A video has been doing the rounds in transgender groups in the last week. It's worth watching and is only five minutes long.
It asks the question, "What does it mean to be a man?" We can just as easily ask "What does it mean to be a woman?"
So here is another transgender way: Being able to be who you are and being comfortable with your own body in the face of whatever society may throw at you. We don't all have to transition, to pass, to live a life where people say well-meaning but actually insulting things to us like "You look just like a real man/woman."
I've thought about this way of living before. The way of living openly as your gender in a body which society has told you doesn't match your gender. For me that would be to dress as I do, go where I go, and form the friendships I do without changing a thing about myself physically, beyond a feminine hair style.
It's logical. It's right. I am not defined by my body. Nobody is.
But it's not my way. It doesn't mean my way is wrong. There is more than one right way. I can see my need to change my body isn't because there's anything objectively wrong with my body or with the idea of a "woman" with a supposedly "man's" body. But so many other things in my life history mean that deliberately deciding not to do what I'm doing physically would be a near impossibility.
I'm a woman. It's part of who I am. Hormones and surgery and laser treatments and voice therapy won't make me more of a woman. Not having them wouldn't make me less of a woman. Intellectually I have no problem with the idea of a hairy woman with a penis or a man with a vagina.
But inside something else screams out against my intellect and trumps the logic.
I'm doing this for my own psychology after forty-two years living as male. I have that need even on days when I think, "Why the hell should I care?" or "This is my voice, why should I be pressured to force my voice box to behave abnormally?"
But I must admit I'm also doing it for an easier life in which I might "pass" in society for what and who I already am. To not care much about "passing" takes a vast amount of self respect and an ability to shrug off frequent abuse without being broken down by a thousand wasp stings. And that quest to pass - and the expectation to seek to pass that even many of my friends have of me - is really not a healthy quest when considering the long-term future of transgender people. Can we be who and what we are? Or must we continue to have to aspire to a goal of invisibly fitting in with the cisgender masses around us? We transgender people are not cisgender. So why should we have to seek to appear cisgender? - is it because of a prevailing view that we are disordered?
See, I know the logic. The arguments make sense. But I am a product of my birth, my childhood, my schooling, my adult life living as a man and filled with unhappiness. So for me my only choice is transition, hormones, surgery and everything else. Sometimes I wonder whether this is hypocrisy. But are these things so deeply rooted that I have no option to even consider that other path? Perhaps a question with no single answer. Perhaps the difficulties involved in being transgender mean that any path we freely choose in how to transition or how to not transition is the right path for us, worthy only of support not deep analysis or doubt.
The courage and self-assurance of those who deliberately don't choose the path of "passing" is immense as are the social challenges of their decision. But in the long-term their choices may lead to a brighter future in freedom for others than my choices and needs. My choices may help bring a future in which we can be who we are without fear of abuse or rejection or discrimination. The other way may help bring a future in which we can be both who and what we are, a future in which prevailing views of gender and physiology are transformed into something that fits everyone rather than just fitting the majority.
This man deserves so much respect. Friends who have chosen similar paths are people to admire. As are all people who choose to express their gender and fully live their gender (or genders) regardless of physiology in a society that continues to equate gender with physiology. And the wonderful thing is that most of these people would shrug off that respect and say "We're just living our lives."