Sensuous in Satin

Reflections on Transgender life

Do you have a ticket for your destination?

Posted by Adrian • Wednesday, April 16. 2003 • Category: Being transgender
“Mummy when I grow up I want to be a nurse”

From an early age most of us are able to separate our ambition and dreams from reality. Even though children live in a word of their own imagination they know the difference between playing at being a nurse and actually being a nurse. No tears are shed when you tell the child that they will have to wait before they can work in a hospital.

We often use different language to communicate our goals and our reality. If my dream is to stop work in ten years time when I am 55 and play golf till I drop, would I tell my family that I am “an early retiree”? Or would I separate the dream from reality by announcing that I “hoped to retire early”?

In many aspects life is a journey, with an ultimate destination or goal and the steps we take to achieve that goal. The stops on the way often have labels, such as “Student”, “Full-time employment”, “Promotion”. And the goal also has a label such as “Nurse”. Confusing the destination with the stops on the way is mixing dreams with reality.

Have you got a ticket for your destination, and do you know the stops to get there?


“Mummy I’m going to be a transsexual so I need to crossdress”


Battles unfold every day in the transgender community when someone labels themselves or others. Think of sentences with the words “Crossdresser”, Transexual”, “Hormones”, “Surgery” and “Full-time”. How often are these labels combined to justify some action or difference in actions? Why does this cause conflict and argument when labels are such a fundamental part of every journey in life?

Faced with such divisive arguments people often deny the need for labels. They seek to avoid conflict by advocating a cohesive community with shared goals. But this implies that we are all on the same journey, and all sitting in same carriage, in the same station. Without labels there can be no journey, no destination, no diversity. To deny the obvious differences in our community is remain in our dreams and never surface to reality.

“Mummy I’m wearing your dress so I must be a transsexual”

The general public perceives a difference between a athlete born with male genitalia participating in a women’s event, and finding their husband gallivanting round the house dressed in expensive lingerie. They will probably label one as a transsexual and the other as a fetish. These labels have meaning. But when they meet a lady wearing a dress can they perceive if the person was born male, how often they wear a skirt, if they are taking hormones, or what genitalia they currently have?

If a label neither materially changes the perceptions of others, nor changes their expectations of how they wish to be treated it has little value.

The label “on hormones” is frequently used in our community, But it just leads to more questions such as “which hormones?”, “how many hormones?”, “how long for ?” and so on. Such labels tell us nothing on their own and are highly subjective. Although they have no factual value in communicating where we are on our journey we persist in using them to assert some superior status or to justify some other action. It is this use of labels that seems bound to cause conflict.

The transgender journey is not a race, and the route to our various destinations are not the same. We don’t all pass through the same stations and our stops different in length. When we think of labels for the steps to our goal, we must remember they are not necessarily relevant to others. Often the only value in being able to label our stage is to reflect achievement towards a personal goal.

Some sensitivity and awareness to the subjective nature of these labels would go a long way to reducing conflict and argument. If the stops on our journey are an objective assessment of reality their labels will be meaningful and of value to others.

“Mummy, I am a transsexual so does that mean I can live full-time as a woman?”

We have seen that the labels for the stages of our journey should be grounded in reality. In contrast, the labelling of our goals ultimately comes from our dreams. Driven by unrelenting inner pressures, each transgender person is heading somewhere; though like a good mystery tour, where we are heading may not be obvious to everyone at the start. Our destination is often not printed on the ticket.

Sharing our goals and destination is important. The label we assign to those dreams should have value and meaning to others. It can allow them to provide appropriate advice and counselling, put our decisions into context, and understand how long and difficult the journey might be.

Sadly it seems that many of us spend too long in our dreams and we find it easier to journey in our mind. Labels for the stops get confused with labels for destinations, and the dream is no longer where we are going, but how far we have gone. We confuse others whilst deceiving ourselves.

The statement “I am transsexual” starts to take on an ambiguous meaning encompassing everything from labelling the first stop on the journey - “I’ve just discovered that I’m really a girl and am about to embark on a long journey of transformation” to the final destination “My transformation is complete - I’ve had surgery and now am indistinguishable physically and mentally from a genetic female in society”.

When important labels are devalued in this way we do ourselves a disservice. Communication with those around us is obscured, and through misinterpretation we create conflict or confusion.

Perhaps the only person who can state “I am a transsexual” is someone at the end of their journey. But having reached their destination, and handed in the ticket, the label would probably have little value. For everyone else the label is an expression of a goal, and like the child wanting to be a nurse, perhaps they really mean “I want to be a transsexual”.

“Mummy, please take me seriously I have a diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder


Before we leave the subject of labels, we should touch on a third category of label. Sometimes we find it necessary to explain why, and how we are travelling, just as we might explain that we are in town on “a business trip”, or travelling “first class”.

On the transgender journey it isn’t as simple as who paid for the ticket or how much they paid. Often a diagnosable medical condition might be used to explain why we are travelling, and the doctor we are seeing might explain how. But once again the information provided by these labels is of little value to others. Are we really saying that a diagnosed status is a different reason for travelling than an undiagnosed condition?

When we describe the attributes of our journey in this way, the labels we use are often a barely disguised request for others to take our trip seriously. If we are seen to be travelling “first-class” then we may gain more respect and credibility. But the very same actions belittle the motives of those travelling behind in economy.

In what must be the ultimate example of label re-use, being “transsexual” extends beyond being a destination, and beyond being a description of a stage, to become the very reason for travelling. Is it any surprise that describing ourselves in such an ambiguous way is interpreted as being divisive?

“Mummy when I grow up I want to be a transsexual, so can I cross-dress in your clothes now and play at being a nurse”?

Individuality and diversity are fundamental properties of the transgender community.
Labels have an important role in communicating our different goals and identifying how we are progressing on our journey. We use them to let others know the destination on our ticket and the station we are currently passing though.

The label on our ticket may be an intangible goal towards which we strive, but we should describe our current progress with an objective verifiable label. When we ignore this difference it is no longer clear to others if we are travelling or if we have arrived. Nor can they tell if we are actually travelling or if we are just journeying in our imagination.

So what is the destination on your ticket?


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