I’m standing in the lobby of a club, waiting in line to pay for membership and entrance. The friends with whom I arrived have already been processed and have melted away down dark arterial corridors pulsing with loud, generic electronica. The music is repetitive to my ageing ears but my shoulders and hips are shedding years with every beat as I sway and long copper-red hair slides off my shoulders exactly like it does in the movies. There it is, that wonderful moment when everything aligns, everything is… right.
It won’t last, of course. Like Cinderella’s, my night will come to an end, my dress, my hair and boots will go back into storage (though I don’t recall Cinders having to put her boobs in a box) and I will turn back into a socially awkward man.
Some native American tribes had the wonderful phrase two-spirited, believing that both male and female spirits could inhabit the same body together and be expressed individually. While I don’t believe in a separate soul, I do like the language – “two-spirited” – far more romantic than the rather technical “gender-fluid”. Whatever the terminology, I need to present as either male or female depending on time and circumstance.
Why, though? Am I not just a crossdresser trying to find a medical reason to justify my behaviour?
Like many, I started experimenting with women’s clothing at or just after puberty and that is how it remained, on and off, for over thirty years until, in 2016, I decided to explore a little further. I started to buy my own things: dresses, shoes, wigs and make-up. Shopping for women’s clothing is so much more fun!
I still didn’t see myself as a transgender woman, though. This was still not something I was saying, even to myself, until a little while later. It was only really after conversation with other T-girls in chat rooms and, eventually, in person when I started to ask myself, “am I transgender?”. When I did, though, something very interesting happened. Dozens of things, large and small, that had bothered me throughout life – slippery little things that had always eluded me – started to make sense. That feeling of not quite fitting in, the bullying that dogged me from secondary school through to the first years of work that always seemed to have, to me, an inexplicably homophobic or effeminate bias. It all made sense for the very first time in my life, twenty to thirty years later.
You know what? I have been repressing some female mannerisms in those intervening years. I know this because when I free them now it feels good. It feels right. If I skip up the stairs at work a little lighter than usual, maybe there’s more of a curve in my spine, a rock in my hips, fingers cutting a slightly more graceful arc as they cleave the air – I get a little echo, a foreshadow of that feeling I get when fully “dressed”.
For now, though, I must remain in the closet. Mostly. I did come out to my wife around the middle of 2016 and it didn’t go well. She finds it very difficult and has not been particularly supportive. Indeed it became clear through “discussion” that I was faced with a stark choice between continuing as I am or going our separate ways. We have two children, 15 and 10, who are, as things stand, thriving. So my wife has engineered for herself a finely tuned balance of acceptance and denial that seems to work for her and I am back to hopping in and out of the closet.
Dysphoria kicks my arse regularly. In fact I’m inclined to believe it is slightly more acute now that I know what it is. It seems layered, too. I have gender dysphoria, yes, but there is new tension centred around my sexuality, having experimented with bisexuality and found it much to my liking. There is a part of me that wants to be out and proud. I want to engage fully with the wider LGBTQ community. I want to go to Sparkle! These things seem far beyond my closet door.
I tip-toe around the obstacles in my life and socialise in secret at events coordinated by fabulous new friends on places like TVChix and, generally, I am having the best time of my life. It is all built on secrets and lies, but I am no longer lying to myself and, right now, that feels important.
Back at the club, my membership has been processed by a breathtakingly pretty cis girl with deep red hair and a thick Baltic accent. She hands me my freshly laminated ID card (identity: Emily, right there in black and white) with one of the warmest smiles I have seen in a long time.
“Hello,” says the smile, “welcome.”
It feels good. It feels like sisterhood.
by Emily Hudson
Image under CC0 licence