which I should bring with me to the next appointment. My homework, if you like. It’s a grid of four quarters, each of which are headed “Advantages of Transitioning”, “Disadvantages of Transitioning”, “Advantages of Not Transitioning” and, you guessed it, “Disadvantages of Not Transitioning”. When Dr Ingram presented it to me at my previous appointment at the end of April, my immediate reaction was to put my Miss Logic hat on and ask if that’s not really just 2 categories. Surely, logically speaking, the advantages of transitioning are just the reverse of the disadvantages of not transitioning. And similarly, the disadvantages of transitioning are the reverse of the advantages of not transitioning. An example;
Disadvantage of Transitioning: Putting myself through major surgery
Advantage of Not Transitioning: Not putting myself through major surgery
Or another one might be;
Advantage of Transitioning: Will no longer feel like a fish out of water as a man
Disadvantage of Not Transitioning: Will continue to feel like a fish out of water as a man
Do you see the point I’m trying to make? What looks like a 4-way grid akin to a SWOT analysis becomes a simple list of the pros and cons of transitioning. And that’s not as sexy. It’s really just one the one hand this, but on the other hand that. I did point this out to the doctor right away, and he just replied that well, not quite, just see how you get on. So let’s see how I have been getting on.
Well it took me a long time to get started. But when I did, I had quite a few points on the list. The thing that suprised me most is that both “Disadvantage” columns are fuller than the “Advantage” columns. I’m not sure what it says about me as a person that I can think of more downsides than upsides to transitioning, but rather bizarrely I can also think of more downsides than upsides to not transitioning. I’m screwed whatever I do! Of course this is just raw numbers and takes no account of the weighting of each individual element.
Before you get completely ahead of me here, I should make it clear that I will not be reproducing my entire lists in each category. That would be quite dull to read, as some of them are rather frivolous and some less so, but given the format, all are given equal prominence. However there is one thing that does jump out at me when I look at the four lists. The anti-transition lists (Disadvantages of Transitioning and Advantages of Not Transitioning) are full of practical things. Hassles. Things outside my control and things to do with other people. The expense of electrolysis, the expense of divorce, a new home, all a knock-on effect of my transition. Administrative headaches to do with documentation of the change of name and gender. Pain of hair removal. Greater pain and risk of surgery. Possible health risks of HRT. Potential for transphobic discrimination. Also things to do with my kids, and great as they are with the new me, the potential for them to suffer as a result of my transition.
On the other hand, the pro-transition lists (Advantages of Transitioning and Disadvantages of Not Transitioning) are full of emotional rather than practical things. No more pretending to be something I’m not. Finally feeling the real me. Becoming an anatomically more complete woman (which will make me feel happier about myself). Being able to present how I really want. A nicer, better, more socially confident person. A better parent (although I hope I have been a decent dad too). No longer feeling I have to “man up”. Just simple happiness which has no logic.
When I talk about different items being weighted, I mean this. The emotional positives of transition are weighed against the practical positives of not transitioning. Transition and be happy. Or save myself a load of expense and hassle and be unhappy. But even that is over-generalisation. It would be untrue to say that for the 43 years of my life when transition was not on the agenda, I was unhappy all the time. There were times when I was unhappy and unfulfilled, but there were also times when I was perfectly fine. Couldn’t I just go back to being Bob, unwind my transition and be “perfectly fine” again? No, I couldn’t. Not now. As Van Morrison sang, “It’s too late to stop now”.
Once I realised what I am, it was truly a lightbulb moment. I had been living in the dark, but I didn’t know I was living in the dark because I knew nothing different. That was just the way things were. But once the light got switched on and everything became illuminated, my life changed forever. Cancelling my transition now wouldn’t just be like switching the light off again, it would be like trying to forget that the light exists at all. I can’t do that.
Two other things occurred to me as I considered this grid of advantages and disadvantages. Firstly, I suspect the real reason for it is to force me to give myself a dose of realism about the challenges ahead of me when I begin to life full time as a woman. Because the disadvantages of transition aren’t just theoretical. Some of them definitely will happen. It will cost me a fortune. I will have an administrative nightmare. Some of them I may be lucky enough to avoid, and I particularly hope most fervently that my children avoid any negative fallout from my transition.
The other thing that occurred to me is what an odd exercise it is to begin with. Imagine if, rather than being trans, I was simply gay. Imagine giving a young gay man a grid comprising “Advantages of Coming Out”, “Disadvantages of Coming Out”, “Advantages of Staying in the Closet” and “Disadvantages of Staying in the Closet” and asking him to think if he wouldn’t just be better off remaining in the closet and finding himself a nice young woman to marry instead. That would be completely frowned upon. Yet it’s ok to present that grid to a trans woman. I don’t think it’s right.
The subject of my pros & cons grid came up in conversation with my line manager Beth in work a few days ago. She was bemoaning the fact that her bloke can just roll out of bed, have a shower and a shave, quick bit of brekkie and he’s good to go. She has to get up so much earlier than him so she can get her makeup right and fix her hair. She aske me, jokingly, if I was sure I would be able to cope with all that extra hassle every morning. It’s actually something I have considered on the list. But I don’t see it as a problem. However I did mention my GIC homework to her, and in particular that one of my Advantages of Not Transitioning is that I would retain my cis white male privilege. Well I’m going to be losing two of those very soon.
The subject came up again at my latest transition planning meeting with Beth, and Kelly from HR. Beth and I were very impressed with the amount of work that Kelly had done on my behalf in the intervening week and I remarked that one of my Disadvantages of Not Transitioning would be that I couldn’t face the pair of them after the amount of work they have both put in and then tell them that I had changed my mind. Beth just looked at me and said “No we wouldn’t be annoyed. We’d be surprised, and I’d be worried that this was just going to surface again later. Plus, based on all the conversations we have had in the last four months, I really don’t think there’s much chance of that happening.” She probably has a point.
A couple of posts back I wrote about Kelly and my “big boss” Fred having approached an even bigger boss and it all having gone well. Things have progressed even further, as Kelly has now discussed my transition with the biggest boss of all, in Northern Ireland anyway, with very good results. Mr Big himself was very positive indeed, although he seemed to think that we were making too much of a cottage industry out of it. A simple message was all that was required, he thought. The plan was to tell a handful of senior managers in early June, get them on to a trans awareness course run by SAIL the next week, brief their own staff the week after who would be the ones actually informing my clients while I’m off for two weeks. Mr Big wants that timeline contracted considerably as he feels the more people know about this while I’m still in work as Bob, the greater the chance of my news slipping out on to the general company grapevine and all our careful message-management will be lost. He may have a point. He was for telling people on my first day of leave, and then they can disseminate the message and have all clients informed by the time I return. Which sounds great in theory but I would like to be around for a few days as Bob after the message goes out to my equivalents, because I would like the people who will be informing my clients about my transition to have had the opportunity to speak to me about it first.
The other issue that Mr Big had realised is that two weeks leave isn’t enough time to get the job done. Here in Northern Ireland the big annual summer holiday is around the twelfth of July. I’ll not go into the reason for that (Google is your friend if you really don’t know) but a lot of businesses close for the entire week in which the twelfth of July falls. This is known as the “Twelfth Week”, and has often caused confusion for those from outside the six counties when they hear one of us saying that we’re going on our holidays on the twelfth week in July. Isn’t that some time in September??!? Anyway, for those people fortunate enough to take two weeks’ leave, it is very common to take the “Twelth Fortnight”, which is the twelfth week plus either the week before or after. I have explained all this because if all goes according to plan Bob’s last day in work will be Friday 30th June, and Kirsty’s first day in work will be Monday 17th July. Which means I will be taking the Twelfth Fortnight. If any of my clients are also taking those two weeks off on leave, then by the time I return to work as Kirsty, it will not have been possible for them to learn of my transition in my absence. Mr Big is very clear that he doesn’t want uninformed clients phoning me looking for Bob once I’m Kirsty full time, and neither do I for that matter. And that’s before you even take into consideration the fact that those people in the company whose task it will be to speak to my clients about my transition while I’m off, may also be off themselves at the same time as me. So even if the clients we jointly manage are still here, those clients still won’t find out about me during my leave.
Mr Big has a solution to this. I should take more leave. A few days more, just until we can be sure that everyone knows who needs to know. However Mr Big has also said that I can have those extra days as special leave, i.e. it won’t come out of my annual leave entitlement. Which is great – extra days off work! So my transition plan seems to be a bit more up in the air than it was previously because of this, but I think Mr Big’s points are valid ones, and I’m confident we will come up with a solution.
One final thing – Beth and Kelly now know about this blog, although they haven’t seen it. As we were chatting away during this meeting, Beth said jokingly that I should write a book about my transition when I’m out the other side. I replied that I already had about 200,000 words or so. Then I explained that I had been writing about my trans journey for over three years, and finally told them that they were both in it. Much excitement ensued. They also know that they are named Beth and Kelly on here (NEWSFLASH: Those are not their real names!) and I also told them of a few other pseudonyms that I have employed for people they know. They both asked if they could read it. I said no. I’m not sure why. I mean, it’s not like I have ever written anything negative about them, although come to think of it I may have doubted Beth’s reaction prior to telling her, as I was worried about her having religious issues with me. But it’s not that I think they’ll react badly. It’s really the reverse of that. I’m quite uncomfortable with the idea of them reading just how much what they’re doing means to me, how much I appreciate their support, even that day when we went for lunch together after my first GIC appointment. I do tell them to their faces how brilliant I think the pair of them have been, but I don’t know… reading this would just seem a bridge too far. What do you think? Maybe I should show them maybe one or two selected posts. After all, the blog wouldn’t be that hard to find if they really looked now would it?
I’ll leave it there for now with one last thought: Six weeks of Bob to go!