Living In Someone Else’s Skin by James Buchanan


Much has been written recently about what it means to be the T in GBLTQ and what’s the real deal of being transgender. Most “straights” like me don’t know a hell of a lot about what the T means, and I must admit that although I have a couple of friends who are transgender I don’t ask them personal questions because that would be an invasion of their privacy, so I’m not aware of the difficulties they experience on a daily basis. Transgender individuals find it difficult to talk about their sexuality, like most folks. I do know what being “gender fluid” means because of my interview with Rowan McBride two years ago linked here, however the personal toll that being trans* takes on those individuals who identify as such is not generally well known.

So I asked James Buchanan, someone who knows a thing or two about being transgender, to write an essay explaining what the term means to those who are living it every day of their lives. I wanted to do this to educate the rest of us who are either straight or GBLQ, but also to show how incredibly difficult it is to be transgender, both emotionally and financially. Here’s James’s essay:


Bisexuals often joke that they’re the bastard step-children of the queer movement. If you’re under the T wing you often end up feeling like the odd cousin everyone else wants to keep locked up in the attic.

Did you ever get invited to a party because someone felt obligated to? Like your really popular cousin who extended the invite with a glare and the “it would be better if you didn’t actually show up, but if you have to then sit in the corner and don’t talk to anyone,” instruction.

Welcome to the T in LGBTQ. It is not a popular place to be.

I’m going to set some ground rules for my discussion. First, how I use my terms. These are not necessarily the most accepted terms for discussion, but they will simplify things for this post. SEX means the plumbing you were born with. GENDER is the personal perception/presentation of identity as male, female, both or neither. SEXUALITY deals with the attraction to a particular sex. Second, I am not here to “out” anyone or speculate on whether any one person’s sex matches their gender. If you wish to ask questions of me at the end of this post, I’ll answer them within reason and if others wish to chime in with their stories, please treat them with respect.

What does it mean to be transgender? The most basic way to think about it: a person’s gender does not fit their sex. You wake up every morning feeling a little like you’re living in someone else’s skin – you know the face in the mirror, you’ve seen it for years, but it’s not truly the you underneath it.

This can manifest itself through being a transsexual; actively engaging in medical transition from one sex to the other. However, genderqueer folks range along a spectrum of those who just strongly identify with a gender that does not match their sex through those who live a 24/7 life as the gender of their identity but for financial, medical or personal reasons do seek and/or feel compelled to embark on medical transition. There are those whose gender is androgynous, who present as neither gender/sex, or gender-fluid individuals that vary their outward expression of gender from day to day or hour to hour.

If you are cis-gender, it means your outward presentation of gender is predominately consistent with your sex – a man can be a cis-gendered and effeminate-gay if his sex, gender and sexuality all line up on the same side of the street. A woman could be a butch lesbian who is not transgender if she just feels more comfortable in trucker shirts but the perception of her gender does not conflict with her sex.

It’s also important to remember that cross-dressers, or transvestites, are not the same as drag queens or transsexuals…Most cross-dressers are not gay or bisexual and proudly identify as male.”

Also remember that not all transsexuals who choose medical transition chose full medical transition. They may only undergo hormone treatment to create muscle or soften the body’s appearance. There maybe facial feminization/masculinization surgery. Either F2M or M2F may only undergo “top” surgery to deal with the secondary sex characteristic of breasts without seeking genital reassignment (which carries a lot of risk) or they may include genital surgery in their choices.

James at YAOI.con

Just getting to the point of being allowed (yes, allowed) to undergo any transition assistance requires years of therapy and in many cases a commitment to living fully as the desired gender identity for years. That means erasing and disavowing all suggestions of that person’s current sex and conforming to the hyper stereotypes of the desired gender. Those that desire all of the available medical and surgical treatments may never be able to fund the several hundred thousand dollars it takes to achieve it. Any lapse in maintaining the boundaries, from the view of the “professionals,” may disqualify an individual, who has otherwise maintained the gender appropriate stereotypes for years, from reassignment.

Think about this outward control on a person’s gender identity.

A woman who wishes to undergo breast enlargement, tummy tucks and various rounds of plastic surgery to attain her goal of looking like a human Barbie doll requires nothing more than a credit card. Although the end result may be freaky to many people, she is conforming within the stereotype of her sex and no surgeon faced censor for not suggesting she get some therapy first.

However, a young transfeminine person (male sexed but female gendered) who has raised the nearly $4,000 a routine breast augmentation requires will be turned away by most reputable plastic surgeons unless she has proof from several psychiatric professionals that she truly suffers from a psychiatric problem of Gender Identity Disorder that can only be treated by surgery to conform her sex (Male) to her gender (Female). There is a great discussion (it is an academic one) about one man’s quest to achieve a double mastectomy and the roadblocks of achieving same – he never was able to conform his “gender” narrative to the exceedingly strict requirements to attain transition.

So, at the outset, Transgender persons labor under this medical perception that they’re “sick.” The second hurdle is whether a person is “Transgender enough.” To quote Rachel Pollack:

“What sense does it make to label some people as true transsexuals, and others as secondary, or confused, or imitation? Whom does such an attitude serve? I can think of no one but the gatekeepers, those who would seize the power of life and death by demanding that transsexuals satisfy an arbitrary standard. To accept such standards, to rank ourselves and others according to a hierarchy of true trans sexuality, to try to recast our own histories to make sure they fit the approved model, can only tear us down, all of us, even the ones lucky enough to match that model.” (emphasis is mine)

What is a gender narrative? It is, in short, the sum of a Transgendered person’s life to be regurgitated upon command whenever one’s gender is

Transgender Pride flag

in question. When in a group of transgendered folks, much like in Alcoholics’ Anonymous, you are expected to articulate your gender narrative in order to achieve inclusion to the group – “Hi, I’m James, and I’m gender-nonconforming” – unlike AA, in many situations, that narrative does not guarantee you immediate inclusion and sympathy from the group. Transgender persons, to our own detriment, have internalized the arbitrary standard of “genuineness” imposed by the cis-gendered world. And there is often a ferocious policing of that standard within the community.

The Lesbian and Gay community also have their own standards of conformity. If someone is female sexed but male gendered they may find themselves ostracized by the Lesbian majority upon transition – they have chosen to be a “straight” guy – one who will never be seen as a true male by outside society. Similarly, as one gay man I know said, “If I want dick, I want dick – I don’t want it wrapped up in a dress with lip-gloss and eyeliner;” too female to be gay, but not female enough to be straight. One of the more prominent gay activists of our time is constantly being “glitter bombed” by transgender activists for being transphobic. The damning words from their mouths, those who are supposedly “allies” in LGBTQ alphabet soup are often more hurtful, and sometimes more vitriolic, than that of “straights.”

Outside “straight” society also asserts control over the normal a transgendered person has to negotiate. As a friend once expressed it in the most basic way: the dilemma of standing outside the men’s and women’s restrooms and trying to gauge which one you’re going to get less flack for using that day. The bathroom-enforcers will go after you if you too strongly present as the sex opposite to the bathroom choice you’ve made. There is an entire site dedicated to “safe” bathrooms for the T community, where you can take a leak without getting harassed. There are hundreds of those types of issues that a transgendered person must negotiate every day. Crossing the boundary between perception and reality can have serious consequences – from a mere refusal to serve a transgendered person to physical violence. Most who live along the transgendered spectrum have suffered somewhere along those lines.

Personal relationships are a field of land-mines about how much to reveal and when. Will your lover still love you – or is their love of you conditioned upon your sex. If you met your lover when presenting as your gender when do you tell them that your gender is not your sex? Will your lover leave you when you feel comfortable enough to tell them something it’s taken you a life time to come to terms with? What if your self awareness comes long after you’re already in a stable relationship? You love this person…and they’re liable to reject you for who you are. It is a terrible, soul crushing fear for many.

I know I haven’t settled anything here. I hope I’ve made you think and stop for a moment and consider someone else’s gender narrative a bit. You may feel, “betrayed,” when you discover someone’s sex is not their gender…

But imagine, if you will, sitting in traffic wondering if you could get a double mastectomy by binding so tight that you actually did damage to the structure of your breasts or if you mutilated your dick enough in some “freak” accident would the doctors go with reassignment? Imagine living day to day wondering if today is the day someone makes a scene about what you look like or, even, how bad will today’s scene be? Imagine seeing yourself in your dreams and waking up to the reflection in the mirror.

Imagine living every day of your life, living in someone else’s skin.


60 thoughts on “Living In Someone Else’s Skin by James Buchanan

  1. sammy2006

    Oh Mr. Buchanan, first off thank you. Not only was this an educational post, it was also perhaps one of the bravest I have ever read. I have only to date had the honor of having one transgendered friend. He is still considered a she by most of our sphere but to me–well, he will always be my best buddy. His life has been so terribly difficult. He has endured everything from being beaten up on campus to being left at restaurants by dates that fled the scene after discovering the “truth”. But the way in which he and you not only persevere but live with dignity is amazing. I have no questions. I simply wanted to take a moment to thank you for sharing this most intimate aspect of your life and for allowing us a small glimpse into your reality. Thank you!

  2. Sirius

    I also want to thank you and basically echo what sammy2006 wrote, except I do not have in real life any friends who I know to be transgendered. Thank you so much for writing this post.

    1. James Buchanan

      You probably know people who fall along the winding road of gender expression. I will say it’s much easier to tell a bunch of “virtual” strangers you may never meet than someone you’ve known for years and years.

  3. Jan

    Thank you for writing this, I have read posts by you and Aleks Voinov over the last few weeks that have moved me to tears. I might not like what I see in my mirror, but at least it the inside and the outside match.

    What makes me so sad is that we all judge so much by appearance. I was discussing online with some friends another friend who’s gender and identity are with held. The pertinent point of the discussion was that that person is kind, generous and funny and we consider him a friend. If we were able to meet for coffee we would be expecting a friend to walk through the door, regardless of plumbing, cowboy boots or pigtails.
    Take care, you are one of the good guys. xx

    1. James Buchanan

      I’m not sure I’m a “good guy”…I do collections for a living after all :shock: , but I do think we all need to see people as human beings first and foremost and then the rest of it doesn’t much matter

  4. Jason

    I adore you, James. I might want to lock you in a attic but it would be so I can play with you. :)


    1. James Buchanan

      Schönen danke. Someday I will make it back to the UK and we’ll have to get thoroughly trashed (pissed)in some pub while I put you in hysterics with my horrible HS German.

  5. LadyM

    For those of us who don’t have real life trans* friends or acquaintances (that we know of), there is so much to be learned from this post, so much to contemplate. Thank you so much for writing this.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying here that I love your books and your characters, Joe especially. :)

  6. AJ Llewellyn

    Awesome post James, thank you for writing it. It’s a bad feeling to be accused of faking something and being ridiculed…but it’s a strong indication of the total lack of understanding on the part of so many who are in any way affiliated with the GLBTQ community – and our society in general.

    1. Wave Post author

      I wasn’t going to respond but since I wrote a post about Faking It that seems to be referenced in your comment, I want to make it clear that I asked James to write this post, not the other way around. I have always had a high regard for James’s integrity which is the reason I asked him to write about being trans.

      This site will continue to focus on any areas that I feel are relevant to our community and I will continue to ask bloggers/authors to write on topics about which they have some expertise.

    2. James Buchanan

      Our own GQ/T community often goes at each other (sadly… very, very sadly) and we just should not. And if we do it then it’s hard to fault the Cis/Straight GLB rest of the world for following out lead.

      Not that they should, but the collective we haven’t been particularly good role models ourselves.

  7. Raine

    Like all the previous people who have commented I have found this a very moving piece of writing. I also am so pleased to have learnt something as well. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and reality with such skill.

  8. Charming

    I do have a question, but even as I ask it I think it may be unanswerable. I am fine with my gender, and it is certainly convenient since I am attracted to men and that makes me both cisgender and straight. But I also feel fine about the idea of being a man. I can’t know for sure, of course, but when I have been mistaken for a man I haven’t minded much, and find the idea intriguing rather than repugnant.

    So my question is: can you give me some insight as to why being a particular gender matters so much? If the answer is that people just feel the way they feel and that’s all you can tell me, that’s fine but I would like to understand better.

    1. James Buchanan

      It depends on the person. Which is sort of the “non-answer” you were expecting.

      I will tell you that I am fine with people referring to me as either male (the gender I identify with fairly strongly and present as most often) or female (my sex) ….and most folks have asked me first. And it doesn’t offend me when people don’t ask, bugs me some, but I generally have an “if it doesn’t physically hurt me” well, I have bigger fish to fry in my life. But then again, I’m at a place and age (God Help Me) where I’ve learned that picking my battles saves my mental health. I don’t “tilt at windmills,” I also don’t run headfirst at brick walls expecting to be able to bust through them.

      Now for some people, that battle is their mental health. They have a deep emotional need to have their gender match their sex.

      There are many who pursue transition fully. There are also a great many who pursue transition believing (when they start) they want full transition and then deciding along the route that, “hey, this spot is good for me.”

      Part of it, is the world is still a world of 1s and 0s. We are “meat computers” who process information in an inclusive/exclusive on/off mind-frame. So if I am not 0 I must be 1 because there is no .5 or .75 or .0125. So some folks are still in the “it’s on” (1) or “it’s off” (0) mode and some of us have found the “dimmer switch” that allows on or off to be a gradient.

      Society as a whole, however, has not discovered the “dimmer switch.”

  9. Natasha

    It was announced in the newspapers today that they will be acknowledging transgender identity at schools. Starting with primary school children, it will be discussed along with other GBL issues. The government hopes to be proactive in stamping out transgendered phobia.

  10. Angelia Sparrow

    Wonderful post.

    I’ve known and encountered a few transfolk over the years, some of whom were willing to talk as well and educationally as James has here, others of whom were less well-spoken. I have a few gender-queer friends, mostly younger. They explain, but I don’t completely get it.

    I hate that there are so many hoops to jump through and that the doctors can only be convinced by hyper-stereotypical behavior. And have they ever gotten phalloplasty into anything workable yet? Most FtMs I know went with top surgery, hormones and nothing else.

    Poppy Brite is chronicling transition right now and I find it fascinating. One of my favorite musicians made the change, and I was fortunate enough to hear him after his voice got settled.

  11. Katrina Strauss

    Hey everyone! I’ve privately shared my thoughts with James, ones which I won’t share here, except to say even those of us who DO know and love transgender people can still learn from what this post has to say.

    Mainly, I’m popping in to pass the word that James is stuck in trial, can’t access Wave’s site from the phone for some reason, and is not meaning to ignore anybody!

    1. James Buchanan

      Thank you for letting everyone know.

      Today SUCKED> an “hour” long matter took all day to try. At least my client representative is an engaging and fun person to have lunch with.

      Upshot is I lost case in chief, but the judge also thought the guy was really cagy and not trustworthy about other stuff so the judge didn’t award him costs of defense.

  12. Merrian

    Thanks for this thoughtful sharing about being transgendered. I appreciate your willingness to talk to us.

  13. DC Juris

    Fabulous post! I still get sick to my stomach when I think about the day my husband and I sat down to seriously talk about my gender issues. It was clear I was no longer just the “butchy chick” he’d married. I was becoming more and more what I wanted and needed to be, and that was male. Having that discussion with my straight as an arrow husband was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In my head, I faced the choice of being who I was meant to be – and ultimately my sanity – or my marriage. I didn’t have to pick. He stood by me, and still does. But the fear of losing the *only* person who, to that point, had ever shown me any sort of love… I’d sooner have stepped into six lanes of moving traffic or been locked in a room with a dozen rabid dogs than have that conversation.

    *Everything* is harder when you’re trans. Everything. Things you didn’t expect to be harder. Things that *shouldn’t* be harder. Especially in small towns like this one. I cherish the days I don’t have to leave my house.

    The worst part, for me, is being an issue for my loved ones. I never wanted to be something they had to explain. I never wanted to be something that drew unwanted negative attention to them. I never wanted them to be looked at differently. I just wanted to be me. I just wanted to live. But when I see someone treating my husband like he’s trash because he’s with me… God, that just absolutely kills me. He’s the best person in the world, and the thought that I tarnish that eats at me. He’s wonderful about it all – he couldn’t give two shits what anyone says or thinks about him.

    But I can’t deny who I am any more than I can stop breathing. This is who I was meant to be. It’s an exhausting existence, but ultimately, it’s worth it.

    1. James Buchanan

      Yeah, I have not come out to my parents…but then again, we live in a COUNTY that is bigger than some STATES and I, at least, fit their basic gender model… I have SG, I have two spawn and I will dress towards the more fem spectrum for family special events.

      SG and I have worked it out between us. And HOLY CRAP I AM SO GLAD I HAVE HIM!!!!

      About 1/3 the time the spawn call me dad. We’ve discussed why they shouldn’t bring it up to my folks…in the, it doesn’t matter to our relationship to them vein, but we can talk about it if they really feel it needs to come up. So far it hasn’t.

      But I always worry. Is it going to come up? Is someone going to comment? What happens if they do?

  14. Xakara

    Thank you for this post on every level, James. I especially appreciate that you touched on being genderqueer/genderfluid and the spectrum that covers.

    Being dual-gendered, transitioning isn’t an option. I would still only present as half of who I am. If part of me has to shine through my biological sex, without being manifest, external female/internal male is the best configuration…for me. But in no way does that separate me from my male gender and trans-identity.

    There are many, many dual-gendered women and men, who don’t feel any less like women for also being male, and no less like men for also being female. That we have no intention to transition and have found a peace with where we are, doesn’t negate our gender variance, but too often it’s treated as if it does. So thank you for acknowledging that we’re out here, and stand in our own part of the struggle as well.


    1. James Buchanan

      and that is the only goal that matters…do we find peace within ourselves.

      That should be, but unfortunately is not, the standard. Is this individual at peace within themselves as to their gender.

    2. James Buchanan

      and I will say, I have no interest in medical transition…for me b/c I have found someone who accepts my female bodied state and my mental male bodied attitude. He says I’m the “coolest guy with tits he knows.” Yes that’s a base statement, but it’s also a core truth for him. He sees me as neither truly male or females. I’m a guy. I have a predominately female body…and he doesn’t “see” that.

      and I look at genital reassignment and it won’t give me (at this state of the game) the fully functioning dick I would want. At least the plumbing I have now functions. I’m not going to kill function for appearance. Some people need the appearance to manifest to feel satisfied….it’s not me.

      1. Xakara

        I only know two individuals that have had gential reassignment, and functionality is at the core for most of those who decided against it. It’s a perfectly valid position to take with the current technology, and yet, it judged.

        I’ve often thought about what it would mean if they perfected F2M genital reassignment. It’s a tantilizing thought, but in the end I, and those like me, would still be left out. I mean if outright changing ones gender is a hurdle and hoop extravaganza, can you imagine wanting to *blend* your gender with surgical intervention?

        My breasts are healthy and sensitive, my ovaries and uterus are healthy and doing their thing, but somehow I could get a doctor to agree that it’s okay to remove these, yet no one would conisder approving a procedure to *add* a functioning penis, and hormones to increase muscle mass–despite the fact that it would be the truest expresson of my gender identity…

        1. Xakara

          We have a long way to go, both within our community and in the mainstream. But I have to believe we’ll get there.

          I’m so happy for you that you found someone that accepts you as you are. I’ve been blessed as well. I pray more in our community find the partner or partners that will honor them where they are, for who they are.


    3. Dusk Peterson

      One of the more amusing-though-embarrassing moments I’ve undergone was when I made the mistake of using the word “transgender” to describe myself to someone I’d just met. “I hope it’s not rude for me to say this,” he replied earnestly, “but I’d never have guessed!”

      (A pause as I slowly realized that he thought I was passing.)

  15. Cleon

    I don’t have any trans* friend in real life. And I admit I’m clueless of many struggles trans* people are going through. Thank you, James, for sharing this with us.

  16. Name (required)

    as always, james – naked, honest, and informative! j’adore!

    a fave movie related to the topic: diagnosing difference…

  17. Ally Blue

    James, I’ve always admired you, not only as an author but as a person. You’re always so articulate and “together”, and you’re such a truly good human being. IMO this essay just gives me more reasons to admire you for staying strong through everything and always seeing the bright side.
    **luvs** :loveyou2:

    1. James Buchanan

      That’s because we take you out and get you drunk. :evil: And I have good people who have my back and make sure I don’t sound like a doofus when getting my point across.

  18. Maura Anderson

    I’ve had several people come out at my day job and that’s got to be hard. First you spend years building up credibility, certifications and a “name” in your industry then you put it all on the line to become externally what you already are internally (with or without surgery).

    Both of these people (both F2M and my industry is HIGHLY male-dominated) lived for years as only male at work, but female otherwise. That has to SUCK.

    It still floors me that when the latest of these folks announced their transition at work (with the help of HR), I made her CRY by sending mail saying “It takes courage and I’m so happy for you. Welcome to the Girl Club.”

    It just makes me sad for whatever others had been doing or saying.

    Great post, James. I’m saving it for the next time I need to enlighten a few idiot tech-heads :)

    1. James Buchanan

      Thank you. I hope it helps…although, I’ve often found that tech heads and sci-fi geeks are often a little more open and accepting. I think b/c many of them have been in the ostracized camp themselves.

  19. Alex Beecroft

    Thanks for a great article, and I echo those other people saying thanks for mentioning those of us in the middle.

    I’ve finally decided that I really don’t have a gender at all – I find the whole concept oppressive, but it’s taken years of confusion and missing the mark on one side or the other to get to that point. And I have at least had the bonus of passing under society’s radar, and therefore never having to face the violence and prejudice that more strongly T people face.

  20. Blaine D. Arden

    I and friends have always jokingly said that I’m a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. I just never looked too deeply at that statement, and if it hadn’t been for all that’s happened in the last month and a half or so, I might have gone on being oblivious about who I may be. So, it’s all been a real eye-opener for me, in a good way, confusing as hell, but good.

    Thank you for this post. I can’t even begin to understand how hard it must be for you to have to hide part of yourself, and I’m in awe of your courage and the support of SG and your spawn :)

    Some of what you said hit really close to home and gave me some insight that I was still missing, especially about being in the middle.

    I haven’t found my place yet, but I’m getting there :)

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