Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Standing at the door

Heidi Klum crosses the threshold

Shortly I shall be standing at the door to the year. New Year beckons, a little over two weeks away. January (in Latin, Ianuarius) is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions; and behind the mythology lies the Latin word for door, ianua.

So where do I stand at the year’s end? My hormonal balance is distinctly tilted: estrogen is winning out; testosterone is in retreat. I feel strangely serene. There’s abundant evidence that hormone administration leads to a reduction in gender dysphoria, and I can confirm it. What’s more, I’ve developed, for the first time, fantasies of having female genitalia – as if my brain has reconfigured to expect a female body,

Hormones feminise the body, but in reducing testosterone, they also reduce the male libido which was fuelling my crossdreaming in the first place. My body is more feminine but my sex drive is almost nil. Six months ago, when I looked in the mirror, I’d feel desire for the ‘woman’ I saw there. Now my reaction is more: ‘If I were a man, I’d find me attractive’. This may confirm the common belief that a cis women’s crossdreaming is all of a piece with trans women’s. Or it could be a diagnostic test for thoroughgoing, ‘classic’ transsexualism.

Jack Molay, who coined the term ‘crossdreaming’ and is a considerable authority on matters transsexual, has expressed this dilemma well:

I see that the effect of estrogen may seem to be a paradox to some MtF crossdreamers. The closer they get to their body ideal, the less fuel is there for the more erotic side of their crossdreaming. If that is what drives them towards transitioning, this is where they should stop. On the other hand, to the extent there is a feeling of peace following this reduction in sexual fantasies [and] a deeper sense of a female identity, this may (and I stress may) be the point where they start transitioning.

Whether this really can be used as a diagnostic test to distinguish between crossdreaming and ‘classic’ transsexualism… I don't know. I am normally very critical of such tests, since all the ones people have come up with so far (aversion for genitals, early onset, feminine mannerisms, gender dysphoria etc) have all been used to invalidate transgender crossdreamers, and I do not like that. Still, maybe it may be a point of departure for crossdreamers in their assessment of their own lives. [Crossdream Life, 15.12.14]

Ahead of me is a door. If I were a ‘classic’ transsexual case, I’d open the door and walk confidently through it, my goal being to inhabit a woman’s body. The way ahead is transition to a trans woman in her fifties. But is that what I want? Sometimes it seems I no more want to be a 50-something trans woman than I want to be a 50-something natal male. What I want to be is a 24-year-old cis woman – which I can only be in fantasy. Admitted, the feminised body is a better basis for the fantasy than the wholly masculine one. But that way lies inertia, a temptation to postpone the decision-making, to linger at the threshold, going neither forward nor back. Because the gender dysphoria which brought me to the doorway in the first place has diminished (as a result of hormones), there is no great incentive to be resolute about the direction of travel. In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “returning were as tedious as go o’er”.

Maybe the 24-year-old is a necessary stage on the transgender journey: we must incorporate our younger selves into our older selves. Maybe, if I passed through the door, I’d undergo the ‘second adolescence’ so commonly reported by people in my position. The middle-aged MtF transitioner lives through what she missed out on first time round: the thrills and spills of being a young woman. So what happens afterwards? Is the second adolescence followed by a second adulthood in the true gender? Or does this adolescence stretch out until the wizened dancer is finally overtaken by senility and decrepitude, stretchered out of the club, one hand limply grasping her final tequila?

One thing is clear. If I am certain in my uncertainty, then I should stop on the threshold, turn back and start to retrace my steps, trusting that my male mojo will return – all the while hoping that I can find the door again, should I reach a firm resolve…

I’m reminded of a very wonderful short story by HG Wells called ‘The Door in the Wall’ (1906), which I first read as an impressionable teenager. It is the narrative of a successful politician, Wallace, who is haunted by an event from his lonely childhood. One day, straying from home down an unfamiliar London street, he comes across a mysterious green door in a white wall. With childish curiosity he pushes it open and finds himself in a luxuriant garden; tame panthers present themselves to be petted; there are playmates galore, a tall, fair girl who leads him by the hand, and a mysterious woman who shows him his own life thus far recorded in a kind of audiovisual book. Turning the last page, he is abruptly transported back to the London streets, where an elderly gent takes pity on him and ensures that the weeping boy is returned to his father’s home. In later years he passes the door several times – it seems to materialise each time in different parts of the city – but there is always some priority that prevents him from trying the handle again. He has to be at school on time; he is on his way to an interview; he has an assignation with a lady; there is a Division in the House of Commons; he is called to his dying father’s bedside… Finally, we learn that a body has been discovered early one morning in a deep excavation for an extension of the Underground. Wallace had found his door, but it was a works entrance, accidentally left unfastened and intended only for those building workers who knew what dangers lay on the other side.

Wells’s narrator ruminates on what all this means:

Was there, after all, ever any green door in the wall at all?

I do not know. I have told his story as he told it to me. There are times when I believe that Wallace was no more than the victim of the coincidence between a rare but not unprecedented type of hallucination and a careless trap, but that indeed is not my profoundest belief. You may think me superstitious if you will, and foolish; but, indeed, I am more than half convinced that he had in truth, an abnormal gift, and a sense, something – I know not what – that in the guise of wall and door offered him an outlet, a secret and peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world. At any rate, you will say, it betrayed him in the end. But did it betray him? There you touch the inmost mystery of these dreamers, these men of vision and the imagination…

A “peculiar passage of escape into another and altogether more beautiful world”.  Is that what I should find on the other side of the door of the year?