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3 min

Living in gender’s grey zones

One trans man's choices

Let’s start with the facts: I was born on South African soil and have lived in both Canada and South Africa. My father, now deceased, was a psychiatrist and a devout Christian, my mother a librarian. My family was privileged, upper middle class. I left South Africa when I was 18 to study English and French literature in Canada.

At 24, I decided to begin hormone treatment and live publicly as a man. My family took the news hard. Two years later my father died and I was accused of killing him. Every day I ask myself if it’s been worth it. And every day the answer remains the same. Yes. Absolutely, yes.

That may seem surprising. It may sound crazy. But for me it was a question of life or death.

I knew I couldn’t go on living the life of a woman. It didn’t fit, never had. I hated the way men looked at me. Hated the makeup, the dresses. Hated the bodily changes that puberty brought. I was frightened of the other boys, how they grew bigger, their voices breaking, while my body remained puny, my voice high-pitched.

When my period came, I sunk into a depression so deep I shut myself in my room, lay in bed when I wasn’t at school. Later, I started cutting my wrists, not to kill myself, but to punish my body, the freakish flesh-trap that prevented me from being who I felt myself to be.

When I look into the mirror these days I see a relatively good-looking guy, blue eyes, a goatee, short brown hair. When I strip away the clothes, the picture changes slightly: On my chest, two small breasts, and lower down, well, you figure it out.

In the early days of my transition (ie. dressing and functioning publicly as a man) I had something to prove. I doused myself in Old Spice, compressed my chest so it looked flatter than flat, stuck a cybercock down my pants so people would see the bulge.

I think of this time as my second adolescence. I was trying on the identities available to me on TV, in magazines and at the movies. I was trying them on and they weren’t quite fitting.

I didn’t really know what a transsexual was until I got to university. When I first started reading about it, I felt the same kind of puzzlement I’d felt when I’d heard the term bisexual used for the first time. How could anyone be bisexual, I’d wondered, if you’re not supposed to have sex before marriage and divorce is a sin? I was still attending Sunday school at the time.

The concept of transsexualism caused a different dilemma for me: everybody knows men have penises and women have vaginas. That’s what makes men men and women women. Right? But suddenly I was finding literature that challenged my preconceptions.

Some babies don’t have penises even though their chromosomes are XY. Some women are born with no uterus and internal testes. Suddenly gender wasn’t such a clear-cut thing after all. And what I had between my legs didn’t have to define me.

I made a decision. Once the decision was made everything fell quickly into place. I cut my hair, visited a shrink who diagnosed me with Gender Identity Disorder (high intensity), was referred to an endocrinologist and off I went to the clinic with a testosterone prescription.

When I received my first shot I cried with relief. The cutting stopped, the suicidal thoughts evaporated. Finally, I told myself, I was going to be who I wanted to be. And who I wanted to be, who I felt myself to be on the inside, was a man.

With the help of hormones and sports bras I blend in perfectly. At least when I’m clothed. But, sooner or later, every transsexual is faced with the question of surgery.

I wouldn’t mind getting my breasts lopped off, if only so I can swim in a public swimming pool. I can’t help wondering, though, whether getting surgery isn’t just another way of falling back into somebody else’s notion of who I am or what I should look like. What if not being a woman doesn’t mean I have to be a flat-chested, penis-bearing man? What if I don’t want to deny my history, my body parts, my dual identity?

By virtue of being raised as a girl, maybe I have become something other than either man or woman. Maybe I’ve become a little bit of both.

Until that possibility is publicly recognized, I’m stuck with figuring out how to live in today’s bi-gendered society. One that doesn’t acknowledge shades of grey, even when those shades of grey have existed as long as humankind itself.

God made Eve out of Adam’s rib. Which means the first man contained within him woman. What if the first man of all was trans? Maybe those Sunday school lessons are starting to pay off after all.