One of the most common questions I get asked by people I come out to is some variation on "what's it like being trans?". Of course, that's a really tough question to answer. I mean, I've only ever been trans. That is, I personally have only ever lived a life with gender dysphoria being a major factor in how I function, think and socialise. I may not have recognised the reason for it, but I never once felt comfortable being gendered the way I was assigned at birth. So while I only began transitioning about two years ago, I cannot tell you what "being a man" is like, and I have absolutely zero idea what it must be like being a cisgender person.
Once, on a dating site, I once got asked "What's it like suddenly being a woman?", which feels a little better, but for the purpose of this post I'm going to use a much, much another variation on the question I got recently: Is being a woman everything you hoped it'd be?
Ignoring for a moment the semantic argument of the fact that I always was a woman, albeit a repressed trans woman, the question is... confusing. It got me thinking, "Did I want to 'be a woman'?" Was "being a woman" the specific thing I wanted out of transitioning?
I don't think I did, in that sense. Maybe in fleeting moments as a teenager I recall thinking, "I wish I was a girl," yet never being able to vocalise why.
What I wanted was not to feel socially uncomfortable all the time. To not hate my body. To be able to feel sexually attractive, and be comfortable with physical intimacy, which was incredibly tough while I saw literally every part of my body as 'wrong'. And it took a LONG time to realise that "having a body I was uncomfortable with" really was the cause of these feelings.
What I wanted out of transitioning was to fix these problems. To become comfortable with myself. And that's happened, with very limited exception.
I remember frustratedly asking a partner years ago, "How are you happy just... relaxing?" I didn't understand how she could finish work, come home, eat food, drink wine, watch movies with her partner and have that alone be "enough". My discomfort constantly made me seek out external validation. It made me write, make films, make games. Not because I loved doing them (although I did enjoy them) but because I felt that having people appreciate "something I'd done" would make me feel good, as nothing else seemed to.
I understand now how she could do that. With the fundamentally broken part me gone, and with a sense of comfort in myself, I can just enjoy... living. I can enjoy watching TV on the couch with a partner and not have this gnawing sense that I'm "missing" something.
This is what I wanted. All other social aspects are peripheral. I wanted happiness and comfort. I didn't fixate on "having breasts" or "having a vagina" or "being treated female in public" per se. Just... for that discomfort and self-hate to go away.
But to do that, I had to transition. And that means I can, I suppose, fairly directly think back to what I thought "being a girl" would be like, and compare it to my own experiences.
It's a pretty broad thing to try and pigeon-hole in one phrase like "being a woman". Every woman, cis or trans, has her own experiences that she probably internally maps as both "normal" and, if pressed, making up "womanhood". It may encompass a huge variety of things from romance to social pressures to body issues to motherhood, and if you ask any woman what makes up "womanhood", you will get very different answers.
In this blog I have broken down posts into 'mental', 'physical' and 'social'.
Physical changes while medically transitioning is what people often focus most intensely on. It's the fixation that appears in TV dramas, documentaries and articles. But physical changes to your body become normal very fast, and are a far smaller component of the changes to my day-to-day experience than the social and mental changes.
Mental changes are very tough to map out, as while I can self-analyse many of them, I can never know which changes are hormonal, which are related to no longer loathing myself, which are related to the way people treat me changing... etc.
Social changes... these are the biggest. Without doubt. Physical changes become normalised. Mental changes simply alter the lens through which I see the world.
Social changes persist. Many are good, but many are far from good. I am a target for sexism now, and that's something which doesn't go away.
So... "Is being a woman everything you hoped it'd be?"
No. Being happy or comfortable in my own skin is far better than I'd ever imagined.
The process has been tough, and isn't over. It isn't ever over, really.
But being a woman? Being treated as a woman? Socially?
Whatever I imagined, I was wrong.
I had no concept of what the constant pressure to look a certain way would be like would do over months and years. I still can't fully wrap my brain around having dealt with that for your entire adult life, like my cis (and an increasing number of my trans) friends.
I've learned, both by design and by subconscious pressure, new social patterns to avoid uncomfortable interactions with men.
I've learned body language to minimise my engagement with men in public when I don't want it. Not making eye contact. Different boundaries of politeness than I observe with others.
I've learned to observe body language in people out of the corner of my eye, to pick threats - or try to - and even alter where I'm walking or what my immediate plans are.
And, of course, I've utterly failed to learn any meaningful way to respond when all those behaviours fail me. I get constant advice, but nothing seems to work. When men decide to invade my personal space in public, I suddenly feel like I'm making first contact with a dangerous alien species.
The irony is that while I was seen as male, men had relatively minor impact in my life. They were friends, if often distant ones. They were background noise. They were things I was trying to emulate to fit in better. Sometimes, but rarely, they were a threat.
Now I am seen as female, they dominate a degree of my mental energy almost every time I am not completely alone or thinking about going outside.
Whether it's concern they'll clock me as trans and get antagonistic, concern they won't and might hit on me, or, erm... concern they'll clock me as trans and hit on me... I notice every man I share public space with. I can't escape being vigilant.
I go out less. I'm less comfortable in the spaces I felt at home before. And the most common piece of advice from other women remains, "You just get used to it."
So... "Is being a woman everything you hoped it'd be?"
"Being a woman" in this context is stressful in a way I never even began to imagine.
But I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.
Anything is better than life was before.