I wrote in the last post that I saw my doctors as my supervisors – and my psychiatrist was almost like a manager, a superior. This isn’t to say that she ever put any explicit pressure on me to transition at any particular speed, let alone to undergo any procedures or identify any certain way. I believe she would have been receptive towards ambiguity, and maybe towards doubt, but she approached everything as convention – she clearly believed that I was normal, and expected me to follow a normal path through transition.
She did say, too, that she was shocked to learn that I was going back – that she would never have predicted balking from me. I seemed conventional, and I must have seemed certain.
She did also say that she did not believe that most trans people were ambiguous – she said at one time, making brackets with her hands, and then portioning off tiny fractions – that only a minuscule segment of the population was trans, and within that only a minuscule segment gender ambiguous – more than ninety-nine in a hundred were anything but male – one end of the bar – or female – the other.
She did not see me as ambiguous, either – and I never told her I felt like anything but a man. And of course, I didn’t retransition to ambiguity – I wanted to be a woman again. I wanted to be totally a woman. And when I was going back, I asked her for advice on being completely a woman. I was terrified about not passing or not seeming normal – I wanted to erase my transition, to be a woman who looked nothing like a man, a woman who didn’t look remotely transsexual. I knew – I had been told – that I could never entirely change back – repair the damage, return to normal – and I was obsessed with achieving as close an approximation as I could.
I also saw womanhood as something far more alien than my old simple gender had been – I couldn’t just be myself as a woman. In order to successfully be a woman, I would have to be a completely different kind. I’d have to wear different clothing – dresses, skirts, pastel and flower colors, daily jewelry, makeup, ballet flats, headbands – and I would have to engineer a wardrobe that would finesse my gangly overmuscled body. I would have to grow my hair out – I’d never have the luxury of short hair again. I’d have to pluck my eyebrows and modulate my voice. Every detail of my appearance would have to point towards femininity and away from my mistake.
My therapist supported this brief, although I don’t think she would have advocated that level of paranoia. She counseled me, I think, the same way she would have counseled a trans woman. She said at one point that she saw me as an exceptionally lucky trans woman, one who would have to do far less work to pass as a woman. And so her advice was that I must first establish my womanhood and then, after I had successfully created a strong feminine impression on everyone around me, scale back to the kind of woman I actually was.
This was the advice I followed, and I think it may have intensified my sense of helplessness. I was performing a level of femininity I had never enjoyed or felt drawn to, in which I had never displayed much competence. I felt more awkward, more failed – not less. And I felt more artificial. This may have been a dubious goal in the first place, but there’s no telling whether it helped me even on those most conventional terms – I may not have passed better as a woman by being feminine, whether or not I felt or seemed uncomfortable in my new clothes. One friend told me later that he suspected I was a trans woman because I “always wore skirts.” It seems like playing to his biases would have been as thankless as any other strategy, but phobic gender pettifogging seems not to have gotten me far in the long run.
It did have the effect of alienating me from my own tastes. I still don’t like being particularly feminine – I still hate pastels and bright colors, I still hate the bother of jewelry and the picky twiddle of makeup, and I still don’t very much like wearing skirts. I did wear them daily for years, and I learned to see them as a kind of default. I don’t know if wholesale femininity created awkwardness, but it did make it hard for me to know what I wanted – I didn’t have any sense of what would make me feel comfortable, or what clothes would feel natural, or whether I liked makeup or jewelry. I knew I should try to like them; I knew they were valuable; I knew they were appropriate.
And in the aftermath of transition, I wonder if I should have been directed towards artifice at all. I think it may have been damaging to have any extra project beyond figuring out who I really wanted to be.
My therapist may have assumed I didn’t need any exploration – I did say that I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a woman – only, always, ever a woman – and that I did not want to be masculine. Then again, how trustworthy could a patient like me be, and how trustworthy would such a traumatized and exhausted patient seem? I know that I was devastated in the aftermath of transition, and I must have seemed at least unhappy and fearful. I’m sure I asked anxious questions of my therapist. Was it right to offer me womanhood as a project immediately after I changed sex twice? Was she trying to give me a scaffold, or simply let me do what I wanted?