My employer (a university) tries very hard to be inclusive. It has received commendations from Stonewall for its LGBT inclusion strategies. Each year, it carries out a survey designed to determine the LGBT status of its employees, Remarkably, given the very genuine commitment the University has to inclusiveness, this survey offers me only two choices in relation to my trans-status: either I am not trans, or “my gender identity is not the one assigned at birth”. For me, this does not feel at all inclusive. That’s not meant to be a snipe at my employer; rather, its a reflection of the fact that there seems to be a problem with understanding what “trans” really means. That problem exists not just for my employer, but apparently among members of the trans community too. We say that somebody “transitions” when they begin to live full time in a gender different from their biological sex. In the minds of many (including my employer), people who transition are trans. In the minds of many folk who transition, people who transition are trans. But what’s the status of part-timers like myself? Do we not count? Are we just kinky people? Or are our problems not very real?
I watched a wonderful documentary about trans children growing up in the US, by the British film-maker Louis Theroux. He met several children who were at different stages on the road to transition. The controversial aspect to this was that these people were all quite young, an issue that I may return to elsewhere. At the end of the show he featured a child who dressed as a girl at home with his Mum, and as a boy when he was with his Dad. Louis asked him whether he would live as a girl or a boy at high school. He replied that he thought he’d live mostly as a boy then. “Perhaps he’s not really trans” concluded Louis. The programme was very thoughtfully and sensitively filmed, but to me this was a very disappointing end. I believe it is perfectly possible to be trans and not transition. The child concerned seemed to flit easily and carelessly between typically masculine and feminine forms of dress and behaviour. He certainly was not exclusively masculine; surely he too was trans.
I think its obvious that people who transition have to deal with some really substantial challenges, and there’s no doubt that we “part-timers” are saved from many of those. But that by no means entails that our lives are a bed of roses. My marriage nearly collapsed because of my being trans, and I’ve suffered from intense bouts of depression as a consequence of the internal conflicts that have been created by my living in a curious half-world. Since at last admitting to myself that I am trans, I feel that I have become whole for the first time, but the challenge of still living a life that is closeted for the greater part has nevertheless taken a huge toll psychologically. Not only do I need to care for my relationship with my wife, but I have two sons. To them I am a father – a gender-specific role. It is no trivial thing to metamorphose into a second mother. I have taken the decision not to do this. However, this decision does not mean that I do not suffer from gender dysophoria – because I do.
Those who transition experience different challenges. I am quite prepared to accept that they are more substantial challenges. But we are all afflicted with the same challenge, of dealing with our gender dysphoria. We may make different decisions about how to respond to it, but we are fellow travellers and we should support and value each other.