2015 was a transtastic year. In a post-Caitlyn Jenner world, there are few people who can claim they don't know what it is to be transgender. However, as ever, the media is both message and messenger, meaning one type of story prevails: the makeover.
Confession: I have helped to further this narrative. In photoshoots, on Instagram, even on the street, I've delivered an impressive 'makeover' with makeup, clothes and hair extensions. But transitioning is so much more than new hair and clothes. It's a total overhaul - inside and out - and pictures of makeovers don't do the struggle justice.
In the spirit of honesty, here's what it's really like to be a trans woman at the start of her 'journey'.
My alarm goes off. I hit snooze and go get my Chihuahua out of his little house so we can have a morning cuddle.
I drag myself out of bed. I take my medication. For breakfast I have a tiny bowl of cereal and a cup of tea. When I was a man, it was all high protein eggs, turkey, bacon and chicken. These days, I feel I will look more 'female' if I'm little and slim.
I hop in the shower, taking particular care not to get my extensions wet. You're only meant to wash them once a week. This is very sexy as it means my scalp is clogged with dry shampoo residue.
I have my first shave of the day. This will get easier once I'm on my hormone replacement therapy, but right now, it's a nightmare. I've been having excruciating laser treatment since last summer, but it's slow progress. I was told it would be about twelve sessions of which I've had six, but it doesn't seem to be making a lot of difference. It's very hard to feel like a woman when you wake up with stubble.
It's time for makeup. If I don't want to look like Jesus, I need a LOT of makeup. How I envy any woman who can get away with a bit of lip Vaseline and a dab of mascara. For me, even 'natural day' makeup starts with a highly pigmented orange layer smeared where I've shaved. This cancels out the 'blueish' tone of my beard area. Once that's dry, I go over the top of that with my usual foundation and also concealer. Despite all that, I can still clearly see a difference in skin tone. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.
I head to Brighton station. I'm at the stage in my transition whereby if you don't look too closely you'd probably think I was a 'regular' woman. But who are we kidding, I'm tall and leggy and wearing a ton of makeup so OF COURSE people are going to stare at me. Women get stared at, why would I be any different?
Most people, once I've registered the recognition that I'm trans in their eye, just go about their business - the coffee barista, the train conductor. I appreciate their polite professionalism. Some call me 'Miss' or 'Ma'am' and bless them for trying.
Some look at me with pity, or the 'who is she trying to kid?' scowl (answer: no-one). Some are less kind: the girl who turns to her boyfriend and giggles something in his ear. I've had parents point me out to their children ('that's a man'). I've had people oh-so-subtly take pictures of me on their phones. Oh, and the ever-present child asking, 'Mum, is that a boy or a girl?' Parents, do me a favour and pass on the following wisdom: 'Son, some people are trans.'
Sometimes it's downright scary. Heaven help any woman alone in a train carriage with a beery stag do between Clapham Junction and London Waterloo. It happened to me once, it wasn't very nice.
Meet some writers at the Royal Festival Hall. People still stare at me, but I'm with friends now, so I don't really care. I feel safe.
I head up to a school near Finsbury Park to run my weekly writing workshop. My writing group are cool, as are the teachers, but I often have to answer questions from other students. Cisgender people are not responsible for educating anyone about gender, transgender people, apparently, are. I guess if it makes life easier down the line for young trans people, it's worth it.
Central London for a book launch. I find a disabled toilet because I wouldn't feel at all comfortable shaving in the ladies OR the gents. Yep, it's time to shave again because my face is getting stubbly - it looks like you have oatmeal on your face.
I've developed a technique to take makeup off just the lower part of my face, shave, then reapply without having to do my eyes again. This is quite a skill, let me tell you.
It's time for the train back to Brighton. I try not to get the last train - the Burger King Express - as it's always packed with drunk business people and I feel awkward. The earlier trains are quieter and I can keep my head down.
Take the mask off, peel off three layers of control underwear, put on pyjamas and make a cup of hot chocolate.
It's exhausting, because being a woman is exhausting. I have all the regular issues - stupid shoes, retouching makeup, white van men trying to lure me into sex - plus an additional bunch of trans-specific problems.
Transitioning is not a glamorous experience; it's not a Top Model makeover. But here's the thing, all these things, these annoyances, are practicalities. Yes, I'm shattered, but on a much deeper level, I feel more serene than I ever did when I was faking it as a man. I have to trust things will get better as I progress, or I'd go mad, but despite everything, I know absolutely this is the right thing to do.
And I'll do it all again tomorrow.
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