Monday, 14 December 2015

A to Z: Identity

I didn't mean to wait 6 months to update this, but this one has been difficult ... again. I don't know why but I just had issues finding the right words to convey what I wanted without it sounding contrived. I guess it's a a harder topic to write about than I initially thought, I've tried to start this several times now and I can't think of a non blunt way of saying it.
I don't know who I am. I don't know who I want to be. So I have no earthly idea of how to go from A to B.

It's a complex puzzle, and I only ever get little flashes. Sometimes it's an item of clothing, or a certain style. Other times it's a person, or a group of people. I see how they carry themselves, or their general approach to life and think, yes, I want to be like that. It never really ads up to a whole person. Not only that it changes over time; I'm not the same person I was last year, and neither is the person I want to be.

I feel like I'm aimlessly grasping for something in the dark; there's something out there, but I have no way to find it. Maybe this is just how everyone feels. I don't know. All I know is that it's a great source of distress. I feel like I'm failing myself. Failing too live up to who I could be. Not really being who I am inside. Saying I feel trapped would be too dramatic, but I certainly don't like feeling like this. As I get older I fear that my opportunities are dwindling. The reality of life is pushing down on me. The time to 'find yourself' has passed and now you've got to get down to actual life.

And that's the other big issue. Even if I knew what changes I wanted to make, it doesn't mean society at large would be comfortable with, or accepting of those changes. Especially in the industry I want to work in.
I guess clothes are an easy and obvious way to express this  disconnected feeling. They're a very easy and clear way to change if not how you feel, but the way people see you. I often feel depressed when I see styles or items (or experiences / hobbies too I guess) I really like, but 'can't have'. Sometimes the fact that I don't feel like I can have them is what makes me feel so down. It's not the necessarily that it wouldn't suit me, or that it's too expensive (not that those aren't issues too, but they are more generic issues for everyone) but more that I couldn't get way with it. That it's not really me. But if I like it doesn't that de facto mean that is is?

To pull a couple of examples out. I've always wanted to do ballet (I think I mentioned this before). It's kind of a defining thing for a guy to do, especially at the age you need to start at to progress well. At that age I was both really confused, and stupidly afraid of anyone finding out that I wanted to do it that I aggressively moved away from it to fit into the little clique of non sporty people I ended up with. I'm almost 100% sure I would have been bullied if I had done ballet as a child. At the end of the day however I knew there were no tutus at the end of that line, for me anyway, so I discounted it. I sometimes think I should try looking into it now, but adult ballet classes sound really intimating. Do I want to be that person?
Another example would be Gothic Lolita fashion. It's a style that appeared in Japan inspired by Victoria\Edwardian clothing. Lots big floofy dresses with lace, frills, corsets, bows, tiny top hats, etc etc. It's a cute style that has always appealed to both me, and a lot of other trans* people. It can work well for androgyny if you have the right body shape to pull it off. I, and many others do not, all it really does is highlight the 'man in a dress' effect. It's sadly become a thing society in general (notably the internet) has grabbed hold of as an amusing thing to point and laugh at, the archetypal 'I'm a lady' crossdresser. There are some versions of it which do work, largely focusing on waistcoats and frilly shirts than big floofy dresses with bows. It tends to be more gothy while keeping the style and being slightly more androgynous.

There are many of these examples. Things which I (or maybe the person I want to be) like(s) but feel that I shouldn't, or can't. I don't know what to do about it. I don't feel like I have the freedom to try anything in fear of getting judged and in someway being discriminated against. I wish I was able to chose what gender to present as day to day. Try things out, see how it feels to live as a woman for a bit, maybe I'd feel better, maybe not. I don't think most places and/or people would be welcome that however, let alone an employer.
There are a couple of people in particular who seem to be able to enjoy anything they want without seeming to worry what people think. I don't know how they do it, maybe it's just a self confidence / self esteem thing.

On a lighter and more positive note; Earlier this year to of my good friends got married. It was a wonderful wedding and I enjoyed myself immensely. It was great to see a bunch of friends I rarely get to see, as well as being a nice little holiday. Something that made it special for me was that, with the approval, nay encouragement of the couple I chose to present as female. I got to wear a dress to a wedding. OK so it wasn't MY wedding or a wedding dress, but it was amazing none the less.

So, a few weeks before the wedding I went dress shopping with my mother in law. It was a really fun experience, if a little nerve wracking. After looking in almost every shop in Cambridge I tried some on in Phase Eight, and eventually choose this dress. It fits really well, feels amazing to wear, and flatters my figure. At the time it stood out to me as something I wouldn't normally like, something 'not me'. I'm not sure if my tastes have just shifted slightly, or in choosing something for a special occasion made it seem more real. I was buying a real dress to wear to a wedding. All day, rather than something to wear at home or at a house party with friends. In some ways I think it stood out as more feminine than I would have other-wised picked. Again, not sure what that means or where that feeling is coming from.
When the day came I was really apprehensive and nervous; simultaneously really looking forward to the experience, but also dreading something happening and having to deal with things like taxis. I was worried the taxi we had booked to take us to the ceremony would just turn around and leave when they saw me, but they didn't. Nothing bad happened at all. I had a great time, and received compliments from several people.

I was asked several times about correct pronouns, and alternate names. I'd honestly never really thought about pronouns. When I dress up I don't feel like I become someone different, I feel different, and act differently (I think at least), but I don't feel like I inherently change identity. It being like a different lens between who I am and the world. It shows some hidden things, and hides some others ... or something like that anyway. As the day went on (and the alcohol was imbibed) I felt more and more comfortable. As always, I'd be interested to know if people felt like my personality changed, if I acted differently. I definitely danced a bit, which is unusual for me.

I can't think of anyone (and please do correct me if I'm wrong) who's primary memory of meeting me is while I was presenting as female. I.e. I think everyone who I count as a friend, or even acquaintance knows me as male. Since I nominally present male that's not surprising, but it does mean people default to male pronouns, which I am fine with. As I say, not really thought about it much before now.

A few years ago I setup an alternate facebook account, on which I present female. It was partly to separate divisive things like photos out, but also to experiment with a female persona. It doesn't get much use, but it's nice to have that outlet. A few moths after the wedding I posted a photo of a new dress. There were several replies, but one stood out in particular. It used female pronouns in reference to me. It hit me oddly out of the blue. I don't know why I never expected someone to do so but I hadn't. It felt good. Some kind of validation maybe? I don't know. It kind of felt right, for that photo, for that person anyway.
I feel that for some of my friends attending an important event like a wedding presenting female was a trigger for them to question pronouns and alternate names. I definitely got more questions about it after that than before; maybe it made it seem more real to them? Less of a quirk? I don't want people to worry about upsetting / offending me over pronouns, I largely don't care; and unless I decide to live presenting female I don't think that will change.

As for names. I have an alternate which I use, I'm not sure I'd choose to use it if I did change gender, but it works for things like facebook. I don't feel a great attachment to that name. I oddly actually feel more attachment to my main WoW character; Rosedawn.

It's probably a little sad, but I really like the name. Spending a lot of time playing her helped too. It's not like I sat there and really felt that I was this blood elf rouge, but looking back on it the concept that the person people saw in the world as me happened to be female is oddly comforting. In fact it's not only a common feeling among transgender gamers, but has also been noted those researching in the field.

I've spent a lot of time talking around the question of identity and not actually talking about it directly. Maybe I'll do that in another post soon. This one has already gone on a bit so I guess I'll leave the rest for now.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A to Z: Happiness

I've been wanting to update this blog for a while; things have conspired to get in the way.

I had an idea for H, but it required some research and after doing some I quickly realised I was way out of my depth and didn't really know how I felt, which made it tricky to write about. That little gap made getting back into it harder. I'm not going to say that I'll update on a schedule yet but we'll see what happens.
This week my focus is Happiness, or lack thereof. This is somewhat a rehash of my Depression post; I wanted to cover it again now I'm a little older. To take a look at why I started this blog and try to help people understand what goes on in my head. Sorry if this ends up being too similar to the Depression post.

I am not a happy person. I never really have been. Not in the banal everyday sense at least. Even from being quite young I knew something was off. I once told a primary school teacher that I felt depressed, (I must have been maybe 9 or 10, I don't remember exactly) said teacher assumed I'd heard the word and didn't really understand. I did understand it in part it would seem. I knew it meant sad or unhappy without an obvious reason. I have absolutely no idea where I picked up the word or the meaning however.

It's a feeling that has persisted throughout my life. It's part of who I am and I don't think it'll ever go away. I don't really know what the route cause is. As I said before not having a full time job (still) is a large source, but even when those stresses are lessened a deeper, persistent, looming unhappiness sinks in. And that I think comes from my crossdressing.

To be blunt; regardless of what I chose to do to my body, surgery or otherwise, it will never live up to the mental image of who I want to be.
I wouldn't be the first person to think "Wow, I wish I had her figure", it really isn't a solely transcentric issue. I know a lot of cis women feel this way, but I think it's more acute for trans people; especially when that feeling comes in surges. I see someone in an outfit I like and it completely derails my thought process; it wrecks my self confidence and can easily cause me to spiral downwards (again, not saying I'm a special snowflake here, just that I experience it too).

And this is where it sucks. Because I like nice clothes, and I often know the people in them. I hate the idea that someone wouldn't wear what they want because they don't want to upset me. If nothing else people with the kinds of figures I'd like to have myself should enjoy them and wear the most flattering things they can get their hands on because god dammit life is only so long.

So what can I do? Deal with it I guess. Become happy with who I am or change. In the past someone raised the point that if I really wanted to transition, surely I would have made moves to do so by now. I don't remember what I said at the time because I was somewhat drunk and it was quite a while back now. Simply put it's not that simple (not to imply that they thought it was trivial). There's a lot of things to be afraid of; people tend to underestimate how hard it still is to transition.

GPs are notoriously bad at dealing with trans issues. It's a very difficult area for them to cover, even though it's becoming increasingly common. In my experience they will try to refer you anyone else, someone, anyone, who is in a better position to deal with you than they are. That or deny you treatment. They shouldn't do this, but they do. I've been flat told that no NHS mental health counselling exists in Cambridgeshire for me to be referred to, let alone for trans specific issues.
The NHS has some specific rules about who can transition, and how they must do so. For example they ask that the patient live as their desired gender for 3 months before they are provided with any assistance. In a perfect world where people don't judge you heavily base on appearance alone this wouldn't necessarily be too bad. The general principle behind it is to make sure the patient will actually benefit from the process. However it's brutal, especially the older you get. For someone like me who isn't naturally very effeminate it would be intensely draining and degrading at best, downright dangerous at worst.

After that 3 month period you are eligible for hormone therapy. Following this the patient beings a year of 'real life experience', which is more of the same as above but with some more support. After this year, if you meet the requirements (maintaining employment being a big one, changing your name to be 'gender appropriate') you get a certificate to receive surgery, and to legally change your gender.

Some of that might not be 100% accurate, it's based off my own personal research, someone with first hand experience might be able to go into more detail / correct a few things.

There are medical risks as well. Hormones can cause blood clots, gallstones, hair loss (from the scalp), depression, and more. There are a lot of general risks of having any surgery / general anaesthetic, lest alone such a major procedure. Things like electrolysis for permanent facial hair removal and the like some risk, but less.
And finally, people suck. Unless you have a wonderful transition and come out being able to pass without a second glance (i.e. beginning the process pre puberty) then you will be ostracised to some degree. It is slowly getting better. More people are coming out as Transgender and transitioning including high profile people. However it's still a long and complicated process that a lot of people find very strange and uncomfortable, and at the end of the day you have to be really sure it's what you want, and that you'll be happier afterwards.

It's an enormous life changing risk. One that I might want to take some day, but now isn't the right time. The knowledge that that possible path is fraught with so much uncertainty, and may not have the transformative effect I want is a deep and pervasive source of sadness.