BYOW

So… this morning I woke up and realised I’m awake. It’s been coming on over the last couple of weeks, but it really sunk in today, for some reason.

I’ve spent almost 50 years in a coma. It was like one of those induced comas you hear about in hospitals, to give the patient time to heal better. But in my case, it was self-induced, and was a means of self-protection.

More drama. I’m talking about the fact that I’m a woman. I spent almost all of my life keeping the woman I am in this protective coma, because I wasn’t ready, and the world wasn’t ready, for the risk of me being a woman out loud. We experienced a brief awakening at 23, but that only lasted 3 weeks.

Two autumns ago, I went my third-ever time to a five rhythms dance session (also known as the wave, apparently, probably in capital letters with trade mark and all that, but I can’t be arsed). In case you haven’t come across this, it’s a more or less led dance experience, shifting through five different “moods”, using different music to help steer you through – called flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness. Anyway, somewhere just after chaos and as lyrical began, I was compelled to stand very still with my eyes shut, and suddenly I found myself standing naked in a forest, and found myself female. It was as simple as that. I could feel my body being female, and while I had my eyes shut, I could see it too. When I opened my eyes, I was very surprised to see it wasn’t the case, but I could still feel it, very strongly.

And it’s been that way ever since. I like to describe it as a somatic sense of being female. Somatic means of the body, and I’ve chosen to describe my experience this way to make it clear that being a woman for me is not a thought thing, it’s primarily a physical, felt thing. I began my gender transition simply to get my physical body to catch up with my somatic experience. Or so I thought.

Since I began this transition, and especially since I’ve been on HRT, I’ve had this feeling of someone slowly waking up inside me, and beginning to take over the running of the palace, so to speak. It’s as though I’ve been run all this time by a regent, and now he’s free to be retired with all honour.

But for a long time, I’ve not felt quite one or the other. It’s as if my female self has been waking, but I’ve been experiencing her as somehow not quite me, like we’re just inhabiting the same shell. This last couple of weeks, though, something’s been changing, growing, putting down roots, sending up foliage – and today, I realise it’s just me now. Female me, woman me. I’ve spent a lifetime travelling inside this body without being very conscious, but now I’m awake and there’s no conflict any more. I’m looking back over my life and seeing how I was always there underneath, and this makes sense of so much that never made sense. I’ve always been this, always been female.

No wonder it was such a hard business, trying to pretend to be male. And the female I’ve always been isn’t that different from the male I’ve tried to be – it’s just that there’s no conflict now. I still like the things I like, dislike the things I dislike (including dresses, make-up, team sports…). The difference is for me that now I feel… well, allowed. Me as a man was never meant to happen, and I never wanted it, I just thought I was stuck with it, like being cursed with an awful task I could never forego, was never going to succeed at. But now my actual self is present, the war is over.

What made me realise I was awake, this morning, is a meeting I’m hoping to have soon with one of my longest friends (we go back over 30 years, to when we were middle-class hippy teens, bless). She’s not at ease with my transition, because of her 80’s feminist conditioning. And one issue that came up last time we talked about this (back in December, when I was definitely not yet awake) was the “you can’t really be a woman if you haven’t grown up as one” chorus (with the subtext “and haven’t experienced the oppression inherent in that”).

Leaving aside the fact of the oppression I did experience as a consequence of being gender-non-conforming, what occurred to me this morning was this: if I’d been born physically female, and then been in a coma for 50 years and just now woke up for the first time, no woman in her right mind would consider for a moment saying “you’re not really a woman” – in spite of my not having had any woman conditioning or oppression experience.

And then I realise I don’t want to, don’t need to get into justifying myself. It’s really simple. I’ve always been this, end of story. BYOW. I did this: Bring Your Own Woman.

So me and my friend are going to have to have that conversation all over again, because the me she harangued some months ago isn’t me now, and I’ve got my calm warrioress on. She’s going to have to meet me. It’ll be good.

In honour of me waking up at last, here’s a fine tune by The Incredible String Band, called Sleepers, Awake! (<— link – I’d have linked to a youtubey version, but the only one on there is very lo-fi).

The woman me that I am feels both very familiar and very new to me. It’s as though I’ve come home after decades spent in another country. I like the familiarity, but I also like the newness – my physical home is under renovation, redecoration, I don’t know yet what it’s going to be like to live here, but I know who I am.

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