Its funny when you read people’s assumption about gender transition, as if every trans person goes through the same process, same journey, or has the same outcomes. No trans people are the same, and the paths we walk are as unique as we are. What we all share is a general incongruence with our gender identity compared to our assigned sex at birth, and that when we come out we are prepared to do something about what ever dysphoria we may be feeling. Some trans folk feel they may have been born into the wrong body, others compelled to medicalise their bodies, and yet others simply want to change their gender expression to match their inner gender identity. However we arrive at the starting point, how we proceed from there is varied, beautiful, often hard, and occasionally wonderous. This is my small snapshot of what transition looks like, trying to capture a smidgen of what it is like to be trans.
I came out to the world around me over the course of 1998 and 1999, telling friends that I was going to transition at some point. I was the awkward kid at college, not really fitting in, uncertain about a great many things. Yet, my gender identity was never in doubt. It took a bout of serious depression at the beginning of 2000 for me to bite the bullet and finally come out formally. At college I was very much my new self, while at home I was still the boy child. It took a letter from my solicitors with my new name on for my parents to find out, and they were very much the last to know. There were no major fireworks, just a refusal to call me by my name, and in the 23 years since they deadname to this day.
Formally changing my name was one thing, what came next was a leap into the unknown. How do you become a woman when you have no-one to guide you? I was an absolute hot mess over the summer of 2000 and into my first academic year at university. Having a new name and new identity is a thrill, but the mundane reality of being trans in a society that at the time had no clue about trans issues was hard to work through. No-one was ever cruel, but I perplexed people. This anomaly that wandered through the world innocent, naive, to it all. Of course things came crashing down courtesy of a suicide attempt, first uni relationship going sideways, my finances running short, and mental health being all over the place due to diet, sleep, and wanting to experience everything.
My hot mess phase lasted a good seven years, scrapping by with jobs and assorted things, until it all came to a head via a church I ended up at trying to square my faith with my gender. That imploded into another mental health crisis that was compounded by another fraught relationship, culminating in my meeting a man who helped me get out of the quagmire that had sucked me in. Much of this was trans adjacent, but the reality is that I had never stopped to take stock of my identity, I was always rushing to the next thing to just keep moving. He was the only man I have ever had a relationship with, and as with all things that come along in a crisis it ebbed away after three years due our differences. Yet, he did provide me with the space to simply be, to simply allow myself to exist as a woman without the pressures of the world around me.
It was in 2008, halfway through our relationship, that I had GRS in Thailand. And the moment I woke up from the surgery the world simply felt right. Much of the prior angst was gone, my body simply felt right, felt me. I had no complications, my healing process was quick, and I was back at work within four weeks. Life moved on, and as 2010 loomed on the horizon the world lurched into a new uncertainty. I had bounced into a new relationship that was tempestuous, me and her simply sparked off each other. In the economic turmoil I managed to get a well paid job that kept me afloat for four years, all the while managing a relationship that was on and then off. There was love in there somewhere, but ultimately, I was the steppingstone for her finding her next wife. That stung more than I care to say, but as with all things my perpetual motion machine kept on going.
And for me this is the dirty secret of life. Being trans was only one part of the issue, and simply being able to move forward is a great skill in of itself. I spent the next two years working through another toxic relationship, this one ending because she really need help and support I could not provide. By the time 2015 rolled round I took a long hard look at myself, remained single for six months, and then met my longest relationship yet. She and I were together for the next seven years, through which all the drama of the proceeding 15 seeped away. It is interesting that I punctuate my life through relationships not jobs, as if my orbiting of them is somehow the thing binding me to the world. Maybe that is the case, maybe I just enjoy being in someone else’s orbit. Maybe I am compensating for something, but being trans has made me very aware of the precarity of love, and how love is never enough to fix the inner you.
2016 saw me back at university, 13 years after I dropped out. I was surrounded by 18 year olds, and it struck me how old I suddenly was. 34 was not old, but I was old enough to be their parents. This singular realisation made me focus more than anything else, as this was my last chance to get the qualifications I wanted. My goal was always to get onto a paid PhD programme, so for four years my life revolved around uni, hockey, and my relationship. I had amazing experiences while on my undergraduate and Masters courses, travelled the world, met wonderful people. Yet, it was never enough. I need to prove myself, be the best, get that First, push myself as hard as I could. Yes, I got the first, yes I got a scholarship for my Masters, yes I got onto one of the best PhD programmes in the UK, but then what?
Things began to unravel in slow motion across 2019. I was in Boston when I realised my hair was going. I then started my Masters and my swagger just hit a brick wall. Whereas my undergrad was very freeform, my MSc was more rote, and so I was above average but not the previous high flier. Then Covid it in March 2020, the world locked down, my hair completely went, and the woman I was before evaporated. There was a moment just before I went into the hairdressers to have my head shaved that I stopped and took one last look in the mirror. The old me, the one with hair, the one who passed, the one who could walk through the world unseen. All my privilege wrapped up in a long hard look at 20 years of being myself. Taken for granted.
Then it was gone.
Three years on that slow motion unravelling is still happening, getting to the end of the great unwinding. Being trans was never the issue people want to make it out to be. Losing privilege takes much unpacking, trying to square away a version of self that others can take a piece of without you loosing yourself entirely. I am me regardless of who the world treats me, and while those in my orbit very much treat me as me, unless you know me in person my pictures only show you a version of self that does not scream femme.
Losing my relationship in September 2022 was hard, knocking out the one person who I could simply fall back on and relax. And it is this ability to simply relax and completely be myself that I miss the most. The fun me, the jokey me, the person who just is. I miss her, this woman that I am in brief moments, but never enough to completely relax. Maybe it is a sign that I do not trust others, maybe it is simply a sign that I too tightly wound, but transitioning was never the issue. Life has a way of making things interesting, and being a woman is the most interesting of all.
I write this in the hope that you can see that while things are complex in my life, being me is not the complication, it is the panacea that allowed me to experience so much joy in the world. I have loved, I have lost, I have seen 20 countries on my travels, made wonderful friends, built lifelong connections, and lived life as I see fit. Along the way I have renounced religion, worked for big companies and small, dated women who made my world turn, had passionate moments that will never be forgotten, and reshaped my body to my mind’s eye. Yes, I am trans, but life is there for the living, and my gender is only a small part of it.