Imagine it’s Christmas. You’re sitting by the tree and you’re about to open your presents. You shake the first one – and it feels heavy. You’re excited. You tear off the blue, football covered wrapping paper and inside there’s a… football. Oh cool, thanks Nan. You smile, and give your Nan a hug because you’re polite & were raised well – but you really don’t want the football. You hate football. Football is the last thing on Earth you want to ever play. Your Mum hands you the next present. It’s lighter, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be good. You rip it open and inside there’s a… football kit. It’s in your size, and has your name printed on the back. Oh wow, thanks Mum. Yeah, I love it. No, I won’t put it on just now. You set it aside next to the football and swallow hard. There’s one more present left. It’s a big square box. It’s the biggest present in the room, so it must be something good. It’s got a label on it that says it’s from Dad. You snatch the wrapping away from it, and inside there’s a… football goalpost (some assembly required). Your Dad jumps up and excitedly tears open the box and begins to put the pieces together. You say thank you to your Dad, but he’s too distracted by the goalposts to hear you. A tear rolls down your cheek which you try to hide, but you can’t. Mum saw it, but she doesn’t say anything.
Your sister is sitting next to you, glaring at you with disdain – gripping an unwanted Barbie in her hands. She says “I wish I could have a football”.
A few weeks before I came out as transgendered, I was invited to a friend of a friends stag night. I didn’t know this person, and I think I was only being invited to make up the numbers, but I’d never been on a stag night before and accepted in what I believe was a last ditch attempt to embrace the final possibility of living my life as a man. I put on a shirt and met four young men in a pub in central London for a drink before going out for a meal. I didn’t know what to expect. The pub section of the evening wasn’t anything out of the ordinary – we talked and drank and were civilized human beings generally. We left the pub and went on to a Russian restaurant where someone had booked a table. Again, it was nothing particularly out of the ordinary. No overt debauchery, just a few weirdly shaped toilet stall ornaments in the shape of naked women and a sub-par pizza that I regret ordering. As everyone started getting steadily more drunk though, I stopped drinking. This was something I commonly did when out with friends. Alcohol wouldn’t have the same effect on me as it seemed to on my friends. It didn’t make me happy and carefree – it made me feel morbidly depressed. It made me think about and obsess over things. It made me a buzz kill. As these four men got steadily more and more drunk, they became louder and louder – and talk turned to what we were all going to do after we left the restaurant. I stayed quiet, because I had already felt out of place for the majority of the evening – and now I just wanted it to be over. The stag said he wanted to go to a strip club. I felt my heart sink into my stomach.
I’d never been to a strip club in my life and I’d never had any desire to do so. However you feel about strip clubs, at the time for me, a strip club defined the divide between men & women. It was a place where MEN went to lust over the bodies of WOMEN. Women who I felt I emotionally identified with. Women who I would have done anything to be. And now, I had to go there – except as a member of the “other team”. We paid the restaurant bill and left. The four guys walked with purpose off in front of me down a London side road towards a small club with a bouncer standing outside. Someone announced “I.D’s Lads!”. I watched from a safe distance behind as the four guys removed their passports and driving licenses from their wallets and showed them to the big bouncer. I peered around the doorway and into the smokey, neon club. I saw some men sitting at a table. I saw a smoke machine. And then I saw a naked woman, carrying a tray of drinks. Something in me propelled me back away from the door of the club. Like a vampire who’s not been invited into someone’s home, I wasn’t able to hide my discomfort anymore. I told they guys that they could go in if they wanted, but I didn’t want to. It had all gone too far and I didn’t care anymore what they thought of me. To my surprise, two of the four men agreed that they didn’t really want to go in either. The stag and his friend looked frustrated but agreed that we’d just go back to the pub for another drink instead. We went back to the pub and I took two sips of a drink before apologising for ruining the evening and getting my train home. I don’t think it was any longer than a few weeks later that I’d completely come out.
The concept of somebody not wanting, and ultimatly rejecting “male privilege” is confusing to a lot of people. Men who view women as inferior – often can’t contemplate the appeal of “choosing” to live as one. Trans women are sometimes seen as something like gender traitors, who’ve traded everything in for what some men perceive as an easier life – the baffling assumption being that transgendered women are easily able to integrate into society as “natural born” women & obtain all the “benefits” of a hetero-normative lifestyle. Since I’ve transitioned I’ve not had to pay for ONE dinner & no one’s been allowed to hit me. Similarly, there are women who consider trans women to be just misogynist men who desire to infiltrate women’s spaces. There are lots of current examples of this way of thinking at the moment, from the bathroom debates and “women’s only safe spaces” which seek to exclude. They see us as ultra-greedy men who desire to take everything away from women. Keep your hands off my man!
Or woman – A trans woman can be scolded if she has the brazen audacity to call herself a lesbian because she’s attracted to women. Even open minded, progressive people who can get their heads around the idea of transition struggle with this concept sometimes – especially when a person is pre-operative. It’s almost like it’s one step too far for people. Like, you’re pushing it now honey. Personally, over the years I’ve developed a much more open characterisation for myself. It might sound a bit hippie dippy, but I don’t use labels like gay, straight or lesbian when referring to myself. I go by the general bisexual even if it’s not one hundred percent accurate. Or just the irritatingly vague “Queer”. The way I look at it is, if I’m going to live my life with my gender occupying this weird sort of other dimension – my sexuality should reflect that as well. Because gay or lesbian is defined by what gender you are, and other people struggle with that for me – I’m open to all people. Well, not all people. Not you, probably. I have preferences, of course. But you know what I mean.
I know privilege exists, but I don’t think it’s as simplistic a concept as some people might want us to believe. We all to often define individuals by what they have instead of who they are. Things a biological woman might take for granted are things that somebody like myself would kill to have. Some people might look at me, as a transgendered woman, and think I’m an idiot. They may have the opinion that I’ve wasted opportunities that they themselves would have taken full advantage of had they been afforded them. The problem is, like the hypothetical football I got for hypothetical Christmas – I wouldn’t have known what to do with them in the first place. I’ve never had the desire, or drive to become a footballer. Or a man.