Yesterday, the boys at Exeter Academy made national news with their protest about the school uniform rules which forbade them from wearing shorts in the hot weather, being as they have to endure the equatorial conditions of the deep south of England. So they borrowed from their female classmates and wore the school approved skirts to school instead! Point made. But earlier this year Nicola Thorp hit the news when she was sacked for refusing to wear high heels. Wouldn't it have been great if the men at her work had followed the Exeter boys example and come in the next day wearing high heels? Why, oh why, do we have these rigid rules of dress codes defined by gender?
Clearly I am trying to challenge these rules in my own way. I have struggled for a label to attach to myself, because it seems that labels are in some way demanded in order to make sense of things. So Trans Fluid is the best I can come up with. Maybe Dress-Fluid would be better. The term 'Trans' has become so associated with Trans Sexual or Transvestite, and the connotations of changing, or imitating, the other gender. I'm not trying to do that, and my goatee beard helps to make that clear. Now, I like my goatee, but why should that be necessary to underline that I am not trying to imitate women?
The trouble is that men's rules on clothes are so rigid - but why? I have no problem with blue and grey suits per se, but when they become an entry ticket to being taken seriously, then women are inevitably consigned to becoming the odd ones out, not really in the club: Nicola Sturgeon's stylish dresses ( I would say that, as we do indeed share the same dressmaker), or Theresa May's leopard skin kitten heels, or even Ruth Davidson's suits which provoke inevitably snide remarks that she is echoing the style of Kim Jong-un. The trouble is that women will never get a break in regard to what they choose to wear, whilst men impose the rules of their prison uniform that denotes their inclusion in the Club of Power.
So perhaps in time, more men in power will break free of these rules but I see two major barriers in the way: one is homophobia. Whilst homosexuality is not treated as it once was, there is still an assumption amongst many, if not most heterosexual men, that to wear more expressive and colourful, even overtly feminised clothes, is the domain of gay men. Most people assume I am gay when they see me dressed in my alternative attire. It seems to help explain why I do it. 'He must be gay', and that's me neatly interpreted and categorised. Because why would a heterosexual man want to dress in a gay manner out of choice?
My journey has been on the surface about appearances - clothes. I do feel a 'feminine side' and I know I have deep feelings that are different to my male friends. Quite often I feel estranged from male conversations and lonely inside as a result. But for many others it is much more fundamental than that. The male-to-female transexual experience is all over the media with moving stories of gender reassignment struggles. Campaigns are afoot for passports and other proof of gender to be similarly changed for those who have made the transition. Understanding of the transexual experience is at an all time high - unthinkable even a few years ago. And this exposure has supported me enormously in my own particular coming out.
Then last year Germaine Greer was barred by Cardiff University Student's Union from questioning the demands of reassigned male to female Trans women to be recognised as full women. This trend to silence views we feel uncomfortable with is, in my view deeply worrying. But more on that another day, perhaps. In an interview after the ban she said - "Apparently people have decided that because I don’t think that post-operative transgender men are women, I’m not to be allowed to talk. I’m not saying that people should not be allowed to go through that procedure. What I’m saying is it doesn’t make them a woman."
Strange as it may seem, coming from a Trans person, I initially thought she had a point. I am not saying that a male-to-female post operative transexual is not a woman. But I can't help feeling that a deep and genuine, quite possibly life long yearning, for female identity - with the long and painful genital surgery and hormone treatment to grow breasts, does not achieve a life experience equal to that of being a female from the womb onwards. Yes the result is a woman, and should be recognised as such. Trans-women will face the same societal judgements and prejudices all women face - and many more to boot. But the life journey is different, and like for all of us sadly, the clock cannot be turned back - no matter how much we wish it could be. But before I go any further I need to own up to my recent experiences that has affected my views on this question.
In the last four weeks I have been caring and supporting a woman very close to me who has gone through a hysterectomy. Not the less intrusive key hole surgery, but of the most serious surgery possible. Another close female friend, at the same time had an ectopic pregnancy and lost one of her twins to be - and an unbelievable amount of blood. For both women their experiences were potentially life threatening. This has affected me deeply.
Secondly I should own up to my own feelings in the past as a transvestite of being envious of women at times. But I wasn't yearning for crippling period pains, ectopic pregnancies, the hormonal hell of PMS, hysterectomies, menopause, or the risk of dying during child birth. I know the transvestite experience is very different to the transexual experience; but there are some overlaps. I can't help but feel that in banning Germain Greer's views from even being heard is in some ways quite insulting to women. In bypassing the impact of the gynaecological experience from puberty onwards, plus the lived experience of girlhood, for me gives the impression that womanhood is reduced to having the right curves in the right places, and not having a penis. And also I find it disrespectful to a pioneer of feminism to ban her from even saying so.
This wave of identity politics seems to be saying - if I feel so, therefore I am. It is indeed heartbreaking, and often suicidal, to feel trapped in a body that doesn't fit with how you feel emotionally. These days something can be done to ameliorate outward appearances; and that is good. I am also sure that many, probably most male-to-female transsexuals would have totally accepted the full female experience - PMT etc - and that they were genuinely born into the wrong gendered body. So I do fully support that right to a sex change, and I fully support that the NHS should be there to help. But until such time as surgery can deliver the full reality of the gynaecological hell endured by women, then the result cannot be the same as a female from birth. And what's so wrong with that. Sure, transexuals should be recognised as women, use the Ladies, be known as 'she', and have a passport that says so, but why do we have to be so binary in our approach to gender?
This has been a difficult blog for me to write. What I am saying could well be hurtful for people who are going through that long difficult transexual struggle and those who have come out the other side - finally find peace in who they have felt they should have been all along. No one wants their identity and experience to be questioned. I have met quite a few transexuals over the years: male-to-female and female-to-male, and I'm pretty sure many would find what I am saying difficult, if not downright offended but it. I don't mean to hurt, but my own experience has led me to ask deep questions of my own. I also know that my experience is quite different, but I feel it would be cowardly of me not to air my questioning as I have started a blog to talk about, amongst other things, Trans issues. But as with everything else I say, I m open to being challenged, and I hope I am big enough to admit when I am wrong.
As someone who is somewhere on the Trans spectrum, I have reached a stage in my life where I feel comfortable saying that I am male, yet I identify with a lot of aspects of the feminine. For myself, and for many others, clothes are intrinsic to my expression of my identity. I mix gender specific garments to create an appearance that is perhaps almost androgynous. But when my bones are dug up in a thousand years, the archeologists will bung a label on my fossilised remains - '21st century male'.
That is a sad reality for those who have been trapped in the wrong body, but science is unforgiving sometimes. For others on the Trans spectrum, I do wonder whether the binary absolutism of one gender or the other is that helpful. Might it not make for a happier life if we could accept that there are those who identify so strongly with the other gender that they choose to live that way for much, or even all, of the time. Some choose the full gender re-alignment. Others go part of the way, and others simply self identify. Their's is clearly not a binary male experience. But it is not, and sadly for a great many, never will be the identical experience as having been a female from birth. Vive les differences!