Battling the `Person-I-Think-They-Want-Me-To-Be’
[CW: internalised homophobia and transphobia] There’s an alien mind-snatcher that’s been squatting in my brain for forty years. The `Person-I-Think-They-Want-Me-To-Be’ (PITTWAM-2B) is its name, and people-pleasing is its game. But recently I’ve begun to ask the question: is it me, or the PITTWAM-2B, who’s making this decision?
The PITTWAM-2B is a tricksy creature: it shows up in different disguises. For me, assigned female at birth, it started life as a pretty, neat, well-behaved little girl. It did what it was told, played in the garden where it was safe, and never went out adventuring. It was quiet – sometimes very, very quiet, because my dad worked night shifts and slept in the daytime. It hardly ever sang, because my dad hated singing – it reminded him of his abusive mother, who only sang when she was in a foul temper.
Teenage PITTWAM-2B knew there was no point in trying to get me in with the fashionable crowd – I was just never going to do make-up, clothes, hair, and crushes on the drummers in boy bands. So it rejected teenage girls as its ‘They’, and latched on to teachers instead. It went mega-nerd, and always did more homework than it needed to. It got more house points than anyone else. It practised the violin for an hour a night, and played in orchestras. It did work experience in a cancer research lab and wrote up its experiments so brilliantly that it convinced me, and everyone around me, that I was destined to do something awesome with science.
The Person-I-Thought-They-Wanted-Me-To-Be at sixth form college tried to convince me to study medicine, but I put my foot down at that. NO WAY was I cutting people open, whether they were dead, alive, or otherwise. So I did the next best thing and applied to read biochemistry at Oxford. Distinction in first-year exams. Brilliant career ahead as a (wo)man in a white coat. And then… something strange happened.
I stopped listening to the PITTWAM-2B.
I met the two most awesome friends I ever had in my entire life. (I fell in love with one of them, but that’s another story). Together, we created a space where it was safe to PLAY. To sing. To dance. To have tea parties with twenty types of tea. To live in our pyjamas for two days and eat cheesy chips. To run around town dressed in crazy outfits, and give left-over Christmas pudding from the college canteen to homeless people. To let a homeless friend sleep on my floor for a while, which could have got me thrown out. To read children’s books in silly voices. To make up words. To make up poems that made no sense, from start to finish, and recite them in duet at poetry slams. I even made one up about the PITTWAM-2B itself, although I didn’t know it at the time:
When you call and invite me to play, the chances are high that I’ll say,
‘I’d love to, my dear, but I can’t, for I fear… I’m supposed to be working today!’
The question I’d now like to pose is how this supposing arose:
If I’m never `supposed’ to do what I love most, who plans it all, do you suppose?
My moment of glory came at the age of 21, in my fourth year at Oxford, when I banished the PITTWAM-2B to the outer reaches of the galaxy and got on a coach at 2am to travel to Heathrow Airport. I flew to a far-away land (which I definitely wasn’t supposed to do, with final exams looming), and when I came back, I announced that I was in love with a far-away man. All good. I’d broken the chains of But-It’s-Not-Safe and Done My Thing. And I didn’t even get a first-class degree! Boom. I did it my way.
But…wait! Who is that I spy, lurking in my mind? Maybe you’re not quite dead yet, alien being?
I was still in love with my best friend. Deep down, I knew it. But in the circles where I grew up, ‘lesbians’ were something that wasn’t talked about, and as for ‘non-binary transmasculine people’, the language didn’t even exist. Falling in love with a woman simply wasn’t the done thing, and she had a boyfriend anyway.
So the PITTWAM-2B convinced me I was in love with a man in a far-away land, and found a whole new ‘They’ to latch on to, or rather a whole chorus of Theys – community elders, Pentecostal Church, project funders, in-laws… and nothing was ever the same again. It was only after it all fell apart and I came back to England that I started asking myself this question:
Is it me, or the Person-I-Think-They-Want-Me-To-Be, who’s making this decision?
Joining non-binary support groups? Changing my name? Changing my pronouns? Shopping in the men’s section? Playing `Both-At-Once’ with feminine and masculine, Christianity and paganism, the modern world and past-life worlds, speaking and singing, professionalism and crazy-creative-games-with-rainbow-sparkles?
Yep, that’s me all right. At last, that’s meeeeeeeeee! I’m escaping the tentacles of the alien, and damn, it feels so good. Why didn’t I do it earlier?
But then a little voice whispers in my ear: You needn’t think you’ll get rid of me that easily… Are you sure you’re trans enough? Don’t you want a binder? Don’t you want top surgery? Don’t you want hormones? Don’t you want to grow a real beard?
No, I don’t, and I’m entitled not to. I’m transgender, yes, but I’m not a trans man. I’m ready and willing to defend the rights of anyone who wants to go down that road – and trans women, too, of course – but I’m non-binary transmasculine. It’s different. My daughter asked me if I wanted to be a man, and I said no: I just want to be me. I’m not a man OR a woman.
But…are you sure you’re non-binary enough?
Oh, fuck off, alien. I’m doing life MY WAY now. Got that???