Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Update post. My work email name has been changed! I did The Explanation! Everyone is being very supportive! (Well, that or silent, and the truth of that will out once the obligatory official PC supportiveness dies down, but I'm optimistic that these are nice people.) I bumped into my boss in the men's and I think he was slightly taken aback! It's all good.

But my name hasn't been changed in lots of our other electronic systems, which is far more potentially confusing than the simple fact of transitioning my name from female to male. Two days in to the change and I've already run up against this problem: a person I was emailing under my male name (let's say that's "Ganymede") is now going to get an automatically generated paper compliments slip from me under my female name (let's say that's "Rosalind").

Professionally awkward though this is, I secretly quite like it. Heaven only knows what these external correspondents will think when interacting with "Ganymede/Rosalind". Which will they assume is my "proper" name? Will they twig the gender mismatch or just assume that my male name is a "valid" female shortening of my female name - or even that "Rosalind" is a "valid" male given name? Or will they just ignore it? Way to inadvertently genderfuck your external colleagues, Employer. :D It's like there's two of me, one for each binary gender role, which quite entertains me (confirming my vague worries that I might be genderfluid... I'm not prejudiced, it'd just be damn awkward).


Anyway, one way or the other (or both, or the ones in between >_>) I'm pretty happy with all of this now that the stressful first day is out of the way. I am generally very happy, with life in general and with my gender identity in particular! I have come out at work and it's exactly as small a deal as it ought to be! Happy, healthy, sane, supported and FtM. That story would be a really good example for scared closeted trans* teens, wouldn't it?

Because the flip side of increased visibility = increased tolerance among "normal" people (for trans* as for any minority) is increased visibility = increased comprehension and hope among the "invisible" members of that minority. When I was in my early teens and flirting flippantly with the idea that something about me wasn't "normal" gender-wise, I educated myself the only way I could: through the chinks of trans* visibility that got through the cracks in mass media. And in the realm of FtM transgenderism, that meant only one thing: Brandon Teena.

Brandon's story, dramatised in the film Boys Don't Cry (which I devoured with rapt interest when Channel 4 screened it in the early noughties, followed by a documentary called The Brandon Teena Story), is an awful, poignant one which deserves to be told: transsexual boy growing up in unenlightened American Mid-West goes stealth, gets girlfriend, attempts to quietly live life, is uncovered as biologically female by "friends" then brutally raped and murdered. But it's not the story to tell to a questioning young female-assigned person growing up in a rather more enlightened region, in a rather more enlightened decade, with a high probability when ey becomes an adult of moving to an even more enlightened university town in an even more enlightened decade, where eir work colleagues barely bat an eyelid at eir transgenderism.

I remember watching that film and making a worried mental note (in my flippant adolescent way) never to move to Falls City ("they hang faggots there", as Brandon's brother anxiously reminds him). I had to make that mental note to remind myself that, although my life might well end up paralleling Brandon's in some ways, our circumstances were far from identical and my life was unlikely to end the way his did. But as a confused, naive maybe-FtM, he was the only role model I had, and these caveats were hard to keep in mind.

I'd like it if Channel 4 were to screen something like The Ganymede/Rosalind Story: transgender sort-of-boy growing up in accepting urban Britain goes to university as female, gradually and openly comes out, is completely supported by friends and colleagues, remains non-hormones and non-op, doesn't feel the need to worry about going stealth or binding and packing 24/7 or suppressing his penchant for dressing up in fishnet stockings from time to time, is comfortable with having a gender identity which is vaguely masculine but is far from neatly fitting the binary, has thus far not undergone a single incident of anti-trans* abuse. (Would that MtFs were so lucky, of course. And with the side note that I have not once been abused/harassed/etc for being trans* since coming out as trans*, but during my early teens presenting as nothing other than a kind of weird tomboyish female, I got mocked with "You're a boy!" - it works along the same lines as "You're gay!", that is, it doesn't work - all the time. Adults are largely very nice about these things, but children are gits.)

But, y'know, where would be the story in that? No exciting shots of the transsexual squishing and stuffing his body into shapes it wasn't designed for, no cute time-lapse sequences of his facial hair coming through or his muscles developing or his body fat being redistributed, no dramatic moments as he shuffles warily into a male-only space and is accosted by a suspicious passer-by... No point in screening something that won't pull in the ratings just to reassure poor scared gender-variant kids who are desperate to see Someone Like Them.

The moral of the story is, I suppose, thank gods for the internet... and thank gods that I, happy flippant Genderqueer Lite, coped reasonably well growing up in my assigned gender without the peer group it could have provided. I only hope the same can be said for other proto-Brandons of my generation.

Friday, 23 September 2011

And not a Ferrero Rocher in sight

[Disclaimer: This came out a lot longer and less pithy than I was hoping. But as ever, if I don't post it now, I'll never get round to editing it.]



I've been given a date. T(ransition) minus three days. Um, just my screen name at work, that is.

After a week of silence from HR and IT (and a gentle nudge from me) came a pleasantly matter-of-fact email from the Chief Administrative Honcho to say that by the time I arrived in work on Monday, my display name for email, IM and all manner of other onliney worky systems would have been subtly but unmistakably masculinized. This very visible change will then give me an excuse to send The Email, start The Explanations - in short, start being a trans-bassador.

I've hesitated about this for a long time, just as I have over all other aspects of social transition, largely because I am very aware of the fact that I'm a political genderqueer, and it's all very well waving your politically genderqueer flag around when your politically genderqueer actions might impact negatively on "proper" genderqueers for whom coming out can literally, in all sorts of ways, be a matter of life and death.

Oh, I'm a proper genderqueer too, put down those pitchforks, but for me, being misgendered isn't a searing dysphoric agony, it's just a simmering annoyance, and I think I could live with being she'd the whole way through my career (I think...) - I just choose not to. And that's because I believe passionately that public perceptions about trans* people (and about gender in general) need to change, and the most effective way I've found so far to be an activist for such issues is just by politely EXISTING in people's faces.

I want my colleagues to knowingly know someone who is trans*, and not just trans* either, but FtM. I want HR to have to think about what to do when they have a trans* employee. I want to increase visibility, a ripple effect, so that all these new people who now know someone who is trans* have a whole bunch of friends who will now know someone who knows someone who is trans*. (It's along the same lines as "Repost this if you know someone who has a mental illness", but slightly more memorable.) And I want to be - for the sake of all the "proper" genderqueers for whom this Really Fucking Matters, am terrified of not being - a damn good trans-bassador, a competent employee and entertaining conversationalist and General All-Round Nice Colleague, so that everyone who now knows someone will be able to say, "Oh, I know a transsexual from work, she's very nice. I mean he. Um."

(I also want to blow the mind of our daft oestrogen-sloshing choir-mistress, who every week manages to inadvertently hurt me with some epic sexist generalisation on the assumption that the room is a female-only space, or some comment along the lines of me being a "tenor lady" or "pretend man".)

It's often said (for which read: I read it in a blog once, forgot to note my source, then came up with too many variations of it in a Google search to be able to find it again) that true equality means not having to be an ambassador. Whereas first- and second-generation Asian immigrants to Britain around the 70s felt a pressure to be Super Extra Nice, hard-working, polite, inoffensive, for fear that one bad school report or angry outburst would get their whole ethnic group labelled as "lazy" or "violent", it's to be hoped that British Asians today don't have to tread so carefully, can display all the good and less-good sides of their personality without fear that their behaviour will be reduced to a function of their ethnicity.

Therefore, it's revealing in my case to consider how far from equality trans* people still are - but it's a lot more revealing to look at gender as a whole and realise just how often we are all treated as ambassadors.

Purely by virtue of the fact that I'm generally assumed to have a vulva, I've been forced to be an ambassador for femaleness my entire life. And you have also had to be an ambassador for whichever gender people assume you are all through your life. If, as a baby, I cried easily, people would react with "Ah, she's a girl, she's sensitive". When, as a child, I watched Thomas the Tank Engine, people would look sidelong and say "That's a very boyish programme for her to be watching". When, in school, we had to get changed after swimming, the teachers in the single-sex changing rooms would try to get us out of there faster by exhorting us to "Beat the boys! You're better than the boys - prove it by getting changed quicker than them!" (And thus the entire reputation of my forcibly-assigned gender would rest on my desire not to wander home in damp underclothes and a misbuttoned, half-tucked-in shirt - I, as an individual, was Slow, thus The Girls were, collectively, Slower than The Boys, thus Girls are Slow, thus Boys are Better. There probably isn't a word for this particular kind of logical fallacy, because it's so incredibly stupid that if we created one the Ancient Greeks would explode.)

And the thing about this unprovoked ambassadorship is that not only is it inescapable, it's also inflexible. Genderqueer Lite as I am, my other option would have been to take the ambassadorship and run with it - to be a shining Unusual Female Role Model, to prove to the world that even people who look like they probably have vulvas can wear ties, geek out about steam trains, dislike shopping, put up flat-pack furniture, ride a bicycle like a reckless testosterone-fuelled idiot, and a whole host of other trivial and not-so-trivial assumption-breakers. The thing is... people just don't pay attention. They write you off as an exception, no matter how many of you there are, no matter even if you're the majority within your assigned gender, or worse, they chastise you as a Bad Ambassador. "That's not very ladylike", "Boys don't cry", "Don't be such a girl", "Take a blind bit of notice of my double standards"... on and on they go. Watch as your unique un-{gender}-like personality quirks are glossed over by your lazy, [un]consciously sexist peer group! Marvel as any even vaguely gender-conformist tendencies you have are blown up out of all proportion!

Be a good ambassador, Mr or Miss (or Mrs, but definitely not Ms or Mx) Reader, and if you're not, everyone will act as though you are anyway.

Shortly after I began work here, I was told of a notoriously undiligent predecessor, the most notable of whose actions were a) to fall off a table and break his wrist during drunken celebration of handing in his notice, and b) to be male. The department head who later interviewed me had apparently reacted to his complete inability to be arsed by exclaiming "I'm never going to recruit another boy again!" It takes the edge off the irony to know that it was most probably she who had recruited our department's "token bloke" (>_>) a few weeks before I arrived... but even so... Heaven help all the potential employees who looked like they probably had testicles, for whom this workshy, drunkenly-wrist-breaking character had acted as an ambassador in the department head's eyes.

Oh wait, it's not called being an ambassador, is it? It's called insidious, unconscious, incessant, all-pervasive, pure and simple prejudice.

We haven't arrived at gender equality yet, because true equality would mean it not being such a fucking big deal to everyone what we looked like we probably had in our pants. And maybe if one of these unconsciously-prejudiced subscribers to a rigid gender binary knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who is fucking about with that binary, it might just briefly make them stop and think.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Invisibly transgender

I don't have secrets; I just have facts I don't know how to tell people.

I don't want to be in the closet at work, but I don't know how to come out. I present as male as I can/dare/desire: with my short back and sides, my standard uniform of not-very-tailored shirt and trousers. I sing tenor in the work choir. I don't know how to make it any more obvious (side note: to my chagrin, nobody here wears ties). I've got a binder on its way, but even if I wore it regularly under my baggy shirts I don't expect people would notice.

I've been thinking about testosterone. Well, naturally, I've been thinking about it for a while. The length of time I've been thinking about it is a function of how utterly uncertain I am that I'd want it. I don't suffer from physical gender dysphoria - I don't feel discomfort at having a female body. (Not that I feel any great connection to my body or its femaleness either; the most obvious {symptom? cause?} of this is probably my asexuality.) I wouldn't say no to the physical perks of having male hormones coursing round my system, but the fact that I can live with it as it is implies firstly that I wouldn't be a "worthy" recipient of any state-supplied hormone treatment (here I'm probably falling into the fallacious trap of thinking I'm "not trans enough"), secondly that it wouldn't be worth my while struggling through the torturous hoops of The System for gender reassignment candidates (fault of The System, clearly), but thirdly that I shouldn't take the risks, both superficial and real, inherent in this kind of body modification.

The problem is, I've ignored my genderedness for most of my life, without realising how blindingly obvious it is to the people around me. In my head, my breasts are discreet and insignificant, my voice is unfemininely deep, and now that I've found a decent haircut my face is no longer girlish. But it's only as I become aware of how overwhelming these cues of enlarged mammaries, high-pitched voice and delicate features are in other people's heads that I want to change them. A binder's a start. A broken voice would be good, too, and the potential for sideburns...

In short, I realised, I want to be visibly transgender. Because at the moment, all I can be is verbally transgender - and I just don't know where to start on that. Every few days a window of opportunity comes round ("gosh, the department's so female-dominated!" "I wish more men would come to choir." "Funny that you don't like shoe-shopping - it's most women's dream, isn't it?") - and every time it comes round, I hesitate, unsure how to phrase my by-the-way, and miss it. Then I spend the next hour fuming, at the generalisation and at myself.

The thing to do, I suppose, is change my name (even though I like the one I have). Change my name, or change my body - or spend weeks, months, years politely correcting every person I interact with. I've already started signing myself with a male name in postal correspondence, and getting letters addressed as such in the shared pigeonhole (though there was the one where the author had clearly debated over which title to use, begun with "Mr" and then corrected it with atrociously messy scribblings to "Ms [Male name] [Surname]" - go figure...). At some point, maybe very soon, maybe once my binder arrives, I will work out the most sensible way of petitioning {HR? the IT department? my line manager?} to change my name in all the public online systems, then explaining the significance of the change to my colleagues. Because of course they'll make the assumption of least resistance ("oh, that's how you spell the short form of your name - funny way of spelling it") unless I explain.

I wish I didn't have to worry about those windows of opportunity, those constant little assumptions that renew the crushing burden of needing to explain myself. I don't know how much body modification it would take before that stopped.