By Lisa P.
I am writing this right before Halloween 2022. The coming of the holiday, with its ghouls and ghosts, got me thinking about what has been scary for me about being TG.
I will start with a hard question that I never wanted to address, but finally realized I needed to honestly ask myself: “are you a tourist or an immigrant?” Often it is hard to decide, or know for sure once you do decide, and that has been true for me. Because I enjoy life as a woman, I have often wanted to stay in the female world a long while. So, does staying for a long while mean that I really want to stay forever? For me, that is a scary thought. More on that at the end of this essay.
Of course, regardless of what I may want, the locals may have a say in the matter. They may feel a lot more comfortable with a visit by me as a tourist. My decision to stay permanently may not be met with the welcome mat. I have spent many a night alone in bed trying to understand how I should answer the question of whether I mean to be a tourist or an immigrant; it is no surprise that the locals may similarly have complicated feelings about it.
By the way, I hope my thoughts on this issue aren’t too controversial, as I have a sensitive personality and dislike hate mail intensely…I do realize, however, that fear often breeds a strong fight or flight response! In any case, follow along if you don’t mind being haunted a bit more.
To start, I should say that most of us on the TG spectrum start off by being certain that we are tourists (that is, CD rather than TG). I certainly did. I found it much easier to cope with that conclusion. If I am CD, I don’t need to give up the benefits of my country of birth. Being CD means I get to live on a Caribbean Island whenever I want, returning “home” at will. In other words, by being CD, there is no threat to my male privilege. Also, if the locals become less than welcoming, I can take the role of the thoughtful guest who refuses to overstay her welcome and say, “no worries— I won’t be staying long.” I can laugh it off as a harmless passion for informal theater if questioned by someone who knows me in my traditional role. My response can be something on the order of, “I am here for the sand beaches and the palm trees, not to become part of the island culture!” More importantly, I could explain it to my spouse as not abandoning my “male citizenship,” but rather as a temporary holiday from the pressures of life. Let’s face it. Life is just a whole lot easier if you are CD and not TG (excluding of course, the lying, hiding, time commitment, narcissism, societal disapproval, expense, etc.).
I am not a professional gender therapist, so like other commenters I am only reflecting my own journey and thoughts, which may or may not resonate. If you really want to know who you are, you should explore things with a qualified therapist (in my case, it finally allowed me to break free from my own self-imposed periods of exile from the land of the feminine and — to continue my metaphor — consider the possibility of becoming a permanent resident if not an immigrant there).
As I explore this topic, let me give you five of my personal guiding principles, in case you find them helpful:
(1) gender is a spectrum, but the spectrum doesn’t seem to be fixed, unless you are clearly cisgender;
(2) even when I think I have figured out where I am going, I probably should think some more;
(3) I (and you) am brave, and pretty smart about my gender, but I shouldn’t put too much credence into my self-diagnosis, as my mind likes to tell me what I want to hear; and,
(4) almost everyone has internalized transphobia, even though I didn’t consider that I was one of them. It was worth considering how many times I denied to others or myself that I was transgender, because I just didn’t want to face it. If I really believed it was true, there wouldn’t be a reason to say it more than once.
Consider some of these signs that I ignored that should have blazed like a neon sign inside my head.
A. I wanted to stay hairless as much as possible, not just when I was dressing up, so I started shaving my legs all the time (first just for the winter, but then during the summer too).
B. Dressing up stopped being a significant source of sexual pleasure (if it ever was). Kinks are easier to explain to oneself, because we are all sexual beings, we all express our sexual needs differently, and frankly what we do in private to satisfy that part of ourselves is no one’s business (although the fantasies we employ may well tell us a lot about our innermost needs). But, when it ceased to be as important for me, yet I still wanted to dress and go out, I realized that there was something deeper involved.
C. I avoided growing facial hair and wanted to be as clean cut as possible, as much as possible. I even started to take steps to dramatically cut my hair growth. The truth is that permanent and semi-permanent changes are generally not made by someone who is comfortable with their existing gender.
D. Recently, I got my hair styled in a more androgynous way (although still relatively short) and my eyebrows professionally styled in a bit more feminine way. Although not “permanent” like facial hair removal, I am guessing I have done that because I want to look in the mirror and see a female face. Again, that doesn’t sound to me like someone who is simply on vacation from the male gender.
E. I had a deep-seated desire to tell someone about my dressing. If it was only a hobby, the only reason I would need to tell anyone else would have been to find a fellow hobbyist; otherwise, it seems more likely my inner woman was seeking recognition and acceptance. I wanted someone else to tell me I was still OK even though I dressed up (a lot).
F. As I reflected on who I identified with in film, theater, music and other creative arts, I realized that although I had heroes of both genders, I most wanted to be like the females.
G. Finally, when I was out socially (with my wife or friends), I spent a lot of time as a student of the feminine. If I were CD, I wouldn’t need to make a lifetime commitment out of figuring out which clothes and hair I liked. For a time, I thought I was doing it to create a better “femulation” (to use Stana’s term), but my truth came when I realized that my wife and I were doing exactly the same thing, because that’s what women do – they notice everything!
Regardless of where I fall today on the TG spectrum, or where I fall tomorrow on the TG spectrum, this journey is mine alone to make. Even though 3 years ago I moved from identifying as CD to TG, that has not resulted in me (i) announcing that to the world, (ii), changing legal documents or gender markers, (iii) asking my wife to treat me as anything but her husband, or (iv) knowing any better today what comes next. But I do seem to be crossing the “border” into the land of the female on such a regular basis that I can best describe as an almost “permanent resident.”
I’ll do me and you’ll do you. For all of us, the “unexamined life is not worth living.” It is scary, but we must not be afraid to continue our exploration. And we shouldn’t be afraid if we are led in a direction that feels scary. The light will eventually shine brightly enough to show us the way. Right now, I must admit that the tourist in me would love to have a nice second home in the female world.
Postscript: A final word on the scariest part of all this for someone like me who is married to a truly wonderful woman. I was having dinner with a pastor friend a short while ago and she told me that no matter how much I am trying not to do it, being Lisa is causing my wife pain. I suppose I always knew that was the case, but at the same time I have tried so hard (as most of us have) to shield my wife from the painful bits. I have always thought that perhaps if the pain is small, it will be endurable. So far it has been, as she continues to stand by me. But it is very scary to think that no matter what I do I will hurt someone I deeply love simply by trying to figure out who I am.