Gender Dysphoria hits you right where it is most painful. What the world sees is an outer body not the brain and mind within. Like it or not, we get used to distinguishing female and male. We begin with infants. Male and female babies can look remarkably similar. With little else to go on we fall back on examining genitalia. The midwife took one look at me and pronounced me a boy. She was wrong. I might have been, but I wasn't. Cover your baby up with clothes to keep her warm and people struggle when they're not blue or pink. With my second baby, I didn't want to know the gender even after the scan. I bought neutral clothes. Dressing her in yellow I got used to the inevitable question: 'Is it a boy or a girl?'.
It matters greatly how others categorise you, though I dearly wish it didn't. We have an innate urge to classify and compartmentalise, even as young children. I self identified as a girl. I was assured by grown-ups that I was mistaken. Children can pretend to be anything they want. I PRETENDED to be a Princess but I KNEW I was a girl. There is a world of difference between pretending and knowing. Even a child knows this. Years spent caring for little ones as an Early Years teacher have taught me that truth too. We still however hold on to thinking children are too young to determine their own gender.
You know by now, that miscast as a boy, I was bought a boy's bicycle and tough boy clothes to wear. I suspect the assumption was I would ride my bike 'like a boy' too, tearing around at great speed, ripping my clothes, scratching paint and knees in the process. I wasn't like that, but at least I was protected if I fell off. It was an earlier time. Boys wore jeans and girls wore skirts. Being too big and having a crossbar, my bike was rather painful if I fell off. I looked rather wistfully at my fellow girls who could ride their bicycles in a skirt.
Nudity was common when I was little, especially for little ones. Back in the day, nobody worried too much about pre-schoolers romping naked on a beach or in a garden paddling pool. Maybe it made distinguishing boys and girls easier. Little boys knew perfectly well what little girls looked like and vice versa. In these days of child protection, little children are covered up. I was fortunate to have parents unashamed of their naked bodies who weren't embarassed to be seen naked. I'm lucky that at least potentially, I grew up with a healthy, accepting attitude towards nudity. Sadly, nakedness only exacerbated my dysphoria, hating my boy bits and longing to be like every other girl. As I grew, I showered in my swimming things. I hated seeing what I couldn't cope with.
The cisgender among us learn to love and accept ourselves because others love us. This is a given in human behaviour. If we grow up unloved and inferior we learn to hate ourselves. Grow up being called 'Daddy's little Princess' and you feel pretty. If you're a trans child, it doesn't quite work like that, at least not for me. What confused me was being loved as a boy. I'd told them I was a girl. I couldn't love the child others thought I was. I hated myself. I hated my body. Feeling it had let me down I used to hurt myself on purpose. I couldn't accept it as my own. Self harming became a coping strategy, half punishment, half subjugation of what I hated. That's tough when it's yourself.
Against the odds, I've grown into a woman now. Adult bodies come in all shapes and sizes just like children. As a woman you can have voluptuous curves or be tight, toned, and skinny. Whatever your size, your body still dips and curves in a way very different to males. Not all of us are totally happy with our body shapes however. We inherit them from our mothers. I'm slim. I have a cute little bum and small breasts. What I wanted was an ultra curvy shape but I wasn't going to get it. I clearly take after Mum when she was younger. In time, I've grown to enjoy and appreciate being that way, mainly because my man likes me like that. Seeing his obvious sexual attraction to me naked is really infectious, it signals how desirable I am. I've had to learn that cute, lithe and slim is a real attraction to guys. Seeing and feeling my husband enjoy me in loving intimacy makes me feel so good. Once again, love and attraction from the opposite sex has helped me love myself. It's not essential but it sure as anything helps.
Realising that you accept yourself is very freeing. Clothes and makeup, finding your own personal style and presentation is good but it only takes you so far. Sooner or later you are going to, quite literally, wake up with a partner without all that. You may or may not be naked but your hair will be dishevelled, your make-up non existent and you'll be you and nobody else. For a Trans woman that is a scary place to be. It's one you worry about when dating, especially after that important third date. If he wants to make love to you the morning after, he's a keeper. If he disappears you feel you've failed as a girl. It can be a huge affirmation or a total let down. I got lucky. From that moment I accepted myself as whole, at least within a relationship.
The next step is a little harder. Whether you're stealth, semi-stealth (is that even possible?) or just open, you're desperate to be accepted by the wider community. That acceptance means no mis-gendering, no being mistaken for the opposite sex, no put downs and no disapprobation. That is one heck of a wish list. I took the brave step of finding out just how accepted I really am and if I truly felt confident in public. It was scary the first time.
Every summer, on one June evening, Manchester takes part in WNBR. WNBR is the World Naked Bike Ride. Held across many countries and in many cities it is a bid to promote cycling visibility, alternative transport and a naturist lifestyle. The invitation is to cycle 'as bare as you dare'. Some participants are clothed, others wear underwear, some are naked apart from shoes and cycle hats, some are even completely nude. WNBR in Manchester attracts in excess of 200 cyclists, some of them Trans. This year marked my fourth WNBR and my third in Manchester. The ride starts at All Saints; a park just off Oxford Road near Manchester's City Centre. Oxford Road is in the Student Quarter. It is an area full of memories. This is where I went to college. I used to cycle up and down Oxford Road back then. Living in Fallowfield, I rode my Raleigh Palm Beach bike to attend my classes. If you read my last blog but one, you'll know that this was the 'boy's bike' I chose as a compromise - Boy's frame - Girly Paintwork. I certainly wouldn't have ridden it naked back then.
My replacement ride is a beautiful, bright yellow Dutch style girl's bicycle. This year, I took it on the World Naked Bike Ride. This time around, it was an important statement for me to cycle naked. There are so many reasons. WNBR this year traversed the whole city centre from Northern Quarter to Gay Village. It encompassed all of Manchester's main shopping streets and was witnessed by so many sightseers. Though an incredibly public event, in body positive terms, my nakedness was also for me. I did it to affirm a pride and acceptance of my body and to celebrate freedom from years of dysphoria and shame. It is a mark of my distance travelled that I don't mind others seeing who I am. This was much more then than being relaxed with my nakedness: It was an acceptance of being whole: body and mind as one, not in conflict.
I mentioned earlier that acceptance means freedom from disapprobation. Sadly, where nakedness is concerned there'll always be disapprobation. There will forever be those who equate nakedness with sex. This seems bizarre. Me wearing erotic lingerie, is a total turn on for my husband, pure natural nakedness however is beautiful but not overtly sexual. I associate nakedness with deliciously cool skinny dipping, Croatian beach holidays and freedom. I wouldn't wear saucy lingerie on the beach. While being naked makes sex easier and gives visual, tactile turn ons, so does semi clothed quickie sex. You can enjoy cycling OR sex with or without clothes; essential for both is a respect and acceptance of your body and appearance. How you get to that point raises interesting questions. For me it was Gender Confirmation Surgery. Disapprobation also abounds for those who have had it.
Reaching a place where you can respect and accept who you are is the key to happiness. If you need surgery for that to happen, so be it. This is not a search for perfection and surgery is not cosmetic enhancement. For me, Gender Confirmation Surgery was simply my turning point. It didn't make me into an 'ideal woman', it gave me the genitalia I should have been born with and confirmed my female identity. Estrogen did the rest. Others have a different route to body positivity. In the picture above, captured from footage, me and my husband are cycling naked past a Northern Quarter restaurant, Turtle Bay. We are in the company of other naked cyclists. In the video, they carry on passing for a long time. I was not the only Trans woman. There were pre-op and no-op girls too; all at one with their bodies.
Wherever you are on your journey, good luck getting to that happy place too. If you're an ally, support us as much as you can. If you're a bystander, don't tear us down. If you see us ride naked down the street, give us a cheer. Believe me, we rode a long long way to get here!
HUGGS, Jane xx