“You really are the gayest person I’ve ever met.”
I shot him a quizzical look as I set my bag down.
“The way you walked up just then – I’ve never seen a guy sway so much.”
I knew what he was talking about. It certainly wasn’t the actuality of what I projected to be my sexuality at the time. It was a punch directly at my feminine behaviours – just wrapped up in a neat covering of casual homophobia.
I shrugged it off.
This wasn’t something I wasn’t used to hearing. Nor was it something I was ashamed of. I’m just a guy in touch with his feminine side, right?
I hated sports, always got on better with the other girls, despised the boisterousness that I was expected to perform, never really understood the excessive competition in everything, nor did I understand the draw to the “boyish pursuits” (not that I could have then, nor now, actually tell you what those are). I refused to allow expectation to define me.
And boy was I familiar with expectation.
It was the daft trends that were the worst; “check your nails!” followed by a large thump in the chest for doing it “like a girl”. Or obsessing over the way I naturally crossed my legs or any other number of other things that I didn’t perform the way I was supposed to. I couldn’t help my instinct. And nor did I want to. I was perfectly happy with my natural inclinations.
So eventually I stopped playing along. I refused to let them try to condition me into anything else. I hated the direction I was being pushed in. I’d never go there. Not for anyone.
But I yearned for something. A hole being left by my rejection. I wanted somebody, anybody, to show me another way. But it never came.
I shrugged it off.
I refused to let expectation define me.
As a child I’d always experienced a distinct and unsettling feeling of disconnect. Firstly from others, lacking any feeling of belonging as categories became more and more socially significant in determining my mixing, and later from myself as I hit double digits.
By now we all know the story: I accept that I’m trans, cut my hair, change my name, beat my endocrine system into submission and live happily ever after.
But as ever those absolute narratives of certainty never applied. There never was any grand ascension or revelation that I “really know” nor was a switch flipped that left me truly comfortable.
And I know there never will be.
Whilst I absolutely feel more connected with myself, and slowly moving towards bodily comfort, I know there’s never going to be a perfect overlap. The conditions necessary for me to experience the comfort so often sold to me just aren’t possible. Not anymore. I left far too much too late; allowed fear to rule my life and my body to rule itself against my will. That environment, the course of actions that it prompted, ensured that my body will always be, act, look and feel unexpected. Or so I believe. So I think. So I can’t confirm.
My experience, my growth, the things I have become accustomed to and the anxieties surrounding the formerly forbidden significantly shape my present self-concept. How far do these all penetrate my existence? How deeply embedded in my mind? Must it extend to my body, or am I fabricating an extension of a mentality that I know to be true?
There very distinct and real possibility that I could be have been different. Not that I wouldn’t have been trans – that’s always been there whether I understood and acknowledged it or not. What I am saying is that identity is but a seed of truth that is fed and watered by upbringing and environment; my shape bent to the movement of the sun and the wind and words around me in a kind of sociotropism.
My environment was the product of a physicality my mind rejected, and so I rejected that environment to. For everyone’s attempts at it: I was never raised a man. I wanted nothing to do what I was fed. Although I never rejected the label – even embraced it at times – I was forever pushing against what that label brought me: the lessons, the expectations, the roles. None of them felt right. They weren’t mine, and I had no place nor desire to claim them.
Yet nothing was ever offered to replace it. Perhaps my rejection wasn’t noticed, or perhaps there was a push to force me to submit to it. But I was left without stereotypical masculinity, without stereotypical femininity. A void in pace of socialisation. That which I yearned for was never on the table.
I learned to fear femininity.
It was a threat: ostracism, ridicule, violence.
And actioned for far lesser infractions than expressing what I felt and trying to fit where at least some part of me knew I belonged.
I sat with that emptiness, and grew ruled by my rejection of what lay outside, and fear of what the outside threatened for that rejection.
How could such a thing not influence me? To grow in such a way, incubated in a bath of hostility and isolation?
All of this compounds to a very simple, yet wildly abstract message:
I was not raised a man, I was not raised a woman. I am a woman, but I’ll not try to become one.
Although my new box is welcomed with open arms, I still carry an immense desire to have this one flattened and thrown away as I did the last. I don’t, but much is for convenience's sake. Whilst this box comes with much comfort, and at least vaguely describes my experience, it still remains just a box. To fit requires me to be broken down, bent and contorted into bizarre and unfamiliar shapes. My lack of socialisation left me without interests and knowledge that I should hold. My constant rejection of the outside in pursuit of deep internal truths leaves me disinterested and disengaged with that which I supposedly lack. I am as I say I am, regardless of expectations.
“But wait, how can you be transitioning and not be trying to become a woman?”
Because womanhood is rooted in those expectations. In things imparted at a far younger age than when I finally realised I couldn’t put transition off forever.
My transition presented me with a choice:
I could seek to fill those deficits in my socialisation, or I could simply walk another path entirely.
At first the choice was obvious: become like everyone else, keep my head down, blend in, shut up and just live a perfectly safe and quiet life. After all, that’s what we’re told we’re supposed to do. Keep transitioning until you’re the only person who knows you’re trans. Forget your horrible and shameful past.
But I soon realised that blending in was hard. It takes time, it takes money and resources I don’t have, it takes hiding myself away out of people's way when – for the first time in my life – I just wanted to get out there and live.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that this narrative of secrecy was not one that we’d written for ourselves. Society had imposed it through danger, assumptions about us, and endless medical gatekeeping. The reality was that there were thousands upon thousands upon thousands of us that were choosing to live openly and visibly, for whom the end goal was not to look like everybody else but to simply feel comfortable.
As I became more and more disillusioned with the things I supposedly “had” to do and enjoy and understand and intuit to have my femininity validated I did something radical: I chose the other path that so many before me had also chosen.
My womanhood is not something to be proven by superficial looks at my interests. Why should I have to subject myself to things that so deeply terrify me because of my treatment in the past? Why not embrace that fear and allow myself to become something that was genuine and authentic to my experiences? Why not simply revel in the fact that my socialisation was largely a vacuum, but for the occasional look over the shoulders of the other women in my life?
Which leads me back to where I started – where is that comfort I’m seeking? What does it look and feel like? What does that make me?
Do I genuinely want something for my body that’s unattainable solely down to the order of the two puberties it’s gone (or more accurately gone and going) through?
Or is that nothing but a thought experiment derived from naught but social unease and deviance?
Perhaps I truly would have found comfort had I been assigned female at birth, or had I transitioned as a teenager – rather than this convoluted process of wondering if I’d have aimed for subtle masculinisation in such cases?
Perhaps having a body that ensured the “correct” socialisation may have led me to feel a deep and genuine comfort?
Or Perhaps it’s simply a desire to ensure that even theoretical, but impossible, experiences match the life and experience and person that I am now?
Truthfully, I’ve no way of knowing. I can’t change my past. I can’t change the circumstances of my birth. I can’t undo the things my body was forced through.
But for all this, there is one thing of which I’m certain: I am moving in the right direction for the life I’m living now. Having my body go through all these feminising processes, revisiting puberty in my twenties and countering the masculinisation that happened to me regardless of my consent to it – that’s what’s right for me.
I know where my dysphoria is rooted. Some I can change, some I can’t. But all that I can change I feel must change. Not for the rest of the world. Not for some grand narrative. Not to convince the doctors and psychiatrists and panellists and people who I’m supposed to believe know me better than I myself. But for me. My comfort in my form.
But I don’t see it how I used to. I’m not at war against a body I should have, to claim it as my own, but with the body I do have. At some point my body and I will find compromise, call a truce. Understand that there’s no further we can go. That we can embrace the variance that’s left. But that time hasn’t come yet. And I rather expect it to be a long time before that day arrives.
Regardless of my past, my present and my future – I know that I find my comfort in being recognised as the woman I feel I am and should be – both by myself and by others.
Yet for all that I wonder if non-binary might be a label that’s mine? Something to describe the absence of gendered experience and desire even despite my yearning for a decidedly binary perception?
And can I truly call myself by that when I feel that it’s generated by the circumstance of my experience than by some inherent internal truth – shaped by the environment rather than whatever I might be as a blank slate? A quiet acknowledgement to the things that don’t quite, and may never, fit.
But other women need not define themselves by their perceived deficits.
But perhaps I truly am missing some absolute foundational “thing” that sets me apart?
Perhaps I overthink. Perhaps I underthink. Perhaps feeling that a piece of the puzzle is somehow missing and being unable to even imagine what that last piece may look like is simply part of being trans in a society that so heavily centres gendered socialisation from birth?
Or maybe it’s even something to be expected from growing into my transition largely in the shadow of the colossus that is the COVID-19 pandemic?
Does the exactness of descriptors used even matter when the thematic truth of my experience as a trans woman remains unchanged by those extra words?
It’s yet another question I don’t have an answer to. And yet again I may never possess that answer. And so there remains only a handful of certainties:
I am Hannah.
The girl I was meant to be.
She who always will be.