A personal article in which I describe my life as a pre-transition woman in my early twenties in the chess world.
The following is a personal testimony. Each person is different, do not generalize from my case. TW: misogyny, suicidal thoughts, alcoholism.
I first seriously considered transitioning at 20, in 2008, the year I became a professional chess coach. I was too scared to say “I’m a trans woman” but my confidences in my closest friends were periphrases:
“I’m a bisexual woman in a man’s body.”
“My biggest regret is not being born a girl.”
“If I had a magic wand, I would permanantly transform myself into a woman.”
And to one particular friend: “You are the woman I wish I were.”
Back then, almost no one talked about trans people except to elicit laughter or disgust. Pedro Almodovar’s characters were the only inspiring trans women I knew, like in the masterpiece All About My Mother that I went to watch twice when I was 12. Kind, warm and beautiful women who just happened to be all prostitutes.
It established the dichotomy I thought I was facing: Not transitioning and living as a chess coach or transitioning and living from prostitution. I might have had some other choice, but to be frank, trans women without degrees lacked job opportunities in 2008. And so I chose chess.
My subconscious didn’t appreciate this denial of my gender identity and made me pay it with chronic depression, recurrent nightmares, and ever more intense suicidal thoughts. To silence my brain, I drank more than ever. For a while, my breakfast consisted of coffee, cigarettes, and absinthe. Every day for more than two years, I drank until I blacked out. Paradoxically, the idea that suicide would always be possible kept me from doing it. But I was sure I wouldn’t make it to 30.
It wasn’t all bad, though, and I’m lucky that my generation has many French talented women chess players who are also the best friends you could dream of. I’m forever grateful for the friendship of Mathilde, Fiona, Natacha, Delphine, Pauline, and Matoche. If not for these amazing women, I might not be alive today.
I tried to reveal my real and hidden gender to the chess world from time to time. I had a good start at the 2010 Pardubice chess festival with 4/5. I wanted to wear a dress in public but did not dare to play in it. Setting my priorities, I quit the tournament and accompanied my friends to the playing hall in one of my friends’ dresses. A small town in the Czech Republic wasn’t the safest place for a pre-transition woman in a dress, so I quickly changed clothes, but at least I had done it.
After a bad start at the 2011 Nice International Open, I played my first game ever wearing a dress – which a friend designed and gave me. I won the game and promised that I’d come to the prize ceremony in the same dress if I won the whole tournament. Chances were low, but this extra motivation turned beneficial as I did win the tournament, despite having spent every night of the week at a queer club.
I came to the prize ceremony wearing the dress to the great displeasure of the organizers, who feared that the deputy mayor of this conservative city of Nice would be shocked. During the photoshoot and in front of everybody, the elected official heavily grabbed my butt.
The first time I was a victim of misogyny in chess happened years before my transition…
More than ten years have passed, during which I tried hard to bury and grieve my trans identity. I don’t lie to myself anymore, and I found the courage to assume my gender while remaining in the chess world. Almost all players I know welcomed my transition last year with a friendliness that I could not have dreamed of when I was 20.
However, it’s still far from all rosy, as I may develop in later articles.
I’d like to conclude with a few words for my younger sisters: I see you. I was you. I love you. Trying to be someone else doesn’t work. If you are both trans and a chess player, you have to find a way of being fully yourself. Together, let us walk the path that our elders have courageously traced. The more we are, the easier the road gets.