Clara Barnhurst

I was a weird kid. A weird kid that grew into a weird teenager and carried that weirdness into what nominally could be called my adult life, though these days I refer to those years before second puberty as my extended adolescence. Coming out as transgender and going ahead with a transition created a context for some of my strange behaviour and attitudes; I became less weird.

I come from a family of liberal eccentrics. My youngest brother took a previous essay of mine and gave us a family motto: interdum mundus errat, or sometimes the world is wrong. It’s a reference to our refusal to go along; to bow to the pressure to conform. The world is wrong and we generally choose to live with the blow back from saying so. We wear the added difficulty in life that comes with our refusal to go along as a badge of honour.

Being transgender is one of those things that thumbs our nose at the world. We challenge so many just by being. To many, we are the ultimate expression of nonconformity: a rejection of what is generally the first thing that is said of us at birth.

‘It’s a girl!’ they shout in excitement.

‘No, it’s not,’ he replies.

Some take it a step further by refusing the perceived options. Sometimes, the world is wrong. Not that it’s an easy move, to reject and challenge the world in that way. Yet here we are.

One of the consequences of issuing that challenge, for me, is that many of the attitudes and behaviours that were previously challenges to the world suddenly aren’t. I am female and I behave that way - whatever that means. The various female bits of me no longer stand out as odd or unusual. I don’t have to justify myself in that way anymore. Nobody says, “I like a guy that <insert stereotypical feminine trait here>,” as though I shouldn’t be that way. I don’t have to then explain or qualify that trait to them either. I conform.


The irony here is I cultivated my feminine traits over my life as a direct challenge to people around me, as if to say, “I’m not what you expect, so what now?” I wanted to show the world I was different, but I was the same all along. Or, at least, I wasn’t different in the way I kept saying. A dyed in the wool nonconformist such as myself had to find other ways to challenge the world. The world was still wrong, but my outward expression matched the wrongness - so it was right?

I might have to concede this one to the world, at least in a self referential way. It’s plenty wrong about other people perceived as women but aren’t. And sure, being transgender is an act of exposing that wrongness, particularly if one is visibly so. But for someone who was raised to reject expectation to find themselves meeting expectations even if they don’t accept them… that’s weird.

I’m not alone in confronting my own conformity after fighting the good fight for so long, but not everyone sees the process of fitting in as dissonant. For many, it’s a euphoric experience that affirms their place in society. In many ways, I share that feeling. Being called ‘darling’ or ‘love’ at work is normal, but still nice (even as I make a face about it like everyone else). Male privilege makes me bristle same as anyone else, but female underprivilege is far more comfortable for me; it makes sense to my brain.

Beyond that, there is the concern for fitting in that comes with being transgender: passing is a matter of life or death to many and a point of personal safety for most. On this score, the world is most definitely wrong, but the danger inherent in refusing to bend to the pressure is enough to make even a hardened iconoclast such as myself balk. Besides, I feel good when I pass. It means I’m me to everyone around me. To my chagrin, it feels good to be normal - to be seen as ordinary.


Normality was always an enemy growing up. Most of my experience tells me that fitting in inevitably means being at home with people I find miserable, doing stuff that bores me to tears. Small talk - how do people do it? I have no idea. This notion that I had to grow up, meet someone and acquire some kind of home always felt artificial: an automatic response when people ask what we’re supposed to do with our lives. I mean, I wanted to meet people and have a place where I felt at home, but the automatic assumption that we all just settled in was odd to me - until I settled into a female role. Suddenly this all is very appealing. Suddenly, normality seems to be part of my aspiration.

While I haven’t accepted every expectation handed to me in my new role, I certainly feel more comfortable with them. My rejection is softer; a gentle, ‘No, thanks,’ rather than a shove away. I want kids, but I don’t need or want a genetic one. I want a career, but I’m still making decisions that take me away from the path of least resistance. I want the home, but I want it my way. My role models are the odd ones out: the art teachers at my old job, my mum, the teaching assistants that were there for the passion and the love rather than the holidays. The burlesque dancers that got up there, took their clothes off, and gave the audience the finger. Those are the women I want to take from: the ones that make their world. They might have the family, the home and the job, but they also carve their name into the substance of the world.

One thing I don’t say as much as I used to is the only thing worse than being inept is being ordinary. In some ways I still believe it, but transitioning into normality has taught me that ordinary is one of those slippery fish that can be quite gratifying. Sometimes, ordinary just makes sense - even if there are plenty things that go with it to flout.

Comments (2)
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Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst


That’s lovely, thanks for sharing.

And really interesting to see how different everybody encounters conformity as a transgender person. I revelled in the challenge I issued to the world and my family encouraged me to stay different. I had so much freedom to express myself with them, I could see myself possibly not transitioning at all. Were my ex wife so accepting of me, I might have continued life as this weird guy.

Funny how things work out.


I also found it difficult to conform to the norms of the gender I was ASSIGNED at birth. I literally didn't have the instincts of a boy. I didn't fight, and frequently got assaulted by large groups of boys, often a few times a day. I found that I could avoid the after school beatings by not doing my math written work, which meant I could stay an hour or so after class to finish while the teacher prepared lessons for the next day.
I was an avid reader of nonfiction books, and by third grade, was reading at high school level. By 5th grade, I was reading at college level. It turned out that my IQ was 195 according to the Mensa tests they gave me in 4th grade.
In jr high, I joined clubs, rocket club, radio club, aviation club. Since I stayed for clubs, I did well in algebra. I got a general class radio license by the time I was 12. But puberty was making me crazy. I wanted to be a girl. I tried to block puberty by nonsurgically castrating myself. Boiling water, rubber bands, string, even a 2x4 and a hammer, to no avail.
When I found out I was a bass, I got suicidal, including numerous"accidental" overdoses, walking in traffic, and starting fights I had no chance of winning.
I found solace in choir and theater, where I made several gay friends. As other boys came on to me, I would introduce them to other gay guys. I also had several girl friends. I couldn't tell them that I was a girl inside, or that I was a lesbian. Even going to a woman's college, I couldn't tell them about the girl inside.
I went on to work with computers, doing "impossible" things, and solving "impossible" problems. I'd gotten married, and somehow had two children. My first wife couldn't help but see the girl inside, and she hated her. Only when a marriage counselor evaluated me and found out that my "wardrobe problem" was that I was transsexual, did she finally realized Debbie wasn't going away.
I started to transition, and I lost everything. I was harassed into quitting my job, my wife had an affair and divorced me to marry her boyfriend, the she revoked my visitation and kept the child support.
I went on to do more "impossible" and "crazy" things, like get a bunch of BBS operators to convert their BBS servers to Linux and make them internet servers, get 8000 publishers to move content to the Internet using web servers, and helping companies do commerce on the Internet. Even getting thousands of companies to make use of open source software and Linux for corporate servers, and more.

Yet, I kept my anonymity, because Rex was my "Iron Mask", painted with a nice smile on the outside, but incredibly painful to wear.
I finally transitioned several years ago, and finally felt right. I still do "impossible" things with computers, but I enjoy it a lot more, because it's Debbie who succeeds.

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