Learning how to live and present as a woman can be like learning a new language, only without concrete rules.
Living 'as a woman' was just a starting point. As soon as I entered the NHS pathway and began the real life experience I had to ask myself: "What sort of woman?"
Establishing this involved rethinking my relationship with the vague social construct of 'masculinity', and separating those traits which had been a facade to help me 'pass' as male before transition, from those integral to my character. Simultaneously, whilst I knew that changing my body carried no obligation to adopt any socially gendered behaviours, presenting as female made it prudent to at least consider my ideas of 'femininity', and how 'feminine' I wished to be.
I wrote when discussing 'passing' that gender roles are like languages, with men expected to 'speak' (or perform) their version of 'masculinity', and women 'femininity'. Those who don't talk like natives invariably stand out. Transsexual women weren't raised with femininity as their 'language' (or to express themselves in a 'feminine' manner) – and in a world that often warns those born male against any display of femininity from a young age, and in which those adjudged to get it wrong can be ruthlessly attacked, this can be a problem.
Unlike languages, which have concrete rules, gender is often defined as much by what it isn't as what it is, and learned by doing. Beginning transition, I thought more about what it meant to be a woman, and the social inequalities that may come with being female-bodied, than what contemporary society deemed to be 'feminine'. The two were not inherently linked, and focusing too much on appearance and demeanour seemed to me a red herring.
In clothing, I naturally leant more towards 'femme' styles, which just meant that I tended to wear dresses and skirts on formal occasions more than trousers. Otherwise, I considered gender presentation primarily when I was told to – this feedback gradually changed the way I dressed and behaved. Just as my peers had criticised me pre-transition when they deemed my demeanour insufficiently masculine, so my female friends now advised me when they thought my clothes or conduct inappropriately 'unfeminine'.
Of course, femininity is not solely about external things – clothes, cosmetics or posture – but by definition, they are the most obvious manifestations of individual attitudes towards gender roles, and getting them conspicuously wrong can have real social consequences. I was fortunate enough to make my worst aesthetic errors in my early twenties, before I started transition, and when I began living as female full-time, I was cautious, doing most clothes shopping with friends who I knew would tell me if I fell into the trap of dressing too young or too old for my age, or in noticeably outmoded styles.
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