There was a time when I only ever “dressed’ in secret. As a small child, I dressed in my mother’s (hopelessly outsized!) clothes, played with my sister’s dolls and read girls books carelessly and unreflectively; they were simply the things I preferred to do, However, as my age approached double figures, I became increasingly aware that this sort of behaviour was not only unusual (specifically: engaged in by nobody else that I knew!) but even regarded as transgressive. In those days, people who did not conform to sex and gender norms were “perverts”. And so began a transition to “dressing” only when nobody else was there to see.
As adolescence got under-way, I became adept at judging when I might be at home long enough to transform myself, and made sure that I took advantage of every viable opportunity. I developed finely-honed tradecraft, enabling myself to “borrow” items and return them without leaving a trace of evidence that they had recently been removed.
For all that my dressing was concealed from the rest of the world, this secrecy, with the concomitant suppression of deep-rooted and quite fundamental aspects of my personality, left scars on my psyche that have proved indelible. While much of what people percieve to be good in me can be associated with the feminine traits in my personality (the man who is empathetic, comfortable with feelings, kind and uncompetitive), in my inner life, I have struggled with a legacy of self-hatred that comes from decades of struggling to convince myself that I am not what I am, and to try to cure myself of being who I am. There are demons who haunt me still.
Emerging into the clear light of day in my forties, going shopping, drinking espresso in a coffee shop, being welcomed in my favourite local restaurant – even made a fuss of. It’s very hard to express what this means to somebody who has spent most of their life trying to cure themself of being who they are.
Many deal with their gender dysphoria by going “full-time”, by transitioning, but as I have written about elsewhere in these pages, that was not the path for me. The arrival of Covid-19 has presented challenges for all of us, and many people are finding that remaining in good physical health does not mean good mental well-being. For me the challenge is that I cannot express myself in the way that I would otherwise like.
My wife is profoundly uncomfortable with this aspect of myself; under normal circumstances, I lead two parallel lives, which is undoubtedly a compromise, but one that allows us to resolve the challenges in our relationship while facilitating some expression of my feminine self. It is a way of living that has given me substantially greater inner peace without destroying a relationship that is important to us both.
However, it is impossible to maintain this tenuous compromise under the conditions of a lockdown, in which we are both working from home. The lockdown follows hard on a lengthy period of convalescence at home for my wife following hip replacement surgery, which has further extended the duration of the period in which our usual compromise has been curtailed. I find myself strangely catapulted back into my own past: I must sieze opportunities to dress whenever they arise, but they are solitary experiences. I have become accustomed to dressing only when I have somewhere to go, or sombody to meet; but now I dress only for my own company!
At least my wife’s work does take her out of the house from time to time still, however. One such opportunity presented itself on Friday. I took my permitted daily exercise, walking and enjoying the views of distant hills. And for all that it may seem strange to say so for anybody who is not afflicted with gender dysphoria, it lifted my spirits to do so. It was as though a fresh breeze blew through a musty room. For a day I could be myself in whatever way seemed most fitting.
I cannot explain or rationalise properly why this should matter so much to me, but it does, and I was grateful for the opportunity presented to me. When the lockdown will end, it is very hard to say. While it continues, quite a lot of making do and putting up will have to be done. But when, eventually, it does end, there will be drinking and dining and dancing with friends…