The issue of ‘self identification’ seems to have stirred up a hornet’s nest recently. I can well understand it. This is not because there’s a real problem, but because the pressing reality of gender and identity has been brought into high relief. For some, this is just too much of a ‘reality’ to take.
Perhaps a little history will help, at least on a personal clarification basis? —
a) I ‘came out’ in 2008. February. So this is my tenth anniversary ‘in role’. However, I have had issues with my identity all my life. It was an evolving thing. When I was very young it was a distant ‘itch’ that I couldn’t scratch. When I was a teen’ it was a fetishistic part of my developing sexuality. When I was an ‘adult’ it was something I hid and dealt with as best as I could– usually in deep secret.
b) In those days it was easier for me to think of myself as a ‘pervy’ or (at worst!) a cross-dresser, even though I felt very unhappy with those labels. But it was much safer to be a fetishist interested in female attire than a person who had deep-rooted gender issues. The former was ironically acceptable. The implications of the latter too desperate to consider. Yes, denial is a wonderfully convincing thing.
c) But denial only goes so far. It starts out as a defensive action, then becomes a guilt complex, then evolves into self-disgust, and finally arrives as an existential threat. At that point it becomes change-or-die. So I changed. The consequences of this are my history of the past decade.
d) I have come across dozens of transgender people who have gone through the same process, and have eventually had to ‘put up or shut up’ about their issues. Not everyone can continue to cope when leading a double-life, but those that do are (in my opinion) heroic in their psychic strength.
e) Changing my public identity was relatively easy. I picked a new name, formally changed it by deed poll, and asked every body I had contact with to change my details. All I had to do was ask. The only thing that has not changed is my birth certificate (and some of my qualification certificates). If/when I apply and get a Gender Recognition Certificate then my birth cert’ can change too… but I’ve discovered it’s not practically essential. My identity as Beatrix Elizabeth Groves-McDaniel needed no great legal effort at all. In practice, I already have ‘self-identified’.
f) I am largely accepted as ‘me’ (one way or another) by 90% of those I come into contact with. Roxanne will confirm this. As a teacher, I have taught thousands of students over the last decade. I can count the number of problems I’ve had with students over my trans’ identity on one hand — and still have a couple of fingers left over. My impression is that most people just couldn’t care less what my gender origins are (or what shape my genitals are in). What they’re keen on is: am I an ‘OK person’, do I have a sense of humour, do I know my stuff, do they feel safe with me, and will I get them where they want to go. And that’s all.
g) I am very open about who I am. If anyone asks (and they very rarely do) I will tell them the above story. Openness is my best defence.
i) I have never had a problem with ‘female areas’ (e.g. toilets). Maybe I’m unusual? Maybe I’m just not sensitive enough? But no one has ever objected to me being in the ladies, and I have (on occasions) been invited to women-only events as part of my work.
j) It’s not that I think to myself “I AM a woman!” to myself all the time. It never occurs to me. I just live my life. If I am asked to describe my gender orientation, I sometimes say “I’m a woman” or I sometimes say “I’m a transwoman” or I sometimes say “I’m a transgender person” … and maybe other descriptions I have forgotten. I don’t need to feel ‘fixed’ in gender-space or need to adopt a permanent polar or non-polar concept of myself. I’ve said all along that what I want to do is carve out a niche for myself in the female domain. A niche that suits me. My history means I am learning how to deal with indeterminacy.
k) There are bits of me that are still part of my ‘blokey’ legacy. For example, my voice. But I have a past, and I don’t want to deny half my life for the sake of the other half. It’s unhealthy, and yet another aspect of denial. What I want is to integrate my various characteristics.
l) Like many people going through gender transition I have in the past (and sometimes in the present) adopted a somewhat ‘exaggerated’ or ‘cliched’ female presence. It’s easy to understand why. Half my life was spent in male-mode and hence the stereotypes I have reached for as a model of identity are all from that aspect of my life. In addition, the flamboyant joy of being released from the perceived drabness of male existence means I have often treated femininity as a playground. Like a child being let loose in a sweetie shop.
m) We (i.e. trans’ people, whether MtF or FtM) go through a cognitive apprenticeship. You could call it a ‘second puberty’ or ‘teenage’, when experimentation and finding ones sexual and gender feet is a constant issue. But as this evolved, things settle down. I’m less flamboyant than I was these days, though I still do love clothes and will tart myself up, given an opportunity. But it’s curious that I wear make-up far less often than I did… and this is perhaps a sign that my ‘second puberty’ is coming to an end.
n) I don’t think my story is particularly unusual. In my informal chats with trans’ people over the years I have heard the same repeated phenomena narrated to me, with the odd variation.
So…. what’s the issue? Am I, or my transgender sisters and brothers a threat to anyone? That’s a pretty laughable idea.
What do I want? To be accepted as I am, to be protected against discrimination, and to be helped when I need it. But I think you could have worked that one out without having to be told.