I often find it quite ‘poncey’ when people talk about ‘narratives’ …’what’s your Narrative?’, ‘Gender Narrative’, ‘Social Narrative’ etc. I am fully prepared to accept that this attitude, and indeed the specific wording of my feelings are based on a personal narrative of growing up in a no-nonsense, plain speaking environment. Indeed, I can often be poncey, flowery and pretentious with my prose but when you grow up around the cultural vacuum of a ‘New Town’ like Stevenage where there is sadly a culture of distrust towards anyone who is different, one doesn’t have to season their vernacular too much before being labelled as all these things.
It does concern me, however, on a deeper level than just how self-important it can make one sound. The sad truth is, as a Trans person, we are all judged upon our Narratives. One cannot simply walk in to a GP and, like Ricky Gervais satirically speculated on one of his standup tours say “You see all this? Get rid of this… pop on a fanny!”
In the UK we have to bare our incorrectly housed souls to psychiatrists in order to be diagnosed with a condition that they don’t even want to classify as a mental illness (which it isn’t if the recent discoveries of the variation in androgen receptors is true). This is where we give our narratives.
Did we want to play with the toys of the opposite sex when we were younger? Did we want to dress as the opposite sex? Did we express our Dysphoria to family and friends from a young age? Did we even experience Dysphoria when we were young? Were we effete little boys, or tomboy girls? These are relevant to our past narrative.
There is, sadly, an element of one-uptranship within the Trans community? Woe betide any poor Trans person who didn’t experience Dysphoria until puberty, or who never wanted to dress as the opposite sex when they were younger. Born male? Played with Ninja Turtles and not Barbie? You don’t qualify! I am considerably Transer than you!
Our current narrative is also under scrutiny. How do we present ourselves? Many Transwomen I know, especially early in their transition are afraid to attend GIC appointments and assessments without a full face of makeup and as typically feminine an outfit as is humanly possible for fear that their expression of their gender identity will be deemed inadequate. There is this permeating fear that if you rock up in jeans and a hoodie like half the women you pass in the street, you will be dismissed as ‘not serious enough’.
There is this concept in the Trans-critical feminist circles, that Transwomen are walking parodies of femininity. This is of course an absolutely absurd and downright offensive notion, but does it gain weight from the fact that out current healthcare system seems to be encouraging Transwomen especially to overcompensate? The fact that we are expected to present as feminine fulltime (RLE) for nearly a year before receiving and benefiting from any feminising hormones, has the unfortunate side effect of making us far more visible to those around us than we feel comfortable with. Jeans, T-Shirt, Hoodie, Trainers, hair in a ponytale… is that ok? Are we still presenting as female? Are we negating our RLE? Are we at risk of losing our support or being hurled back to square one? Are we even allowed to have our hair short if we want?
RLE (Real Life Experience) is a misleading concept, as it is not really experiencing life in your preferred gender role, as much as it is seeing how you cope with the shit you are going to get when others perceive you as Trans. Unless you are fortunate enough to be naturally very androgynous, you are going to look like a guy in a frock or a stereotypical ‘butch lesbian’ until you get medical intervention. ‘Passing privilege’ doesn’t often come until later, and for many, not at all.
No one comments on Trans people who blend in, only on those who stand out. I suppose I can count myself fortunate that I can sit near a group of people saying nasty things about Trans people without realising that one of these ‘abominations’ is within muffin launching distance from their ignorant faces. It sometimes feels that the less you think you pass, the more you overcompensate, and the less you actually pass as a result.
Femininity is highly subjective. Masculinity is highly subjective. Is it wrong to push transitioning people to the extremes of gender expression? Is this not the issue many think it is and just an internalised aspect of Gender Dysphoria? Is there not enough consensus on the parameters for gender expression to use it as a suitable judge for the criteria of RLE?
I prefer to wear dresses or skirts, love shoes, don’t usually wear much make-up, play tabletop games, video games, collect Warhammer stuff, love sci-fi and history, laugh at dirty jokes… there’s a mix of typically both genders in there, yet I identify strongly as female… are Transwomen allowed to be Tomboys? Are Transmen allowed to be effete? The gender binary is far from just a Trans issue, we are all a hodgepodge of different traits and interests that have been gender labelled. Compassion is seen as feminine, yet there are many compassionate men whose Gender Identity is never in question. Competitiveness is seen as a typically male trait, but try telling that to a women’s Roller Derby team.
I always knew what my brain needed my body to be, but that is not negated by the fact I liked Ninja Turtles and Action Man when I was a child, and it doesn’t negate my identity if I can’t be bothered to shave my legs for a fortnight.