"So what does 'transgender' mean, exactly?"
Repeating the explanation to one man after another in the dating world wearied me to the point where I started sending guys to the Wikipedia page for Transgender. But then I visited it and read the first line: "Transgender is the state of one's gender identity or gender expression not matching one's assigned sex."
That umbrella definition does not encompass me today - "my assigned sex" is female now, and so is my "gender identity" - though whatever "gender identity" means, as opposed to just "gender," I don't claim to understand. "Gender identity" purports to refer to a person's inherent sense of their own gender, but my gender has always been female, thus I have never seen a disconnect, only so with my sex, which was all wrong until it was changed.
The Wiki definition goes on to give what is, I guess, a non-exhaustive set of examples of what transgender can mean. In essence, they appear to be: gender non-conformity; the feeling that the sex a person was assigned at birth is a "false or incomplete description;" or a person's non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender assigned at birth.
The last option probably gets closest of all three to how I see myself. Yet it seeks to define by exclusion.
What-my-body-is-not is of no help in communicating what-my-body-is.
Back in 2003, when I first announced to my parents that I was going to undergo a "gender transition," I failed to see what the BFD was.
"You're changing your body habitus," said my dad, a physician, using the medical term for physique and body build. "Can't you see that change affects other people?"
I spent the first couple years trying to convince him that I was not changing anything. I had always been female and always would be; I was just transitioning - to a body in harmony with my soul.
But my dad was right. Everything changed.
I went from being disgusted by my body to feeling comfortable in my own skin - overnight. This transformation gave me the freedom to dream what life could be like now that the obstacle in between my body and me had been transformed into a stepping stone. The only limits were my dreams themselves.
At the heart of these dreams was the hope of being loved.
I was dating straight men now. In the beginning, I hazarded my soul, believing that faith in the good of others would protect me. It did not work. Most men did not want to be with me after I talked to them about my past; they could not wait to get away.
As for those who did, they wanted to be "discrete" so that no one would know.
No way. I did not fight to be who I am, I did not go under the knife to get the right body parts, I did not risk everything to remain a dirty little secret, an experiment, a dalliance, a fantasy. Even if I felt like a second-class person, I was still a human being.
I resorted to the accepted terminology as a sort of refuge against the world. I used concepts like "gender identity" and euphemisms such as "sex reassignment surgery" to school anyone who trespassed my boundaries, which I set and changed at whim.
It was not fair to behave that way with men. Some were trying their best.
Besides, my indignation was dishonest: how could I lecture them on my "gender identity" when I did not have one, since I have had only one gender my whole life? And as for my sex, it was not "reassigned" - it was changed.
So I stopped beating around the bush.
"The word you may know for me is 'transsexual.' I was born in a boy's body. I had a sex change. Now I am completely female."
It may not be the most politically correct explanation. But it's true, and people know what I mean.
And there is nothing wrong with change, anyway. As a therapist I once saw in Guatemala - a paraplegic who dozed off during sessions, I swear it - used to tell me, "Life is change. When we stop changing, we die."