Tell Me About It: It seems like a waste to spend life living how strangers dictate rather than just doing what you want to
PROBLEM: I’m a transgender woman who was born intersex (what the medical community used to call pseudo-hermaphroditism). I grew up in Tallaght, Dublin in the 1980s, which I can’t say was the most accepting environment for a tall, effeminate, male-assigned child. I left for the US in 1992 when it was still illegal to be gay here, let alone transgender.
Since my children turned 18, I’ve returned to wearing things I actually want to wear. For this, I’ve been called a lot of things I won’t repeat here, but that essentially mean “weak”. To me though it seems as though it would be weaker of me to let strangers dictate how I dress. My question for you relates to the term “passing”. I don’t. I missed that window. As hard as it is to obtain puberty blockers now, they were not something that existed as far as I am aware during my pre-teens. Today, I’m 48 years of age, 1.87m (6ft 2in) and maybe (I haven’t weighed myself in a while) 90kg (14st 2lb).
How do you suggest I learn to fit into a world divided into small women and large men, when I’ve never technically been either without just cramming myself back into the closet? It seems like a waste of a life to spend it living how strangers dictate rather than just doing what you actually want to, especially when there’s no harm in it.
ADVICE: I think at 48, you get the right to live as you wish and from your letter it sounds as though you have had to face identity issues all along the way and have now chosen to dress and be accepted as you are. While our society has expanded to be more accepting of all genders, there is still plenty of prejudice if you do not fit the expected norm. Growing up intersex must have been quite a challenge and yet you seem to have forged a path that allowed you to be yourself (by leaving for the US) and also finding love and a family.
This is a huge achievement but as always, we have more challenges to face in life – yours is now to be yourself and to teach people how to treat you. You could argue that it is not your job to train others to be accepting and considerate but without the influence of knowing and meeting someone who is intersex, pangender or non-cis-gendered, it is unlikely that societal change will happen. Being confident in yourself and in your right to freedom of expression will allow others to be brave about asking questions and hopefully expand their knowledge.
With ignorance comes fear and defensiveness and if we are to make the world safer for people who are transgender, we need more interaction and connection between the cis-gender and trans groups.
Feeling attractive is often a precursor to desire, so enjoying your statuesque body, dressing it well and being out in society are all ways of celebrating your gender
You talk about missing the opportunity for “passing” and this can feel like such a missed opportunity as gender identity comes to the fore at puberty. In the context of gender, passing or blending refers to someone, especially a transgender person or crossdresser, who is perceived as the gender they wish to be seen as (for example, a trans woman who is correctly gendered by a shop assistant who calls her ‘ma’am’). Hormone treatment (including blockers) and referral to an appropriate medical service can allow the development of a body that is more gender appropriate for the trans person and in this way, they can be more accepted as cis-gender by society.
Your height and body structure may make this more difficult, but it also gives you a visibility that might make you very attractive – we know that all body types and genders are the object of desire and there may be something in celebrating your difference. Feeling attractive is often a precursor to desire, so enjoying your statuesque body, dressing it well and being out in society are all ways of celebrating your gender.
However, there is no doubt that it is exhausting to be “on” all the time, and we all need to blend in and be unwatched also. It seems that you can choose which gender to be and perhaps this is something to view as a unique choice at this stage of your life. You sound as though you have weathered enough to be fearless in your choice of identity but younger trans people may be going through very difficult times and the support of groups such as TENI, Outhouse and Sí are invaluable.
You were born at a time in Ireland when we had not yet become open to the wider world and difference was punished by rejection and stigmatisation . This has, thankfully changed but we have not yet reached a fully tolerant and accepting society and it is up to each of us to ensure that this happens.
We cannot let children suffer the way you did, and we must treasure trans and non-cis people as essential members of our society.