How Do You Know You’re Trans?

What started my idea for my last blog topic (about inappropriate questions for transsexuals) was a conversation with my friend Aiden. We were talking about invasive questions we get from people. And at some point I brought up something that was related to the whole “questions for transsexuals” topic, but it wasn’t about an inappropriate question. It was about a valid question that still always bothers me. Sometimes people ask me how I knew I was trans or what it means exactly to be trans. And I have a hard time explaining something so complicated. I know a lot of people use phrases like “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “male mind, but a female body”. These phrases sound kind of ridiculous, even though they do graze the surface of truth. But when something is complicated and confusing and hard to explain, it comes out sounding ridiculous when you try to simplify it.

When people ask me how I knew I was trans, I usually give them a few anecdotes from my past, tell them I relate better to male characters in books, prefer to hang out with male friends and tomboys, always liked to wear guy clothes, and preferred boy toys as a kid.

This is usually enough for some people. But sometimes it’s not. And sometimes, it’s not even enough for me. I mean my clothes, my friends, my toys, and the fictional characters I relate to do not dictate what gender I identify with. There are girls out there that love wearing guy clothes and prefer having male friends, and played with boy toys when they were kids. But that doesn’t make them trans. They can still like all that stuff and identify as women. Maybe I need to dig further and question what being transgender is really about.

I’ll try to explain this to the best of my knowledge. Remember I’m no expert though. But being trans isn’t just about wanting to alter your body. Also, it’s probably not all about wanting to change your social role/status either. And what I mean by that, is that a female doesn’t transition to become a male just because she thinks males have a better station in life. Or vice versa.

No, being transgender is about gender identity. You’re gender identity is your internal sense of being male or female (or both, or neither, or something else). I don’t know exactly how gender identity is formed in a person. Like most things, it is probably caused by both nature and nurture. So now that it’s been established that gender identity is complicated, I’ll try to sort through my story so the next time someone asks, I’ll know how to answer this question…

How do you know you are trans?

Typical for a lot of transguys, when I was a kid I liked toys that were generally considered “boy toys”. I loved getting my brothers’ clothes when they grew out of them. And I preferred to play with guys and tomboys. Does this make me trans? As I’ve mentioned, no it does not. But it’s something significant.

More significantly, around the age of 6 or 7 I told my dad that I didn’t want to be called his daughter, that I wanted to be his “son”. This is one of my earliest memories. He told me that I couldn’t because I am a girl. It really bothered me and confused me. But I never brought it up again.

Puberty was living hell for me. Even though I knew that since I was female-bodied I would end up developing like a female. But something in the back of my mind told me that it couldn’t happen. Not to me. It would be unnatural. But it happened and it would not reverse no matter how much I prayed that it would.

And my whole life, though I kept it to myself, I knew I should have been a boy. I would not say that God made a mistake. I was raised too religiously for that (and I don’t believe it myself anyway). But still, I knew I would be happier if I were a boy. I would do anything to be male-bodied. And I didn’t think it was possible, but my greatest wish was to become a guy. I think THAT is what makes me transgender. That is how I know that I’m trans. Not that I liked “boy things”, but because of something that I identified in myself. Something that was JUST THERE internally. Something told me I should be a boy when I was young. Something told me developing a female body would be an unnatural nightmare. Something told me I was in the wrong body. It wasn’t about how I acted, what I liked to play with, what clothes I wore, or who I hung out with. I’ll say it again: It was something I identified in myself.

I guess that’s why it’s hard to explain. I mean think about other parts of a person’s identity that is hard to explain. Can you really explain your ethnic-identity?

“I’m Caucasian, so I identify as a white person, and I even check the little box next to ‘Caucasian’ when I fill out forms.”

That’s no explanation. C’mon! How do you know you’re white???

Yeah I know it’s not the best comparison – gender and ethnicity. But you get my point right?

Maybe these ones will work better. Ask yourself: What is your favorite color? What’s your favorite food? What is your favorite song? WHY are those your favorite?

They just are, right?

Yeah, you can explain that red is your favorite color because it looks good. You can say pizza is your favorite food because it taste good. And you can say your favorite song is “Animal” by Neon Trees because it sounds good.

Those are very simple answers. But WHY do you think red looks good, and pizza taste good, and “Animal” sounds good? You can’t really explain that. Why are those your favorite things, but not everybody else’s? They just are. Those are also things that you have identified about yourself.

How do you know you’re transgender?

Deep down, I just do. Just as surely as I know that my favorite color is red.

~ James

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aya
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 20:43:27

    I absolutely love this :) I have developed a bit of an answer to the question commonly asked to me, “When did you realize that you were a girl?”. I have always rather disliked the question, because there was never a ‘eureka moment’ in my life where I suddenly realized, “Omg, I am a girl..”. I wish it would have been that easy.

    My answer to that question is, “I didn’t always know that I was a girl- I just knew that I was Me, and that I was Not a guy.” Some people tend to have this expectation that ‘every’ transsexual has ‘always known’, but I think that this deserves scrutiny, because not all young children have the resources or the means to compare themselves to others. Many children, in fact, are taught that there is no wiggle-room in certain areas of life, so they never attempt to question these areas and instead continue to grow, confused about their feelings, until they finally reach a point or time in life in which they have the freedom they needed, to be expressive and explore their thoughts and feelings more thoroughly. Ugh, I get confused just reading this!

    I was born with a male body, but could never identify as one and was not allowed very many opportunities to be expressive. Because of this, my self-discoveries were rather delayed and I just continued wondering what was wrong with or different about me.

    I loathed puberty, could not comprehend the emerging bump in the front of my neck, HATED the sexual-spontaneity of my masculine shell and it’s ‘attachments’, loved it when my little sister dressed me up, and have always seen myself in third person as a female. Even in my head, my mind somehow ignores that my voice begs to differ.

    But mostly simply put, when it comes to your gender identity, “you just know” or “it just makes more sense”, or even “it is more comfortable”. And I think that it is VERY important that people understand that you don’t always have to know what you are right from the beginning, and that is is ALRIGHT to, at first, only know what you are Not. In fact, it seems valid to think that ‘knowing what you are not’ comes before ‘knowing what you are’, because it is our discomfort with our body, that first occurs.

    Like you very accurately put it, childhood interests/preferences aren’t the rule, but definitely hold significance when contrasted/compared to others your same birth-sex. It is all so very fluid (as annoying as that word has become), which is why it ALL comes down to, in the end, “Comfort”-

    Aya

    Reply

    • James
      Jan 09, 2011 @ 03:55:31

      Thank you Aya. I really enjoyed reading your comment. I could relate to so much of it, especially the whole second paragraph. I really liked the way you explained something I haven’t been able to put in to words myself – that some trans people (myself included) weren’t able to say “Hey I’m a girl/boy” when they were young and stick to it. We just didn’t have that freedom, so we were left confused for a long time. My discoveries about myself were delayed too (at least in my opinion — some might consider me still young though :-] ). I’m just grateful that it doesn’t have to stay that way.

      Now that I think about it, it’s kind of funny that people ask “When did you realize you were a girl/boy?” That question doesn’t register well with me either. Because you’re totally right that realizing what you are NOT comes before realizing what you are.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. :-] You’ve helped me understand some things too.

      ~ James

      Reply

    • Charlie Copley
      May 16, 2014 @ 14:12:41

      Flip the gender of everything you just said, and that’s me. When I was younger I was female bodies, but I almost never identified as one of the girls. I would rather say I was butch than say I was a woman. I would write stories in middle school, in English class, about passing for a guy because of my masculine looks (I look like my father but with man boobs, my chest is that small). I hated being paired with girls in gym class bc I never felt like a girl. Dressing in girly clothes or from the women’s department gives me anxiety, because it’s not me. And when puberty hit, I missed my flat chest and not getting periods. (Thank g-d I rarely do, due to PCOS [pre-T at the moment, have only come out in the last month and trying to look for a trans specialist].) I realized I was not a girl (and not even just a gender variant one, either) since my teen years, but took me till now to finally have the courage to admit to myself that, yes, I am a man.

      Reply

  2. L
    Jan 29, 2012 @ 05:58:44

    Hi James,

    I really love this post. It has helped me a lot. Contrary to mainstream belief, I am not boyish in appearance but I always have this feeling that being a girl doesn’t feel right to me. Just like you, Puberty was confusing to me because I didn’t want the developments to happen. It felt unnatural to me.

    Thanks again for this great post.

    L

    Reply

  3. Anon
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 02:51:59

    Shit. Well, not shit. But. See, I might be trans. I don’t know yet. But what you wrote there, pretty much starting from “but more specifically” is all pretty damn familiar. I can remember being 8 and watching my dad do yardwork and thinking of the right way to offer to be his “replacement son.” I remember learning what trans was, and finding it very important to have an explanation on hand, in case anyone asked, that I didn’t THINK I was a boy, no that’s crazy, I just thought I SHOULD HAVE been a boy. Puberty wasn’t hell for me, though. I just kinda thought I was immune to it. I still don’t know whether I felt these things because I am a guy, or because I am a masculine girl who (at the time) didn’t understand the difference between gender roles and gender identity, but reading stuff like this helps. Thank you.

    Reply

    • James
      Apr 19, 2013 @ 04:32:03

      You’re welcome, Anon. I’m really glad my post could help you in some way. Good luck! :-] And thank you for leaving a comment. I appreciate knowing my words reach people even in small ways.

      Reply

  4. Clare Flourish
    Jun 08, 2013 @ 02:34:54

    For me, at transition the questions were,
    Am I transsexual?
    Do I want to transition?
    And eventually I decided that even if the answers were No, Yes, the second question was the important one and even if in five years’ time I was trying to present male again, I could only get there through going with my desire to express myself female now.

    My friend said it was, not what do I want in a year’s time, but what do I want today: will I see the GP about a psychiatric referral, later Will I take those pills.

    I agonised over Why and then jettisoned it completely. This is who I am, this is what I want.

    Reply

    • James
      Jun 08, 2013 @ 02:56:06

      I agree, the second question does seem more paramount. I think figuring out what you want to do is more important, and perhaps simpler, than figuring out an identity.

      Reply

  5. justaname
    Aug 06, 2013 @ 03:06:18

    These posts and comments so helpful and life-changing. I get really discouraged when the trans-narrative is hammered out in the mainstream media as ‘born in the wrong body’, ‘I always knew I was different’ or body dysphoria. I don’t hate my body, and I’m not a man (clearly I’m female physically) but I WANT to be a man — if I could wave a magic wand, I would do it immediately. I disagree with the posts on other sites that gender is just a social construct — even if I never interacted with another person again (no male privilege) I would still prefer to live out the rest of my life as a man. Even if I get turned down for a T prescription, I would still do everything I can to be perceived and to live as a man, not masculine or androgynous, but male. Named Jim, coincidentally. :)

    Reply

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