Although nearing the end of my own transition and consequently sinking into blessed inconspicuousness, the experience of living an average life whilst transitioning is still a raw one.
Another day in my life as an ordinary mid-transition transgender woman typically began early, with itchy boobs and the remnants of a beard, annoyingly unhindered by oestrogen, to shave away. That early morning mirror is a cruel one and whilst Snow White's stepmum is unworriedly dabbing the anti-wrinkle cream, we're trying to summon the energy to face a day of public scrutiny.
Make-up to apply. Too little and masculine features break through and people will stare, too much and my face will look drag-queen odd and people will stare. Sod it, they'll stare anyway. Stare at the bus stop. Stare in town. Stare at work. Stare at lunch. Stare in shops. Stare on the way home. Stare. The surveillance society is here, believe me.
Getting rid of those masculine features takes time. Hormones and time. To get hormones permanently on the NHS, we need to get referred to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), but that also takes time. Up to three years of time. Now GP's are supposed to offer bridging prescriptions to make the wait less harmful and nowadays some of them actually do this, but many GP's want nothing to do with us at all. If you're trans, your GP is not always going to help you. Feeling valued yet?
Even when you get into a GIC, it takes ages to get anywhere. Its only a few half hours of assessment, but its spread over months if you're lucky, years if you're not. So the average transitioning person is actually an average waiting person. Waiting for a letter, or a Doctor to do something, or some nominal date to pass. You might imagine we're good at waiting then? We're not. We've made the decision, got referred to the clinic; we want to live life as we've chosen right NOW thankyouverymuch.
Yet in order for those that want it to get surgery, a trans person needs to have been on hormones for a year and living, full time as their true gender, for a year. In theory thats the same year, but in practice a GIC wants you to be full time before they give you hormones. Its this delightful concept that results in a lot of trans people wandering the streets dressed in clothes that cis people don't expect, their features as yet unchanged by hormones.
As we do wander the streets, feeling self-conscious and deeply aware of the conflict in our appearances, some rare and special people take it upon themselves to comment on this. Its safest to ignore them but conversations continue in my head... "My jaw is particularly square and manly? Gosh, do you know, I'd not noticed that"... "Why yes, I am aware that my facial-hair electrolysis appointment tomorrow does necessitate my growing a patch of stubble. Is that right? My makeup doesn't quite disguise it? Well, that is a surprise I'd not considered for tens of minutes in front of the mirror this morning."
From the blatant shouted abuse, the sniggers and the laughs, the not-so-secret smirks and the deliberate misgenderings, we're never, ever allowed to forget our status as society's punchline. Being ignored is nirvana. Trans people put their mental health into the hands of strangers every single day.
There's no respite, no time off, and all this on top of a normal existence to get through. Work and housing, taxation and unexpected bills. Need to query something? Give them a call... "Hello sir... erm, did you say your name was Lisa?". Trans women typically hate telephones; whilst oestrogen performs wonders, it will not reverse a masculine voice that has broken, ever. A lucky few can chance the high-stakes vocal chord surgery in far flung countries but every other trans woman has to choose to learn how to talk again or endure a lifetime of double takes and sniggers and laughs and... you've got the idea I'm sure.
New challenges abound this year in which trans people are becoming more visible. Trans celebrities for one. They have money; lots and lots of money and that means they don't have to wait, they don't have to put up with the damage testosterone caused them since puberty. Caitlyn Jenner transitioned overnight and looks gorgeous; why can't the rest of us? Celebrities who transition privately can wait until the hormones have worked before coming out, spend tens of thousands on facial surgery and are crucially insulated from most of the day-to-day real life transphobia.
Online, we fare little better. Our little band shares the stresses and the woes. We empathise with the GIC or societal induced despair and things feel better. Until that is, we are found by the ignorant and the cruel, or those espousing a strand of feminism that excludes trans women. To them, we are 'he' and 'him' and occasionally 'it'. They enjoy prodding trans women, to see how we react, to dig into our insecurities, to test us in ways few others must endure.
And tomorrow, we get to do it all again. Weekday or weekend. Bank holiday Monday or mid-week commute. No hiding, no time off, no choice. That any of us survive all this, day after day, month after month, is amazing. We lose so many friends to this struggle, unable to continue the game of life, yet we have no option but to continue because the prize is so brilliant. We get to be ourselves.
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