No More Shame
By Charlie Owen on
Make space, shame - you're not wanted here
So, some drama happened recently that resulted in my personal info being sent out to an undesired context. Oh, don't worry. It wasn't anything targeted, or sinister. An honest fuck up by those who didn't mean ill. But it nonetheless threw me for a loop.
The info itself wasn't dreadful or violating. It was something that many of you already know. But having it blasted into a new area made me realise how much awful power that info has over me. The resulting fear and anxiety from the leak made me realise how much of a horrible semi-closeted life I lead on this matter.
It made me realise how much shame I have.
I don't like feeling shame. It's shit. Life is too short for shame, and I'd rather be taking pills and dancing in clubs with friends. So, no more of it. Let's be explicit rather than coy:
Transgender, transsexual, whatever the latest term is, it means I was born male. I transitioned to female medically and socially when I was 18 years old and I've had 23 years of being true to myself.
I've long assumed that those of you I know IRL or who have followed this site/account for the last decade would almost certainly realise this fact about me. But talking this year with a variety of folk has made me realise many of you don't know.
I always assumed you could tell from my voice or mannerisms, but apparently not, and the number of resulting "wait, what?" responses I've had when talking about this has left me confused.
I've talked about being trans on Twitter. Perhaps not overtly enough, but definitely on stage at conferences. But folk I know have seen these utterances have still expressed surprise when I've talked about it overtly. ("I've seen you tweeting about it but I thought you were just trying to be an ally to trans people" was one, very typical, response)
I can't believe that that many people are trying to save my feelings from hurt. Especially given that I live in Germany. (I love you German people, but, let's face it, conversational sensitivity ain't one of your defining national traits).
Incidentally, I should perhaps point out a reason that these conversations have happening. This summer I got surgery to remove the traces of testosterone bone growth from my skull. Major, major surgery. I've got photos of my own head with the skin removed. "SAY WHAT?" Yeah, it turns out most people don't know that a testosterone and estrogen puberties gives you radically different cranial bone growth. Cis people, eh? Go look at the foreheads and brow ridges of some men and women. You'll go "whoah".)
That surgery wasn't for anyone but myself. I apparently didn't need it to appear cis. But I certainly did need it to remove the constant reminders of the wrong adolescence from my mind. Deep therapy has helped me understand that I was suffering severe PTSD from it. Every day looking in the mirror was triggering trauma in me. If you can remove the source of trauma, why not do so?
Yeah, therapy. After a huge nervous breakdown, almost exactly 12 months ago now, I've been attending therapy and psychiatrist sessions. There I started figuring out that I was feeling deep, horrible, nasty shame about being trans, and that is was driving me into a dreadfully deep depression. I figured out that I am dealing with from PTSD from abuse, and from the hell that is coming out as trans as a teenager in the 1990s. Yeah, I bet you don't realise how much of a nasty little fuck you have to be in order to survive that, did you?
I stopped being stealth ("stealth" is what we call the act of hiding being trans and denying that part of your life completely) in 2010 after a 10 year relationship went badly south. I moved to London, shaved off my hair, went butch dyke, and revelled in being out as trans again. Anyone who knows me from that period will remember it as being a liberating, if confusing, time for me.
But coming out once (well, okay, twice - 1998 and 2010) isn't enough. I've got to keep on coming out. Things become assumed, you move countries, move jobs, meet new folk. The process starts again. Therapy has made me realise life is a continuing series of these processes. Nothing is ever static, nor final.
So here, I am, coming out a second time to some of you. For the first time for most.
You might ask why I'm out at all. Apparently I pass as cis (yes, I know passing is problematic within The Community. Write to my agent about it). I seem especially so since I had the effects of testosterone removed from my face. My transition is decades behind me. Why be out? Isn't being out as trans "undermining my womanhood"? Why transition if I'm going to let every fool know about it?
Ack. That's a good question. I've asked it of myself a lot. I think the truth is that being trans is too big a part of my life to hide. It has impinged on every aspect of my existence. It's not something you simply do once and then move on from. It's something you have to embrace and acknowledge.
You never stop being trans.
Passing on that realisation to others is another part of the reason I now want to be out.
We're at a difficult crossroads in trans history. We're far more known about than we used to be. So many more people are transitioning and finding their true lives. Medical support and provision has improved markedly in many countries.
But we're simultaneously seeing the rise of hate groups that want us gone. The far right is making its putrid self known again, and every minority and under-represented group is feeling fear as a result.
But in the UK, my home country, we're seeing the rise of a far more insidious threat, where hatred for trans people is hidden by a mask of "women's concerns". You've probably seen people shouting about JK Rowling, Liz Truss, or Suzanne Moore amongst many. You've probably seen the word "TERF" (not a word I particularly like) bandied around.
Similar concerns are voiced by burly white men when they ask about women's rights in Muslim communities. Tabloids voice "genuine concerns" about migrants and how they're simply concerned about safety of the British public.
It's a faux-concern, a means for a hidden attack. Those football lads don't care about women when it isn't a means to attack Muslim people. The tabloids don't care about the safety of the British public when it's a way to make migrants look evil. In turn, the "Women's Concerns" crowd don't care about women. They simply care about attacking trans people. (There is a conversation to be had about deradicalising fringe members drawn in by the core hate crowd, but that's for another time).
These anti-trans masked crusaders are gaining more and more print and air time in the British media. They're starting to influence government policy.
As a result it's been got a lot harder of late to be trans in the UK.
Given these attitudes I don't condemn those who hide their trans status. Hiding is a reaction to fear: no-one hides when they feel safe. But I still think that we, the older long-time transitioned people, the "elders" who have been around for decades, have a duty to be out and to talk honestly. Especially those of us in safe, well-paid, relatively welcoming industries such as tech. Yeah, there's a lot of trans women in tech. does that eye fingers thing at some very complacent people
We need more visibility for trans people, and not be represented by a few celebrities. We need the regular folk to be visible. Those of us who are just getting by and existing need to show that we're real.
This is my attempt at that, because I don't want to pull the ladder up behind me and leave all those trans youth of today with no-one to fight at their side, even if my part in the fight is simply existing.
I'm just another woman. Nothing changed. If this post is news to you then I'm still that 40-something vaguely-bitter mad older woman in tech. I've had a different upbringing to most women. I didn't experience the myriad of body issues that are typical of women's teenage years (but I did experience the body horror of growing up male), and I never experienced the awfulness of sexualisation as a child and teen (although I've had it every day since I transitioned, and I've seen it from the other side, resulting in me understanding guys a hell of a lot more than I'd like). But beyond those (pretty huge) things my upbringing probably wasn't as different as you think.
I'm still me. ADHD Charlie. Drunk Charlie. Weird Charlie. Likes being the centre of attention but-not-too-much ambivert Charlie. Caring Charlie. Passionate Charlie. Nothing changed.
If you want to ask me anything, please do. Thanks for reading.
To satisfy my craving to talk more about being trans you might notice more of trans-specific on my site and in my tweets. Sorry about that if it doesn't interest you. I'm still figuring out how to split things up into "tech" "normal" and "trans" accounts. TBH much of that decision is based on how much I can be bothered and if Twitter unlock my suspended @whalecoiner account.
When I say "If you want to ask me anything" I should make it clear that if it's horribly it's over the line I will of course mock you.
To be clear, things that aren't appropriate to ask of anyone include: their sex life; their genital configuration; any previous names they haven't told you.
I don't need to hear "you're still a woman to me, Charlie". That's not what this is about, and is the kind of micro-aggression stuff that trans people hear every day. I know full well that I'm a woman. I'm not seeking anyone else's assurance on that.
I don't need any fake "solidarity" ally messages. Ally is an verb, not a noun. Go donate to Gendered Intelligence if you want to be an ally.
Now bugger off and be nice to someone.