Hmm… this is probably going to arrive in several pieces.
So yes, I just spent three days at a hired boarding school in Norfolk (England), in the company of around 400 fellow ordained Buddhists. I’d guess by eye the men/women mix was around 50/50.
I was going to post here about the experience while it was going on, but lacked the requisite signal to get anything broadcast. Probably a good thing, as it gave me more time to mull things over. Then I got back and now have this godawful head cold, but here I am at the keyboard (brave soul) because some things have had time to surface and be written. Here goes.
(…a brief pause for blind anger…)
Unbelievable – I just had yet another feminine trans woman tell me “don’t worry, you’ll be more like us when you grow up.” It’s a bloody conspiracy – this script needs burning. Behold: I dub thee Pigeonholier-Than-Thou.
(…okay, I’m back…)
Walking into the communal dining hall on the Friday evening was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done, ever. Strange. It felt like in the westerns, where someone walks into the saloon, and the piano music stops. Well, no, it didn’t actually feel like that, this is just what I was scared of it being like. I felt very self-conscious, and afraid especially of the disapproval of women. But I bumped into two old friends as I was walking in, we had supper together and did a lot of laughing, and I relaxed.
To jump to the end of the story: by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling relaxed enough to go around with my jacket off – which meant that people could see I have nascent boobs. What happened in between? (between Friday and Sunday, not between my nascent boobs…)
What happened was this: I had a slow and steady stream of women, most of whom I didn’t even know personally (yet), come up to me and welcome me, and tell me I’m courageous, and encourage me. This was amazing, unlooked-for, lovely.
I also (and this is kind of hilarious) had a smaller, slower, but also steady stream of straight men sidle up to me, smile awkwardly, and tell me I “look good”. After the fourth or fifth, I stopped knowing how to respond – saying “thank you” felt a bit weird – and there were at least 20 by the end of the weekend. Oh, and there was also a steady stream of straight men studiously ignoring me, men who I’ve known for up to 20 years. Oh well, discomfort is discomfort, so it goes.
Did I have any actual trouble? Yes, I did. Was it unexpected? No it wasn’t. Did it bother me? Not much at all, actually.
I had one older gay man try to tell me my womanhood (we’ll come back to this) was invalidated by my denim jacket, which he assured me was a man’s jacket as it buttons left-over-right (*rolling of eyes*). He told me this makes me “look unsure” about my gender. This actually made me laugh, and didn’t bother me because I’ve been on the receiving end of his unthinking “feedback” before, and don’t take it personally (he does it to everyone on occasion, despite being basically a good egg) – and also because I had as a counterbalance all these women being welcoming, without imposing conditions attached to my choice of apparel.
The only other person who gave me tsuris was the only other trans woman in our Buddhist order. But I was expecting this too. When I began transitioning, I contacted her to tell her, and she just tried to tell me (all together now) “you’re just like me, so you’ll do exactly what I did”, and I had to back away in a hurry, because she wouldn’t hear anything to the contrary. She butted in again over the weekend, trying to make people deal with my situation the way she’d have liked hers dealt with. I was able (after an initial period of rabbit-in-the-headlights) to tell her thanks, but I’m happy doing it my way.
Anyway. Things I learned over the weekend.
When I’m around people who are obviously accepting of me, it’s much easier for me to simply settle into my female self. As soon as I got back home, doubt and un-safety set in again, but that’s just because I’m in a less safe and accepting environment.
Being around 400 people, even nice people, is a bloody relentless strain when you have PTSD. Having a single room to go and hide in was a brilliant investment.
Travelling on the London Underground with PTSD is also a bloody relentless strain.
And ubi amici, ibi opes – where there’s friends, there’s riches.
Since I got back, I’ve been thinking (glacially, due to head cold factor). What I’ve been thinking about is how I’ve been afraid of being rejected by Women™. I notice that I’m very happy and comfortable with calling myself female. This is because my experience of myself, and reason for my gender transition, revolves around my sense of my physical form, and how it should have been from the start. I notice also that I’m reluctant to call myself a woman. This is where it gets more interesting and convoluted (and I’m probably repeating myself a bit from previous posts here, but it’s an ongoing debate, innit).
It seems contradictory, but it isn’t, really.
On the one hand, there’s my desire for acceptance by women, and my own feminist conditioning (and also personal observation), which tells me that being a woman is a product of having grown up as one, with all the social and cultural conditioning/training that’s involved in that. I didn’t personally have any of that, though in theory I had the male equivalent, and most of that went by without even touching the sides – so how formative all that has to be is in doubt for me. The point is, I feel somewhere deep down that I don’t get to call myself a woman until my transition is complete.
But the point is. I don’t know whether I want or need to call myself a woman. Since “womanliness” seems to be so loaded with overtones of “femininity”, I don’t know how much I want to be associated with that.
I was mulling over this out loud on the trans forum I inhabit when I got the response that I mentioned made me so angry earlier, which seems to reinforce my caution. I don’t need to come up with any answers at the moment. I certainly don’t need anyone else’s answers at the moment. It seems that I want to be accepted as a woman, if “woman” were accepted as something realistically broad of definition; but that I’m consequently afraid of being trapped by being a woman, if “woman” is defined as rigidly as many seem to want to.
It’s just a word, love – don’t get too worked up about it! Okay.
I guess what prompted this spaciousness of thinking about this was spending a weekend with a very diverse bunch of Buddhist women, many of whom do not at all stick within the confines of “mainstream woman” definitions. It was bloody refreshing. I’m really excited to be joining their ranks, slowly and gently.