Transitioning Into Normality
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.
"A DYED IN THE WOOL NONCONFORMIST SUCH AS MYSELF HAD TO FIND OTHER WAYS TO CHALLENGE THE WORLD."
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."
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.