The most successful job interview I ever had also turned out to be the most memorable one, and for an entirely unrelated reason. After spending twenty minutes answering questions and making surprisingly well received jokes, I was asked by a member of the four-person panel if I had any extra queries or comments. I laughed awkwardly, knowing what I had to do next. “Well...” I began, pausing a moment to buy myself time. “The name I actually go by is Mia.”
I had attended the interview under a name I hadn’t used for months and worn clothes that had sat forgotten at the back of my wardrobe for even longer. The only reason for doing so was that I had yet to change the name and gender on my ID and qualifications. I’d been quietly identifying as transgender for a while now, but getting a job was the last box I wanted ticked before I was going to finalise my transition. Once this was done I could finally formally change everything and update everyone not yet in the know about my new name and pronouns.
Luckily, a day after my interview I was offered the job, which gave me the green light to leave my old life behind. And that was that. I had transitioned from an stifling and uncomfortable life to a happier and authentic one. The end.
Well, not exactly. I wish it had been that simple. In reality my transition continued for years after that moment, and arguably is still going on today, with an evolving list of challenges that I’m forever having to navigate.
Many cisgender people (that is to say people who are not trans) end up with the impression that transition is something rapid and simple. As if all trans people need to do is toss out their old clothes, sign a few papers, and then step out into the world as a brand new person free to express themselves without restraint. In actuality transition is chaotic, slow, and completely unpredictable.
Although I may have wanted to have shed all remnants of my old life in that moment, some parts were going to take a lot of time to pry free. Back then I had been on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for a grand total of two months. It would eventually feminise my body with softer curves and a rounder face, but so far all it had done was make my chest ache and left me smelling less repugnant after exercise. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t see a proud young woman looking back, I saw a nervous looking masculine face underneath poorly applied makeup and the hints of my dreaded beard shadow.
The week that my new job began you’d have thought I was going to work herding velociraptors, rather than joining a small IT team. I was terrified. Despite how I felt, thankfully the majority of my new work colleagues were lovely. I did my best to project confidence I didn’t have and arrived every day in my new office dresses, pretending that I felt no different from everybody else. In the background I continued to juggle my ongoing transition and all the weird and awkward things that were happening as a result.
As the months went by HRT didn’t just affect my body, but my emotional state too. I was regularly hit with random mood swings and cried over everything from the concept of lonely puppies, to realising I’d ran out of my favourite shampoo. More than once I had to run to the bathroom at work just to lock myself in a cubicle and cry as silently as I could. Afterwards I would strut back to my desk as if I’d just popped out for a phone call.
Meanwhile, frustrated with my facial hair, I started to attend laser hair removal appointments to slowly get rid of it. Once a month I would sit with dark goggles over my eyes while I clenched my teeth as my face was zapped with searing pain. At the end of the process I would leave in a daze, trying not to touch my patchy inflamed skin. Then on the bus ride home I’d ponder over the profound nature of paying £100 a session, a fortune for someone with my budget, so that I could be tortured with lasers.
Despite working full-time, I was always struggling for money to fund my transition. Whether it was travelling to healthcare appointments in London, paying for my HRT, buying new work outfits for my evolving fashion sense and body shape, or just restocking my precious makeup, it seemed like there was always something that I needed to pour money into to keep my transition moving forwards.
As for the social side of things, I would love to regale stories of what it was like to suddenly be perceived as my real gender but that didn’t exactly happen according to plan either. What gender I was perceived as each day was a dice roll based on nothing but that person’s own biases and opinions. You don’t know true humiliation until you’ve been publicly referred to as “this gentleman” while stood in a waiting area in a floral dress and blood red lipstick. Elsewhere, I had a cashier stop mid-sentence when gesturing to me as she couldn’t confidently pick between which gendered term she should use for me. Later it was me who was struck into silence, as a man who looked like he could bench press a rhinoceros leaned into my face and rasped “are you a boy or a girl?” while I frantically wondered how to deescalate the situation.
If our society wasn’t so agonisingly obsessed with constantly gendering everybody between two binary options (which is also how it relentlessly excludes non-binary people), then perhaps I could have avoided such awkward situations. Instead I had to grow used to having my identity questioned, implicitly and explicitly, right to my face. That ambiguous perception of my gender only stopped once my body had changed enough to end up somewhat fitting within mainstream expectations of what a woman looks like. It was a bittersweet confirmation that although I was finally being recognised for who I was, it was what I looked like on the surface that dictated whether my gender would be understood and respected or entirely misunderstood.
It’s tempting to see my transition as a linear journey that began with that job interview, but that would be another oversimplification. There were countless influential moments, multiple false starts, and plenty of plodding buildup that was all instrumental in getting me to that room.
Eight months before my interview I had declared that I wasn’t going to pretend to be cisgender anymore, while I sobbed harder than I ever had in my life. One year before it, I had started seeing a counsellor specifically to talk about my gender, wherein I had a breakthrough about my identity and what I wanted for my life. Five years before the interview I had promised myself that I’d stop self-harming and start accepting myself, after a lifetime of intense self-loathing brought on by the failure to grow into the man people expected me to be. Six years prior to it I was struggling with what would become regular panic attacks, initially triggered by the stress of hiding my secretly purchased dresses and makeup. Twelve years before the interview I had been a young teenager nervously typing a plea for help one evening, after I’d stumbling across the information I needed to realise I was transgender. And eighteen years before that day, while still a child, I had my first confusing thought about my gender and questioned where I belonged.
So where did my transition really begin? There is no definitive answer because there was no definitive start. Too often transition is boiled down to a brief and shallow flash of change, something easy to understand with an unequivocal before and after. But it’s so much more than that. Everyone’s transition is a deeply personal story, with too much nuance and depth to be covered justifiably with a 60-minute documentary or a short salacious magazine article. Yet again and again we see trans stories condensed and contorted to fit a punchy and clean narrative, sacrificing context and authenticity in the process.
It’s one of the factors that pushed me to write my recent book Yes, You Are Trans Enough, where I detailed the entirety of my transition, with all the messy, embarrassing, and painful things that happened to get me here. Without starting with my childhood and going right through to present day, it would be impossible to fully describe what my experience as a trans woman has really been like.
Although my book covers a lot of time and a lot of different personal examples, it’s still only my story. The trans community is vast and brilliantly diverse, nobody has a transition that sums up the trans experience because there is no singular experience. Every trans person has a personal and valid story to tell about how they got here, and it’s never as simple or straightforward as those around them may think. It’s overdue that our society and mainstream media start to acknowledge just how much is actually involved in transition, and how difficult living in our cisnormative society makes things for us. As things stand right now, trans people are not being offered the recognition and support that they deserve.
Mia Violet is a bisexual trans woman who often writes about queer issues and positive thinking. Often she can be found tweeting from @OhMiaGod when she probably should be working. Her new book Yes, You Are Trans Enough is both a memoir of her transition and an exploration of contemporary transgender issues