“Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” – How self-perception is stronger than the view of others

Sometimes, you want to talk about a film that hasn’t been released yet, because you put a lot of faith in it. So in this post, I will be talking about Girl, by Lukas Dhont, and why it is important to me that it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s that time in the year when people rush to the South of France to watch tons of films that won’t be released before 6 months. Well, tons of privileged people, since the Cannes Film Festival is the only festival in the world that doesn’t accept self-paying visitors. Nevermind that, there are still very interesting films being shown there, and even though I can’t attend (never been even once), I still follow what’s happening, thanks to Alicia Malone‘s tweetline (1).

And one of her tweets particularly caught my eye:

Obviously (if you know enough about me), I was instantly interested about this film, Girl, directed by Lukas Dhont, and apparently, the French newspaper LeMonde also saw the film and gave their few cents on it. And now I am totally hooked. I know I have to wait until October to watch it in theatre, and I don’t usually review a prospect of a film, but there is a good reason I am hopeful: this is not a movie about transphobia (2). Most movie about transgender people deal with the hardship of being transgender because of other people being total assholes. This film is different. There is no debate about transgender people. We exist, it’s a fact, and in this story, every one is accepting of the trans girl. The family is loving, everybody is willing to help or at least they behave around her like she’s a totally normal girl.

The hardship is elsewhere. It’s internal. Even though people offer their help and support, we can’t move onward if we don’t acknowledge that this help is honest. It is best shown in this snippet of the movie:

At some point, the psychiatrist asks “Do you believe I see a woman when I look at you?” And he has to pull the answer out of her mouth. “No”. She says it so timidly. And for a good reason. It’s hard to tell someone you don’t believe them when they show the much needed support. And if we don’t believe it, it’s because we don’t see it ourselves. Therefore it seems impossible that other people see something about us that we only dreamt of for so long.

To me, it touches so close to home. I moved to Canada in January 2017, introducing to everyone as Élise, but people I was meeting randomly would obviously not see me as a woman. It took months of hormone therapy (I started in May 2017) and laser beard removal (since September 2016) before I could see any significant change. Since I never really enjoyed doing make-up that much or dressing overly feminine or girly, it didn’t help to be gendered correctly on a regular basis. That took time, and I saw it happen, first occasionally, then more frequently, until this month. Now It happens every single time. It downed on me last week in a bar where a group of guys on a bachelor party didn’t think twice about my gender. One even did a really corny move in my back, thinking I didn’t see. I can’t tell if they knew I was transgender, but if they did, they surely hid it very well.

But the switch really happened this weekend. I went with a friend to look at swimsuits. I haven’t done any scuba diving for 3 years and I miss it so much it drives me crazy. I had to go to the store, to build up the courage (wearing a push-up bra helped too). When I arrived at the swimwear corner, the saleswoman instantly greeted me with a “Madam” and asked me what I was looking for, and offered me to try some on. I switched. I stopped being afraid.

It was like learning a new language. You struggle for a long time with the idea that you’ll ever be able to speak fluently. And one day, it just happens. You feel it inside of you. You’re thinking in your new language and people understand when you speak. It’s what happened to me that day. I knew I was passing. Maybe not 100%. Maybe not if I stay in a conversation for such a long time that people get from the way I speak and behave that I’m trans, but it doesn’t matter. People gender me correctly at the introduction, and that’s 99% of the work.

For a long time, I felt like this young dancer in Girl. I couldn’t see what people were seeing. But now I can, and it’s such a wonderful feeling. I may be scared again, occasionally, but I know that most of the time, I can do it confidently.

On a side note, I love the interaction between the father and the daughter in this clip, it sounds so realistic:

So, Girl, please be as wonderful as people say. We need it.

 

(1) You can also read my review of her book Backward and in Heels.

(2) And I don’t mean film about transphobia are not interesting. They are, and they need to exist, at least as long as transphobia is a thing. But I wish we could have transgender characters in movies where they’re not here just to talk about transphobia. There are trans people out there living − almost − normal lives. Please talk about them or include them in your stories like it’s normal. That’s what we need. On this note, if you haven’t yet, you should definitely watch A Fantastic Woman (La Mujer Fantastica, by Sebastian Lelio).

I used to know my personality, but now I can’t get my head around it

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so.

I have had a discussion with a new friend I made in Montréal, who told me she went to a speed dating event and it was a lot of fun. So she suggested I should go to one and I rapidly replied I couldn’t attend such an event, not because I don’t like the concept (I did say it was a weird concept, but hey, don’t you agree?), but because I’m just unable to do so. Problem is, I couldn’t explain why in short sentences. I mentioned it had to do with anxiety and fear, but these feelings are only the result of something deeper.

Introversion

I am an introverted person. I have always been. It’s not the result of dysphoria, depression or any condition I may be in. It’s not a problem either. We can’t state that enough. Introversion is not something to be ashamed of, to try to conceal or beat yourself out of it, even if modern western societies are custom-made for extroverted people. It’s just a type of personality, and it’s a spectrum (like everything with personality). You may be very extroverted, very introverted, or somewhere in between. As soon as you figure out where you are in the spectrum, it’s easier to know what to look for in your social life.

For my part, I’m super introverted. I won’t say that I have one leg over the edge, but I’m pretty sure I fall outside the standard deviation. It took time for me to realise that, although, to be honest, it was painfully obvious. Socially, it has a huge implications. I can’t maintain a lot of relationships simultaneously, because I need to be deeply invested in the ones I have. If I don’t have deep relationships, I can go into depression. It has been a real struggle when I was living in Vancouver, since it was a real challenge to make any connection, let alone meaningful ones (and thanks Ashley and Bria for being there, you’ve made every moment spent with you worth it).

But one thing really changed since last year. You know it: I started a gender transition, and whereas before transition, I could easily judge how to position myself around people, now I am totally lost. And it was even worse in Vancouver, where people are really good at treating you with some kind of benevolent hypocrisy.

Making relationships through a different gender

It would be a lie to say that by observing how women live and by talking with them for years, I could be prepared to what was going to happen to me. But it is not even relevant, since people don’t behave around me like I’m a woman anyway. Of course, some try, because they want to be respectful, but in the end, they just behave like I am transgender. I know there is a difference because I spent many nights alone at bars and I have yet to get a free drink.

So not only I am not sure how people would react to me if they were seeing me as a woman, but it’s totally impossible to know how anyone would react out of the blue seeing that I am transgender (most people still only see a man with long hair). I don’t know if the person will be open-minded or a heartless bigot. Then, when I find a person who is nice enough to actually want to pursue a conversation, I realise that I don’t even know how I will react.

Neurocognitive studies have showed that mimicry and empathy are innate features helping people connect and share emotions. But I lost both to some extend. I used to be very good at understanding people and adapt to them when needed, but in the past year, I had to force myself to act differently, to erase years of conditioning, which caused interferences when interacting with people. Since I was around 20, I started to reinforce habits to counteract my dysphoric feelings (or however I thought about it back then), which caused me to become a person I really didn’t like. Now I feel stuck with those habits, and although I am working at erasing them from my behaviour, they tend to come back when I start feeling confident or close to someone. And it scares the hell out of me.

Dating with the fear of showing the wrong side of me

I stated above that we have as many sides as we have relationships, because we adapt our behaviour to our interlocutor, but it’s more like tweaking our personality to make our interaction seamless with one another (and we generally have a threshold until which we accept to malleable, after what we have an opposite reaction).

In that regard, I now have two sides of my personality: the shy woman who tries to get by in her new situation, and the douchy man who is getting murdered and left behind in a ditch, but who tends to make himself remembered at the worst moment, when things are getting serious. And my fear is just that. Having G. come in and reclaim the attention. And it happens. Often. If I am with a friend, after some time I go back again to the way I used to talk. If I end up in a party with many people, which happened a few days ago, I will have reactions that I totally hate because it reminds me of the person I used to be (1).

And since I am not stupid, I know it will happen during a date, and I just can’t take the chance.

A quick note on speed-dating

So, take all of that, the introversion, the transitioning, and the morphing personality, shake it thoroughly and splash it all on my face, and you will have an idea of how I will behave if I was thrown into the pit with countless women, as open-minded or inclusive as they may be. I think I would end up with a panic attack/nervous breakdown. I had some for less than that, some of which are even recorded on this website.

In these circumstances, speed dating is really not an option for me right now. It’s doesn’t help that I’m a very casual person, and going to a highly codified type of event is not really for my taste, even just for fun. I am much rather the kind of girl who like to meet up in a cool bar with some finger food and a drink, and have a chill and fun conversation. Maybe I will look very traditional by saying that I am rather looking at developing a friendship that can expand to something bigger, than jumping straight into bed.

I should make a topic about it, but long story short, I need to build a trusting relationship before going any further, and from what you’ve just read about my personality, I am sure you understand by now that I can’t get to trust someone enough in 5 min to think ahead.

That’s it for now, but since you diligently read until here, I will share with you the song I was listening to while I was finishing writing this article:

 


(1) OMG! I even did a quick mansplaning (transplaining?) on someone who is 10 times smarter (at least) than I am. I’m so ashamed of that. When I realised a moment later, I wished life as we know it stopped. Yes, I’m over-dramatic like that.