Given that I don’t live full-time as a woman, it may seem curious that I do it at all. As with many of the other issues associated with my gender identity, I do not presume to speak here for an entire community. I know from conversations that trans folk dress for a variety of reasons: some do it to relax, as perhaps other men participate in historical reconstructions or other activities; others do it for sexual reasons (we will return to the subject of autogynephilia later). However, in my own case the primary motivation has always been the confusion I have experienced about my gender identity. I suffer from gender dysphoria – I know that I am biologically male but my mind wishes me to be female. I do not know whether this has any physiological origin; it may simply be a state of mind. But the feeling is very strong and in many ways quite overwhelming.
It may seem strange in the light of this that I live most of the time as a man. Perhaps if I had been born 30 years later, this might have been different: perhaps I would have come out in my early teens, and transitioned then. But I do not know. Several decades have passed since I entered my teenage years, and a series of life events – love, marriage and children being the most important – have come, and been founded on my maleness. These things are dear to me, and no part of me wishes to undo them. However, those same decades have also been accompanied by inner turmoil as I have wrestled with the seeming contradiction between my biological masculinity and my innate sense of femininity.
How did this come to be? When I was growing up in the 1970s, I was the only person I knew who suffered this peculiarity. To be trans was to be a pervert, and for all that I desperately wanted to be feminine, I also wanted to fit in and take my place in society. My biological sex is clearly male. This is no small thing; and for many years it seemed that the path to take was that of self-correction; to try to embrace masculinity, to the exclusion of this feminine side of myself.
But the feminine would not be subordinated to the masculine. It needs to find expression. When I eventually confronted by transgenderism in my late 30s, a struggle ensued as my feminine self demanded fuller recognition. In the end, a compromise was struck: without divorce, and without making heavy demands on my children, there was no way for Karen to come and go as she pleased. So I live my everyday self as a man, but when opportunity arises, a transformation takes place.
The transformation does not bring thrills, although it is most certainly joyous. It does not change my interests, loyalties, beliefs or values. However, for as long as it lasts, it brings a peace, a sense of rightness and a feeling that for now it’s OK to be me. If I go away for a weekend, and have a couple of days to dress full time, I have a sense that inner knots are untangling. Things get smoothed out inside. A delicious feeling that all is well begins to creep over me. When the time ends and Karen has to be squeezed back into her box, I do not suffer agony – I don’t want to exaggerate – but I can feel the psychological knots reforming. When I first accepted my transgenderism, I feared a sort of schizophrenia would develop – two personalities – him and her – would begin to coexist. However, accepting my gender identity has led to a sense of wholeness that I had not expected. For all the apparent contradictions of my life and the solution to my dysphoria, I can find sense and unity in this peculiar compromise that I never felt during decades of attempted self-correction.