Monday, 3 September 2012

After all the excitement

Despite all the upheavals, and all the pain, there is something very exciting about the three or four years it might take to transition from the old state to the new. It's definitely like going over a huge waterfall. And although the rush towards the white water, and then the roaring edge, is all in slow motion, just like a real waterfall the journey is one-way once the current has you in its grip, and the fall is as frightening (or thrilling) as an actual header over Niagara would be. At the bottom, after the fall is past, you bob up spluttering, swim or drift to the calm shore, dry off, examine your hurts, and then contemplate what to do next.

It's then time for a big reality check. Setting aside the medical demands and routines of post-op existence, what else is there? What does one actually do now? How will life be?

The adrenalin has died back. The contention is over. You have the prize you wanted. But thirty, forty, fifty years lie ahead that must somehow be filled. And although you are now 'fixed' physically, there is a whole different world to face up to. With new rules. A world in which you are going to be treated very differently, in which you are a new member from another planet, competing with natives who know exactly how to get on, how to get ahead, how to beat you in love. You may not be in their league. At least not yet. But there is little time to learn the finer points. Very urgent matters need attention. Matters you may have set aside till now. A proper place to live. An income. A social life away from the trans scene. A partner.

And whatever you brought over the waterfall with you in a bundle, all the stuff from the old life that must be carried into the new - perhaps parental responsibilities - that too needs to be picked up and shouldered. It might well be a heavy burden. Heavier in fact than ever before. A burden that can hurt you still.

The potential for post-op deflation is great. I think that very few transitioners slide effortlessly from the old life into the new. I'd compare it to the joy of keenly-anticipated early retirement turning into depression. Again, you have a glittering prize, in this case release from the daily grind of earning a living combined with the promise of boundless leisure. But as with all things, there is a price: a purposeless existence without a definite job to do, only 'projects' and 'hobbies' to get on with; a sense of uselessness; personal status diminished, leading to loss of self-esteem; introspection; a life without urgency, a life spent drifting, and yet not free of stress for all that because little worries get magnified. And no clear way forward, just years stretching into the future, a slow death.

The real challenges of the 'new life' are not much mentioned by early transitioners. They concentrate on immediate goals, and the frustrations of getting anywhere at all. The attitudes of other people. The little victories of passing, that mean so much. The clothes and accessories. I'm not criticising. It was like that for me too. The Afterlife seems unreal, something Far Ahead, hardly imaginable. In some ways as unreal as adult lfe, and the world of work, and owning a house, and paying a mortgage, and having a family to care for, when you are only fourteen.

I think though that alongside the provision of medical services (whether NHS or private) there should be some structured social guidance officially available, to prepare transitioners for the Afterlife. Free or low-cost courses on how to approach living as a born-again man or woman; the realities of their new role; the rights and responsibilites; practical advice, such as what works if applying for a job; what is natural and expected behaviour in the new role; and not only sexual advice, but the art of getting to know someone without blowing it. No doubt a lot of trans people have no problems with some of this, but many do. I know how I pooh-poohed the notion of Pre-Retirement courses, and how, when I went to one, I dismissed the anecdotes and warnings and practical guidance as irrelevant to me. But I was arrogant. I did not know it all.

Clearly only a few places around the country could offer viable courses for trans persons on these lines - in London, Manchester, Glasgow, and a few other major cities, including (of course) Brighton.   

I can see the tabloid comments: School For Sex For Trannies! Or Finishing School Opens In Neasden For Young (Er) Ladies! The Leveson Report into press standards won't stop any of that. Let it come. Transitioners need practical knowledge, to fit them into their new roles, to let them function as useful citizens in changed circumstances. To spare them them mockery and rejection. To give them a chance of happiness and material success. A long-term prisoner would be rehabilitated. A teenager still at school would (or should) get some lessons about the real world. Why not us?

2 comments:

  1. I very much agree with much of what you've written there Lucy but not all of it. Taking on all that responsibility at fourteen (or whatever age) as a new convert isn't difficult if the former years greatly exceed that fourteen. For instance say someone does it all at age forty, they have forty years experience already in day to day living. The only difference is that now they face life in another gender. The difficulties pertinent to that gender will need to be overcome but that again depends on former circumstances. Take my own transition for instance. I chose to remain in the electrical business, a male dominated arena but my work didn't suffer, I still earned a good wage and in fact I had more work as a woman than I ever did before. It can work, especially if we stick to what we were doing beforehand. I think problems are worse for those who attempt to make complete changes in every area of their lives, usually unnecessarily. I have been in my new role for almost ten years now (post-op that is) and found no real problems other than blending in as a woman and by that I mean acting and looking the part. The early years of development are the most difficult but we learn quickly and soon everything just becomes as it was before but from a different perspective.

    Shirley Anne x

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  2. A very thought-provoking post, Lucy. As someone in the middle of a major lifestyle transition - settling into a 'new' gender and moving home at the same time - I find myself longing for a bit of peaceful, routine existence.

    But I also think about the day when, like Alexander of old, there will be no more kingdoms to conquer. Will I weep like him?

    Perhaps not. Although I've not gone nearly so far as you down the road of transition, I do remember my 'tranny' days and the thrill of putting on a skirt or stockings. The thrill has passed, but the contentment remains. And maybe 'contentment' is what it's all about.

    Angie x

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Lucy Melford