In the zone… or not.

I remember reading somewhere that once you are outside your comfort zone, you find out who you are. Supposedly stretching your boundaries helps you ‘grow’ as a person. I can see how in some cases this holds true – for example, if an endurance athlete never pushes themselves to run longer distances, they will never improve. They’re just going to stay exactly where they are. So far this year, I’ve experienced a few cases (not-sports related), where I thought I couldn’t take any more (any more physical pain from being punctured for medical reasons, for example) but as I had no real choice (and it was purely for health reasons), I just did what I could to bear it. To be fair, when it did hurt too much, I learnt to bend my pride and to ask for painkillers. Strong ones.

However, in other cases, this proverb or aphorism is…I’m sorry to say it, bullshit. Or well, to use the equivalent British/Scottish term, bollocks. There’s people out there who are not ‘willing to grow’ telling me that I should grow a pair or get over myself and move on. This is probably because my current identity is not ‘comfortable’ for them. I’m not saying they’re discriminating on purpose, but rather they are so used to applying male-female binary stereotypes and don’t appear willing to break out of their boxed mindset. I don’t know the exact reasons for this, but it just means that any behaviour that doesn’t seem to fit these ‘boxes’ is either ignored or simply dismissed as ‘weird’.

Let me explain: I’m a trans man. That is, my biological sex is female (i.e. I have female body parts) but my gender is male and I identify as a man. I’m tired of hiding it. I don’t expect anybody (even other trans people) to understand or even to think I’m willing to discuss this extensively every single time we meet – I just want to be able to identify myself with the name and gender I desire without having to explain myself (unless I feel the need to).

About a month ago, I was released from the heart hospital (where unfortunately I was registered by my old name because of bureaucratic bullshit – among other things – in Cyprus that makes name changes difficult). It was annoying, to say the least, but in the interest of staying sane and not becoming furious every five minutes, I went with it. I had some facial hair (from hormones I no longer take) but I suspect this was either dismissed as a hormone condition or just a peculiarity.

Once out of the hospital, I decided to see whether I could grow a beard. At the moment – about six weeks later – I have a beard (or well, some scruffy facial fluff that vaguely resembles a beard). So far, so good. People take one look at me and say ‘it’s a boy!’. I’m fine with that. My parents have tried to be supportive and it was going quite well. I wouldn’t say it was a breeze, since we do occasionally still argue about gender indicators, but they’ve not rejected me completely like I’ve heard other parents have their children.

And yet, they still seem to occasionally struggle with ‘what will people think’ – for example, shopping for clothes and shoes from the men’s section. Admittedly, I still struggle with this as well. Also, I tend to shop clothing from the men’s section because certain clothing lines (e.g. v-neck tees that will be broad enough to not highlight my chest area or don’t dip low to expose cleavage – because regardless of gender, I have no desire to show any) are not available in the women’s section. But I have been ‘cursed’ with small feet… for a guy…supposedly. In Greece, the men’s section starts from size 40 (size 6 in the UK?) or even 41. Firstly, let’s reflect on how ridiculous this is – not all guys have big feet. Just like not all women have small feet. So…what the fuck? Why keep clothing separate? Is that just to sell more of it through sheer consumerism?

Anyway, that’s not my point here.

Unfortunately, because of my biological sex, I have to turn up at a gynaecologist’s office for health checks. This brought on the discussion about what to do with my beard when we (as a family) go to the doctor. And surprise surprise, I’m expected to shave it off because it would ‘look weird for a man to be going to a gynaecologist’ (and apparently this would make people laugh at me). Furthermore, trying to keep said beard because I’m tired of caring about what a bunch of strangers think of me is being ‘self-centred’ and I should stop thinking solely about myself.

I’m sorry (this is going to sound very passive aggressive) but when did me growing or removing facial hair become a group decision? Sure, as a naïve, awkward teenager, I followed the example set by other members of the gender other people saw me as and remove it, but guess what, world, it friggin hurt! I don’t believe that the Greek aphorism about pain and beauty (τράβα πόνο για ομορφιά) is true either. If you’re a cruel or indecent human being, no amount of shaving, eyebrow-plucking, makeup application, hair removal/extension or any other form of personal grooming is going to make you a beautiful person. By all means, if you want to, make an effort before you meet someone new, but not for them – do it because it makes you feel good.

It’s at times like this when I think, ‘If I were a boy…’  (as in… biologically born male). Then I realise that this is a stupid thought. I am a boy unlike any other (if we really wish to believe everyone is unique). The things I mentioned above probably do sound superficial, but it feels vital to be able to see your own face (as you want it to look) staring back at you in a mirror rather than a sum of what other people think you should look or behave like. A soppy (and probably very simplified) Disney example of this is Mulan:

Overall, I suppose what I’m trying to say is: sure, I’m not good at trying hard (for well, anything) and I know I can do better. I can attempt to operate out of my depth and comfort zone from time to time. Just don’t ask me to do it not when you are trapped in your box so much that you find it unfathomable to operate outside yours.

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