I used to be invisible.
In fact, I was invisible for decades but during all that time, I didn’t even know it.
I came to realize it one day when I was walking down the hallway at work, just weeks after becoming self-aware of my true gender, wearing some new clothing I had bought only a couple of days prior. Walking up ahead of me in the corridor was a coworker who turned to look back and then stopped as I approached.
She said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you wear shoes.”
It may not surprise you to learn that English is not her primary language.
I smiled and gently asked, “The first time I’ve worn shoes?” “No,” she replied, raising her hands as if to erase what she had just said. “I mean, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard you wear shoes that make noise.”
That was a watershed moment for me. Her simple comment induced me to undergo a complete reflection and reevaluation of how I had presented myself throughout my life, and I realized that up until that day, I had been invisible.
During the majority of my life, my conscious mind didn’t know that I was a man but my subconscious sure did. Couple that with the mirroring and witnessing that I experienced every day of my life, the constant signals firing back at me from the world around me that I was female (when in reality I was a man on the inside) drove me into hiding, but hiding in plain sight.
Like animals that blend in with their surroundings and are camouflaged in order to avoid harm, I had taken on a presentation that would help me walk through life as unnoticed as possible.
Clothing with plain colors, nothing loud, flashy or stylish, multiple layers to cover an unwanted body, quiet shoes to avoid detection, the same haircut year after year, no makeup, no jewelry (too feminine!), sometimes not even buttons or zippers were acceptable. Anything to reduce the chances of being noticed, to avoid detection, and thereby avoid the number of interactions with people who would subconsciously send the social feedback that smacked right up against my inner self.
To be invisible.
Of course, when I was seen, I was seen as a woman and I tried my best to act that part. This went on for decades, managing as best I could to live as a woman, but subconsciously trying to stay under the radar as well. When I look back on it, I wonder how I was able to keep that up for so long.
Now, things are different. Now, I live fully as my true self and I am rarely, if ever, seen as female these days. That’s been great – I finally feel like I’m fitting into the world in the proper context and I am more interactive than I was before, more noticed than I was before.
I am visible.
However, living life as a man and being seen as a man has presented a new set of challenges. Whereas before I was repeatedly bombarded with social cues, signals and messages that grated against who I was on the inside, I am now repeatedly bombarded with social cues, signals and messages that I do not understand.
I went through adolescence living as a female, I was socialized as a female, and I learned the social cues, norms and expectations that come with being seen and treated as a woman.
Now that I am living as a man and being seen as one, I am lost in the land of social cues.
Compared to when I was living as a woman, now, men treat me differently, women treat me differently, gay men really treat me differently. Not only do I not have a clue what these social cues and signals mean that I am now receiving as a man, I don’t know what social cues and signals to send back!
I feel like a stranger in a strange land, but then again, I’m really the same person in the same place I was before.
I know that I am not the first trans person to undergo a re-socialization in their true gender and I knew about this possibility long before I ever got to this point, but now that I’m in it, I’ve found it a challenge to stay engaged and interactive. Similar to the way I managed it before, my reaction has been to hunker down, stay low and try to avoid detection.
I heard from a couple seasoned trans guys that this “awkward period” I’ll call it lasts about five years.
I guess that makes sense when considering that quite a bit of socialization for adulthood occurs during adolescence, which seems to take about five years. (I don’t have any scientific data to back up that statement, mind you.)
One of the guys pointed out that if I lay low, stay at home and try to avoid this uncomfortableness, it will take even longer to get through it.
So now I’m a walking anthropological study and investigator all rolled into one, taking mental field notes and trying to interpret and draw conclusions about my social interactions. I think I’ve bewildered some people with my social awkwardness or even lack of response (I’ve found it less scary sometimes to not do or say anything rather than risk doing or saying the wrong thing) but at least I haven’t seemed to really piss off anyone.
And with time and practice, I am sure that I will get to a point of being a familiar stranger in a not so strange land. But I sure hope it doesn’t take five whole years!