A poem for Transgender Day of Visibility
‘unbeingdead isn’t beingalive’ – e. e. cummings, from ’72 poems’
I wonder if every trans person has one of ‘those’ moments – a moment when they realise, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re trans? For some, it might come at the age of three, four or five; for others, at the age of thirty, forty or fifty. Maybe there are others who never have one at all, and go through their whole life wondering who they really are?
I’d been out as non-binary, by which I meant genderfluid or bigender, for a few months before it happened. Coming to the realisation that I wasn’t a woman was a gradual process, and one that began, somewhat unexpectedly, with a shamanic journey. I’d discovered a book called ‘Mending the Past, Healing the Future’ by Alberto Villoldo, and started working my way through the visualisation exercises. As part of this process I found myself remembering a past life in the seventh century (if you’re not a believer in reincarnation, feel free to substitute ‘making up a story’) in which I’d bound my chest flat with linen cloths, run away from home to escape an arranged marriage, trained with the Druids in the Welsh mountains, and eventually become a renowned spiritual leader. Over time, I found myself telling the story of a ‘heretical’ underground Christian movement that was referred to as the Fellowship of Avalon or the Fellowship of the Rainbow Bridge, which focused on the importance of uniting the Sacred Masculine and the Sacred Feminine.
The idea of being genderfluid made perfect sense to me when I started unearthing this forgotten theology – a Christianity that has equal reverence for God and Goddess, Sun and Rain, Heavenly Father and Earthly Mother, Spirit and Soul, Lord and Lady, Conscious and Subconscious, Reason and Passion, Head and Heart, Light and Dark, and still insists that the reality of Divinity is ‘Both-at-once and neither’ – a ‘Deep Mystery’ or ‘Love beyond all names’ that can never be fully understood. Yet, for all I tried to convince myself that I was genderfluid, the femme days weren’t happening, ever. I found that as soon as I stopped pushing myself to look more feminine for the sake of other people, I just wanted to present masculine, all the time.
The more I let myself overcome the fear of other people’s opinions, buy clothes from the men’s section, scrape my hair back from my face and wear a tight sports bra to flatten my chest, the more comfortable I started to become in my own skin. I gradually started joining Facebook groups for ‘transgender men’ or ‘FTM trans’ people. When Trans Day of Visibility came around, I cut my hair short, changed my name and title by deed poll, and started asking friends and colleagues to use ‘he/him’ pronouns instead of ‘they’ or ‘she’.
But there was still a part of me that insisted that I couldn’t really be trans. Not at my age. Not with teenage daughters. Not with my own consultancy business and an 80-per-cent-completed PhD…
And then…came That Moment.
I’d grown used to referring to my sports bra as a binder, but the time soon came when that wasn’t enough for me any more: I wanted a ‘real’ binder, a tight compression vest in the style of a cropped tank top. My initial reasons for wanting one were that I hoped it would give me a more masculine-looking figure, and enable me to fit into shirts and T-shirts in my size, instead of wearing baggy sweatshirts to cover up my curves. It was an aesthetic decision, rather than a spiritual one. Yet as soon as I put the binder on, I was filled with a deep sense of rightness. It truly felt as though my body had finally found the shape that it was supposed to be; and that as a result, my soul could come back into it and inhabit it fully at last.
Outward, Bound is a rather inadequate attempt at expressing this overwhelming joy and relief – the feeling that trans people call ‘gender euphoria’ – in words.
It’s one of the poems accompanying my forthcoming ‘Mindscapes of Transition’ solo art exhibition, which will be shown at The Art House, Southampton during the Southampton Pride season in August 2019.
They ask me how it’s possible: forty years, and I never knew it…
When you’ve been used to ‘wrong’ for soooooooooooo long,
you have no idea there’s a ‘right’ at all, much less how to do it:
they can tell you over and over that the body means nothing,
flesh is only flesh, it’s the spirit that matters; it’s not about the shape,
the appearance, the look, the style. But what they don’t tell you,
meanwhile, is this: there’s a physicality to the soul, a bliss
in embodiment, as myth shatters and hope becomes whole; a sublime joy
when the shape you see in the mirror finally matches the template
laid down inside. Bound flat, I feel like me, for the first time.
Do you take it for granted when you’re cis?
Is it only when the truth has been denied with every nerve,
or, at best, reduced to a fantasy that you know you don’t deserve,
or the shameful secret that you’ve always got to hide: is it only then
that you find such pure delight in letting yourself be real?
Or is this, in fact, the way that most people feel?
Are we the only ones who had to detach to survive,
who had to deny every feeling, stifle every emotion,
lock down all sensation and focus on staying-undead,
because we never knew there was an option of coming-alive instead?
I am calling myself back into flesh now, finding my home
in this body that was never truly mine before. Held tight
within this second skin, supported, safe, secure, I breathe
the rightness in; ask myself yet again where
I’ve been for so long, and how (in the name of all
that’s beautiful) I never understood what was wrong.