Trapped in the wrong body

April 8, 2014 § 6 Comments

{This is a shortened section of the monologue I gave at Transpose: Tate Modern on April 6th – a meditation on Miro, dissolution of the body through art, the universality/exclusion of bodies and ways of seeing and being seen. More on that theme features heavily in my upcoming book “Transgress/Transcend” but this is what I wanted to salvage from my notes today – with sincere gratitude to everyone involved that night – it was exceptionally special.}


Being a trans artist, a trans activist, in a public and professional way – I feel so often the weight of expectation to utter that traditional line “I feel trapped in the wrong body”. One of its variants, as a shibboleth of understanding: “I was born in the wrong body” – that I’m an accident of nature.

It’s not that I don’t sometimes feel that sentiment, deeply, reverberating through me – as a personal sorrow – as a way of making sense of all the times I tried to meet my own eyes in the mirror and couldn’t see myself. But that’s the thing – that pain that I bear, because of the mismatch between my body map and the physical presence of my body – it is something personal, and isn’t what I want to talk about here.

Because I am trapped in the wrong body – constantly, consistently – but by society, not nature. It’s being looked at and appraised by eyes that consider me solely through the light of their own experience. It’s being physically examined by doctors who map the meanings of their labels onto me without my consent. It’s acquaintances, colleagues, strangers, carving me up and dividing me out and presenting myself back to myself as lacking, and in need of their interpretation. This is how I’m not trans enough. This is how I’ll never be masculine enough. This – my voiceis too feminine – these – my eyes, my lips, my chin – can only ever be those of a woman. 

I am not a boy trapped in the body of a girl – my selfhood is not something divided against itself, swallowed up by and choking on itself – but it is something suffocated by the weight of the body imposed upon it by society.

The claustrophobia of that is hard to manage – as a performer, particularly – to go out before an audience and know that what they see is not what I know is there. And fear that, if that’s what they see, that maybe it’s enough to overwrite what I feel, and set itself up in my place.

Our accepted narrative of trans experience tells me that I should change my body so as to be freed from its inborn ‘wrongness’ – to bring myself into alignment. Well, I’ve changed my body – I’ve changed it for myself, to be able to live in it and with it, to ease my dysphoria, to give myself the care I needed. I continue to change it – because my body is a dynamic entity, and I have personal compromises to make. But, again – that change is personal to me, and it’s my business, not that of strangers. The bodily change I want to see is in the images and meanings imposed upon our bodies by each other.

If you see me with eyes clouded by a lifetime of false assumptions, tropes, stereotypes, lies – it’s not really me that you’re seeing at all. The body you’re placing on me is of your making, not mine – and I want you to take it back, and let it go.

I don’t want us to stand facing each other, pushing outwards, each trying to impress the other with the singular view we have. I want you to stand next to me, and me to you, and share with me what I see with you, and what you see with me.

I am trying to see you. Please try to see me.





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