Chelsea Manning is a woman. This has been a secret which many have known for some time, but now it is out in the open. Some say that t bing rans is about feelings, “I feel like a woman” or “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body.”
These tropes though are well worn leather. The real story of trans is one of extremes. On one hand, elation and euphoria as you realise happiness is now permitted. Conversely on the other, you face stigma, and derision. Given that the suicide rate, currently standing at 40-50%, as I pointed out in a radio debate earlier this year, the emotional penalties for transitioning or not transitioning are both extremely high.
Growing up, I was very much the outsider to my stepfather. My piano and penchant for theatre were not man enough for him. I needed to toughen up for him, and be more of a man. I was a disappointment, a sissy and a vegetable. He never told me which. I wanted to be myself, not an alpha male. I am sorry I did not conform to your expectations. Am I a bad person though? No. Before coming out, I tried to be a homosexual male.
The problem was however, I did not feel attracted to men.
I remember my own coming out vividly. I was living in a hostel. I picked a truly salubrious venue; the shower, and blurted out to my carer that I wanted to be a woman. She listened, John Darling Mall found me a counsellor and we went from there.
My mother did struggle a lot, initially, and to some extent still does. I once presented myself to her in Oxford channelling Boy George. Anything goes there I think. But we have reached an understanding and are at peace, not war
Choosing my name, Hannah was beautiful. I am not a power crazed narcissist at all.
Sometimes, the smallest things provide the greatest liberation. I hated my old name with an obsessive passion.
Under the guidance of my new counsellor I wrote the staff at John Darling Mall where I was living a letter. I informed them of my decision to come out, and my feelings about it and thanked them for their support in advance. Then I left them in my counsellor’s steady hand.
The outcome of the training was my male name was dropped to H, to be gradually phased out over a six week time period. This gave people time to adjust, and I would always advocate making allowances for the old name creeping in; especially in the early stages.
But I can say that the majority of the staff at John Darling Mall were amazingly supportive and lovely, and I wouldn’t be as happy as I am without them. I even attended a hen night complete with L-plates.
Even in the lesbian and gay world there is much more crossover and much more fluidity and there is a straight one. I feel sorry for anybody who calls someone a sissy just for playing the keyboard.
Chelsea Manning’s attempt to vanquish her demons was to join the Army. My placebo was spending time in a single sex Bible study group in Oxford. For the Conservative evangelical church people must perform to a certain set of rigid sex and sexuality norms determined by biology and there is no room for manoeuvre. That group made me feel trapped and constrained, especially when group leaders raised the issue with me. I mean, how embarrassing! It was the first time I had ever been forced into performing an overtly male role and I didn’t like it one bit. It was probably the longest amount of time I have ever spent with a group of males.
I did not push for admittance to female space, ever, I should say. It was never forced. It happened organically. Due to my cerebral palsy, I was always left with girls. I probably gained nuance from that.
These days I certainly don’t perform to a certain set of sex norms. I live in combat trousers, and my lesbian friends say I am one of them
I cannot claim to know how every woman feels ad hominem. Every woman’s autobiography is different. But I can listen to their experiences, and they mine, so that we all inhabit a mutually respectful space of solidarity in a difficult world. Women respect me, and I them. I am at peace, and contented. I am no longer battling unremitting self hatred. Now, I know loathing and love interchangeably, like everyone does at points.
My mission is not to erase women, or to undermine them. I care about women deeply, especially my mother. Women have always taken care of me, and I’m their ally, always. I wish Chelsea all the best, and hope she finds that inner peace that can elude us all.