Transition Culture Shock
While I’m always mindful that everyone goes about their life changes their way, it’s one of those abstract ideas: an academic truth. Like many people, I need to encounter an actual working example to really see how it is. I think, with regard to transgender culture, I am still pretty naïve. It’s kinda strange how quickly I’ve immersed myself, but it’s still only been a year and change. Much to learn.
One thing I never did was crossdress - a relatively common part of a transgender woman’s process. I just didn’t really do it apart from nicking some clothes as a teenager and sort of having them around briefly, but it was ended after I was caught immediately by my mum. She was very cool about it. I was a teenager about it, so that ended that.
So the story, for me, is more or less as follows: 1) tell everyone I know, 2) go shopping, 3) get on with life while doing the various bits I need to make strangers accept me as female. There were no other steps. That all or nothing, ultra quick approach worked quite well for me and I didn’t have many hiccups. I didn’t really have any commitments that might have made that more complicated, but knowing what I’m like I probably would have done it that way even with an iffy job I couldn’t afford to lose or children or a marriage I wanted to keep. I’m just not really ever satisfied with anything but everything.
So I was out with a friend last night who’s very much on a trajectory where there are no modes, but isn’t quite where she feels comfortable ditching boy mode even if there is an event horizon she’s fast approaching on that score. It struck me how there were certain subtle differences in how she thought through a night out.
Planning the evening, there was the question of whether there were any friendly events my way and honestly I had no idea. I would seek out safe spaces to go drink and dance, but I don’t anymore. These days, I really just look for wherever has decent beer on. I understand her question completely: this stuff isn’t safe. People get hurt or killed; we want to know that wherever we’re going, it’s gonna be safe.
"I AM VERY MUCH CONCERNED FOR MY SAFETY - NO SANE WOMAN GOING OUT ON THE TOWN OF A SATURDAY NIGHT WOULDN’T BE - BUT MY SAFETY CONCERNS ARE MORE CENTRED AROUND DEALING WITH MISOGYNY."
I am very much concerned for my safety - no sane woman going out on the town of a Saturday night wouldn’t be - but my safety concerns are more centred around dealing with misogyny. So for me, it’s more about being in a group and avoiding certain pubs where you know the men are assholes. Those places have crap beer in there anyway so I’d avoid even if they were safe; it’s useful that my town keeps the jerks away from the good beer.
I had another funny reaction to her saying how she’ll be glad to not use the men’s room anymore. I had no idea what she was talking about and asked, rather incredulously, ‘Why would you do that?’
Of course, she has a mode. The mode is going away, but I don’t have any contact with that mode and I sort of stopped using the men’s toilets immediately. It was one of those odd little disconnects that speaks of an entire process that was absent from my own changes. That process I am of course aware of, but I haven’t been confronted with it in the context of chatting over a drink in a pub. It’s always been connected to my support work somehow; having it outside that context made it more real.
One thing I said in a conversation last summer with Transgender Universe’s editor - the exchange that prompted me to send them a sample and ask if they wanted another contributor - was that, in order to make people change their minds on something, a person needs to have an issue touch their lives in a personal way. At the time, the subject was the bathroom bills and I said it would take a cisgender person being discriminated against by such rules to overturn them. Which is exactly what happened for certain companies in subsequent months. Once the dominant group is affected, it starts being a human issue. Well, encountering off hand comments about managing modes made modes real in my mind. Of course they were real, but they hadn’t really entered my consciousness on a personal level.
It just goes to show how little I know. How many facets of the transition process I don’t understand by dint of not having personal experience with them. It also shows how separate I keep my professional and personal lives, to have worked with and sought support from folks who maintain multiple modes as part of a transition process without actually considering the logistics or feelings surrounding that. My modes were (barely) maintained for roughly seven weeks. Not enough time to really form feelings about them. After those seven weeks, there were no modes.
"I THINK THIS LITTLE BIT OF CULTURE SHOCK CAN ALSO SERVE TO DEMONSTRATE HOW THERE CAN BE SO MUCH DIVISION IN THE TRANS\ COMMUNITY."*
I think this little bit of culture shock can also serve to demonstrate how there can be so much division in the trans* community. How we can all seem to want the same thing, but vehemently disagree and disregard each other: we need to make experiences ours. We have to take ownership of them to really understand and internalise how this diversity works. Maybe the reason there doesn’t feel like there is a common transhood is because there actually isn’t. Maybe we’re all just people thrown together by common circumstance and suffering - but that is probably another article for another time.
However the differences land, I’m glad I could have that encounter and learn without the added distance of professional objectivity. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget and I hope to have more like them. I’m honoured to be taught by the people around me and I hope that I can take this new perspective and do something good with it. And that, for me, is what it’s really all about.