We live in a society where trans activism and LGBT issues are becoming more visible, with the appearance of trans actors such as Laverne Cox as well as an increase in support groups and forums for those who have ever struggled with the gender they were assigned at birth. Whilst there are those who look at transpeople with hostility, many others have good intentions and are more curious than anything else – but at the same time, are wary of causing offense. Therefore, I leapt at the opportunity to interview a transwoman, Amy, about her opinions, her beliefs and most importantly, her story.
“I don’t remember a lot about my childhood but I know that I always felt out of place and uncomfortable around most people. I don’t know if it was me avoiding people that led to me being a bit of an outsider or, as I had quite a big bullying problem during primary school, whether that led to me wanting to avoid people. I definitely felt a lot more at ease around girls. I avoided my parents as well, spending most evenings in my room reading or playing video games. I think that was the defining feature of my childhood – isolation.
Until I was about sixteen, I knew that I felt uncomfortable with my male gender; I didn’t feel comfortable with the way I was seen and expected to relate to other people, but I didn’t have a word to put to it. When I looked into it more, I found that there were such people as trans people. It all sort of came together and through learning more about it, I learnt more about myself, to the point where I felt like I couldn’t hide it anymore. I came out to my best friend and no one else. But, about a week after that, I ended up beginning a two-year relationship with her and spent the best part of that time repressing my transness. It ended up becoming a big factor in our relationship; I’d quite often go through short periods of thinking ‘I’ve got to accept this, this is who I am’ but then a few days later, I’d be like ‘sorry, it was just a stupid phase again’. Soon enough, I came to realise that it was not something that could be repressed.
I came out the next month over Facebook. I thought that this would be the best way to get it out to as many people as possible and without the awkward conversations in person. I composed a pretty long status outlining things and everyone was supportive. I find talking in person quite difficult because you end up trying to explain yourself but can’t quite find the words, or the other person asks you questions and interrupts you, which means you can’t say everything you wanted to say. When I came out to my dad, it was over Skype and when I tried to explain, he just got angry, annoyed and confrontational, which meant that I could explain everything properly. We still haven’t had a proper conversation about it and I don’t know if we ever will. Things have definitely gotten a lot better over the years. I talk to my mum quite a bit and my younger brother has always been good, but I often try to avoid my dad – he still makes it clear that it’s something he can’t accept.
In terms of the measures I’ve taken as part of my transition, the only thing I’ve currently had is HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) which means I take Estradiol pills every day. I’ve also got an anti-androgen implant which I get replaced every 3 months, which stops testosterone from being produced.
I’m definitely a lot more comfortable with myself. Through HRT, general ageing and things like growing my hair out, I’ve become more attractive in my own eyes. I also feel like I’m generally more indifferent to how I look. But most importantly, in learning more about gender and the subjectivity of being ‘female’, I’ve become more comfortable with how I look as I’ve realised that I don’t have to conform to a particular image of femininity”.
How do you identify?
I see myself as being often more non-binary than anything else but at the same time, I also see myself as female. I’m against gender being utilised as a dividing factor i.e. that men and women have particular roles. I attempt to transcend it in a certain sense and not allow myself to be confined by that but obviously, society is still divided, which compels me to put myself in the female category.
I think a lot of people trying to understand the experiences of trans people cannot comprehend the feeling of knowing that you’re not in the correct body or the constructed categories of gender – what does that feel like?
It felt largely like a feeling of discomfort when I was expected to perform masculinity and be a ‘lad’, as well as a feeling of great exclusion around other women. When I had recognised my transness but had not actually come out, I felt like I was in limbo; I knew how I could see myself but that I wouldn’t be considered in that same way by anyone but myself. It was largely incongruence between the way that people around you see you and the way in which you see yourself. Since coming out, most guys don’t see me as ‘one of them’ in their groups. If they’re decent, they’ll see me as female and if not, they’re likely to see me as an ‘unacceptable male’. On the other hand, there are also situations where there are groups of women who are unwilling to accept transwomen as women. There are times when I’ve sort of felt that I tend to be lumped in with the men, perhaps.
Has your transition affected your sexual orientation in any way?
I’ve always seen myself as bi, since before I came out. When I came out, I think as an attempt to conform to female expectations, I was a lot more openly attracted to men than women and other non-binary people. But as the years have gone by, I’m definitely more attracted to women. As I’ve become more aware of the arbitrariness of gender boundaries, I don’t feel like I have to be attracted to men. Since December though, I’ve realised that I don’t really experience sexual attraction or enjoy having sex. I still have romantic attraction to people and would want to be in a relationship, but I just have very little interest in sex. I’d still maybe do it on rare occasions but it’s not something I have a major interest in at all.
Do you think it could be because of your personality or because of your transition?
It could perhaps be a result of my transition and that I don’t feel comfortable with my body, so I don’t want other people to see it (despite the fact that I have become a lot happier with my appearance in the last few years). But perhaps it’s also the way in which I’ve recently started to see myself in less gendered terms, so it’s difficult to see myself in a compatible sexual situation that isn’t just male/female. In a way, I’ve de-gendered myself but also de-sexed. It could also just be something I’ve just never enjoyed, though it’s now definitely accented by those other gender related things.
What kind of help or support would you want or expect from friends and family? For example, would you find someone acknowledging your progress in a positive way as condescending or inappropriate?
I wouldn’t say it’s condescending. It makes me feel good if people recognise it in that way. The only expectation I have is that people recognise that I’m female, the name that I go by and use the right pronouns. Apart from that, there’s nothing that I would really expect from people, as long as an effort is made to include me.
Have you received any kind of negative responses in general, and if so, how do you deal with it?
I’ve never had anyone make some kind of violent gesture or threat towards me, though I’ve had a lot of odd looks and people shouting things at me before in the streets. This was mostly after I had just come out and was a lot more visibly trans and quite clearly putting a lot more effort into appearing ‘female’ but not quite achieving it – though whether I am now is probably debatable! Before, I would just ignore them as I didn’t want an escalation of the situation but now that I’m more confident, I would possibly say something back or confront them.
What are a few of the most ridiculous myths you’ve heard about trans people?
Probably the biggest myth is the whole idea that all trans people have the goal of having surgery. I really don’t plan on having full GRS (Gender Reassignment Surgery) and I think a lot of trans women I’ve talked to feel the same way; possibly in the future but definitely not anytime soon. The social needs are far more important to me. People may think I should get this surgery because then I’ll be seen by other people to be more ‘female’. For me, the needs for such physical changes would come from needing other people to see me as female, rather than directly for myself.
Sexuality is also another huge trans myth – the idea that a trans woman is a gay man who is extra gay or a trans man is a lesbian who is extra lesbian. That’s something that’s never really meant a lot to me because, before I came out, I never considered myself to be a gay man and since coming out, I’ve never considered myself a straight woman either.
How do you feel about Eddie Redmayne playing the first transgender woman to have GRS in his film, The Danish Girl, coming out next year?
I personally think that, whilst the film will be good and have an overall positive message for trans people, it’s a huge issue, especially when a lot of the abuse trans women receive emerges from the idea that trans women are ‘men playing dress-up’. It’s not about wearing dresses or looking feminine, it’s about having your identity recognised. Also, trans women are historically a group who have not been allowed to speak for themselves, tell their own history and speak of their experiences. It’s a situation where you could have a trans woman portray another trans woman and I think it would be a lot more authentic. Not every trans woman has the same experience but they all have the same sort of understanding of what it means to be trans, something they could bring to the role if given the opportunity.
Do you feel like you have ever had to ‘prove’ femininity in anything you say or do?
Whilst I don’t feel it as much as I used to, I do find that there are still times when I can’t leave the house because I’ll feel dysphoric about how I look and the fact that I’m going to be seen as visibly trans or considered male.
If I was to make an aesthetic choice about how I want to look, I would rarely make a choice that might undo any of the positive changes I’ve experienced because it would make me worry about appearing ‘more male’. For example, if I was to get a haircut, I wouldn’t want to get it too short in case that makes me look masculine again. However, I’ve moved away from it a lot through my own personal research, talking to other trans people and other support. There’s no solid idea of what ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ should be and the look I have recently is a lot less based in the idea that I should look ‘feminine’. Despite this, there are still pressures to appear female, particularly by certain groups who advocate ‘women should wear what they want and do what they want’. They’d still turn around to a transwoman and say, ‘you can’t be involved in this group because you’re not performing femininity well enough’.
Where do you think good intentions and curiosity cross the line?
Personally, I’m quite comfortable talking about these kinds of things, I’ve had lots of semi-drunk hours-long post-night out conversations with one of my housemates about this sort of thing. But obviously for a lot of trans people, I think discussion can become quite intrusive after a while because you’re not just discussing an abstract, you’re discussing this person and their everyday experiences. Some questions, like questions about genitalia or surgery, are very intimate things to talk about, especially if I’m not comfortable with the person or did not plan on talking about that kind of thing with someone. I think that people tend to think those topic areas are up for conversation because the person is trans, as though being trans is an invitation to discuss you.
Lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is struggling with their gender or gender constructions?
Know that you’re not alone in it and that there are other trans people out there. Try to get in touch with another trans person who has experienced all of this and will understand what you’re going through. Recognise that it’s not something that’s wrong with you or that you should have to repress – there’s nothing which suggests that you should naturally be a certain way.
If you would like support or advice with regards to transgenderism and transphobia etc., find links to trans community and support groups below:
Edited by Sam Carey