Dilemmas of Trans Living #2 – Somebody that I used to know

When I was eight, my best friend was – well, let’s call him James. We went to junior school together and were very close. We went on holiday together at one point, and were more or less inseparable. In fact, I think he was probably the best friend I ever had during my school life. That’s possibly because it was the last friendship I had before gender started getting in the way. I’ve said before that I didn’t have any sense of being a boy as a young child – my hair was long, I sometimes wore dresses, and I’m sure both James and I were clear that this was a friendship between a boy and a girl. But at the same time, I don’t recall feeling that the fact I was a girl and he was a boy especially mattered: it was a minor detail.

And then when I was about ten, my parents moved away. And James and I kept in touch for a while by letter, and then, being kids, got distracted by other things and the letters tailed off. Probably nowadays it would be easier: kids probably keep up with old friends by social media. But this would have been somewhere around 1995 and we didn’t have social media.

Cut forward 20 years, and I went up to my dad’s last week. And he told me he’d had a phonecall from James’s mum. My family have a distinctive surname, and my dad’s in the clergy, so he’s not that hard to track down. She’d got in contact, saying James had looked for me online and on Facebook a couple of times, and not been able to find me. Which isn’t surprising, because my name’s changed.

I don’t have pre-transition friends. Literally, none. I am not in contact with anyone not related to me who knew me before I was out. That sounds like it was a deliberate decision but it wasn’t, really: I didn’t get on with the other kids at secondary school, so didn’t keep in touch and I came out pretty much as soon as I started uni. So I’ve never really had to deal with the whole pre-transition friendships issue.

I had a look for James on Facebook myself. His name is more common than mine, so there were a few to go through, but I recognised his face as soon as I saw it. If I’m honest, I was checking out how tolerant he might be. No sign of any romantic relationships on his behalf (straight or queer) but he’s worked for an arts charity, which I reckon is probably unlikely to go hand in hand with rampant homophobia and transphobia.

Yesterday I sent an email to James, saying hi. I imagine contacting old school friends is a bit weird at the best of times; it’s weirder when they knew you as a little girl, and you’re emailing them as a thirty year-old man. I tried to keep the mention of my transition brief and factual, and then went straight on to my education, and my career history, and my boyfriend. I suppose I was trying to make it clear that other things have happened in the last twenty years too. But all the same, it feels awkward.

I’m also a bit nervy about what – if any – response I get from him. I don’t want to deal with crass questions about transition, but it’s natural he would have some. Or do we sort of end up making polite conversation because we both feel a bit awkward about it? What do we even have to talk about anyway? I’ll see when – if- he responds, I suppose


Dilemmas of Trans Living #1 – Passing and Stealth

I pass. I have done since very early on in my transition. That’s not something that happens because I work at it, or because I’m a good person. It’s an unearned privilege, and I guess like most unearned privileges, it’s something that I often feel uneasy about handling.

Unlike other unearned privileges, it is something that often gets directly raised. As far as I can recall, no-one has ever directly congratulated me for being white, or not disabled. But I do quite often get admiring comments, and even congratulations, for passing. “Oh, I never would have guessed”. “Well, you look really good now”. And the like. It comes from people who are trans and people who aren’t, and it’s rarely in a context where it’s appropriate to pause and give a lecture on why that’s not the right thing to say.

In any case, I’m not quite sure what it is I want to say. Politically, I don’t think people should be judged on their looks, and I think being trans is a good thing, so the fact that people don’t know I’m trans by looking at me should be an irrelevance. But of course, it isn’t. It does make things a hell of a lot easier. People accept me more readily as a man because I look like what they think a man should look like. I can sign for a parcel in boxer shorts and a baggy T-shirt, and I still get called sir. My bank doesn’t accuse me of fraud because of how my voice sounds on the phone. No-one hassles me in the street or on public transport.

In my old job I had been, by default, stealth. I didn’t tell anyone I was trans. But when I came back to uni, to study LGBT health, I had given up on being stealth. Obviously the team I’m in know what I’m studying. Whenever I write or talk about the background to my work, I talk about my background in running trans groups. I’ve got links to trans stuff all over my Facebook.  One of my supervisors is trans, we have loud discussions in the office I share with someone else, and in the corridor. I advised another colleague about including trans questions on a survey. I was out… I thought.

And then at the office Christmas lunch I was sitting with a group of colleagues, and we were discussing names: what their parents had called them and why. And someone asked me a question about my name, and it became blatantly obvious that none of them had any idea I was trans. I said I’d changed my name, but ducked the question of why. And I felt guilty about doing so, because I think I ought to be out, but at the same time the Christmas lunch isn’t really the place to do it, because it either kills the conversation stone dead, or else takes it down inappropriate routes.

So New Year’s resolution – or at least, goal – is to come out. Again. And to remember that coming out is continuous disclosure, not a one off