My name is Lewis Walsh, I’m 24 years old and I play in a band called The Love Junkies. I was born male, but if you’ve been kind enough to come see us play in the last six months you may have noticed me wearing make-up, maybe even a dress. That’s because I’m transgender and I’ve recently come out.
If you know what that means you might ask me questions like “how do you identify your gender?” or “do you plan to transition?” – two questions that right now even I don’t know the answer to. If you’ve never heard the term transgender then maybe I can shed some light. I’m only stating my personal experience. I am not representing the trans community as a whole, although I’m sure there are similarities of my story in others.
I’ll start at when I was four or five years old. I’ve stolen a pair of my mothers heels, rolled up my pyjama pants and tied my shirt up to give myself some kind of “girly” appearance. I’ve been watching Wheel Of Fortune on TV and the girl who moves the letters for the contestants is gorgeous. When I grow up, I want to look like her.
About a week or so after this revelation my Mother catches me dressing as such. She’s nice about it, tells me that she won’t tell Dad but that I shouldn’t steal people’s stuff without asking. However I get the feeling that I’ve done something wrong and I feel hugely ashamed. I cry and probably swear to myself never to do it again.
But that didn’t happen. I repeatedly steal clothes from wherever I can and wear them in secret. My friend’s tutu at age seven in the garden behind her carport. The headband at age 14 that I stole from someone at school. The leggings I stole from someone’s backyard washing line after playing a gig at Mojos Bar in Fremantle at age 21. I’m not proud of any of it and at the time I was extremely ashamed but I couldn’t stop. It gave me relief. It allowed me to survive.I’m only stating my personal experience. I am not representing the trans community as a whole, although I’m sure there are similarities of my story in others.
At first it didn’t bother me too much, that was until I was 10 and things become alarmingly obvious that I didn’t feel right. I wanted to be a girl and as I grew older the feeling just intensified. I loved the clothes, the make-up, the hair, everything. But I had to suppress these feelings until they passed, until I grew out of it. I would even try avoiding certain TV shows and movies if I thought they would trigger my desire to be female.
I begun to hate the life I was given. Living in England for four years I was bullied, lonely, in denial and extremely confused. By age 12 I had written my first suicide letter and planned out how to do it – a theme that continued on and off until hopefully last year. What was wrong? Am I gay? Turns out I like girls. I hadn’t heard of a transvestite or a transsexual until I was 15 and even then it was the drug-addled, sex-crazed weirdo’s with crap make-up portrayed in movies. ‘That’s not me’ I said, I’m going to fight this off.
Last year I broke up with my girlfriend of four and half years and sold the house we owned together. I was left with nothing. I was suicidal for what felt like the millionth time in my life and I finally had the thought “what if I just told someone”? So I told Mitch and Robbie (my band mates) my brother and a best mate, and they all reacted amazingly well. Mitch told me to come to a jam in a dress and we’d get drunk and make a night of it. Robbie said “so your like that Laura Jane Grace chick” (the transgender front-woman of the band Against me! whom I hadn’t heard of, but has since become an amazing resource and inspiration). In their eyes nothing changed and that’s why I love those guys.
So am I a boy or a girl? Well truth be told I have no fucking idea. By coming out I have been introduced to the wonderful world of ‘gender identity’ and all the variance that term covers.
At the moment I could fall under any of the terms; androgynous, transgender, genderqueer, gender-fluid, transvestite, cross-dresser, bi gender, gender questioning, boy, girl or my personal favourite coined by transvestite comedian Andrew O’Neill, “gender spastic!” All (apart from the last one) are a part of the 51 options you can now select for your gender on your Facebook profile.So am I a boy or a girl? Well truth be told I have no fucking idea.
If that’s not confusing enough, these terms don’t really apply to anyone who has transitioned (except transgender). The term that people use most to describe there unhappiness with there assigned gender at birth is “gender dysphoria”. By coming out and being able to appear the way I want and do what I want and not worry too much what people think, my dysphoria has greatly decreased to the point where I can say I am very happy.
That said, let me also state that I have loads of traditionally masculine personality traits. The way I play drums is nothing short of aggressive, I love watching sport with my mates at the pub, in fact if I’m not dressed up you probably wouldn’t think there was much more feminine going on then your average cisgender straight male, which in hindsight might be the result of being raised as male. I literally feel like I’m both. Right between the two genders. Which is cool because I get to experience things from both genders to a degree. But it does present some social challenges as you could imagine.
There’s the new job I’ve started which is a total boys club. Unskilled labour setting up and pulling down stages for events. Not one woman in the bunch, and the uniform we are supposed to wear means that dressing anything out of the ordinary gender spectrum is not an option. A cross dresser walked past on my first shift and a few comments were made. I found myself caught between trying to stand up for trans people and not outing myself for fear of making my job harder. Maybe they’d be fine with it? Maybe it will be an issue… but I’m there to earn money and work, not give my colleagues a 101 on transgender people.
Gigs have become quite a safe place for me to dress up. However there’s a constant flow of people who come up and say things like “I thought you were a chick” or “what’s with the fucking makeup?” I don’t mind it and I usually just explain that I’m trans but it’s still a bit tiresome. I’m just there to have a good time with my friends.Every time I leave the house I always have a change of boy clothes and makeup remover on standby just in case.
There are also certain places that if I’m presenting more femininely I have to change back to boy mode because it would be “inappropriate”. All things that mean when I walk out the door I’m caught between comfortability in my own skin and how that will affect the way people treat me if I look a bit out of the norm. Every time I leave the house I always have a change of boy clothes and makeup remover on standby just in case I find myself in a situation where it would just be too awkward for everyone myself included. Hopefully one day this wont be the case and it will be the norm to see a guy in a dress just as it is normal to see a woman in cargo pants.
So what do I do now? The options I have are basically to transition or to not transition, which if you’re new to this means: have medical and surgical changes to become a woman. I know, scary right?
Well I can’t deny that I wish I were born a female, with a girl’s childhood and the ability to have children of my own if I so choose. However these aren’t really options (although I can always freeze my tadpoles).
So why transition? Well obviously having the body I’ve always felt I was supposed to have would be amazing… people instantly recognising me as female, soft skin, soft hair, breast and hip development things that come with taking hormones. It sounds great right? Why wouldn’t I? Well apart from the extremely scary thought of someone slicing my genitals with a scalpel. There’s the cost, hormones and surgeries aren’t cheap and as a musician I can barely afford to feed myself.
There’s my girlfriend who identifies as straight and who I love too much to lose right now. Oh, and the fact I would be on hormones for the rest of my life. It’s a lot to sacrifice for the right body parts especially when the ones I have know work perfectly fine, they just don’t agree with my personality or my identity.Hopefully one day…it will be the norm to see a guy in a dress, just as it is normal to see a woman in cargo pants.
All of this has lead me to realise the social structure of gender, why are you not a man if you enjoy shaved legs? Why are you not a woman if you have hairy ones? These are things that society dictates as the norm and whilst I really want to fit in, on some fundamental level I just don’t.
I can’t deny that I enjoy wearing a dress, any more than I can deny the fact I have a penis. It just is. Had these personality traits been the norm for society I probably wouldn’t have even thought about it. But they’re not the norm and I’m left on a spectrum of gender variance with loads of other people.
So before I go down any life changing surgery I’m going to ride this out. Can I be a man that looks like a girl and enjoys those things without feeling like society doesn’t agree? Andreja Pejic (an androgynous supermodel) built her career pre-transition modelling men and womens wear seemed to feel that’s possible. Until the day that it becomes to hard to live a life that involves both genders, then I’ll make the switch. Until then I am neither man nor woman, but both. I’m just me. It might be weird, it might be confusing to me and everyone else but its what makes me happy, and that’s what being a “gender spastic” is all about.
Again I’m not a dictionary or an expert on this stuff, but these definitions should give you the basic idea of it.
Transgender: A person whose gender identity is different from their assigned birth gender.
Transvestite/cross-dresser: identifies with birth gender, routinely wears the clothes of the opposite sex
Transsexual: does not identify with birth gender, undertakes medical and surgical changes to move towards the gender they identify with.
Cisgender: Basically not transgender. Someone whom identifies as the gender they were born as.
Transition: to have medical and surgical changes to move towards the gender they identify with.
Androgynous: Someone who presents as in-between genders. i.e. both or neither. (may not identify as transgender)
GenderQueer/Gender-fluid: Identifies as both/in between/neither. Someone who feels they move between genders or is in between
Bi gender: Identifies as both genders
Gender Questioning: Unsure of their internal gender
Gender Dysphoria: A state of discomfort with one’s birth gender.
Gender Spastic: It’s not a real term. Don’t call anyone a gender spastic. Except maybe Andrew O’Neill and I.