Let’s clear up a big misconception before we begin, in just one sentence: it is not only binary transgender people who transition, non-binary ones can and do too. Done.
And I decided, inspired by the idea that I could return to Cambridge after over a year away and make people go “wow, where did Jas go and who is that Dionysus-esque figure of ultimate androgyny over there?” that I would do as much of my transition as possible whilst in the Caribbean. But it’s not been as simple as I had planned.
There are some things which make transitioning in the Caribbean easier than at home. The best is undoubtedly that nobody knows me, so every time I meet someone new they see me as I am now, not in comparison to how I was before. What is also great is that the pace of life in Guadeloupe is much slower than in Europe, so we have a huge advantage here of time. I do have time now to spend hours working on getting rid of my hips and broadening my shoulders and developing a six pack, and to study my posture in the mirror for hours and figure out how to make it less ‘perceived female’, and to train my voice into getting lower.
But how about the stuff that is not so good? There are some practical issues which I had never thought of but which can be a bigger problem than expected. For example, when I decided to dye my hair back to its natural colour I didn’t trust myself to do it so decided to go to a hairdresser. But in a country whose population is just 5% white, everywhere I went could do me a weave or chemically straighten an afro, but the limp Caucasian hair I presented them with left them at a total loss.
The next is a cultural problem. When a ten minute walk can involve twenty cat-calls, approaches, offers of dinner or even marriage with “la petite blanche”, you certainly know about it when people see you as a woman. When you have been making a great effort to change the way you look and act and avoid being read as a woman at all costs, having such a degrading and intimidating confirmation of the fact that the efforts are in vain is heart breaking. Catcalling and feeling fetishized are disgusting at the best of times, but it takes on this added element of being a reminder that other people control their perception of you, and not you. You feel helpless and frustrated about how you were born and how society is. Transition is an experience that can make you feel really vulnerable and this is really not what you need.
The final disadvantage I want to mention is the heat. It may sound silly at first, but passing for a gender other than the one assigned at birth can involve a certain amount of, I hate to say it, hiding what you have got anatomy wise. In a cold environment where clothes can be layered and worn baggy we can make ourselves a cocoon of non-gendered-concealing-warmth. But when you are already sweating whilst naked, there is no way you are going to survive layered up in shirts and binders; you are going to have to show both flesh and figure. And when half of your life is spent in the sea, don’t even mention the nightmare of swimwear (that can and probably will be a whole article of its own).
Now, my nugget of transition-related advice this week: get your eyebrow pierced; it makes you feel like a badass.
Jas Rainbow (GR. Columnist)