I am a transgender woman.
I was born a girl.
Lucky for me I was born a girl whose parents understood pretty much that what kids generally want to do is wear wellies, and shorts or dungarees, and involve themselves in complicated experiments and construction work at the end of the garden.
Unlucky for me that tricky incidents like bridesmaidship and weird uncles happened sometimes. Unlucky that the primary school I went to had a line down the middle with girlie games on our side, and boyish games on theirs and, when it was time for sport, the boys got to wear shorts (which I wore when I wasn’t doing school sports) and the girls had to wear silly little wraparound skirts which, in any kind of athletic behaviour or windy weather, could be termed flaparound, un-wraparound skirts.
It got rather more awful.
We found the world densely peopled with men telling us it was the permissive age
That continued to be the case at secondary school, although it got rather more awful when we were all trying to work out how to deal with first periods.
This was the early seventies, the ‘permissive era’, the heyday of Jimmy Savile, and if you weren’t there to experience it, let me tell you he didn’t stand out as particularly unusual back then. As we turned from girls into young women, we found the world densely peopled with men telling us it was the permissive age, that we could do this, and this, and that, and telling us in ominous detail what was wrong with us if we refused to do this, this and that.
More members of my family were to some extent autistic than weren’t.
I knew as autistic people generally do, it wasn’t me. I was called a tomboy and a rebel
Looking back from the age of about forty, looking carefully with the help of my daughter, who was at the time learning to deal with a child with quite pronounced autistic traits, I finally understood that more members of my family were to some extent autistic than weren’t. I’d never realised because I’d been given to understand that autistic people don’t notice or even don’t have emotional reactions, that they miss subtle signals, don’t do empathy – whereas I had always struggled to find my place in what seemed to me a maelstrom of human emotions, actions and reactions.
I could see precisely what people were trying to be, and trying to get me to be, I just knew – as autistic people generally do, that it just wasn’t me. I was called a tomboy and a rebel and all the rest of it.
Sexual power games gave me about as much freedom as a whip gives a dominatrix.
No amount of whip-waving will win you a dollar on the price
I did try out all the girlie stuff, including the sexual power games, briefly, as a teenager. I looked right – I was tall and willowy at a time when tall and willowy was fashionable but what I discovered was that the ways and wiles of the kind of creature I was supposed to be gave me about as much power and freedom as a whip gives a paid dominatrix. As one famous whore once put it, no amount of whip-waving will win you a dollar on the price.
I rejected that along with everything else.
I had to settle for being a gender-rebel. I had a go at being a lesbian
I had to settle for being a ‘rebel’ as it seemed to be what I was seen as whatever I did. And that included being a gender-rebel. Seventies girls were allowed to be sexily boyish – but not to be in any way mannish.
I had a go at being lesbian and gave a decent woman a hard time discovering I wasn’t much good at that either. In adulthood, I failed to hold down job after job. It was only really at menopause that I learned how to put down all the gender crap and be a person.
I do what I like now. I’ve even gone back to experiments in engineering.
I went to a girls’ school, and so engineering never got mentioned
I do what I like now, which mostly entails doing what men do because it’s easier, cheaper and more practical. Trouble is, career and financial failures all down the line mean I don’t have the kind of income a man of my socio-economic background might expect to have. That’s because I’m not a man. I’m a woman.
I never became an engineer for one thing – it was what I used to do in the garden when I was a kid but I went to a girls’ school, and so engineering never got mentioned. I didn’t even know it was a thing.
Now, for the first time in my life, I am learning how to be me. I’ve even gone back to experiments in engineering at the end of the garden.
Everyone else decided what a woman was. I know what a woman is now, and I love it.
I never really was a woman by gender. Few women are. It’s a social construct
The key was coming to understand that the only reason being a bit autistic was ever a serious problem for me (social embarrassment, the noises in the walls, occasional panic attacks due to over-stimulation – these aren’t serious problems, I got the hang of them over the years) the only serious problem I ever had was whata woman was. I know what a woman is now, and I love it.
I love my daughter, I love having grandchildren, I love that I’ve learned to be friends with women in the way that women are, I love my sewing machine and knitting needles as much as I love my shovel and wheel barrow – but now, as an older woman, I no longer get into trouble for rejecting my gender – all the claptrap that younger women are supposed to partake of, all the claptrap I never could relate to. I never really was a woman by gender. Few women are. It’s a social construct that many struggle to manage.
As an older woman, I no longer get into trouble for rejecting my gender.
Women tiptoe into gender-divergent after menopause, when they will get less flack
The answer I found was to be a gender-divergent, or gender-critical, or transgender woman. Many women are. A large minority, possibly even a majority, tiptoe into that territory after menopause, when they will get less flack for it.
It’s a terrible and dangerous thing to get sex & gender mixed up. I understand.
I worry that many autistic youngsters are being steered down the road of ‘sex-change’
It’s a terrible and a dangerous thing to get sex and gender mixed up, especially if you take steps as a result that aren’t easily reversed. I understand that, I really do. I worry myself silly now that many autistic youngsters are being steered down the road of a medical/surgical ‘sex-change’ long before they have a chance to learn what I learned. What most of them need is a ‘gender change’. What surgeons do would not have worked for me, it will not work for many.
When my mum died, as distressed and out-of-kilter with the world as she’d almost always been, I coasted for a year in a kind of shock, then sank into the blackest depression I’ve ever known. How much of her plight was my fault for being all wrong? Was my life now an irreversible ruin? How could I ever feel love again, if I did not love what I was? … I do understand how all this can seem impossible to face and to deal with.
Women’s spaces, women’s bursaries, women’s groups, sex-specific record-keeping:
These things are necessary to help women be women without injury
But depression is, if you’re lucky and spot the signs, a dark road back into the light. Another thing I understand, now I’ve sorted out who I am, is that women’s spaces, women’s bursaries, women’s groups and sex-specific record-keeping, all the things that help women deal with the consequences of being female, of being the child-bearers and usually the carers, and all the rest of it – all these things are necessary to help women be women without injury.
The women’s movement needs to explain that you can change your gender.
We understand precisely the traumas and dramas of trying to change your gender
One of the things the women’s movement needs to do now is define anew and preserve their spaces and practices. Some of those facilities may be amenable to gender-divergent men. We need to state publicly and clearly which ones are, which ones are not and, in each case, why.
Another thing the women’s movement needs to do is explain to the world that you can change your gender (and that feminists have been saying that, and doing that, for years), we understand precisely the traumas and dramas of trying to change your gender and be accepted by society.
We understand that it took men in general a lot longer to get their heads round it – but many did, via glam-rock in the ’70s, and the ‘gender-bending’ of the ’80s and ’90s.
Women know about changing gender. We also know you can’t change your sex.
Gender-divergent women and men need better social support
Oh yes, we know about changing gender – but we also know you can’t change your chromosomes, and your chromosomes determine your sex. Instead, I suggest women need to give better support to gender-divergent women, and men need to do some serious work on finding out what men need, especially what gender-divergent men need, in order to live without injury.
©Kay Green October 2017