Body LockdownWords on being on the waiting list during coronavirus
Knowing things are indefinitely on hold can't help but change your relationship to transition (& its already weird enough to have your relationship to your Self determined, in part, by an external process).
Transition is both a doing and a being; during lockdown, I've been aware of "not trying" any more and that I should be "trying harder" to Do Some Transgendering, but I have no idea what that would mean or look like. I've been unable to bind for several years since an injury, so even this definitional transmasc "I Am Doing A Transition" gesture isn't available. Transition on the NHS is the great not-doing of the soul. Your friends nudge you and say you need to have a bit more courage and trans more, or your doctor points out that despite transitioning for five years you're somehow not transitioned enough yet for assistance. I'm thinking a lot about, if a gender occurs in a forest but nobody is there to see it, does it really happen?
Man is something I am, but because I am trans it is also something I have to consciously do; what does that mean, if I can't bind and there's no meaning to how I dress? It really brings your focus to those parts of the trans experience which are outside of your control to impact. Cis people often frame transition as a kind of dressing up by people who would rather have the social experience of the other gender. But I've never found much solace in "dressing like a man", because I look abysmal; I don't even look like a cool dyke, who is owning her look with power and pride, because I can't see past my shame and the incongruity of how these clothes didn't make me feel the way I thought they would. But there really isn't anything you can do to DIY your physical dysphoria, and techniques to relieve social dysphoria do not make any impact on those at all. So you make a cup of tea and try not to think about it.
I'm spending a lot of time looking at detransition resources, in part because they tend to have some techniques for reframing/dealing with dysphoria in alternative ways. In part, because indefinite waits for an uncertain future in a stranger's body is perfect recruitment time for doomer-incel-for-transmed-dykes energy of detrans spaces: "you will never be a real man; but you can endure stoically as God made you, in a body I control and desire".
Being unable to access your gender for years does change the way you relate to it. You can't help this. I've definitely slipped from a very medicalist ("I have a problem that can be fixed through science"), stealth-oriented ("one day i will be a man and then vanish into the crowd") stance, to a far more "I am a transsexual, and this is my transsexual body" one. Cis people don't like it when they encounter concepts like "this is my female penis", but that's sort of where you end up; you have to find a way to understand yourself, regardless of what might happen in the future. You can't live for that. I've been "transitioning" for five years, with no appointment in sight, and I can't bind; you have to find a way to deal with your chest the way it is, not just ignoring it or hating it, but continuing with a "transition of the mind" where you sink back into your body from wherever you were floating outside of it, and then get punk about asserting that this body is already a male one. One slowly learns to feel a certain leonine beauty in the idea of a fully-furred, fully-breasted chest; a certain sacred winteriness about the cthonic mystery of you genitalia; a growing confidence tht you are perhaps, in fact, made more male than cis men by the magnificence of your incongruous qualities; the otherworldliness of Baphomet, unashamed.
I've slipped into lowkey identifying as nonbinary instead, because thats my social reality - not really in a proud way, more in a sense-of-failure way: "this is what I can actually accomplish". Or perhaps this is just a fuller way of considering nonbinary politics - not the needs of nonbinary people, but relevant to anyone who slips off cisgenderism's map. My gender presentation is increasingly a (trans?)feminine one; that is, looking at the aesthetics of men-who-are-unaccountably-feminine in popular culture (the Bunny Breckinridges and Quentin Crisps and Kenneth Williamses and Boys in the Bands and Drag Racers) - trying to find a model of a person who is like me. Many of those images are not relateable to transgender women - they are the cisgender imaginary of a "man who looks like a woman", not the reality of a transgender woman speaking in her own voice; but because of this, they seem true for where and what I am. A man who is too much like a woman. Perhaps also, more forbidden still, the trope of a "man who wants to be a woman" - and if only I could be one, so many of my problems would be solved; and I'd be most of the way there, instead of trapped in the barely beginning.
I've never been able to find that in the Stone Butch Blues zone; I am not, in any sense of the word, butch; but I wonder how far this is shaped by waiting? When I was first coming out, I wanted to be Dirk Bogarde in Victim - or David Niven, or Cary Grant - one of those effortlessly graceful men of the silver screen, elegant and created-by-the-needle - never Fred Astaire himself, but with a certain Astairish diffidence; coupled with a Graham-Green-protagonist's aesthetic of beautiful male suffering. I remember being that person; I remember sitting by the statue of Sappho in September, looking up from my book (possibly The Quiet American or something by leCarre), crusing a student ascending marble staircases with my eyes - and feeling a sudden crushing panic, not that she was a girl, but that I was no longer a man (that daydream had drifted into fragments as I surfaced from the mood of the novel). Later that winter I bought a long, woolen man's greatcoat; it took me some six years from that point to notice that it actually swamped me, that I was not made larger to fill it, that it did not grant stature or the sweet tasting absent-presence of being a well dressed man (that perfect balance of inconspicuous yet polished). Now, the most exciting part of being sent a packer by a friend is the gorgeous pink silk scarf they sent it wrapped in - as if my daydreaming has been wrenched so far away from the possibility of male anatomy, towards the abstraction of beauty that might as well be a scarf, or my precious collection of 1970s crockery, or the furled splendour of my window-ferns. I curl my hair, and wear dressing gowns. I recently discovered that a friend of a year had been mistaking me for a trans woman the entire time; a certain mordant humour to that, but after years of waiting I have discovered that no number of bowties can fix a female puberty, and without that sorted it's so much easier not to bother. I fantasising about constructing the fem queen's dreampalace of legend - transforming my home into a velvet paradise, all statues of David and gilt cornucopias like a third-rate wedding cake. The home-as-stage-set is the traditional artistic outlet for those whose closet is so deep they have taken up residence within it, whose physicality of gendered and sexual desire is forbidden to the body, and thus lavished on outrageous furnishings. But my budget won't stretch to it.
Then you think - today is the day I trans - I really need to get on with that - and then you look around and sit down and gaze out of the window. after all, your self is not in clothes or modes of behaviour. This body is a man's body, this life a man's life, and no more effort than that is needed. the problem is that my brain lacks a chemical it needs to feel whole. the problem is that i do not want to be looked at; and spend my waking hours in a dissociative fuzz to avoid looking myself. these are not self-fixable things.
Being trans is different from being gay, in that the former demands establishment participation and permission. No state or system has ever been able to prevent the gays shagging, and no one ever will. There have always been secret lovers. But the medical and documentation aspects of transition bring one, inevitably, into a system where you can be forcibly unqueered. They cannot prevent transgender longing, of course; but they can lock you within it. To be denied power over your own body is among the most dehumanising experiences; to feel a creeping horror of what you are becoming; to know it is preventable; to know that those around you will just let the irreversible happen, the way the system impassively wastes so many things (hours, lives, dreams). And to feel eternally on the cusp of experiencing gender fantasy, to feel something that is you rippling beneath the surface - sometimes beautiful and proud, but mostly tired - a thing in hibernation. A thing that needs to stay quiet so you can make it to the evening.
Lockdown also means losing the opportunity to stay brave. The real problem with long waiting times is...a lot of time to reflect on "what if everyone hates me, and I get disowned, and beaten in the street", fears which, I imagine, diminish once you're overcoming them in practice day by day and learning you can survive it. I had been working on doing my best to Live As Male in everyday interactions, and losing that means there's nothing to alleviate the ruminating. Long waiting times also mean living with unresolved question marks; I'd like to know sooner rather than later if hormone therapy is not the solution I was looking for, or if my sexuality is going to change in unexpected ways. Again, without this certainty or any real way to check, nothing stops the ruminating.
one day soon, my husband will have to relearn my body (and he may not like it; or I may no longer want him). one day soon, we will have to rethink how we behave in the street. one day soon the people we love won't be there for us - but not today - but soon! - but never today, and so you pack those little cells of stress into your nervous system and carry it with you in your skin. i can't wait to get hatecrimed. it's a terrible thing to say. still, i can't wait for trouble on the bus or in a store or in the thousand little wheels that make up life security - so i can face it and know i can survive. anything but the months of imagining and knowing it's all going to happen eventually, but not yet. The ambient fear of knowing you will emerge at 30 - probably as a queer man, god forbid as a visibly queeny one - without any of the wit, armor or street-smarts which my brothers were practicing at 9 and 10. To have avoided this in childhood does not feel like a privilege, so much as emerging into the desert as a tortoise with no shell.
It's now been around six years in total since I decided to leave work to focus on "becoming a menswear tailor" - and immediately stopped leaving the house or changing out of my pajamas. The number of garments I own that I feel comfortable wearing has been shrinking even faster throughout lockdown (and I still can't tailor to compensate for it; all that practice has done is put a number on the dimensions of my body that are wrong, an outsiderly incision on why things don't fit, but the skill to adjust the fabric is no solace when what you want is adjustment of the skin. My unhappiness is measured in unfinished shirt toiles.)
An under-discussed symptom of dysphoria is depersonalisation - the sense of timelessness and disconnection from everything, as if it was seen through a plastic bag; a lack of ambition, a sense of being an object in your own life. I'm really hoping hormone therapy deals with that. But that's also what lockdown is: the timelessness, the aimlessness, the lack of any certain future or path to get there, or any drive to go. I've rather liked the lockdown; it's the first time in a long time that I've felt like the world was running on my rhythm. If no one is working or leaving the house, and everyone's ambitions are in ruins; then I'm not failing either when those things are true of me.
(but isn't that an interesting term for the condition of transgenderness: depersonalisation. For sure, I know this is a generic mental health term; but it's evocative all the same. To become a non-person. To have personhood taken away. To no longer be any kind of person, in the eyes of the world, worth considering or caring about; to no longer be fully human. No longer we ingrain it as a habit of our own brains, a permanent not-being, an unrealised thing, a thing that can never be realised.)
Despite the difficulty for me, I don't want lockdown to end. I am worried for the safety of people who are high risk for covid but cannot refuse to work, and worried the government will not require or enforce effective measures to keep them safe. I'm OK to accept a significant level of restrictions, for as long as it takes; life comes first. And even after that, I do not expect that transgender healthcare will be high on the list to prioritise, (nor, I guess, should it be, if there are people waiting for cancer treatment or who are in pain or going blind). You've got to get mellow about a thing like this; I'm imagining my future, and it's me as I am now sat on my windowsill watching the birds, and pottering around the house; it's bittersweet, but ok.