Throwing off the shackles of masculinity

Window of local RBS branch, with Pride poster
Corporate rainbow-washing in a local bank window

A sudden sense of liberation. I was just walking along the street on my way back from buying bread in a local deli when I became aware of it. I don’t know whether the sensation was hormone-related (I’ve been on HRT a little over four months) or just a consequence of time having passed, but it was very real and very striking.

About this time last year, I was ‘out’ as trans to perhaps twenty or thirty people, but not visibly doing anything about it. I’d just started buying my first items of women’s clothing. That first step had taken a little courage – OK, perhaps not so much for online shopping, but certainly when I went into real shops! The next step was wearing the clothes that I’d bought, which I remember being a far scarier prospect.

I was scared of being seen by the wrong people, of looking ridiculous, of being stared at and laughed at, or even worse. I was quite sure that I was going to be conspicuous whatever happened, and that at best I would be seen as another local eccentric, an oddity, someone to be humoured.

My fears quickly melted away as I came to realise that most people, if they even noticed me, didn’t particularly care what I was wearing. Either that or Edinburgh folk are, as in Alexander McCall Smith’s stories, far too polite to say anything. Nevertheless I still remained a little self-conscious when out and about.

By May last year I had come out to everyone I was likely to meet and had disposed of what was left of my former wardrobe. Then I began to make progress on speech therapy, hair removal and, eventually, HRT, all the while living every day ‘as the real me’. But things still seemed to move slowly, with a long wait for HRT and then a dearth of obvious effects, especially the psychological effects I’d hoped for.

Psychological pressure

Walking back from the deli the other day, I surprised myself with the sudden realisation that I no longer felt shackled by expectations of masculine behaviour. I was free to be myself, without acting out a role.

So much has happened over the last year, but it’s been so gradual that it took a moment of serendipity to make me see what had changed, a kind of déjà vu where something wasn’t quite the same as I saw it last time. The situation (walking back from the shops) was familiar, and perhaps there was something else – something about the angle of the sunlight or the coolness of the air, perhaps – that took me back to a previous occasion.

I pictured myself walking along the same street the year before, probably looking to everyone else like a man without a care in the world. I know that back then I was worried about what people would think if I walked along that street as a woman, but what occurred to me in my moment of serendipity was that my fear of the unknown had actually been far outweighed by the psychological pressure of gendered expectations. That psychological pressure had just become so normal that I’d stopped noticing it.

I remembered what it was like to be in public as a man. It wasn’t in fact the natural expression of myself that I’d always taken it to be. Instead I was hemmed in by the role I was playing and hypervigilant about how others perceived me. I wasn’t free. It wasn’t really a role I’d chosen to play.

Clearly I wasn’t aware of the shackles coming off the moment I made that first step, but looking back it seems clear to me that it was a step in the right direction.

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