What it feels like for a boy… (well this boy anyway)
Author: Stephen Ashurst
I’ve wanted to write something like this for ages and this week being Transgender Awareness Week it seemed as good a time as any. Whether it will be seen as a useful insight that could be helpful to someone in a similar situation, or perhaps just a cathartic, self-gratifying brain dump for me, I don’t know. Hopefully it can be both.
I love the way that society seems now to have embraced the LGBT+ community and culture, so that it’s almost fashionable to be a part of this. I would like to believe it is an openness to every person’s unique qualities and a willingness to be open to other ideas. Hopefully it is, rather than a fad that will soon pass.
By the way, the photo used in this post is a stock image photograph and not actually me when I was little, although it does represent how I felt on the inside when I was that age.
Transvestites in the 80s
I grew up in the 80s, which is to some a cultural peak in music and film. However, one of my key memories of this decade was of making me brutally aware of how society felt about the idea of being transgender. Of course at the time the only reference I was aware of was through derogatory words like ‘transvestite’ or ‘tranny’. I remember shows like Kenny Everett doing his ‘All done in the best possible taste’ sketch, where he wore a glamorous dress, fishnet tights, makeup and of course a full beard. It was seen as hilarious that a man should be dressed so overtly as a woman. Obviously there was no subtlety to this approach and there was no intention to do anything but make people laugh, but the problem was that it worked. I remember also a key scene in the film ‘Crocodile Dundee’ where Paul Hogan grabbed a person by the groin then alerted the whole room to the fact that there was ‘a bloke dressed like a Sheila’. Again this was done to great humorous effect at the time. Indeed I remember laughing along with this at the time. But also felt quite sad inside that this was how things were.
I also remember back then, hearing someone close to me pose the rhetorical question “why should transvestites get to dress like women, when they don’t have to go through the agony of childbirth?” At the time it seemed like a clear statement that showed me that anything like this was wrong. I didn’t understand it at the time (I was probably about 8 or 9) but that moment really hurt me. But I buried any thoughts of wanting to be feminine deep within and never spoke of it to anyone until recently. Looking back I don’t blame them – I’m sure it was indicative of the way of thinking back then. Obviously now I understand things better and whilst it is true men may never fully appreciate the agony of childbirth, that shouldn’t be a factor in determining who you are inside or how you then dress on the outside.
The inner weirdo at school
I got by OK at school. There were the occasional fights and being bullied in the early years of high school but nothing out of the ordinary (as far as I was aware). But it was a time when I really became aware of the differences between girls and boys (beyond the obvious) and this was when things became confusing and frustrating. As I hit puberty I started to recognise attractions for the opposite sex, the way I’m sure a lot of people did. But I was also aware of a longing to be feminine, to look and dress how the girls did. I was never particularly interested in football or competitive sports, I often found I had more in common with the girls in the class than the boys. Also, at that time I never really developed a particularly masculine figure – which I was secretly pleased about because I hated the idea of being physically big and hairy – but it meant that to some extent I felt that life was teasing me, saying ‘you have an almost feminine body, you could almost be a girl’. Obviously back then in the late 80s / early 90s, that kind of thinking wouldn’t have gone down well with the other kids at school, so I never shared my thoughts on this with anyone, let alone contemplate doing anything about it. As usual I pushed it to the back of my mind and told myself that it was wrong to think that way and that I should stop. I hoped my feelings would change but of course they never did.
As I grew up I continued to feel the same way, I learned more about the world and with the advent of the internet, social media and then working at a University, I learnt about the LGB movement which eventually included the initial ‘T’ and I began to feel there was something important here that if I dared to let myself accept it, just might have a place for me.
Of course there are aspects of this that could make up any number of blog posts, each focusing on a different element. But after some careful consideration the one I thought was most important to identify was the moment of realisation and understanding at a young age that for me went on set my expectations for a large part of my life. I don’t believe there is a requirement for this to be identified and labelled at a young age, and equally no obligation to feel the same way forever. But I do believe there’s room to let people express themselves in a masculine, feminine or non-binary way, without fear of being made to feel stupid or somehow inferior to others.
So what next?
I feel there is still a long way to go with all aspects of LGBT+, but from my perspective this is particularly so for the trans community. I personally feel that because it can be such a visual exposition to openly show you are transgender, not just through words (although telling people is tricky enough) but to express your femininity by going out dressed in a feminine way. It’s such a terrifying leap that you find you’ve prejudged yourself as being guilty of some heinous crime before you even step out the door. So you’re almost waiting for a hail of abuse and laughter from people you’ve never met, or even worse – from people you know and care about. I would like to point out that so far I have not had to deal with any negative or abusive behaviour. So my fears are largely based on my own prejudices of how I perceived society’s attitude towards transgender community back in the 80s and 90s.
Despite my fears and reservations, I feel encouraged by the fact that there are wonderful people out there, who make up the front line for the transgender community, people like Eddie Izzard. This is someone I have an enormous amount of respect for. Obviously there’s all the work he’s done for charity, but the fact that he is openly trans and people love him*, shows me that it’s possible to be trans and live a happy life. I know it wasn’t an easy journey for him, but he is now a public trans figure in society. I love a response he gave when someone asked why he was wearing women’s clothes, to which he correctly replied: “They’re not women’s clothes, they’re my clothes. I bought them.“
I think this goes to show that society’s view on being transgender – as open and accepting as it is already – can only be made more normal, if more trans people are seen in society and very importantly – not seen as objects of ridicule. So I almost feel it’s my duty to be more visible and be seen. But I’m not ready for that just yet, although who knows, maybe I will be tomorrow.
* Note – since writing this post it had been announced that Eddie Izzard had adopted the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ and wanted to be ‘based in girl mode’ from now on. However, according to the Guardian, this may not be the case.
LGBT+ Staff network blog
Posts and articles from the Loughborough University LGBT+ staff network