Throughout the process of transition, I always thought there was going to be some perfect looking finish line, complete with flags and ribbons and medals and photographers, I thought that I would know when I had finished, when I was “officially” a woman. 

What I’ve learned is that the initial idea in my head is only so much foolishness, as most pre-conceptions are.  Instead, I’m nearing the end of this part of my life (in a metaphorical sense) and I find that I have more questions and less solidity than I did when I started. 

As I’ve said before, I’ve done all I can do in the process of transition short of having surgery.  I’m not actually done with electrolysis either, but I’ve changed my name (and gender, when applicable and possible) on all sorts of things– my college degrees, bank accounts, credit reports, social security card, passport.  I had a list of all the places I had to deal with when I changed my name.  It took me almost a full year to do all of it.  But now that I’m here, where surgery is the last thing I have to do, I’m sitting with more questions:

Am I a real woman?  What does that even mean?  Am I a freak, neither fish nor fowl?  Am I happy?  Was transition the right decision?  Do I pass?  Does it matter if I pass?  To what extent does my internal identity matter?  To what extent does external validation of my gender prove that I’m right?  Am I a fraud?  Was I a fraud? 

Obviously, answering these questions in one sense is only so much preaching to the choir.  I’m going to come up with answers that support my decision to transition, even if they’re not true.  I have too much invested at this point to turn back around.  I like to think though, that if I were truly and legitimately unhappy with my gender identity as a woman, I’d de-transition.  I went this far thinking it was right, I think I’d be willing to undo all of it if that was the right course of action. 

I also think that part of the answers to the questions above are… ineffable.  The answers can’t be known.  What makes a person a woman, or a real woman, is going to be different for each woman, just as each woman is different. 

Whether I’m a freak or not is perhaps a more answerable question, but I think the question under that question is whether I’m happy.  A person can do something unexpected, or even unacceptable, and be labeled a freak, but still be happy.  In fact, LGBT people do it all the time.  How often do we come out to friends or family and have them call us perverts?  Maybe I am a freak, but at least I’m being true to myself.  And so it is with everyone who has to come out of a proverbial closet at some point.  We may be labeled in derogatory fashion but we also weigh the invective against the value of our own happiness at finally being able to be ourselves.  It’s the answer to this question that determines whether transition was the right decision for me. 

The question of passing is something I dealt with a few posts back.  I don’t really want to re-visit it, but I will sum it up– passing isn’t about fooling people.  It’s about being accepted as myself by people who see me for who I am.  In that sense, I think I pass very well. 

When examining the value of an internal identity versus external validation, I think it’s most useful to use the case study of David Reimer.  David was born male but his penis was irreparably damaged during circumcision.  The nurture-over-nature psychologists recommended transitioning David to a life as a girl, an effort his parents undertook from around the time he was 1 year old to about his 14th birthday.  Despite initial reports about the success of David’s reassignment, later stories about his life indicate that much of the optimism was ill-founded.  David transitioned back to life as a man when he was an adult.  Rather than provide an excess of exigesis on the story, I’d like to just say that it’s quite apparent that a person’s internalized identity has a huge role in their public identity, regardless of how they’re raised. 

I believe that we tend to do best when our internal identities are validated publicly; in other words, when a boy is praised as a boy by others in society.  If that boy were really a girl born in a boy’s body, she might be told that she’s acting inappropriately and it’s the conflict that creates so much discord in the girl’s identity.  That discord leads to the questions over feeling fraudlent that I asked above, the sense that one is not really a woman at the same time that one feels like she’s not really a man, either.  

As I sit with these questions, I feel, as I said in The Living Receiver, that there is something wrong with me.  That sense of wrongness was a big part of why I tried to kill myself a month ago, and what I struggle with now is how to handle it.  What do I do about it? 

I can be pissed at God for making me this way and say “You fucker, I hurt,” but how productive is that really?  What do I hope to accomplish by cursing God?  There’s no answer, at least there hasn’t been before.  Whatever else God is, He’s consistently quiet. 

One of the things I have realized about myself is the tendency to be “all or nothing”.  I have a series of automatic negative thoughts and I just can’t seem to get away from them.  When I worry about not being a real woman, something as simple as not having two x chromosomes per cell means that I’ll never be fully female and so then I feel like I’m not female at all.   Some of this is a problem with my mindset, but I’m not sure it’s something I can change.  It’s just a part of the way I am.  But I’m also realizing that life isn’t so clearly all or nothing in all cases. 

A woman can still be a woman, for example, if she has a hysterectomy or a mastectomy.  She can still be a  woman if she has two children or if she has none.  Womanhood, as I understand it, doesn’t exist in an all-or-none or a 5-of-the-above-traits checklist.  There really is a spectrum, and I just sit at one end of the spectrum.  I’m a *very* masculine looking woman who behaves in a *very* feminine way.  The juxtaposition can be strange sometimes, but that’s just the way it is.  Whether it meshes with the all-or-nothing tendency of my brain doesn’t matter.  Sometimes fact and truth can trump our own biased thinking. 

This forces out another of my own personal issues– I hate compromise.  Intellectually, I love compromise.  Everyone gets a piece of what they want and so everyone can maximize their own happiness.  Emotionally, I hate compromise.  I want what I want, and there’s no two ways about it.  I want a miracle cure, I want to be a girl, a born girl, and I want all those damn y-chromosomes the fuck out of me. 

The problem is that there is no miracle cure.  What I want is just impossible– there’s no way for it to happen without divine intervention.  Surgery is the treatment for transsexualism, but not the cure.  In fact, there is no cure.  I’ll always be a woman with a transsexual history.  That’s a fact.  While a cure would be wonderful, it’s also an unattainable goal.  A treatment, while less perfect, is at least do-able.  It’s something I can do to feel better, even if I don’t end up feeling perfect.  In a fallen and less than perfect world, that’s maybe not so bad.  At the least, I could say it’s par for the course. 

If there were no treatment, wouldn’t I still try and make the best out of the life I have?  I’d still be trans, and in the appropriate culture, I’d probably live as a eunuch or a berdache.  If I couldn’t do electrolysis, I’d be tearing out my beard hair by hair when it was the only option left to me.  I’d live as true to myself as I could, regardless of when or where I was born.  In other words, wouldn’t I still be Jessica? 

Milton Diamond, one of the original collaborators who exposed the Reimer case as the disaster it was, said, “We come to the game with our own inherent natures and how those things interplay (with environment) can’t be predicted.” 

What is happening is that my feminine nature is finding a stronger expression with my masculine upbringing.  The result is a femininity that is bold and powerful, or at least it tries to be.  As I said earlier, being a woman isn’t the possession of a series of traits or characteristics– most gendered behavior exists on a spectrum and there’s a lot of overlap, and that’s part of what makes transition so hard.  There’s not exactly a “finish line” where once I’ve done x, y and z, I’ll be done.  Surgery isn’t even the finish line, it’s only the point at which I know my body has been fixed as much as it can.  The real issue is how I handle all of this emotionally, how well I can really internalize this change, being a woman when I never really had the experience of being a girl.  It’s hard to know what the former is in the absence of the latter. 

The solution of course is the first step in the solution to all locked-in-a-dark-room problems: feel your way around one blind grasp at a time and see what you can see by touching it.  Determining whether I’m a real woman is composed of several elements: my gender identity and the way that identity is validated by others.  It’s also affected by the way I see gender performed by other people.

As I feel my way through, I think I’ll develop a better sense of who Jessica the woman really is.  The reason that she feels so…. elusive at the moment is that she’s essentially got the emotional development of a 13 year old and is trying to figure out her place at the same time that she’s supposed to be a thirty-something career woman who’s got her shit together.  Needless to say, this isn’t how I envisioned my transition.  This point just isn’t what I thought it would be, and the work I expected to have magically occurred along the way never happened.  Instead, I have all the silly baggage I did a few months ago and it has to get worked out by actually working it out.  That it will get worked out is now something I’m quite sure of.  Knowing it’s there is the first step towards doing something about it.  Now that I’m here though, my next thought in the dark is “what did I just grab hold of?”