I told Nominatissima first, on the grounds that she had the most vested interest in my gender identity. As I expected, she was understanding.
“What are you going to do? Are you going to transition?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. And I honestly didn’t. It’s easy to talk about something like gender transition in an abstract sense but when you’re actually there, living it, it’s much more difficult. Transition is something which complicates every single aspect of your life. I was afraid that my friends would abandon me; that my parents would be alienated; that Nominatissima’s parents would disown her. I fretted over how it would damage my employment prospects; how I would even be able to go to the bathroom in public.
In my own, personal case, I felt a lot like I was a Prince mulling over whether or not to abdicate his throne. As you may have gleaned from this narrative, I had actually been leading something of a charmed life: not a full one, mind you, but one characterized by a sort of ease and contentment. The concept of privilege (in the sense of unearned social advantage) may be overplayed, but there is a noticeable difference between living as a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man and living as a white, homosexual transgendered woman. In the first case, the world essentially bends over backwards to kiss your ass; in the latter, people look at you like you’re something nasty they’ve just wiped-off the bottom of their shoes. This in spite of the fact that no essential detail of your character has changed in any meaningful way. Was it worthwhile to become a woman if, in so doing, I had to turn down so many of the advantages I had inherited?
At first, I just tried talking it through with my loved ones: Nominatissima, first of all, but I also contacted my sister (who professed that she was not particularly surprised), my best friend M* (who, I assume, was surprised although he didn’t tell me one way or the other) and my parents (or rather, my mother, who told my father before I could work up the nerve to do so myself). Sooner or later though, I decided that I needed to go see a therapist.
I’m not sure what I really expected. But in retrospect, I realize that what I was hoping for was a therapist who would be able to absolve me of personal responsibility for my own identity. Basically, someone who treated psychology as if it were a hard science; someone who could just whip-out a checklist, go through it with me point-by-point and then turn to me and say: “Well, it’s pretty obvious you’re trans. Here’s a prescription for hormones,” or even: “Well, it’s pretty obvious that you’re a decadent pervert who’s deluding himself and wasting my time. Now get the fuck out of my office and try to keep your freaky masturbatory fantasies to yourself.”
I soon realized that this wasn’t the way that it worked. My therapist—Julian, by name—did not diagnose me one way or the other**. He only listened; occasionally he would ask for clarification on some detail, or propose some alternative explanation. It was actually rather frustrating, to be honest—I wanted a clear-cut answer, and all I could get, from the greatest specialist in the field in town, was nebulous. He would tell me that my feelings and experiences were not unusual for transgendered people, but he was not actually willing to go so far as to say that I was transgendered. At one point I even asked him, straight-up, if I was trans. Here’s what he said to me:
“It’s not a simple yes/no question. Transgender identity is a spectrum; on the far side of the spectrum are the people who want to transition yesterday; they don’t like their bodies; they feel misshapen, and they’re the type of people who usually respond best to things like surgery… On the other end of the spectrum are people who just feel a mild discomfort with their biologically-assigned sex. They’re the type of people who can satisfy their desires just by, for example, occasional crossdressing, or private role-play; these are the types of people who usually end up regretting transition if they go forward with it. Now, from what you’re telling me, you are on this spectrum, but I can’t tell you precisely where. My advice to you is to experiment with your gender expression; try feminizing your appearance a bit, for example, or shaving your legs, or wearing women’s clothing. Just find your own comfort level.”
It was then that I realized that this therapist, for all of his virtues, couldn’t help me in the way that I truly wanted. Transgenderism, all though medicalized, is an identity, not a disorder; and Julian helped me to understand this. And this being the case, I could not depend upon one therapist, or a hundred, or even a thousand (regardless of their level of competence) to tell me whether I was trans or not: In the end, only I could say who I really was.
So it was up to me. I decided I would take Julian’s advice. I asked Nominatissima to try using female pronouns and calling me “Jaime***” (to which she agreed) and started publically experimenting with my gender presentation.
I didn’t do anything drastic; I bought some formal clothes which were tailored for women, but wouldn’t have looked particularly out of place on either sex, and I started growing out my hair. I experimented with dyes (black, as it turned out, just made me look like a vandalized police sketch), took to shaving twice a day****, and, eventually, to wearing make-up. After I was done my work each day and had returned to my apartment, I would (in the privacy of my own home) go what I called “full femme:” unambiguously feminine attire complete with make-up and a stuffed bra.
Nominatissima helped me perfect the details of feminine gender presentation; taught me, for example, how to apply makeup properly, or how to put my hair in a pony tail symmetrically, or how to swing my hips while I was walking, or to smile more frequently*****. Eventually, it reached the point where I was essentially leading a double life. I would be a man when I was out in public or on the phone with my parents, but when I came home, I would immediately revert to being a woman. And it was the woman that I understood to be the “real” me.
Eventually, towards the end of the year, I started experimenting with going-out in public as a female—although I carefully selected the venues so as to avoid interacting with anyone who knew me. My first sojourn out in public came when a famous feminist/atheist blogger gave a speech in my city. I hid at the back of the room with Nominatissima, insanely nervous.
It got easier the second time I did it; a full day spent out shopping in the downtown, attired as a woman. Once I managed to overcome my initial nervousness, I noted that I felt intensely liberated. Indeed, I daresay it was one of the best days of my entire life.
Shortly thereafter, I returned to my parents’ house for Christmas. There, I was constrained to being strictly masculine at all times (not wanting to ruin the holidays with a confrontation with my family). I found this situation to be extremely uncomfortable, to be honest. The truth was, I think, that I had grown since I had moved away. When I’d been growing-up, I simply kept my personal life and feelings neatly bottled. Living on my own, by contrast, had been the experiential equivalent of taking a tube of toothpaste and squeezing it; try as I might, I could never return all of it back into the neat little package from which it had originated—and moreover, I didn’t especially want to. How could I go back to living in self-denial after I had known the taste of freedom? How could I go back to passive observation in my own life after I had known what it felt like to have true agency? The truth was that I could not.
I love my parents, don’t get me wrong; but the whole time I was there, I longed to return to my life away from home. And once I did, I found myself going out in public en femme more and more often. What’s more, Nominatissima was by this point working for our University’s Pride Office—and there, I got to interact for the first time, with other trans-people. Not only did I envy them the freedom that I had so long denied myself, but I also realized, upon talking to them, that their experiences really were a lot like my own. So if they could be who they truly were—if they could brave the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—then why the bloody hell couldn’t I!?!
The straw that finally broke the camel’s back came on January 28th, 2012. That day, I had been out en femme with Nominatissima when she had felt compelled to hide me from a friend of hers. Once we returned home, she confessed extreme frustration to me; she was tired of living in the margins in between genders—of having to hide from her friends in public in order to protect me. I realized that I wasn’t being fair to her—and, as you might imagine, I had already been giving a lot of thought to coming out around that time. So I decided that that was precisely what I was going to do. After seven hours, dozens of repetitions of Eye of the Tiger, a pep-talk from D. (a trans friend of mine), and a not inconsiderable quantity of liquor, I finally managed to do just that, posting the following message on Facebook:
There is no easy way to say this. Not because I am concerned that you will all abandon me (although some of you may, in which case to those people I suppose I can only say that I’m probably better off without you), but because I am frightened to admit certain facts about myself.
Simply put, I am a woman. I have known this about myself since I was eleven years old (and felt it for as long as I can remember); only today am I finally prepared to acknowledge this. As you might imagine, this truth is rather inconvenient for me, owing to the fact (as I’m sure that all of you have noticed) that I happen to have a male body.
What does it even mean, to be transgendered? I wish I could tell you. I’m not even certain how to quantify these feelings. It’s not a matter of me desiring to engage in stereotypically feminine behaviours; neither do I feel like I am “a woman trapped in a man’s body.” What I do feel is simply no more or less than what I have said; I feel that I am a woman. I identify, and have always identified (although usually in secret), with femininity. In any social situation in which gender has come up, I have felt instantly and inevitably as if I were playing for the wrong team, but even when I am alone (indeed, even if there were no one else left in the entire world), I still desire to be a woman.
These feelings can no longer be ignored. Which is why I am requesting, starting today, that you acknowledge me as female by using the pronouns “she” and “her,” and refer to me henceforth as “Jaime.”
Let me emphasize that I remain the same person that I always was (indeed, if anything, I am even moreso). The only difference, as far as you should be concerned, is a fairly trivial change in pronouns.
That is all. Carry on.
I had wanted to be able to come out to my parents as well at the same time*****, but it was not feasible; I couldn’t do it over the phone (too casual) or by e-mail (too informal); my only option of telling them was by a handwritten letter, and that would take several days to reach them, and I knew that I would have difficulty working-up my courage again; it was then or never.
Even so, my sole regret is that I couldn’t tell my parents first. That is the only way that I feel that I have truly wronged them. I hope that, in reading this narrative, however, they will be able to understand that I am doing nothing more or less than what needs to be done for me to feel like a complete person. They have told me that I should find some other way; I spent twelve years looking, and there is no other way. They have charged that my transgender feelings have come out of nowhere; I feel that I have shown that, while I may have kept them secret for a long time, and while a lot of people may not have noticed, that they are in fact quite deeply rooted in the history of my life. They have asserted that I have not thought long and hard enough about this course of action; I trust that anyone who has read this narrative will agree that I have scarcely been doing anything else. They tell me that I have not sought-out enough medical opinions; I say, however, that I do not have a disease—that I don’t need a third or a fourth opinion concerning my own identity anymore than anyone else does.
Once upon a time, my fondest, secret dream was to be a woman. Now, I realize that that is what I am; and so my new fondest dream is that my loved ones will accept me as such. Make no mistake; I love my parents, but the problem is that they don’t understand me. Perhaps, if they read this document, and do so as earnestly as I have written it, then maybe, just maybe, they finally will.
–Jaime, “Vox Corvegis”
August 27th, 2012.
*This was by far one of the more unusual interactions I have ever had with him; I have said before that he and I never discussed our personal lives, but my god? How could I have not told him? Relations were strained between us for about nine months, but he appears to have gotten over it.
**He did, however, diagnose me as being on the Autism spectrum, which wasn’t terribly surprising to me.
***You’ll notice that I’d changed the letters around since I saw that female apparition in the mirror all those years ago, in order to make it more unambiguously feminine. I didn’t realize at the time that ‘Jaime’ was also a Spanish boys’ name. I’m still not sure if this is the name that I ultimately want to go with.
****Which is an annoying necessity, since I wasn’t yet willing to try more permanent methods of facial hair removal (in spite of the fact that I’ve hated my facial hair from pretty much the second that it started growing on my face).
*****For some reason, women are expected to smile a lot in social interactions.
******Well, I was already out to my parents, but I meant I wanted to tell them of my intention to live as a woman.