Three minutes of awesome

When you’re trans, being yourself in public for the first time looks nothing like this

31st March 2018

If you’re trans, going out in public as you is A Very Big Deal, especially when it’s the first time you’ve done it.

Imagine seeing yourself in the mirror as the sexy MF you always wanted to be.

Imagine striding through the streets like a goddamn glamazon.

Imagine opening the door to your favourite pub.

Imagine the music suddenly stopping.

Imagine the conversations stilling in mid-sentence.

Imagine every head turning, jaws dropping in admiration.

Imagine walking in, the only sound the click-clack of your heels.

Imagine everybody in the room totally wanting to shag you.

It’s not remotely like that.

Marathon, man

I think for many trans people, becoming yourself in public is a process rather than an event. It certainly was for me. The first time I went out as me was months after the first time I went out in obviously female clothes, and months after I started wearing make-up. Doing that just felt like going out in a skirt and wearing makeup. But when I went out for the first time wearing a wig, that felt huge. I was no longer a gender outlaw battling stupid stereotypes. I was, like, totally trans.

It took me a long time to get there. Building up the courage to be yourself is very much like breaking in a pair of Dr Martens properly: you don’t have to do it but ha ha ha you totally do unless you really like to suffer.

I started small by swapping out my boy clothes for the female equivalents. After several weeks of doing that, I sat absolutely terrified in my car for a full fifteen minutes, my heart trying to escape my chest, before I forced myself to go shakily into my local Tesco wearing a skirt. I’d been meaning to do it on Thursday. It took me ’til Sunday to psych myself up enough to actually do it.

I was complimented by a group of young women. They were lying, but it was a nice lie by nice people

Months later, I travelled across Glasgow to the Pride festival as a guy in a skirt, and I travelled back again as a really quite pissed guy in a skirt. Afterwards, I went to my local pub in female clothes while clearly, visibly male, and I was called over and complimented by a group of young women. They were lying, but it was a nice lie by nice people.

Each of these things was a big deal, because they involved me facing up to my fears. I never in a million years imagined I’d ever walk through Glasgow in a skirt, let alone do it in daylight. But they weren’t the main event. They were more like video game power-ups. I needed a whole bunch of power-ups before I would be ready for the final boss battle: being me.

You be you

Being you is tough when you’re trans. But you need to do it if you want any medical help to help you be you permanently. It’s ironic: in order to get treatment to help you pass as your gender, you need to present as that gender without any help at all when you’re at your most clueless.

And because you’ve absolutely no idea what you’re doing, chances are you’re going to make a right arse of it.

You don’t know what your look is because you haven’t had the opportunity to develop one

Imagine you hadn’t grown up: you just popped into the world fully formed as the you you are now. Those years of teenage experimentation, regrettable haircuts and fashion disasters didn’t happen. You don’t know what your look is because you haven’t had the opportunity to develop one. You don’t know what suits and what doesn’t, what’s age-appropriate and what isn’t.

Imagine trying to pull together an outfit when you didn’t know what clothes and make-up were until this morning. In those circumstances, you might end up looking rather like me: the kind of look you’d end up with if you stripped naked, covered yourself in glue and charged through Primark’s bargain rails.

Eventually, though, you get better. You have to, because you’re gearing up for the time when you’re going to be you all the time, not just some of the time.

This is how we do it

It takes a long time for the fear to go, and a long time to become even vaguely competent. And when it’s your first time out as you, the first time you’re going to go somewhere where you’re no longer a gender outlaw battling stereotypes but, like, totally trans, you want to do it right.

So you start in the afternoon and choose the right outfit but it’s the wrong outfit so you swap it for this one because that’s better except it’s worse so you try again and suddenly three hours have gone, you can’t see the floor for discarded clothes and you haven’t even shaved yet let alone done your makeup so you cut your face to ribbons and when the bleeding finally stops you do your makeup and it looks pretty much like what a toddler would do with a handful of Sharpies so you wipe it off and do it again and wipe it off and do it again and wipe it off and you finally get it done and you put the wig on and it’s not quite right and you comb it and make it worse and you have no idea what you’re doing because you haven’t had hair longer than a number 2 since 2007 and you finally get it right and take a deep breath and another deep breath and you step outside and every bit of your brain is screaming “oh shit oh shit oh shit I’m going to get killed this is actually the day when I’m going to get killed shit shit shit McShit” and you keep your head down and don’t make eye contact with strangers because they’ll murder you and you nearly fall on your arse a few times and you make it to the bar without getting killed which is totally a lucky escape and you’ll probably get murdered on the way home and your hands are shaking and your voice does something stupid and everybody’s looking at you but you get a drink and there’s at least three minutes before shutting time for you to really savour it.

It’s worth every shaky-handed moment

And do you know what? It’s worth it. It’s worth every shaky-handed moment, every hard beat of your heart, every bit of fear and fright. To be there, to be in public as you, as the you you always were and not the you you pretended to be, feels right and true and good.

It may only be for three minutes, but it’s three minutes of awesome.

31st March 2018