Figuring Out I Was Transgender

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?”

📅 When

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.

💁🏼 How

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.

🤦🏼‍♀️ Confusion

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.

🤷🏼‍♀️ Questioning

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.

 

The Brothers Karamazov: The Lady of Little Faith

The first passage I’d like to talk about is Book 2, Chapter 4: A Lady of Little Faith.

In which a lady has travelled to visit the Elder Zosima and confess to him that she is having a crisis of faith. She recently learned of the idea that there is no afterlife, but only the void after death and it troubles her greatly.

She asks the Elder “How can it be proved? How can one be convinced?” to which Zosima replies “No doubt it is devastating. One cannot prove anything here, but it is possible to be convinced.”

This response reminds me of Jordan Peterson’s lectures where he talks about how the meaningless of life is a rational conclusion and ironclad in logic. But so what? That ‘fact’ is not very useful to living, in fact it is often very detrimental and sends people into existential depression or crisis like the lady in the passage. In this way the meaningless of life is not ‘true’ although one cannot write a ‘proof’ that meaning is possible, one can become convinced that life is meaningful.

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a repeat of this idea in Zosima and Ivan’s

Skipping ahead, in the Elder’s chambers we see a small repeat of this conversation, this time between Zosima and Ivan.

“Can it be that you really hold this conviction about the consequences of the exhaustion of men’s faith in their immortality of their souls?” the elder suddenly asked Ivan Fyodorovich.

“Yes, it was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”

You are blessed if you believe so, or else most unhappy.”

Why unhappy?” Ivan Fyodorovich smiled.

Here Dostoevsky reveals what a great character writer he is. The elder asserts that being freed of all moral responsibility must be a great thing for Ivan, or the complete opposite, and Ivan smiles at the latter.

This is brilliantly done; as I have personal experience with this smile as I suspect many others do. Imagine two strangers standing at a rainy street. Both without umbrellas commenting how the rain makes being outside awful. Then one turns to the other and remarks about his closed umbrella they smile knowingly.

“Because in all likelihood you yourself do not believe in either in the immortality of your soul or even in what you have written about the Church and the Church question.”

“Maybe you’re right…! But still, I wasn’t quite joking either…,” Ivan Fyodorovich said suddenly and strangely confessed – by the way, with a quick blush.

“You weren’t quite joking, that is true. This idea is not yet resolved in your heart and torments it. But a martyr, too, sometimes likes to toy with his despair, also from despair as it were. For the time being you, too, are toying, out of despair, with your magazine articles and drawing-room discussions, without believing in your own dialectics and smirking at them with your heart aching inside you…The question is not resolved in you, and there lies your great grief, for it urgently demands resolution…”

But can it be resolved in myself? Resolved in a positive way? Ivan Fyodorovich continued asking strangely, still looking at the elder with a certain inexplicable smile.

Here is the echo of the Lady of Little Faith’s question, this time asked by Ivan the genius atheist. Can one become convinced that their life has meaning?

“Even if it cannot be resolved in a positive way, it will never be resolved in the negative way either-you yourself know this property of your heart, and therein lies the whole of its torment…”

This last part by Zosima struck me as very profound; if the conclusion that life is bereft of meaning is so true, so iron clad in logic and cemented in reason, then why do we resist the conclusion in our hearts? Even Ivan, a rational, extremely smart atheist wrestle with it in his heart?

Zosima says, like he said to the lady, that it cannot be proven (in the positive way, that life has meaning) but now goes further to also assert it cannot be proven in the negative way. If it could, our minds would resolve this fact like any other and not be tormented by it. No one is tormented by the fact the sky is blue although the sun is white.

So perhaps one can be convinced of their being meaning in life, and that is a lovely thought.

For completeness, here is the rest of what Zosima says:

…But thank the Creator that he has given you a lofty heart, capabale of being tormented by such a torment, ‘to set your mind on things that are above, for our true homeland is in heaven.’ May God grant that your heart’s decision overtake you still on earth, and may God bless your path!”

The Brothers Karamazov

I started reading The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky as translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

I started reading due to a University of Toronto psychology professor, Jordan B. Peterson. In one of his talks he is asked “What is required reading for life?” and Dr. Peterson replied that anything by Dostoevsky. Since I am currently enamored by Dr. Peterson, I picked up a copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

I’m currently an 1/8th into the story, and in these writings I am not going to bother to summarize the book but instead focus on the passages I found meaningful and why.