One of the discoveries one makes when transitioning is not how much changes, but how little. For example, no amount of oestrogen can dim my passion for American football. So most lunchtimes, I log on to the NFL Network, the TV channel of the National Football League, and catch up on the latest news, gossip and opinions.
The past few weeks, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, have been particularly instructive, as a sports channel has suddenly become very political. The NFL depends on black players, and I say ‘black’ rather than ‘players of colour’ because that is how the players themselves have been identifying.
They’re making their race unmistakable. And since all major league sportsmen and women in the USA have a university education, they’re doing so with an intelligence that matches their passion and rage.
Now, you may be wondering where I’m going with this, and thinking, ‘Oh Lord, she’s not going to claim that being trans means she can understand what it means to be black, is she?’
No, I wouldn’t dream of being so offensively presumptuous. But listening to people talk about being black in a white society has made me think in new ways about being trans in a gendered society.
So, for example, a former player said that he didn’t want to be referred to as African-American, because ‘White people aren’t called European-Americans. They are just American, so why can’t black people just be Americans too?’
That made me wonder why I call myself a trans woman, rather than just a woman, plain and simple. To some extent it’s an assertion of my specific identity, a refusal to be ashamed of who and what I am.
But as much as I want to be myself, I also want to be accepted by society as a normal human being. I suspect that the further my transition progresses, the more I’ll just want to be called a woman, full stop.
Some people – including some very famous people – have a hard time accepting that idea. They see it as a threat. That’s deeply upsetting, but it’s a real issue for people like me, and I’m just going to have to deal with it.
Likewise, player after player pointed out that their white team-mates never had to consider their race as an issue in their everyday lives. But a black football star, no matter how rich or famous, is still black. And he, his partner and his children all have to deal with the consequences of that.
Well, I’ve experienced the difference between walking down the street as an apparently normal man, and doing so as a trans woman. As a man, I did so unthinkingly, without fear. But as a trans woman, even one with nice clothes, a great surgeon and fancy hair, I never, ever entirely lose the awareness and anxiety that comes with confronting a world that I know can be very hostile indeed.
Transwomen face sky-high rates of harassment, abuse and violence. It hasn’t happened to me yet. But it only has to happen once, the possibility is always there, and part of my mind is permanently engaged in the job of trying to avoid it by appearing normal, feminine and unthreatening.
Finally, I think of a player from the New Orleans Saints called Malcolm Jenkins, who also leads a political group called Players Coalition, which lobbies for reform to the education and criminal justice systems.
One of Jenkins’ white teammates, whom he had always held in high regard, made some uncharacteristically crass comments about black players’ disrespecting the American flag. Wiping away the tears, Jenkins said, ‘If you don’t understand how hurtful, how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem… You’re somebody who doesn’t understand their privilege.’
Well, I know that feeling. I am hugely fond of and dependent on my sisters and female friends. But those very people sometimes say things that they don’t intend to be hurtful, but that cut deep just the same.
I think the problem arises from the fact that while women are underprivileged when compared with men, they have a huge privilege compared to transwomen. I’m not sure that they understand, or acknowledge, that privilege, though the hurtful comments often presume it.
But it’s real. It’s a problem. And that’s another whole conversation.
Read Diana's column every Thursday at 11am. Catch up on the last two columns here:
My transgender diary: 'It's wonderful to see friends again but I miss the hugs and kisses'
My transgender diary: ‘My visit to the hairdressers in the middle of lockdown’