BY LIZ RIDGWAY
IMAGE BY NOE WARREN
Give or take a brief space-time continuum shift, it’s six years since I stepped out to fully embrace my authentic self. Add the previous fours years of mental health assessments and counselling and one might begin to picture of how long my transition has taken. With a lack of resources available and a personal decision to medically transition it all felt like a monumental mountain to climb as I walked out the front door on that autumn morning in late October 2012. So much to consider, getting things right according to my own wishes. Do I look ok? Can I keep it together? Not forgetting the burden of an extensive list of ‘must do’s’ to change all my personal details.
I chose to transition so I could survive and hopefully thrive. I’d lived with gender dysphoria all my life and went literally to the end of the earth and back to eliminate every last possibility that my gender incongruence was something else. It wasn’t a fetish or a conflation of sexuality and gender, I’d always been trans and I had to be fearless and acknowledge it. Fearless because I knew that I was confronting the societal expectation that wanting to present and live as a woman was not something worthwhile, not something to aspire to, like “just be a man, grow a pair or man up! Abandon your male privilege for womanhood? You’re deluded, crazy!” Without doubt the mental health disorders and trauma I faced derived from society’s oppression of women and a rebuttal of my consistent gender non-conformity from the sex I was assigned at birth. From sustained periods of shaming, vilification and harassment through school, in the workplace, publically and within relationships, society has consistently maintained there’s something wrong with me for not conforming. “ Oh, you’re such a girl.” Looking back at what I’ve experienced, I now know that I’ve never been “trapped”, it’s society that’s trapped and in desperate need of fixing.
Transition was a marathon inter-dispersed with the passing of milestones, pausing briefly to celebrate, then quickly moving onto the next, always negotiating anxiety and depression with a distant view of the bigger picture. I’m speaking of moments like the simple yet confronting act of walking out the front door as a rudimentary presentation of my future self, sending scores of ‘coming out’ letters to friends and family, starting hormone therapy, gaining new employment without the historical association with my previous identity, negotiating gendered spaces like bathrooms and fitting rooms, finding co-operative medical supervision, finding appropriate housing after a long period of homelessness, being correctly gendered in public, travelling through passport control points without issue, the joy of people using my chosen name, the joy of people not making a fuss when they realise they’ve mis-gendered me, receiving documents that correctly represent my identity, going weeks without being harassed, fulfilling all the requirements of the ghastly ‘RLE’ (Real Life Experience) NHS criteria and finally receiving approval for confirmation surgery. Yes, transition was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.
Surgery was an option available to me that I chose to take, had I chosen otherwise there’d be no difference to my identity or living positively. The truth was my genitals were junk. Surgery had always remained a ‘no brainer’ since I learnt it was a possibility, but never fully understanding why I’d be exposed without choice to so much public hyperbole and medical scrutiny considering the relative straight-forwardness of the surgery.
Slowly lifting my eyelids after surgery and floating in a wonderful morphine-induced awakening did signify the beginning of the end to my transition. Of course more challenges would be presented, however, none would be quite so insurmountable. Finally, I was in a position to get back to living, no longer treading water, this time authentically, further defining an incredibly experienced and varied life, embracing the person I always knew to be, dousing the pain of past trauma by restarting therapy and dusting off those projects I’d put on hold. To me this was the embodiment of death and transfiguration, sent to nirvana, finally beginning to blissfully exist in consonance.
The absolute and unflinching reality of my journey is I adjusted my body to better represent my knowledge and wisdom. Yes, it was a marathon with so many personal limiting self-beliefs to confront and challenge, but bizarrely after all that has passed, I find myself repeatedly asking “what was all that fuss about?”