When I think back on that time in my life I identified as a transgender man, all that returns to me is a deep sense of disorientation. Like a kind of social deaf blindness, I found myself cut off from the world, unable to gain purchase on anything solid to ground myself on. The queer community around me had taken on my new pronouns quicker than they had learnt my name when they first met me. Yet they held me in a kind of rarified awe — like I was something between a new iPhone and a symbol of their wider political successes. At the same time, I was forced to take on the mantle of the sick one, the stranger — something so fragile and foreign that all my conversations with others took place under a visible veil of censorship. I could see the gears turning in my friends’ heads not only to remember my new name and pronouns, but also how pleased they were to have found such a merit badge for their own liberalism. What benevolant and radical people they must be to have been friends with someone like me.
In the following months and years, I was probably the most popular I’ve ever been in my life. There was no party I didn’t get invited to. Very quickly however I started to realise that along with my birth gender, my entire personality had been subsumed into this new character I created and that was then created onto me by others. I was introduced constantly as the trans person. I couldn’t talk about anything normal without it getting turned into a conversation about queer theory. People panicked about pronouns and political correctness while talking to me. I stopped being a real person and started being a caricature.
My body was an object for public consumption, and I frequently had male friends engage me in ever more explicit conversations about sex (because we were both ‘dudes’ of course, and none of them had any nefarious interest in hearing me talk about lesbian sex). I felt validated by this acceptance into the male realm, but I was often left, skin prickly with embarrassment, feeling as if I had said too much — which of course I always had. Meanwhile, out in the world of safe spaces, I disgusted by people’s constant ‘inclusive’ references to my body. I couldn’t bear talk of ‘men have periods too’ and I certainly didn’t want to have attention specifically drawn to me over it, as it did every time the phrase came up.
The rub of it is — being trans never led me to the promised land of being treated as a man, which I perceived at the time as a kind of invisibility cloak. Instead, it made me hyper visible as a kind of defective female. What I had so desperately wanted from transition was to have the kind of neutral, free stance on the world that men did. I was tired of my body marking me out as a victim or a sex object. I was angry at it for seeming to do nothing other than humiliate me or allow me to be humiliated by others. I was exhausted by it, exhausted by years of feeling vulnerable and looked at, constantly observed — I wanted to be alone in my body, able to do whatever I wanted without negotiating constant threats from the outside. And yet — here I was, with my new name, in exactly the same position as I had been all along but completely unable to recognise my surroundings.
This was the sensory deprivation instigated by transition — a lesbian woman out of context, out of any ability to make meaning out of what was happening. My feelings of shame and alienation from my gender had morphed into ‘dysphoria’ — a nothing term that provided me no explanations and no exit. The wild ride of queer theory, which had approached quasi religious status, gave me no reasonable justification for why I was afraid to walk home alone at night while my ‘cis man’ friends were not. It couldn’t offer me a new body, a new self — all it could give me was a shell to put around the old one. One where I couldn’t see out, but everyone else could see in