“So you like the clothes and the make-up? Is that why you want to be a woman?” This is the challenge often laid before those who would wish to leave behind the male way of life they have had to accept since birth, and who would, instead, hope to be able to express themselves and to live as the woman they know they have always been inside. It is a common mistake, made by many who do not really understand the absolute driving need, that some have, to make an absolutely fundamental change to their life and their identity. “You’re like one of them drag artists, are you then?” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, the brighter fashions, the sexier underwear, the colourful make-up might be superficially attractive to some, but they are no reason go through the whole process of transition. Any transwoman who has completed her journey will tell you that. And any man who might get some fun, or even a sexual thrill, from a bit of cross-dressing and the taste of lipstick, would soon balk at the prospect of losing not only his penis and testicles, but also potentially his career, his family and friends, his material wealth and almost everything of his personal history.
The challenge implicit in those questions is sometimes said jokingly; but at other times it is the confused expression of doubt as a wife, girlfriend, colleague or friend tries to understand what they have just learnt. When a man finally summons up the courage to tell someone close to them that he can no longer put up with the pretence of being a man, he often expresses it clumsily, for it is not a frequent topic of conversation. Even worse, he may even choose to dress the part, to add emphasis to the point. That is almost guaranteed to end in tears, as it is a shock tactic which the recipient of the news does not deserve, irrespective of how well or how badly the individual can dress and apply make-up.
It is therefore hardly surprising that many – both women and men – will initially believe that the attraction lies in the outward appearance, the clothes, the hair and the make-up, when their partner or friend tells them that they want to live as a woman, or be a woman (there are many ways to say it, all of them clumsy and hollow-sounding). However much the would-be transitioner tries to explain that they must now do whatever is necessary to be able to live as the woman they know themselves to be, the listener will struggle to get beyond the visual image (whether witnessed or just imagined) of their husband/friend/brother/father in a wig and glittery jewellery.
For the true transsexual, though, although there will almost certainly be a strong desire to dress and look the part, the most important thing of all is achieving the status of ‘woman’, and to be accepted – properly accepted, by anyone and everyone – as a woman. The distress caused by what is so clinically called ‘gender dysphoria’ (in other words, a deep dislike of, and discomfort with, the gender in which one currently lives) is intense; it is usually worsened for being kept bottled up for many years, decades even. After all, it is a genie that cannot be returned to the bottle: “I think I’m really a woman” is not a passing comment from a man that any partner or colleague can ever completely forget or ignore. This distress almost inevitably creates a lot of self-doubt as to whether one’s feelings really are genuine, and about whether one really could ‘make it’ as a woman. Such doubts are then exacerbated by the comments and questions of others about the superficial aspects of femininity. I know one woman whose then wife, when having exactly this discussion, said dismissively: “How on earth can you be a woman? You’re six feet tall and you take size 9 shoes!”
As any transsexual will point out, though, it has very little to do with how you look: it is about how you feel. It is a mental state, a conviction that your body belies the belief you have in your head. And, once you feel for sure that you really should have been able to grow up and live your life in the opposite sex to that which you were given at birth, then considerations of fashion and make-up largely fall by the wayside. Yes, the clothes and the cosmetics are useful, and even enjoyable, devices to deflect the potential suspicions of others and to allow one to blend in; but the true happiness comes, in my opinion, once one gets past the point of worrying about appearance and realises that one has gained acceptance. Acceptance comes from officialdom (a passport bearing the magic letter ‘F’; a new driving licence); it comes from shop assistants who address you as ‘Madam’; it comes from seeing Ms or Mrs, instead of Mr or Esq, on envelopes and name badges; but, most of all, acceptance comes from the attitude of family and friends and colleagues who, if they can adapt (and some, sadly, cannot), will show their love for the person who has struggled to shed their past skin and who has emerged as the true woman they always should have been. How she then dresses is a matter of personal taste; but, for sure, she never went through the hurtful, frightening and costly process of transition just to wear a dress or mascara.