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.