Whipping off the Gender Centrifuge

How I catapulted through my transition - and (some of) what that cost me.

Though medically I have a way to go, socially and officially I transitioned quickly. My official transition came to an effective close last month with my biometric residence permit finally arriving with the correct markers - a minor exchange. My social transition was complete July 27th, 2016 - just over seven weeks after coming out.

At that point, I was Clara to everyone and anyone, both in name and appearance. I had only knowingly met one other transgender person by this time: the advisor that contacted me from a local charity after I went to them for help. I had no reference save what the Internet could tell me, which was considerable, but I restricted most of my reading to a single step-by-step guide - the first one I found. The only transition story I knew was my own, and, as children do, I assumed that people all sort of did as I did.

Of course I discovered quickly that transition stories are many and varied. Individual. I also learned that my speed and comfort was unusual. Not unheard of by any stretch, but not common either.

Another quite unusual thing is how carefree it’s been. Transitions are never carefree but mine was (is) about as carefree as they can be. Officially, I lost one moderate argument with my doctor over a letter to change my passport, but the embassy changed it anyway. I had to report an error on my residence permit - wrong gender marker - but they fixed it without comment. Socially, I’ve never been misgendered in person (I think. There was this one time but I didn’t quite hear what was said and I still can’t work out if it counts) and I haven’t been misgendered over the phone in over a year. I have been the victim of transphobic attacks, but only when I was visible in some way - wearing a shirt, or just open about it at work. I don’t count that as misgendering, and the context makes my status obvious so I struggle to see that as a random clocking. I know I’ve been clocked, but it never became a danger - that’s just luck.

“MY LACK OF EXPERIENCE MAKES ME FEEL AN OUTSIDER IN MY OWN COMMUNITY.”

I would joke that I’ve not had the full transition experience, “Maybe I should go out and get myself misgendered somehow. Then I’ll know what it’s like!” My friends warned me away from that course, but I wasn’t really joking. My lack of experience makes me feel an outsider in my own community. I can’t share their experience; I can only empathise. I’m a bit cis that way.

I often consider what I did right. Working at schools quickly teaches how far confidence and enthusiasm goes. If you’re happy to be there and look sure of yourself, children just believe you - no matter how wrong you are. I’m pretty sure that extends to all people regardless of age, and I was confident. Overconfident. I was also enthusiastic. Euphoric. My first week full time was visiting my family for my dad’s funeral, and my mum commented on how natural and at ease I looked; how that fed into how people responded to me.

I had no fear. Going out in a skirt for the first time was not a nerve wracking thing, though I did keep checking that I was covered before I learned to just trust it once I checked the wind. Developing the reflexes to respond to said wind was a process, but it wasn’t an upsetting one; I didn’t feel nervous about it. Mostly I was amused. One friend told me that her first time out she wanted the ground to swallow her up and I can objectively process what she means but I don’t understand. I wanted to shine. For the first time in my life, I wanted to be seen and I went out of my way to get noticed. I understood I should be afraid, that there were people who would do me harm. But I wasn’t; I treated it like a dare.

My end of term work do. We were at the house of the administrator there, but after a while moved on to town. I was properly made up and in my favourite dress (sadly too big for me now); my work mates only saw photographs of me before that night. I went out with them a few times before, but not as I was. I’d been out in town before, but not to a club. I got aggressive with this guy who kept trying to dance with me and others; my friends waved me away and showed me how to get rid of him without inviting a fight - basically formed a ring and didn’t let him in. From that point I knew to keep my friends close. A drunken stumble into the ladies to do my thing, straighten my hair, check my make up and I was out again. Rum. So much rum. Outside to get some air, one of my friends was chatting to that same guy as if it never happened. Sharing a lighter, chatting about last time she saw him there. He didn’t give me a second glance other than to say hello during introductions. I felt exposed under light, I was sure my voice was going to crack out - I had been loudly singing along - but he didn’t blink. He either didn’t know or didn’t care.

I was happy to be seen. I enjoyed the attention even as I was telling the guy to fuck off. I was baffled that he didn’t make that a thing when he saw me later. I was monitoring my own passability, but that moment taught me to not worry quite so much. That actually, most folks either don’t know or don’t care. I’m not sure how that followed on to me issuing a challenge to those around me, but I did. A look was met with an even stare and a smile. A second glance would lock my eyes on theirs as if to say, “Go on. Give that thought form.” People would smile back or quickly break eye contact.

"MORE THAN ANY OTHER FACTOR, WE RELY ON LUCK TO KEEP US SAFE AS WE LEARN HOW TO LIVE OUR LIVES IN A NEW ROLE."

I also have to acknowledge the tremendous luck I’ve had, which really is the biggest advantage in all this. It’s obvious I was clocked; I was lucky that it didn’t matter to anyone that did. Except maybe that one person that I’m not sure what they said. Don’t know - I cling to that experience as ‘that one time’. Perhaps I shouldn’t? But I was lucky. The wrong person would have killed me or worse and I am humbled at that. More than any other factor, we rely on luck to keep us safe as we learn how to live our lives in a new role.

Feeling outside creates a distance for me that I’m accustomed to in a different context: I never felt at home in my gender anyway, and now that I do I don’t feel totally at home in my transgenderness. Being outside is a normal thing that’s just part of my experience, but here it bothers me. I’m meant to be an advocate here; one of them. A transgender woman that doesn’t have that ability to share as other transgender women do. A support worker that doesn’t really get it.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. My most successful therapist in this process was a gay cisgender man who couldn’t possibly put himself in my shoes any more than I could his. I can still advocate my community without feeling like I really understand some of the fundamental shared experiences within it. But part of me would have another go and be nervous. Let it stretch out, give myself that long window of weird to see what happened. The speed I moved at minimised the risk, but it also deprived me of experiences. Of course, I also know that if I tried to go at that slower speed, I would go mad. It’s not me, and it worked out. Despite being something of an outsider, I am grateful to have landed on my feet.

Comments
No. 1-7
Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst

Editor

ahhh yes. I mean hindsight tells me I've been grappling with this for a good 35 years (since age 3). But I don't count that as discovery. I didn't look in the mirror and think, 'I'm a girl.' I just hated what I saw. I've written a story about that moment for my patreon subscribers (patreon.com/clarabarnhurst if you're interested - really not offended if you're not).

Discovery, for me, was at age 37 when I finally just looked around into the subject and said to myself I'm female. From there I worked very quickly and coming out resulted in me being thrown out so I had nothing to lose. With nothing to worry about, there wasn't any point in delaying... but I'm not so sure that's preferable. Homelessness is terrifying.

I grapple with words like 'brave,' but I get what you're saying. I just did the thing I needed to do.

AmiAnne
AmiAnne

Wow! Congratulations! That's brave!

It took me about 20 years of getting past a combination of denial and social stigma just to get to the point of admitting to myself that I was trans. Of course, things were very different that long ago - there were almost zero resources to even learn about it and almost zero places where you could be open and safe. The 10 years after that were a matter of having a marriage, kids, job, house, and everything else that I likely would have lost had I taken a leap like that. Instead I slowly pushed boundaries until I got to a point where I had both the economic freedom and support system to move ahead. I came out five years ago and two years ago when I FINALLY had health insurance again (Thanks, Obama!) I moved ahead with therapy, hormones, and, (hopefully) next year surgery. I've been living authentically since June.

For my part, I do my best not to take for granted the suffering of those who came before me. In the end my transition was almost effortless and without consequence (even though I know that could change at any time). So, since I "missed out" on much of the hardship, I try to speak out and speak up wherever I can and offer support to those who need it as my way of giving back and paying it forward.

Clara Barnhurst
Clara Barnhurst

Editor

@Laura

I share that need to belong. I think that is why I feel self conscious about how lucky I've been: much of the community is built around enduring hardship that I simply didn't have to endure.

@AmiAnne

I totally get that self awareness over basically bring dealt a good hand. I went from discovery to decision to transition in 3 months. Then, out to full time to HRT in another 3 months. Passed pretty much from day 1... It really was a wild ride and it's only been 19 months or so!

Those stories of taking ages glacially moving forward are so interesting to me. It's just a totally different experience

AmiAnne
AmiAnne

I can relate to this. I took a LONG time to make the leap to formally transition (I spent over 10 years in increasing degrees of non-conforming.) Once I did though, I passed very well almost immediately. It left me with certain feelings of guilt: I felt guilt for not being more visibly and representing the trans community and from that felt guilt for having what a lot of trans women long for and not appreciating it.

Hi_its_Laura
Hi_its_Laura

I also feel that i've had a remarkably straightforward transition story in many ways. I guess for me, feeling able to identify as part of a given community without having had all the same experiences is an important thing, whether that is the trans community, communities of women, or any other group really. I would also relate my relatively happy story to multiple strands of privilege (e.g race, class, geography) that i carry, and the feeling of being an outsider is something people with less privilege are likely to experience much more.