Paris Lees

What it Feels Like For a Girl

Paris Lees knows...

Do I look like a woman? When we first started ‘dressing up’, my transgender friends and I were obsessed with this question. We must have asked each other 100 times before we dared leave the house. I’ve been through various changes since then though. I’ve lost my facial hair and flat chest, bad clothes, cheap wigs and that general awkwardness you often see in early transition. But I can’t lose that question. I’ve given it a makeover instead. “Do I look OK?” Emphasis on OK. My friends know what I mean.

Are you a boy or a girl? That’s the real question. The one I hate. The one you answer “yes” to if you’re witty. I heard it recently, for the first time in years. When it happens I’m with my gay friend, Dylan, trying to get a cab in central London. Two guys stop to talk. I think they’re Turkish. They’re drunk. We’re drunk. We chat. I try to stop taxis. And then one of them asks me, flat out: are you a man or a girl? I pretend I don’t understand. Dylan and I end up in a rickshaw. He’s surprised. I’m surprised. I don’t usually get asked stuff like this, these days. I had some rude questions last year, but that was different – I’d been telling people about my transgender crusading. I didn’t say anything like that to our Turkish friends though.

What gave me away? My appearance? Voice? Behaviour? Dylan says I wasn’t being very ‘ladylike’ (for want of a better word) and I agree. I was waving my legs about and being raucous and confident and flirty. But I can’t help thinking: if I were short and petite and blonde and 16 and born female, it wouldn’t matter how I acted. No one would ever ask me that question.

I wonder about other trans women who are generally considered to ‘pass’. Do they get this? You can fool some of the people some of the time, as they say. Not that being trans is about ‘fooling’ people. But is it possible to pass all the time – in every situation, for the rest of your life? I’m not sure. Not convinced, you might say. I know women – ‘regular’, born-with-vaginas women – get asked it sometimes. Tall women. Loud women. Women with strong features or other attributes we associate with men. It’s not something women like to talk about. I’ve been at parties before when it’s happened. It sucks.

I know I pass, on the whole. I’m lucky. I could tell you about the straight guys chatting me up on the beach in Ibiza. Or the woman who does my nails, who regularly sees me without makeup, and who I’m sure hasn’t got a clue. Or every time I’ve asked someone for the nearest toilet and they’ve directed me to the ladies. I need to tell you about these things because it makes me feel better and, at some point, I’m going to have to leave the house again. I have an important meeting soon. I have to catch a train. I don’t feel like it, but I’ll go – I’ll fetch some courage from that place I always do. And I daresay the majority of people I meet will still see me as I see myself. A woman. Will they see the anxiety too, the paranoia and fear that has returned?

I talk to myself. Maybe he’d asked 10 other women the same question that night. Maybe he’d seen my picture somewhere. Or maybe, Paris, 1 in 1000 people will pick up on the fact that you are trans. And you happened to meet that person. You can’t let him throw you off track. There’s another voice, though. It says I’m foolish. That maybe it’s 10 in 1000. Or 100. Or 999. This second voice shouts doubts. The shop assistant who smiled at me last week – was that, in fact, a knowing grin? The guy who chatted my friend up and not me – did he just prefer her? Or did he ‘know’? I look in the mirror and decide that yes, I do look like a woman. An unhappy one. I’m hoping she’ll crack a smile again soon.

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