KATHERINE CUMMINGS

When I decided to transition I didn’t have the option of melting into society, which is what a lot of transgender people do. I had a family to support, and responsibilities to honour. Since I couldn’t disappear, I decided to make my visibility useful by writing my book Katherine’s Diary. I relaunched it last year.

I didn’t feel courageous for writing the book initially; I felt desperate. When people tell me how brave I am, I say it’s not brave to jump off a cliff if there is a bushfire pushing you off. You just hope there is deep water underneath.

So it wasn’t courage … determination perhaps. There are many suicides in the ranks of transgenders. Some people give up, some people crash through.

When I sat down to write the book, I wanted to make clear to people that there were differences between transvestites, transgenders, homosexuals, and drag queens -” there is a whole spectrum. Nothing is better than any other thing, but they are different and indeed you can belong in more than one group.

The idea that transgender is taken as an umbrella term by many people seems to miss the point that gender is not sex, that we do not change our sex when we reassign. What we do is change our social, or perceived, gender to what has always been our innate gender. Gender is what determines whether someone says you are he or she, and has got nothing to do with sexuality.

The term transsexual does not bother me. I know what people are talking about when they say transsexual, but there are some people who say you are not really transsexual unless you have been reassigned surgically and I think that is nonsense. Reassignment surgery is a convenience to make it easier for one to fit into one’s social role from the point of view of gender. But it is no more important than having a nose job, or your trachea shaved to get rid of an Adam’s apple, as far as changing the person you are -“ the person you are is in your head.

I wanted to transition as soon as I found out it was possible. I had never dreamed that it could be done until 1952 when Christine Jorgensen had her operation, and I suddenly realised my impossible dream was a possible dream. All my life I had wanted to be a girl or a woman, I just thought it was as unlikely as wanting to be a bird in the sky or a rabbit in the field. It was something I wanted and could never have.

The first couple of years after transition were a learning experience. I went through what I called the teenager in fast forward thing. I was over 50 years old, but I was into tight skirts and high heels and plunging necklines.

Gradually I settled into the fact that this was just life, and I seldom wear high heels these days. If I am going to a social function, yes, I will dress up, but most of the time I am just like the woman next door.

I felt very liberated by the transition. My breasts had grown, my body hair had almost disappeared, and my body fat had redistributed itself into a more feminine shape. But the final operation did confirm that I had no reason to hide any part of myself. Up until that point if I went to the beach or the gymnasium I had to be careful of not offending other people by showing bits that were inappropriate to my new gender role. It wasn’t anything to do with me, it was my respect for other people’s feelings.

I have resolved the conflict between my desire to be a woman, and actually being a woman, to the extent that I don’t think it really matters. There is such a wide spectrum of genetic women and such a wide spectrum of transgender women, that there are bound to be overlaps. If a person is prepared to live in a given gender role for the whole of her life and fulfil all the obligations of that role, it doesn’t matter what the so-called truth is.

info: Katherine’s Diary: The Story of a Transsexual is available to order directly from Beaujon Press, PO Box 742, Woy Woy, 2256. It costs $35 and Beaujon will stand the postage cost anywhere in Australia.

© Star Observer 2014 | Pick up your copy of Star Observer every Friday or Join us on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.