I’ll never forget it. My brother and I were waiting for our mother to finish shopping and this older guy said, “Can I help you boys?” I was not a boy! Yes I had a short pageboy haircut but so did my brother; it was 1978. I was outraged.
But I wasn’t brave enough to say anything.
The shame of being labelled the wrong gender tattoed itself into my young heart. I vowed to grow my hair long as soon as I was allowed, so that no-one would ever mistake me for a boy again.
But then some other hair decided to grow. It wasn’t long but it was dark and not on my head. I didn’t even know I had a moustache until my mother kindly suggested we remove it with depilatory cream when I was 12. We all went into the bathroom to undergo the procedure, including my brother who was fascinated and possibly a little jealous he hadn’t cultivated one yet. However, what comes with easy hair removal is the easy returning of the hair. And quite angrily it returned, annoyed at being whipped away in the first place.
Throughout my teens I had to remove the dreaded moustache every Saturday because I didn’t want a hirsute lip. I wanted kisses.
Whoever invented electrolysis must have been a distant cousin of the Marquis de Sade. If you’ve ever plucked a hair out of your nose then imagine doing it in slow motion and being plugged into the grid. In the bath. It’s permanent hair removal but ridiculously painful.
I’m not sharing this because I’m hoping for some intimate inspections of my top lip—although Russell Brand you’re welcome to do so. I’m telling you because it’s a horrible feeling having something wrongly associated with your gender.
Only a small part of my body felt like it was wrong—the bit between my lip and my nostrils. But for some people the entire outside feels wrong, like it doesn’t match the inside.
Gender is fluid.
Geena was born and raised in Manila as a boy but she always felt like a girl. Thank goodness for transgender beauty pageants in the Philippines, because a kind woman spotted Geena in a crowd when she was 15 and invited (then) him to join. She’d recognized the conflict. So Geena started the long path to match her outside to her inside. When she became a successful swimsuit model in New York she had reached her wildest dreams but she lived in fear, petrified her secret would get out. Then two years ago Geena came out in her heavily-viewed TED talk. Watch it. She’ll teach you a lot.
Geena told me gender has always been considered a fact, immutable. “But what we now know it’s actually more complex and mysterious. Its fluid.” Gender-fluid means somebody who does not identify with a single sex gender but both, and it changes over time. It’s recently been added to the dictionary. Geena felt ashamed for years about her gender. “We [trans people] shouldn’t need to defend how human we are,” she said.
We humans shouldn’t question how human other humans are. Tiger’s are fine, question their human-ness but not humans, no matter their gender.
Transgender doesn’t mean you’re gay. Idiot.
I saw this guy at the airport not long ago in tight jeans, a mohawk and high-heeled suede boots. He looked so confident, strutting around. Then I heard some lads behind me joking, “Looks like he went to the wrong shoe store.” There was mutterings about being gay.
I wanted to tell them to shut up like some mother. Then I thought, screw it, I am a mother and I’m allowed to be bossy because a young guy dressed like that might be my daughter’s boyfriend one day.
“Hey!” I said to them. “Don’t you know girls find a guy in heels really hot. Look at his girlfriend!”
That shut them up. He had a really good-looking girlfriend.
Eddy Izzard always performs in heels and lipstick. He came out 31 years ago as transgender and he’s attracted to women. He told pinknews earlier this year “We are obsessed by the genders because we grow up in one gender or another. No other animal is obsessed by our gender – they don’t give a monkeys about our gender. I identify somewhat boyish and somewhat girlish. I identify both, but I fancy women.”
Eddie, you’re welcome to inspect my top lip too.
Transgender does not mean gay or bi or straight. It’s about gender, not sexuality. Who transgender people are attracted to is part of who they are, rather than the rules. Geena was sometimes called “Bakla” when she was young which translates to “gay boy”.”It made me feel invalidated,” she says, “and like I was being verbally abused.”
So don’t be a dick and make assumptions.
If you’re not sure about he or she, it’s OK to ask.
Cis is a molecular structure where two atoms lie on the same side. Which means, when it comes to gender, cis is someone who identifies with the gender they were born with. Like me. If you don’t identify, where the two atoms are on opposing sides, you’re trans.
If you meet someone and you’re not sure whether to say ‘she’ or ‘he’ then don’t use either. Use Xe. Or ask them, as Geena says transgender people are not aliens. Another term some prefer is Non Binary, which means not identifying as boy or girl but both. Like Eddie.
There’s a good interview on the BBC with a Non Binary 10-year-old boy, Leo, his wonderful mother and Jennifer Tracey. As Leo says “I don’t need people to understand I just want people to not be rude.” I love this line from his mother, “Leo’s gender status is not the most interesting thing about him.” But his gender gets talked about a lot, and often behind their backs. They’d prefer people to ask.
This chart from Sam Killermann lays it out simply.
It’s not just the comments that are painful.
We’re not very kind or accepting of different, especially when it comes to gender. But it’s not just the mean comments or teasing that can hurt. It took a long time for Geena to match her outside to her inside. And transforming can be painful, psychologically and physically.
Hormone Replacement Therapy brings massive physical transformation. Your skin changes. Your voice changes. Your veins change. Your pelvis width changes. Your hairyness changes. Your bones change. Male-to-female hormone therapy causes the hips to rotate slightly which can be painful. The skin softens which can make shaving more treacherous. One breast might grow, one might stall. Then there’s the hair to deal with and electrolysis is not a fun time. Female-to-male hormone therapy often comes with an increase in acne – as if teenage years aren’t hard enough. Libido drops. The jaw widens. You might have to deal with phantom period pain when you’re older. The chance of epilepsy increases.
It’s not easy and some changes are permanent, like deepening or softening of the voice. Nobody does this for kicks or on a whim.
So don’t make stupid comments, they can tattoo tender hearts.
Boys need freedom to wear whatever they want.
This is what girls are ‘allowed’ to wear: trousers, shorts, skirts, frocks, bikinis, board shorts, cardigans, jerseys, jumpers, jackets, suits, sarongs, ponchos, tutus, tights, jeans, shorts and tights, tights and dresses, trousers and skirts, shorts and skirts, active wear, cardigans and t-shits, hoodies, leather jackets, full leather outfits, onesies, overalls, hob-nailed boots, hard hats, soft hats, baseball caps, big floppy Grace Kelly hats, scarves, long trenchcoats, cargo pants, swanndris, T-shirts, tops, blouses, camisoles, thigh-high boots, cowboy boots, ug boots, rugby boots, high heels, low heels. We’re even allowed to wear dresses under dresses and they have their own name: slips. We have no rules and it’s freakinfantastic.
Boys are ‘allowed’ to wear shorts (but not too short), cargo pants, jeans, t-shirts, track pants, hoodies, and onesies when they’re babies and grown men at Burning Man. They can wear a buttoned shirt on special occasions. Cardigans? Nope. Skirts? Nope. Tights? Definitely not. But why not?
There was a time when women had to climb mountains in frocks because we weren’t allowed to wear those horrid unfeminine trousers or shorts. Thank god that changed. Its time to let boys whatever they want.
We never cared when David Bowie mixed things up but we care about our sons doing it. Some boys and men like playing around, mixing things up. Some like to wear heels and dresses and skirts and lots of make up. It’s good. It’s fine. It’s not a sign of sexuality or necessarily a sign of gender dysmorphia (what Geena went through as a youngster). It’s just a sign that maybe our identity, our gender, our appearance, how we want to express ourselves is fluid. And boys like to experiment too.
I asked my children if they felt like they were in the right bodies and my son said “No!”, making my eyebrows shoot up.
“I wish my body could store electricity so that when we have a power cut I can turn all the lights on,“ he said, reminding why he’s incredible. Right there is his own personality, nobody else has his mix and nobody else will ever be him.
If we weren’t so narrow-minded in our thinking of what boys are allowed to wear we might be more accepting of transgender girls and women.
If we weren’t so narrow-minded in our thinking of what girls are allowed to look like in terms of body shape and hair we might be more accepting of transgender boys and men.
Who knows, one day, I might be OK getting my haircut short again. I might even don a fake moustache.
PS I’m no expert on transgender but I’m fascinated with the subject of bodies and how we all have to figure out how to be OK with what we’ve got. Jill Solloway, however, creator of Transparent, is an expert and her recent article in Time nailed “pussy-gate”.