When I began to transition, I found myself talking to a lot more people about the politics and realities of gender, as well as about the process and reality of transitioning.
I was always cautious about making broad, sweeping statements about 'being trans', for the simple reason that while I have extensive experience with gender dysphoria and gender dissonance, my experience as a trans woman is at this point relatively limited.
As Julia Serano put it so succinctly in Whipping Girl, "...the perspectives of [trans people] who are in the process of actively managing their physical transitions (and other people's reactions to those changes) tend to differ greatly from those who have already been living in their identified sex for a number of years."
So while I have tried to blog and privately diarise this experience, I am also very conscious that my experiences right now are very different to trans women much further along than myself. I'm wary of sounding like I'm suddenly hugely knowledgeable about everything to do with this when I'm a relative baby. Reading a lot, talking a lot and living just six months doesn't make me an instant expert, and I fully realise that.
Which is, I suppose, a preamble to me discussing something fairly complex and hard to make entirely 'personal'. I often prefix things with the caveat that I am not trying to speak for all trans people, or even all trans women. The same is obviously true here, but it's still going to be a slightly difficult subject and I'm sure many other trans people will disagree with me.
It's about the relationship between cis and trans women. (I could make it broader and be about the relationship between cis and trans men too, or trans non-binary people and other... well... you get the idea, I hope. I want to keep this as much about my own experiences and feelings as possible.)
It's something I had thought about peripherally since I first accepted that I have gender dissonance, but something which I didn't have the understanding or experience to vocalise or really understand.
What I knew early on was that, almost to my complete surprise, my cis woman friends were universally supportive, warm and instantly accepting of my gender identity. In a lot of ways, in many of my friendships it was like a wall dropped that I'd never realised was there.
Of course, at a certain point I became aware of, well... TERFs. I heard an argument that I found pretty jaw-dropping: that trans women (who many of these pseudo-feminists refuse to accept as 'real' women) were regarded as 'the ultimate expression of men dominating women - by becoming one themselves'.
I actually laughed when I first read that. It seemed so absurd. I spoke to a few feminist friends about it - intersectional feminists who were far better read than myself on a broad range of subjects.
To my surprise, one friend told me (paraphrasing), "Actually. I think I kind of understand that. I don't agree with it, but I understand how that feeling could come to you." Even though she didn't agree with this statement, it still gave me a lot of things to consider in the following weeks.
I began to think more about how sudden the switch to publicly identifying and presenting as a woman was. About what that meant, and how it could affect cis women I knew.
As I spoke to different cis friends of mine, I began to realise that, being sensitive and caring people, they were quite aware that being mis-gendered, or having anyone even hint that you somehow aren't a "real" man or woman as a result of being trans can be hugely unpleasant and damaging for trans people. So they would never, ever do anything to make me feel that. Not even for a moment.
And yet this left an elephant in the room: that the simple fact is my experience is not 100% perfectly the same as that of most any cis woman. Of course, no two experiences are identical anyway - be the comparison between two cis people or two trans people.
When I began to discuss these differences openly with friends, I began to realise that I wanted to vocalise and even pen something of a clear explanation of how I see my experiences so far.
In a sense, this is I guess as close to a 'manifesto' as I can get - at least at this early point in my transition.
I am a trans woman.
I began transitioning as an adult.
This means my experiences until recently were based upon the world treating me as a cis male, with all the privileges (and issues, too) that this entails. However, my experiences internally were, I realise now, not quite those of a cis male, as my own reactions to things to my life, my body and the way I was treated were very, very different to those of a comfortable cis male.
My experiences now are shifting further and further over time into the spectrum of dealing with the social issues that being a woman in our culture entails. As much as I am happier and more comfortable now, I increasingly have to deal with cat-calling and other behaviour that is rarely directed at men - and certainly not a gross systemic level.
I have the privilege of finding that I already 'pass' as a cis woman quite easily, despite being only six months into hormone therapy (at least, I can - it takes some effort). This means that instead of the litany of transphobic abuse I found fairly early on, I more frequently get reacted to without the perception that I am trans.
As a result of this, I am torn between feelings of disgust, fear and relief when I get cat-called: in my head, I often think at least he didn't shout out transphobic abuse at me.
I mention all this to provide some explanation and juxtaposition to my next point: I do not want to ever deny being trans.
This doesn't mean that every moment some stranger genders me correctly or fails to abuse or threaten me for being trans isn't a relief. It just means that when I am in discussions about my experiences, to pretend that I am a cis woman seems, to me, to be both incredibly disrespectful of the experiences unique to being a cis woman, and disrespectful of the experiences unique to being a trans woman.
There are overlaps between my experiences and those of many, many others. People who also experienced being raised as a male child. People who also experience gender dysphoria. People who transition. People who experience the world reacting to them as a woman. But to deny some parts of my experience and not others is something I am simply not comfortable doing, even if I would much, much rather than many parts of my life experience had been different.
The very last thing I would ever want is to deny what experiences I have had, or belittle the experiences of others. Because even though I am beginning to see life socially as a woman more and more, there are still inherent differences between my experiences and those of my cis friends.
Some seem more obvious: I will never, ever have to deal with menstruation and will not ever be able to carry my own child in the womb I don't have.
Some are more subtle. I may have found my upbringing uncomfortable an unpleasant much of the time due to my gender dysphoria, but I still never had many of the experiences common to young cis girls. I was never explicitly told I couldn't do something because of my gender. Systemic sexism predominantly worked in my favour. (I say predominantly because the punishment of 'feminine' behaviours in those our culture perceives as male did affect me in a hugely negative way, as it does many, many other people who have spent any time with the world perceiving them as male.)
I am also thankful for many of the experiences I have had. As unpleasant as huge amounts of being a trans person can be, I am lucky enough to get through most of it happy enough to be able to appreciate the perspective this has given me on the world.
Not many people get to experience what I have - and this is why I am writing about and discussing my experiences as honestly as I can. I may have been deeply unhappy most of the time dealing with enormously frequent and unpleasant bouts of gender dysphoria, but that doesn't change the fact that I got to see fifteen odd years of the world treating me as an adult, cis/het male.
So, to cis friends of mine, I want to say: I won't presume to fully understand your experiences. I don't know what life as a cis person is really like, man or woman. I may have thought I did for a long time during my 'deep denial' stage, but I realise now I simply didn't. I have never known life without gender dysphoria.
And to trans friends of mine: I won't pretend to fully know or understand the nuances of your experiences, either. There are probably a lot of overlaps, and a lot we can discuss and bond over, but the complexities of gender dissonance and even people generally mean that our lives are still very much unique. I won't try to speak for 'us', nor judge you for your choices, feelings or presentation.
I understand how complex all of this can be.
The very last thing I want is to make anyone, cis or trans, feel uncomfortable or like their lives, choices and experiences are ignored or without value.