[CW: thoughts of self-harming and suicide]
I am not really sure where to begin… so I might as well start at school. My memories of school are somewhat mixed. I guess I did ok academically and it’s hardly like I had the worst time ever, but I never really got the hang of the social stuff. I always felt out of place and had very few friends. I got bullied a lot and by around age 12ish had developed what I guess was some form of paranoia. I regularly assumed that if a student I was not already good friends with tried to talk to me there was some ulterior motive. The teachers at the school were bloody useless and ineffectual at dealing with bullying. Basically all they ever did was tell me “ignore it” and “don’t react”. I think I got into more trouble for lashing out in retaliation than they ever did for all the teasing and name-calling. And as a result my usual reaction to any student even just saying “hello” or “good morning” was to completely ignore their existence, especially if there was any sort of group involved. I found it much easier to be friendly and open with some of the teachers than I ever did with other students. So when I changed schools at age 14ish, even though my new year group was many times larger, I basically failed to make any friends at the new school for several years.
Somewhere around age 15 I started having these feelings of wanting to wear dresses and other feminine clothes, but I was super shy and paranoid and somehow had this sense that I needed to keep this super secret from absolutely everyone. I was very bad at trusting people and did not understand myself. So these feeling got suppressed and hidden for a very long time.
My understanding of myself developed very slowly, but it was helped along by a few things. In September 2007 (I know because I have a journal entry) 4chan’s /c/ (cute, SFW) linked me to the existence of a manga called Hourou Musuko which, in my words at the time: “This leaves me … very, very confused.”. Sadly no one picked up my cryptic LJ post as so much egg-mode, so things continued to develop slowly and secretly. There was also this anime called Simoun, which I think was the first story I had found with characters who were specific about not having a binary gender. It was ok to be neither. It was ok to be something else and that was just as valid. I watched the whole series in like two days and then took many more days to really process this new idea.
In 2008 I started my first proper job away from home, had my own flat and importantly, my own letter box so I could shop online for feminine clothes without anyone knowing. But I don’t think it was until 2011 that I first started to think of myself specifically as transgender. Though I had many fears like “I am not stereotypically girly enough”, “I won’t be allowed”, “I am never ever going to pass”, etc.
It think it was around 2011 that I had this idea that what I really needed was to try and find some (fictional) stories with characters like me (defined as “trans but more tomboy and never going to pass”) that I could relate to and which might help me find some courage. It did not take long for me to find BCTS and while this site has a lot of content that was very much the opposite of what I was looking for (I hate sex scenes in anything), I did also find a bunch of stuff that really helped.
At the time I had a very long commute to and from work and over a couple of years I read hundreds of great stories with trans protagonists, although never one like me. And from all these different points of view I started to get a much better idea of what I was and was not, what I wanted and did not, and that it might be ok for me to be the me I wanted to be and that I might somehow be able to be that without waiting to be reborn in a different body.
(Plus I also found a lot of awesome stories to read, though it’s going to take me aages to get up to date on Whateley).
In 2013 I finally tried to talk to my mum about it for the first time, though with limited success. I had been pretty depressive for quite some time by this point but never tried to explain to anyone what was going through my mind. It was still super secret. I would often sit in silence for ages being uncommunicative to anyone around me or I would lie on my bed crying with my head under a pillow. At least one time my dad came into my room to tell (shout at) me “this is ridiculous” and “pull yourself together”, which worked about as well as you would expect.
In one of these crying sessions my mum asked me something like “Please tell me what is wrong? I can’t help if you don’t tell me.”. I don’t think this was the first time she asked this, but this time and after several minutes of silence I finally replied, “Why was I born a boy and not a girl?”. I don’t really know if she got the significance of this at the time and I don’t remember the rest of that night. Though nothing really changed much after that… I guess it was being left to my initiative.
August 2014 I came out to all my friends via a post on Facebook. I spend like 6 months writing this messy and disjoined 2000-word essay which one day I eventually spontaneously copy-pasted into Facebook. I then hid from the internet for like 6 hours while I calmed down from what I had just done. But it still took me until December to finally approach my GP for a GIC referral. I was literally terrified of being rejected for not being something-enough. It was not until mid 2015 and after I had started HRT (via a private doctor) that I finally found some scraps of confidence to start to try and present more feminine. Being allowed to start HRT made me feel a little more “real”, even if that feeling was based on the broken logic that I was less real without HRT.
But there is another critical part to this story I have left out. And while I have been thinking of writing this post for ages, it is only now I have achieved my main goal do I finally feel safe talking about it – it can no longer be used against me to delay or withhold surgery. Somewhere along the way I realised I was not going to be allowed to transition in the order I wanted to. Instead gatekeepers dictated much of the order and the timeline. This is something I have literally never talked to anyone about before. And if me sharing this somehow helps even one person then it will have been worth sharing.
By far the strongest feeling that synthesised the will / confidence / bravery to get this far was just how much I hated my male genitals. Via one way or another they had to go. There was never any doubt about this. At the lowest times I would contemplate and plan the very last resort: somehow cut it off myself and hope the ambulance arrived before I died of blood loss.
But I could never talk to anyone about this. Any hint of any mental health issues (which self-harming and body dysphoria get lumped into) had the potential to delay and derail medical transition. There is something cruel about not being allowed to have depression when referred for surgery, even if the depression is over not having had the surgery yet. This might have just been my misperception of the system, but I was not going to risk it.
So I learned to suppress everything and tell the gatekeepers what they needed to hear. I never made anything up, but I was selective. It’s basically a box-ticking exercise. Pay the money, say the right words, stick to the expected timeline, get the right result.
Fortunately I have a lot of privilege and plan A (pay private doctors to treat me as a transgender woman, HRT, vaginoplasty) progressed well enough that the (frequently contemplated) plan of last resort was never required. About 2 years after my first actions pursuing medical transition I got the surgery I needed.
I wanted to start with the medical stuff and sort out the social stuff later and separately, after all the problem I initially set out to fix was my cursed body. I knew I wanted to change a bunch of social stuff also, but doing that before I had removed the curse was super scary. But I had no choice but to go around feeling half finished for a couple of years just to meet someone’s arbitrary requirements.
For context I guess should explain why I hated my male genitals so completely. I don’t want to, until now I have kept this secret absolute. My genitals policed my thoughts: think The Wrong Thoughts and they do their gross and disgusting thing (something that I never ever wanted ever). Where the wrong thoughts included every happy imagining of how I should be, every time I put on clothes I liked, or even thought too much about doing so. I was ashamed of imagining myself different, happy. I lost so many years to this shame, until the thoughts of self-mutilation finally made me feel I had nothing to lose.
Luckily I was able to start estrogen without anyone insisting that I had to dress differently, which was a massive relief. I had been terrified there would be some form of social precondition. But maybe that was private doctor privilege.
The estrogen had some suppressing effect, but no where near what I had hoped. I was forced to accept that there was no medication in the world that would have the suppressing effect I wanted. I wanted surgery anyway, but at this point I realised I was completely dependent on it to be able to think happy thoughts without disgusting side effects.
But to get the surgery I had to do lots and lots of arbitrary waiting. And in the meantime the only way I could make progress towards how I wanted to be was to practice doing things while not thinking about what I was doing. Getting dressed without thinking about the clothes I was putting on, shopping without thinking about the clothes I was thinking about buying. Basically writing software in my head while out clothes shopping. The stress and despair kinda mount up over time.
And obviously I could never tuck. Just thinking about tucking could be enough to trigger the disgusting thing. So for over a year while waiting out the requirements for surgery I was stuck being this weird half and half, split across my waist. Often this made me feel such a fake and a failure.
The double thinking requirement continued right up to end, made worse by having to stop HRT for 6 weeks leading up to surgery. I spent the last hour of waiting to be taken to theatre reading stuff on hackaday.com. Technical stuff is a good distraction from all the things I had to avoid thinking about.
And, at least for me, the magic of the surgery was at least as much in what was removed as what was gained. It will be a very long time before the novelty of being about to think without having to filter my own thoughts wears off.
Cover image: “Brokenness” by col_adamson, cropped. License: CC-BY-2.0.