Imagine your life being different to almost everyone elses. It’s fifty years ago at least. Not long after the American dream died with Jackie Onassis guarding his body with her own, like she was the shield of Aegis. Not even all that long after the Queen of England had her coronation, as an achingly young woman, wearing a crown so heavy she couldn’t move her neck in case it broke. You are there and you are different, like a hexagon in a world of circles, and all you want to do is fit in. The path you have to take to do so is transition. To shed the person that society has always seen you as, and emerge, new and vulnerable as a transsexual.
To do this successfully you must navigate the tightrope between two worlds that are, so often, oppositional and fraught. The world of men and the world of women. The tension on the wire always greater than you think that you can bear.
Yet, you manage it. You build yourself a life. You tend your garden and you have a favourite tea. You lean over the fence to talk to your neighbours, write papers in the quiet of your study, walk the dogs and go to the library to learn because google hasn’t been invented yet. You become as much of a circle as the rest of humanity will allow. You are happy. Truly happy. Like the flowers after rain. You are loved and you love and you do not make demands or shout at the women whose spaces you have been allowed into, that they must give you anything more than they are comfortable with.
You do not take from them their language, or invent new words to describe their womanhood, so it suddenly exists only in reference to you. You do not carry misogyny and entitlement and rage, in your pockets, to fling at them whenever they displease you. You do not need a word, to fill with venom and judgement and shame, to pin to them like a dark flag, to make them out as witches even among their own, so that they will be shunned. None of this occurs to you to do, because these are the people you have always wanted to belong with, and you listen to them enough to know their pain. To know their glory too. You want, despite and because of the vastness of both, to share that with them. They feel like home, far more than the men you left behind ever did.
You understand, crucially, that in order to speak of transition one must be willing to change.
The decades pass, and you have been living them well. Suddenly, there are more people talking about this process. More openly, more proudly, more easily than it ever would have been possible to do before. It’s a beautiful thing. It feels like it might be freedom for whole generations of people.
Except it doesn’t remain beautiful. It becomes ugly in places. You stop recognising yourself in their behaviour, in their declarations and their truths. You see that anyone can claim to be you and claim to speak for you, too. You see that many of them loathe you, in a visceral way that shocks you, even for simply saying there should be thoughtful processes in place, before they take the path you have. They keep making demands, nearly always of you or of women and nearly always too much.
You’ve spent a whole life defining yourself as a whole person, and in not making this one part of you the centre of everything but suddenly you have to make a choice. You can be silent and continue to grow sunflowers, or you can step forward and define yourself as this one part of you in order to say “no”.
The more you watch women buffeted and silenced and raged at, the more it strengthens your resolve, and so you step. You say no to a movement that has gathered such pace and such blind adherence to even its strangest ideas, from almost every place in society, that it has the power to destroy careers and justify violence against those who dare to question it.
Your “no” is like manna from heaven to women. It is a relief worthy of biblical references, because they’re fighting so hard out there, and no one is with them. Not many men, who do not care. Not many women, because they do not see. Not many trans people because the promise and the glimmer of the new ideas are far too tempting. You with your rational quietness, with your lessons learned and your wisdom are far too sensible to beckon them in the way that the new movement does.
When the women are alone, you stand with them. You help stop them being trampled. You give your words, your strength and your time to this cause. You allow for their anger, and their distrust of you, now, too. You make room for the discomfort and worry of discussions about where you should go and who you should be, because you know they are not really about you. They are about the safety and freedom of the women. About the doors being broken open so wide, even the worst of men can get in.
You wait it out with them. This incomprehensible storm that keeps seeing them punished for daring to speak and daring to ask to be respected. You are punished too. And then the tide starts to turn. Other people are actually beginning to listen.
You know in your heart that this will change things for women, and for the better, even if it takes a very long time. For you though, it will also change things for the worse, because as they wake up people are outraged by the whole business. They don’t want to remember you, with your gentle life and your experiences. They only see the fierceness of the storm and to them, you are part of it.
You have to choose again, and this time you choose to try and secure your life. To guard the people who matter, and protect yourself in whatever ways you can from the backlash that is coming. From the parts of the backlash that are already here.
Before you go back to where you were before you stepped forward, you speak to me. You tell me that you don’t know what you will do, because what is there to do now except hope that when it hits it doesn’t derail everything you have worked so hard to build. What is there to do except put boards at the windows and stock up on supplies.
You tell me that you want women to continue the fight, because they must. Even though that fight is increasingly becoming a fight against you too. You do not say it, but I understand that you have made a sacrifice that has caused you great pain. You have chosen women, and their wellbeing, over every other consideration and you have not wavered in that choice.
You’re not the only one, either. There are others doing exactly the same. Whether they are leaving now or not. Whether they had the time first to build whole lives, or not. Others, too, who are like you but more scared, and more silent, are nonetheless, refusing to join in with the scapegoating of women.
I am so grateful that there are.
You are all part of the reason that I am not afraid of storms anymore. I’ve seen enough social thunder to believe that the quiet truth speaks louder in the end. One of the things the quiet truth tells me is that you were never who we were fighting.
I could never forget who weathered the storms I was frightened of with me. I will remember who spoke up for me when I was pinned with the dark flag for even raising my voice. I will remember that you could have been planting snowdrops, or watching the stars, instead of helping a handful of women hold the line. You could have been singing, like the kettle in your kitchen, when more and more women began to join the cause.
So, if the time comes, which I believe it might, I will hold the line with you. I will try to reach across the land and the water between us and give you the kindness and the grace that you have given me. Either directly, if our paths still cross, or in how I respond to the others. Many of them are strangers to me, like I was to you, but I respect them.
I may never know how much it cost you to do what you have done, but I do know how greatly it has mattered. How much it will go on mattering long after the tide has turned enough for us to see the golden sand.
And I wanted to thank you. So, that when you close the door on all of this and stand in your hallway and sigh and release a breath you’ve been holding for too long, you know you have allies, too. You know that, whatever happens, you won’t have to joust with lightning bolts, alone.