The Face of Trans*

In the media lately there has been plenty of coverage of the lives of Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox. Even Aydian Dowling has been on the Ellen Show. The point is that these people are seriously privileged.

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What’s it like to be transgendered in everyday life without celebrity privilege? I asked some members of the trans* community to give an account of what life is like for them. I think it’s important that we educate the general public so we can end the travesty that is transphobia. I also want those who are trans* to know that they are not alone.

This is James. He has preferred to remain anonymous. I’ve known him for a few years now. We met as part of an online vegan community.

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“I don’t know when I realised I was trans. Or maybe I did and just didn’t have the words to convey a sense of unease; a disconnect between my mind and my body. I only noticed how alien my chest feels once I began binding. Since discovering my transness, the feelings of discomfort with my body have located to very specific areas and I’m trying my best to modify the physical map of my body to match my mental map, though last summer I decided that I feel the best route for me would to go through the NHS and see if I can get some treatment. To this day I’m still waiting for my first appointment.

I never really knew any (out) trans men. I began identifying as non-binary around the age of twenty seven, when for the first time in my life I became exposed to spaces where it was ok to be queer and where binary gender concepts were scrutinised. I moved to a new city around two years ago and I began masculinising my appearance, though I initially found the word “trans man” difficult because “man” to me had so many negative connotations which where embedded in my mind from encounters growing up.

I didn’t want to be associated with “that guy” and I associated masculinity with misogyny and entitlement at the time, though subsequent conversations with a variety of people have helped me make a distinction between the concepts which helped me a lot. It took me a few years of knowing, but not admitting to myself that I’d need to take this step, to really come to terms with who I am, despite the fact I still often get my brain in to knots dissecting the crossroads between gender and the body and probably always will. In short, I don’t know how to explain how I got here because it’s complex, but I’m here and I’m way happier.

Life and day to day stuff? I’m a support worker for disabled adults. My job is very gendered and I’m out to my employers and they’ve been great. I’m really lucky that I haven’t experienced a great deal of transphobia so far, though I admit I’m also protected by the fact that I have a sibling and mother who’re very supportive and other amazing people in my life. I’m not saying I don’t struggle because I do still have periods of not being able to get out in public and I do get in to very negative thought patterns. I’m also worried about the content of gender clinic appointments, about medical gatekeeping and about how I’ll deal with transition, not only in changes to my body, but changes socially.

I’m hoping that this time next year I’ll have a bit of stubble coming through and a deeper voice. The process feels slow and I imagine there will be more challenges ahead than what I’ve faced so far. I have a roof over my head, people who love me and a lot of security in my life that I know many trans people don’t have. It’s for these reasons that we need to be working together, whether we’re trans ourselves, friends or partners of trans people, or individuals who just give a damn. It’s society and the oppressive systems under which we live that are the problem and we need to keep working together to fight them.”

This is Syluss. We met about 4 years ago through a mutual friend. Syluss has done two of my tattoos with a third booked in soon.

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“I always knew that I didn’t feel the same as anyone else or how I was expected to be from a really early age. I remember when I was a child, probably around the age of 9 or 10, praying to whoever every night that I would wake up being a boy as I didn’t feel right in my body. Fast forward to the age of 21, it all surfaced again after years of just being a gay girl. I discussed it with a couple of people and a friends mum and she mentioned that I was too pretty to be a boy. During that time the internet wasn’t as readily available to get all the information you needed to discover what was out there and who can help. So time went by, I got involved in music and travel and after living in Australia and seeing a great Trans and Gay community in Melbourne and how it’s much more accepted there than in England, I finally made my mind up to go ahead with it when I came back. So at the age of 36 I started the process. That was March two years ago and on September the 9th will be my 2 years on hormones. I get asked a lot why I waited so long to do it. In a way I wish I had just gone for it sooner. But mentally, I don’t think I was ready for it. I had to go through the path in life that I did in order to gain the experience and back bone to face life’s challenges that would come with transitioning.

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I am a full time tattoo artist and completely out about my trans-ness and am blessed with a couple of thing’s really regarding that.
Number one is working with a group of people that don’t see me any other way than who I am and treat me as a regular cis guy. Also this makes for a great environment for other trans men and women to come and feel comfortable to get tattooed in a non judgmental space. Even though the studio is on the High Street in Exeter, we are on the first floor making the area private and relaxing and not your usual fishbowl parlor. So people are safe in the knowledge that they can just be who they are and not worry about anyone infiltrating their personal space. We have a few regular trans-guys that come and get work by us for this exact reason.

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I really am grateful for my job and I work really hard and am pretty booked up. Because of that, a lot of my time when not tattooing, is drawing up designs, painting and designing custom work for other people etc. Summer is my busiest period so I usually book off time throughout the Winter/Spring and Autumn to go for long weekends or epic road trips in other countries. I love to travel and its my biggest passion other than art. I’m in a fortunate position that I have no dependents so I make the most of my own time. So I save, travel, repeat.

I can honestly say that I have been very lucky with regards to my transition so far. In the beginning I lost a couple of people because I think they didn’t know how to handle it but I think it was more due to people worrying about what their own friends and family would think of them knowing a “trans” person. To be honest, there is no love lost as It weed’s out the weaker people who I wouldn’t be able to rely on as a supportive friend. And I have plenty of those that do care greatly about me. So what more can a guy need.
Devon is very conservative and a bit more insular than nearer to London for example, so I am a minority here. There is only one gay venue in the city. And the whole Trans thing is more taboo down here. Touch wood, I haven’t had any abuse from anyone and to be honest, if I did, I am not afraid to name and shame people on their ignorance, so maybe that’s why I haven’t had anything done to me personally.
People will always talk and criticise something they don’t understand. If customer’s want me to openly talk about it and they ask me questions, I am happy to answer because it’s important to educate people on the subject. A lot of ignorance come’s from a lack of understanding. But when people get to know me then they realise that I am just like every one else.. Maybe just a bit cooler hahaha.”

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This is Gracie. They identify as gender variant. (The * is used at the end of trans because it can be an umbrella term. People with variant genders or no gender at all, like myself, also come under that banner and I think are probably very unrepresented, even in trans media.) She has also decided to remain anonymous.

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“I first knew when I tried on women’s clothes and realised how comfortable I was in them and how they suited me. Then I realised I’ve always had feminine behaviours and I’ve liked girly stuff since I was young so it kinda all made sense.

 Work wise I continue to be a guy, but I much prefer to be a girl because I am able to express myself without being restricted by ‘expectations’ of a masculine man so I would say I’m female 75% of the time now
I love women’s fashion and adore being beautiful, getting my nails painted, trying on clothes and I’m a shopaholic who can’t stop buying! I’m still interested in railways though.
I’ll be honest, bigotry exists and it generally comes from ‘alpha males’ and proper narrow minded men who think that being a woman is somehow below being a man and so they find it funny. I just shake off these irrelevant comments because my friends have all been amazing.”
This Ben. We’ve known each other on Facebook for about a year. We met through an abolitionist vegan network.
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“My name is Ben, and I’m a 45 year old Australian male. I identify as transsexual, transman, male, man or bloke with a cunt, depending on who I’m with. I wrote a memoir of my life’s journey (so far), so in that way I’m fairly open and candid about being trans. But in everyday interactions, I don’t particularly share my gender story. I felt strongly like I was a boy, or meant to be a boy, when I was about eight years old, in the late 1970’s. But I didn’t really understand how that was, or what to do about it. Puberty when I was eleven really threw my life out of kilter, and my teenage years were hellish. There were other issues around family dysfunction, abuse, and my sexuality that meant I never revisited my gender issues until I was thirty-two. I identified as a lesbian from thirty, but was probably really bisexual, if I’m being honest. My transition to Ben was fairly easy – certainly in comparison to what I expected. I had much greater support from work-colleagues and friends than I imagined, but my already strained relationship with immediate family meant their acceptance of my true self was never going to happen.

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My sexual self awakened after two years of testosterone and a bilateral mastectomy, and I spent some time “catching up” on sewing my wild oats with male partners. Not long after this I met my cisgendered male partner, and we’ve been together for eight years. We describe ourselves as a gay couple with a twist.

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I’m very comfortable in my own skin – apart from the getting older bit – and despite some sacrifices from my old life, transitioning has been the best decision I’ve ever made. Being Ben has truly been lifesaving.”

Unfortunately none of my transwomen friends were able to write me anything in time because they were too busy. I hope this gives you an incite into what the trans* community is really like and that it has helped to educate you and dispel any myths. Please feel free to ask as many questions as you like.

Your gender queer vegan. X

My Gender Queer Life

I grew up in a house with two opposite sex parents. I like to state this because it is not by any means a given in life. My mother was and still is obsessed with femininity and my father has always been traditionally masculine. A pretty traditional upbringing in all senses of the word.

I was closer to my dad as a child. I don’t really know why. By the time I was 3 I could name every car on the road because he loved cars. He often took me to work with him at a car showroom and to various motor sport events which I loved.

My mum put me in dresses for a long time, but as soon as I could choose, I was in trousers and a t-shirt. They made me feel more comfortable. Not to say I didn’t enjoy spending time with my mum, because I did.

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The first memory I have of knowing I was different was when I was 6 years old. My mum and my sister had taken me and my niece and nephew to an outdoor public paddling pool. It was a hot day and all the kids were running in and out of the water. My nephew threw his shirt off and ran into the pool with just shorts on. I took my shirt off and ran in after him. I was shouted at and told that girls must wear tops at all times. I protested, but I was really embarrassed. I had broken a social norm and all I ever wanted to do was please my family. It effected me so profoundly that I didn’t even consider what I felt like inside for almost 20 years.

Around the age of 14 I came out to my family as a lesbian. I had a girlfriend and it was becoming increasingly difficult to hide it. It was a relief but I suffered for it at school and in my personal life. To be honest this is quite irrelevant to my GQ story, other than a particular point I want to make:

Sexuality and gender and two different things.

  • Sexuality is who you are attracted to.
  • Gender is how you identify.

Like with the binary gender norms (male and female), sexuality is also enforced in a trinary (probably not a word.) Straight, gay or bisexual with the assumption you are straight unless you say otherwise.

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As an adult I have come to realise both are on a spectrum, identifying as pansexual and GQ. (Being pansexual means you are attracted to the whole spectrum and reject the gender binary.)

Around about the age of 27 my partner of 3 years left me. We had a mortgage together, 3 cats and we had built a stable life. She left without warning and little explanation. My boss at the time was an unsympathetic homophobe who basically told me to get over it. I sat and cried at my desk everyday until HR eventually signed me off sick for a week. I drank a lot and had time to think about what she had potentially been suppressing in me. I started to explore my feelings about gender on Tumblr and Reddit. I started to connect with people who felt the same way about themselves as me. We didn’t fit in the gender binary. We didn’t identify as male or female. We were gender queer.

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Now here is where it gets complicated so pay attention. There is a trans* umbrella. It encompasses lots of different identities such as gender fluid, bigender and agender as well as gender queer. I personally am fluid in my gender. Sometimes I feel more masculine or more feminine. However most of the time I’m entirely androgynous. I identify as gender queer because I don’t fit. I’m queer of the norm. If I want to actually pass as a cis male, then I will dress as one and do exactly that. I find it harder to pass as cis female for fucks sake and I have a damn vagina!

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A lot of my gender queer friends have gone on to transition to become who they really are. For example having a female body and transitioning to that of a male. They are now transgendered people. Me on the other hand, I am already who I am and that is queer as bloody folk. 😉

 

So what is my life like on a daily basis? I get up and I think about how I’m feeling. Shall I wear tight jeans or shall I wear a baggy hoodie? Shall I leave the hairs on my lip or shall I pluck them? Suitably dressed for how I’m feeling I’ll go to the gym. Unfortunately at my local gym they do not have gender neutral changing rooms so I have to make a decision based on how I am presenting to the world. Sometimes this is made for me and I am ushered into the male changing rooms because even being androgynous means you are definitely male in the binary world. After the gym I’ll go to the supermarket to grab some shopping. I’ll need a wee because I’ll have drunk a lot post workout. Again there are no gender neutral facilities. I look at the door and the symbols don’t match who I am or how I feel. I have to yet again make a decision I’m not comfortable with. If I go into the female toilets I am often whispered about and sometimes even blatantly shouted out. If I go in the male toilets I could get beaten up. Ah I’m at home now. I’ll check Facebook and see what’s going on in the world. I’ll get misgendered as ‘she’ by strangers and even people I know when my profile clearly states my preferred pronouns are they and them. You know I’m really tired already and I haven’t even been to work yet. She this and she that all fucking night long. ARGH!!!!!!!

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As you can see it’s difficult being a non-binary person in a binary world. Every action can be a stressful situation just waiting to open up and swallow you. Only around people who truly accept me can I be comfortable and sometimes even they make mistakes. It’s so hard to be unconditioned when your whole life you are told that the binary is the only thing there is.

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Being gender queer certainly isn’t any form of attention seeking as I have been accused of in the past. It’s just me trying to express how I really feel inside on the outside.

I hope this little ramble has made things clearer for you. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below.

A Week Off

A couple of weeks ago now a friend of mine was taken from this world by someone who never deserved to have someone as amazing as her in his life. The whole metal community in my home town drank, partied, grieved and drank some more in her honour. I went to a couple of events and even carried on going to work until last Monday when it hit me hard in the face like a brick. The girl who was the first person to actively use Mouche and Emzy together , who would listen to my problems or dance the night away with me: She was gone, forever.

I had to have some time off to get my head around it, but that’s when my depression really started to kick in. All I wanted to do was sit on the sofa, play video games and drink and that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t even go to the gym.

My depression is a crazy monster that lives inside of me that makes me act strangely and alienates those around me. It’s also heavily affected by a healthy diet and a serious amount of exercise, neither of which I had last week. I continued to spiral downwards.

When I’m not in control of how I feel, I tend not to be in control of my gender issues either. I kept switching along my gender spectrum. This is highly traumatic for me because I can get dressed, go out and then be in the entirely wrong clothes and feel 100% dysphoric.

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The picture of my Dad from 1978 rings a bell with me. I don’t have any biological male siblings, so I have no idea what I’d look like as a guy. I’ve been in femme mode for about the last two months and now I’m sat firmly back in androgyny, or as I like to say: without gender. Mykey my partner, has been supportive throughout this time and I look forward to him meeting the more masculine me, but for now I am back in control and where I like to be.

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To top it all off, my oldest rescue cat went missing on Saturday. This triggered my anxiety and made me very twitchy. Thank-fully she came back and is happily asleep somewhere warm and comfy.

All in all, I feel a lot better today and I’m back at work. I even went to the gym this morning, so onwards and upwards.

An inspiration from an unusual source!

In May 2012, my partner of four years left me. I spent the next 3 months on the floor, drinking myself to death. It was during this time that I realised that my ex had suppressed something in me and it was starting to manifest itself. I realised that I was gender queer. To those who don’t know what this term means, let me break it down for you: people who are GQ live outside of the binary of male and female. They identify as neither, yet will flirt between them and sit in the middle without gender too. This is called being androgynous. (My best friend tells me that I am all kinds of androgynous hot. Who knew?) Personally my own gender switches when it feels like it, but especially when I am going through immense emotional turmoil and let’s be honest, I’ve not been short of that lately. Anyway, after my emotional breakdown I started to rediscover myself. I became this whole new creature, who could proudly sport a beard and urinate in the male toilets, or wear tight jeans and low cut tops. I really liked where I was and where I am to this day: Openly GQ.Gq_flag

Now I’m going to skip a good few months of losing weight and training hard at the gym (I can write about that somewhere else, because you know you want to hear that one) and we arrive at January 2013. I am in a new relationship with a white, heterosexual male. It never even occurred to me that this might pose some challenges, but luckily it hasn’t.  He is very understanding and he also inspired me to write this particular post. We were talking the other day and he mentioned my lack of caring about what people think of how I behave. A confused face was made by me, to which he explained more. He mentioned that he was impressed with my lack of caring about particular roles in the bedroom and that I just did what felt right. When we were out at the pub, I always accompanied him to the bar and we took it in turns to pay – this made him smile. Then the fact that I would come up behind him and hug him, which he always saw as a male role – this makes him think I am amazing.  I look female currently and I guess he thought he’d have to pay for things and wait on me hand and foot, both in life and the bedroom. It doesn’t work like that with me because gender is irrelevant. We work as a team of two equal people. (Although I am stronger than him, which won’t last for long because he is training everyday like me.) Now I have had this inequality in relationships pointed out to me, I can see it everywhere: One partner taking advantage of the other because of their perceived gender and therefore role norms. Why should what is between your legs, dictate how you behave around people you find attractive? How do we even begin to combat this as a queer movement and eventually as a society? For now I’ll keep being amazed at how many norms I don’t conform to in my newly, visually heterosexual relationship and look forward to the new adventure life has placed before me.

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