23 July is the first anniversary of my transition. One year ago on that day (a Thursday) I started to live full time as a woman. And gradually (not immediately) my male life became “the life before”. I say not immediately because I did not begin my new life bounding with confidence – although I always felt I was doing the right thing it took a while before I could even contemplate scheduling a sigh of relief, let alone take one.
And one year in a new gender is actually no time at all. I can look back and see how far I’ve come from those first few faltering steps last July, while recognizing that there is still a lot ahead of me – mostly great stuff, but a lot of challenges to come. But although one year is no time at all in terms of becoming my true self, it is quite sufficient time to put my life pre-transition into perspective.
This is not a repudiation of that life – which like any life has good parts and bad parts, and which is part of the road that got me here. But I have enough perspective on the strain of spending years fighting against my true nature – now I don’t have to – to realize how tough that was. And as part of that contemplation a young (well, young in some ways) woman’s thoughts naturally speculate about what might have happened if I had transitioned earlier.
There was a kind of “dress rehearsal” in my twenties I guess. But I wasn’t brave enough to look this thing in the eye, and by the time I might have been able to something else came along, knocked me sideways and just made exploring my gender identity too tough to handle. But we don’t want any spoilers yet, do we dear reader? That story is a few posts down the line.
But, you might argue, even the twenties is quite late isn’t it? And you’d be right to say so. Puberty in genetic males builds muscle, changes facial bone structure, develops the adam’s apple, thickens the vocal cords so that the voice breaks and deposits a whole heap of body hair you could really do without.
I know someone whose story is very different from mine. With the support of her family she has transitioned in her teens, following treatment which delayed her male puberty to give her time to make up her mind. In the UK this treatment is generally given way too late, so the private route was the only option for her. I don’t want to say too much more – her story is her own and her business, not mine – although I would like to say that both she and her mum are fierce, fabulous women. Her life will hopefully be rather less complicated than mine has been. So you might think that I would be consumed with jealousy, or regret that my teenage life didn’t follow a similar path.
Of course it couldn’t have – I’m older and those treatments were not available in my teens, even privately. The link above explains the benefits, and why the NHS should rethink the basis on which it offers treatment. Even allowing for the fact that this is relatively new treatment, I could still be jealous … but I’m not. It was one of many learning points on my journey when I realized I could genuinely celebrate her life – and genuinely celebrate mine. At sixteen I lacked the emotional maturity which she so clearly has – hell, I lacked it a lot later than sixteen in fact. And as a child you need someone (usually a parent) who will go to bat for you – you cannot defend yourself against the medical establishment. And like the treatment, that support was simply not available to me.
There are three reasons I don’t regret transitioning earlier – two of which are fantastically positive. The first is that for me, the sense of freedom and empowerment I now experience is as a consequence of my transition going so well – and in my case it has gone well because I have found the courage and maturity to take charge of the process, and I have been surrounded by the right people – friends, family and colleagues – whose support and affirmation has encourage me to take (the right) chances.
The second thing is the experience of sisterhood. The girl I know who transitioned at sixteen faced huge challenges. So did I. Our challenges were different, but we both found ways of being true to ourselves. And if you can manage to do that, a lot of regrets just melt away. Though we are generations apart, we have that in common at least. And we have it in common with a lot of other women – whether they have a trans history or not.
Most of my friends accept the fact of my transition. Increasingly though, some do more – they see, and understand, that I genuinely am a woman and always was. And maybe that’s partly because I’m mature enough and confident enough (and excited enough!) to express it, and my journey, however complicated, has made that possible.
The final reason is not so positive. I never felt I could confide in my parents, because I was terrified of rejection. Whether I needed to be so terrified, I will never know, although I suspect I was right to be cautious. Even without disclosing my true nature I found myself on the receiving end of more than my fair share of medical malpractice – the surgery that happened in my teens, and further mistreatment that happened later on. But it’s only in the last few weeks, reading more about the treatment of trans people in the era in which I grew up, that I’ve realized that I might have had a lucky escape.
My parents would have wanted to do the right thing for me, I think, but they would have turned to “medical experts” for advice. And in those days, experts confronted with a trans child would try to cure them. And that cure could have taken a lot of different forms – treatment (to varying degrees of severity) for a “mental illness”, aversion therapy, electro-shock therapy, psychiatric admission, who knows.
A lot of people did find themselves in those situations and horribly mistreated by psychiatrists – so I could have been subjected to all kinds of cruelty in the name of treatment. Luckily I wasn’t. But although the psychiatrists left me alone, my body was assaulted by the surgeons, and on more than one occasion. And I am far from alone in this experience. It says something about the arrogance of some in the medical profession, particularly in that era, that the silence which meant they only messed about with me physically, not mentally, is something I have reasons to be grateful for.