I am often asked “Did you have bottom surgery yet?” and regrettably inform them that no, I still have a penis.
Something that I also get asked a lot is, “How did you figure out you were transgender?” or it’s cousin, “When did you know you were transgender?”
I knew I was transgender when I was 24. I know that this answer disappoints a lot of people, and probably any psychs that had to write me a letter.
Although there are a lot of things that make a lot more sense in retrospect that occurred well before I was 24, I never properly articulated the thought until I was 24.
I figured out I was transgender by watching a video series “Are You Transgender.” Specifically the following video series at the 4:08 mark of the second video:
I was working on a mobile app and I usually listen to lectures on YouTube to keep me company and maybe teach me a thing or two. So, like a normal cis-het-boy I queued up the “Are You Transgender” playlist.
I have a distinct memory of when I heard the speaker say:
If you are watching this video for yourself, or researching what transgender is online, then you are likely transgender.
After hearing this improper implication, I alt-tabbed back to YouTube and smugly paused the video. It’s true, just because you’re asking the question “Am I transgender?” definitely doesn’t imply you are transgender.
I resumed the video and the next line hit me like a truck:
Because cis-gender people do not ask this question, “Am I transgender?”
Why was I listening to to this playlist? This wasn’t the first time I had watched a video on this, or taken a stupid quiz about it, or read blog articles similar to the one I’m writing now or asked myself “am I transgender?”
Laughably I recall thinking;
Yeah just because I frequently wish I was a girl doesn’t mean I’m transgender.
It wasn’t as funny of a revelation at the time. I remember my heart stopping, my eyes widening and my blood turning cold as I realized, “Oh shit, that’s exactly what that word means.”
I spent the next six hours recontextualizing my life and eventually pulled myself together enough to walk down the street and come out to my friend.
If you read my other post about All These Things That I’ve Done or are familiar with the standard narrative of “I’ve known since I was 3 years old” you might be confused as to why it took me 24 years to figure it out. This is the difference between knowing things and being unable (or unwilling) to articulate things.
If you asked me straight up and pressed me I would have confessed to wanting to be female. I knew that’s what I wanted but I hadn’t yet articulated to myself that meant I should transition and therefore I was transgender. Once I was able to articulate the concept of being transgender I was able to act because I had a framework to work within. Until I did that I just thought I was weird (albeit in specific ways stable across time) and being weird doesn’t explain what you are supposed to do, if anything.
So why was I unable to connect the dots? I think it is mostly from ignorance and a tiny bit from internalized cis-sexism. I sincerely believe had I known a trans person growing up I would have come out much earlier. I would have confided in them some of my thoughts and proclivities, laughed nervously and said something to the effect of “but that’s not like you at all, right?” and gotten hit like a hammer when I learned my experience is fairly typical. I didn’t believe I was”trans enough” to be transgender, I thought everyone knew with certainty since they were small children. Sure I wanted to be female, but I didn’t know if I should transition. To be fair, transition is very intimidating. It is long, painful, expensive, time consuming and the results are not guaranteed. In addition, I knew I wanted to be female, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be trans. There was probably a little bit of cis-sexism that held me back from exploring the possibility of living as a trans woman.
I think everyone questioning their gender identity should understand that you will never be 100% certain about transition. There is no way to know before you do it that such a radically life altering event will be for the better. It is a supremely non-trivial commitment to transition. It is an act of faith that will require many sacrifices.
While coming out I was complicit in perpetuating the ultra-confident, I’ve always known meme. You sort of have to; there’s no “proof” you’re trans besides your own confidence. It took me 24 years to understand and I lived it, I can’t just hope that other people will “just get it” based on my own new, limited and unconfident expression. I think this narrative is dangerous because I delayed transition because I didn’t think I was “trans enough.” Please don’t make the same mistake I did.
I would like to share a quote from Julia Serano’s book, Whipping Girl that I think explains the feeling I had pre-transition:
Trying to translate these subconscious experiences into conscious thought is a messy business. All of the words available in the English language completely fail to accurately capture or convey my personal understanding of these events. For example, if I were to say that I “saw” myself as female, or “knew” myself to a girl, I would be denying the fact that I was consciously aware of my physical maleness at all times. And saying that I “wished” or “wanted” to be a girl erases how much being female made sense to me, how it felt right on the deepest, most profound level of my being. I could say that I “felt” like a girl, but that give the false impression that I knew how other girls (and other boys) felt. And if I were to say that I was “supposed to be” a girl, or that I “should have been born” female, it would imply that I had some sort of cosmic insight into the grand scheme of the universe, which I most certainly did not.
Julia later elaborates on about “feeling” like a woman:
Speaking for myself, I can honestly say that I have never “felt like a woman” before my transition. Even as a preteen struggling with the inexplicable and persistent desire to be female, I understood how problematic that popular cliché was. After all, how can anyone know what it’s like to “feel like a woman” or “feel like a man” when we can never really know how anybody else feels on the inside?
All emphasis mine.
I definitely fell into the trap that I didn’t feel like a woman, so I wasn’t TruTrans™ (even though I had an “inexplicable and persistent desire” to be female). It was only in self reflection I realized how foolish it was to use this reason to keep myself from transition. If you’re considering transition I sincerely hope this post helps you avoid making the same mistake I did.