Reflected in Others’ Eyes

One thing I said to people when I came out as a trans woman was that I’m still the same person. And indeed I do not feel like I’ve become somebody different at all. I do however feel less constrained, more free to express myself in a way that feels natural. I no longer feel that I’m playing a role, fitting in with what I believed people expected of me when I presented as male. It’s as if I had been confined, a square peg in society’s round hole, but by taking the step to be true to my own sense of identity I have been able to cast off the false act.

Some of the changes that Anne has noticed since I started my transition:

  • The first thing she said, which others have also remarked on, is that I appear much happier.
  • My gait has changed. I used to be heavy-footed, walking with feet splayed, and also what she described as bouncing. I now walk with my feet in line, placing them rather than “stomping”, and the weight is distributed more evenly instead of being mostly on the heel. In some respects it is similar to how I used to walk as a child, before I acquired “bad habits” (I often used to toe-walk). In fact I am now unable to reproduce my former gait as it feels too unnatural.
  • I am more expressive. She described my face as being more animated where before I had a flat affect. I also gesture more with my hands when speaking where before I would usually stick my hands in my pockets because I didn’t know what else to do with them.
  • I appear more sensitive and understanding. She told me I am more patient and responsive to her needs; I used to have a short fuse at times and would be snappy.
  • I’ve discovered color in my wardrobe. I’ve gone from wearing exactly the same black shirt and jeans every day to a variety of dresses, tops and skirts in different colors, never the same two days running.

I’ve also noticed some changes in other people’s behavior towards me since I started to present publicly as female. When I’m shopping the checkout assistants are more likely to engage in conversation. More people at work say “Good morning”, and I’m more likely to receive a smile; I’ve actually had more non work-related conversations at work in the year since transitioning than I ever did in the previous seven years! Even a few compliments on my attire, which pleased me very much since I try to make an effort.

Some signals have been more mixed: a couple of times I’ve noticed men speaking to my chest rather than my face! Not sure what they’re looking at: I’ve not much development there to speak of. Perhaps it’s just habit with them? On a brighter note I had a very positive encounter with a real gentleman last summer: I was driving to work one morning along the M4 when, while overtaking a pickup, something like a string bag full of straw fell from the back of it and lodged under my car. The driver of the pickup noticed this as I pulled in front of him and he signaled for me to pull over. I pulled onto the shoulder and he pulled over behind. We both got out, and without hesitation he walked to my car and practically lay down on the asphalt, reaching far underneath to remove the debris. I was most grateful and not a little surprised since I’d never experienced anything like this before.

All this is wonderfully validating and has increased my self-confidence. Together with discarding inhibitions it all contributes to a greater sense of calm and a reduction in my general stress levels. These inhibitions were to do with my internalized view of appropriate male behavior, a collection of rules I had acquired since early childhood. How I had learned I ought to act to avoid negative reactions: certain mannerisms, displaying physical reactions to my emotional states, even the way I walked.

Some of my inhibitions were a result of as well a cause of anxiety. Being on the receiving end of teasing or bullying will affect your behavior as you work hard to suppress the things you do that seem to be the triggers. Catching yourself doing one of those things causes a huge sense of panic: you stand there waiting for the expected hurtful reactions from those around you.

Societal gender roles have a lot to do with what is seen as acceptable by people in general. Presenting as male I had the advantage of privilege and the protections deriving from that, but only as long as I conformed to the expectations of that role. For me it was uncomfortably confining because I wasn’t able to be myself, but for such a long time I was too afraid of the reaction if I didn’t “play along”: I was trapped by my fears.

Now, presenting as myself, I don’t experience those fears. I do feel more vulnerable when I’m out and about which I believe is a result of no longer hiding behind a role, a mask. I’ve written before about how I used to feel I was safely hidden inside an avatar of flesh that was all the rest of the world ever saw of me. That’s gone now: what I show is my inner self, the person that was always there behind my protective wall of conformity.

Occasionally I regret that I took so many years to build up to the point of coming out, but that’s not how my life turned out. The simple fact is that I am here now and wishing things were different can never change that; it can only make me sad. It’s true to say that I am happier now than I had been for a heck of a long time and that’s worth a lot.

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9 thoughts on “Reflected in Others’ Eyes

  1. It’s so good to hear this.

    What you describe seems a combination of on the one hand you being happier, more yourself, apparently expressing that and other people responding that in a positive way. And on the other hand you’re noticing how men behave towards women, because they see you as one now. (men speaking to your chest 🙂 I was giggling about that one)

    And yes, obviously it is sad that it took so long, similar to finally discovering we’re autistic. But we finally have that insight and we can act on that, looking forward, and limiting the looking back only to see what we’ve learned from those experiences.

  2. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who “discovered” color after transitioning. I used to be convinced that anything not “dark and neutral” was just not for me. Now, I have SO MUCH RED, and orange, and purple, and green …

    • 😀 Yes! I think it used to be a kind of protective camouflage so I didn’t attract attention, probably the result of harboring such a deep secret about who I really was. Now I’ve nothing to hide, so bring on the colors and patterns!

  3. “My gait has changed. I used to be heavy-footed, walking with feet splayed, and also what she described as bouncing. I now walk with my feet in line, placing them rather than “stomping”, and the weight is distributed more evenly instead of being mostly on the heel. In some respects it is similar to how I used to walk as a child, before I acquired “bad habits” (I often used to toe-walk). In fact I am now unable to reproduce my former gait as it feels too unnatural.”

    Question for you — do you think that your gait changed because you became aware of it, or because it wouldn’t work with high heels, or because of your gender shift? Our twenty-five year old son has (?) (is?) Aspergers and he stomps. I’ve thought about martial art classes to help him become “lighter” on his feet and because I think he would enjoy the classes. Any thoughts?

    • That’s a good question, and one to which I do not have a definitive answer. I remember as a child I was quite light on my feet and, as I said above, often used to walk on my toes. I think I unconsciously began to copy the way the boys I saw walked in an attempt to fit in and not draw attention. There was certainly an element of trying to appear stronger, even borderline aggressive, as a way to deter bullying. I have found following my gender transition that I don’t feel the need to project a character any longer: I can express myself openly without the fear that it used to produce. I’ve noticed that several of my stims (such as hand-flapping) have returned as well, so I believe it’s a case of losing some of my inhibitions as a result of transitioning.

      I took karate classes for a while several years ago (gained a yellow and then an orange belt) and enjoyed it although I found the social aspect difficult and sometimes stressful (but that’s the case for any social situation and this was no worse for me than other situations). The one aspect of karate I had trouble with was sparring: I have very strong inhibitions against hitting people, so on reflection a better choice for me would have been something non-contact such as tai-chi. There were definitely benefits to the karate classes I took: it was a good form of exercise (I never liked the atmosphere in gyms) and it helped improve my balance and coordination.

      • Thanks for the input. Your comment about your stims bears consideration. Our son jiggles his leg and while most of the time, it’s either unnoticeable or bearable, sometimes it also jiggles the table and I have to tell him to stop.

        I mentioned karate class to him not too long ago and he said he was much too out of shape to do a jump kick. While I agree he’s out of shape right now…that may change if he starts a class. Right now, he’s pretty isolated and I want him to interact with others, and do so outside of gaming, which is his “thing”. I know it’s hard, but it does become easier with practice.

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