Imagine my surprise realising I was (probably) trans?

If you’d known me for a while, you maybe don’t need to imagine as it surprised you too. If this didn’t surprise you, then what the Hell dude!? I’m clearly a trainwreck, and you didn’t point out the tree trunk on the tracks? You really dropped the ball on this one…

People have a misconception that every trans people has always known. They’re hyper aware of the wrongness of their body. They love pink and dresses (if a woman) or football and burping (if a man). That is, being a trans person is a clear, internally identifiable thing that presents the same every time.

That’s what I thought for the longest time. It fuelled that feeling inside myself that I couldn’t really be trans, not properly trans. On the trans-o-meter I was reading a loud and clear ‘did not attempt’ because I knew I wasn’t trans – why would I test that?

So what if, from childhood, I’d imagined what it would be like to change my body? My fascination with every story, myth, game, film, and music video, and other media about changing sex. was just, you know… my active imagination. Or because I was a red-blooded straight man and obviously the straightest manliest thing a man like myself could do was picture myself as a woman. For very cis het reasons.

Everyone feels like a tenant in their body, not an owner. Like a Voltron pretending to be a real boy, and not a giant robot clumsily piloted by one desperately overworked and underqualified intern. Disconnected. Like everything was happening around them, not to them.

That’s just the human condition. Right?

Ummm… no, apparently. Blow me down. Perhaps you’re thinking “Ren, you’re the dumbest person on Earth for not realising sooner that this isn’t normal.” But hey, fish don’t realise they’re wet, you know? When all you’ve known is depersonalisation, you get used to it. That’s one side of it.

The other is I’m a 90’s kid. My fellow 90’s kids, what transgender or gender non-conforming people do you remember seeing, real and fictional?

The villain in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective? The one so obviously disgusting that all the many men she’d kissed vomited after seeing her unladylike bulge and realising she was a he?

The serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, a clearly unhinged madman (not a real transsexual, as the other serial killer helpfully opined) that preyed on other women to feed a sick desire?

Or on the non-murdery, and non-trans, side of things, Lily Savage? Dame Edna?

Great role models, all – murderers, or men crossdressing to make people laugh. No shade against Lily, Edna, or anyone else into crossdressing or drag. But when the sole gender non-conforming representation you grow up with is psychopathy or comedy, and you’re a bookish nerd, it’s hard to identify with.

So of course I wasn’t trans. Because if I was, then I’d have to be those things. And I wasn’t those things. Even desperately wishing that I’d be reincarnated as a woman – as much as I could wish for anything through a neutered sense of self – that didn’t mean I was trans. The clear problem being that actually, I was.

Unfortunately, the many transphobes I’ve encountered in the last year seem to think every trans person is a potential Buffalo Bill. They’d also be quick to point out that neither Lily Savage nor Dame Edna are women, they never claim to be women, because you’re not a woman just because you put on a dress. And that’s one thing we agree on.

You cannot put on a dress and become a woman. You cannot cut your hair and become a man. You always were your gender, and while you can change your expression of that you cannot change who you are. And much to the chagrin of the transphobes (I imagine), that’s an idea that really helped me. Because if it can’t be changed, then it must be faced.

For the first few months of 2022, I turned to face a question that I’d ignored or been unaware of my whole life – what if I am trans? That moment wasn’t like a switch flipping. It was a planting of feet and a refusal to run any longer.

First, there were just more questions. If I am trans, what does that mean? How do I know for sure? How will this change things? Do I want to be open about this? Am I okay losing friends, losing family, losing my marriage, to pursue this?

(Fortunately, I’m married to an amazing woman, and when I told her she offered the love and support I needed, along with a “Yeah, I asked you that before and you said no, but *doubt*”. She’s also a very smart and insightful woman.)

First question first, though – what if trans? I got onto the NHS waiting list for a gender specialist who might know. Turns out NHS gender clinics are a shit-show and it would take five years for any diagnosis or treatment, so… poor start.

Luckily I have a job and some spare cash. I found a private therapist specialising in gender and booked myself in for a brain MOT to make sure all my screws were firmly in place. Because you know, I was going to stand-up and say “Those people you hate? Who you think are disgusting, or violent, or criminal, or mad? Yeah, I’m one.” Probs best to be sure.

I went private again for a diagnosis and HRT, or hormone replacement therapy. Surely if I’m not trans they’ll see through it, or I’ll know when I start taking the wrong hormones.

Therapy helped work through internalised transphobia and stress from the constantly increasing anti-trans sentiment. But my therapist wasn’t there to tell me whether I was trans or not. Like most therapists, he wanted to help me come to terms with my internal feelings, particularly around gender and identity, but also around family, friends, work, life, and everything else. Ultimately no conclusive answer to the question, but signs pointed to yes.

HRT was what really tipped the balance for me. After three months, far too many meetings and too much money, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and a small box of hormones landed on my doorstep after an interminable wait. Tearing it open, I took a pill.

Pure ecstasy. Not the pill, that was pure oestrogen, but the feeling spreading over me as I stretched out on the bed. Like I was a puzzle piece slotting into the final gap of life’s jigsaw puzzle. And I know this wasn’t from the pill itself, but after months of waiting, of talking, of thinking, of therapy, I’d finally started on the path to answering that question.

Every day, I kept taking the medication. And every day, I felt myself becoming. Experiencing richer emotions. Building stronger connections. Truly seeing myself in the mirror (which boy oh boy opened a whole can of dysphoria, but still on the whole I’d give HRT 10/10).

You might have trouble understanding that. So…

Imagine you drove an unleaded car for years. Your whole life, in fact. Regularly filling it with unleaded, servicing it, doing everything you’re supposed to do to keep it running. But it never felt right. Too sluggish when accelerating, too slow to turn-over in the morning, like there was this massive disconnect between the levers you were pressing and how the car was responding.

Then one day you notice, on the fuel cap… it says diesel. You’re confused. Obviously, it’s unleaded. It’s taken unleaded for years. It certainly looks like an unleaded car. You couldn’t have been wrong all these years, a ridiculous idea. But, tentatively, you try diesel instead.

One small change later, and it’s like you’re driving a completely different machine. It’s the car it was always meant to be – no longer fighting you at every turn, but an extension of yourself. And day by day it gets better, as the built-up sludge from years of the wrong fuel is cleared from the system.

That’s me, brain and body. I’ve still got all the dings and dents and damage from living for 35 years, and running on the wrong fuel all that time. But now I’ve realised that, I want to keep putting the right thing in the tank.

Labels are fuzzy. Changing your perception of yourself is hard. Identifying into a minority receiving massive levels of vitriol and public attention really, to put it bluntly, fucking sucks. Transitioning physically is expensive, painful, and demanding of time and energy. But as-of now I do not intend to stop. Because if you strip away all the debate, the hate, the labels and the laws, trying to answer the question of “What if you are trans?” has let me experience life fully for the first time.