What is a transgender person? In the simplest terms, it is a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond to their birth sex. In my case, I feel female although my birth sex is male.
So, how did I come to this realization? There are so many signs throughout my life that I missed for various reasons. There were several times over the past few months where I thought something like “Could I be? Nah…” as I was connecting the dots. However, what helped me finally realize the truth was a recent tweet about trying hormone replacement therapy:
If you’re ever doubting that you may actually be trans, and are considering hrt, wanting to try it, or on hrt.
When those doubts hit, just know that I offered a single oestrogen pill to my guy friends in the pub, and every one of them physically recoiled in horror.
— RozRaid 🧜⌛🎪 (@RozRaidReborn) July 31, 2019
I thought to myself that I would most likely be curious and try taking estrogen, and then I felt a wave of emotion. I started reading through the replies– it was basically a conversation between several trans women who went through that and several people freshly hit by waves. I saw myself in each of those people; I felt their confusion, I felt their relief, and most of all, I felt like it all made perfect sense.
One thing that was really bugging me, however, was the stereotypical narrative: “as a little kid, I played with girl toys and dressed up in girl clothes, so of course I’m trans”. Many trans women seemingly had a drive to do “girl things” throughout their lives.
My drive was definitely more of a subtle undercurrent, though, since alexithymia makes it hard for me to recognize and act deliberately on feelings. The epiphany was when I came across Natalie Egan’s article, 17 Signs I Was Transgender But Didn’t Know It.
Not all 17 signs apply to me, of course, but I related easily enough that I quickly wrote up my own list:
10 Signs I Was Transgender But Didn’t Know It
1) I never felt like a boy or a man. I identified as non-binary for about a year, but I didn’t feel it. I chalked that up to alexithymia and the idea that non-binary people don’t feel like a gender either– somehow ignoring the fact that many non-binary people actually do FEEL no gender (including my partner). I was nonchalant in deciding I was non-binary, saying it was my way to reject the gender binary and embrace some of my more feminine qualities. However, when I saw RozRaid’s tweet and its replies, I FELT IT. I was overwhelmed with FEELINGS that were amazing and confusing and affirming and a billion other feelings I rarely remember feeling in the past. Later, I said out loud to myself that I am a trans woman, and I CRIED because I felt another wave of THOSE SAME INCREDIBLE FEELINGS. Of course I didn’t feel male or agender… I’m a woman!
2) I’ve had a fascination with girls/women that I could never understand, until I read these lines from Egan’s article: “My obsession with looking at women made me feel ashamed as I got older. Why? Because my interest wasn’t just erotic. What I was never able to explain until recently was the confusion in my head between being attracted to a beautiful woman, and wanting to actually be one. As a result, I spent so many years wondering if I was the only guy that felt this way, or if all guys did and no one was willing to talk about it.”
The only word I had for this feeling until now was “crush”. It did seem weird to have crushes on half of all girls/women I’ve ever met, but I thought that was just how my sexuality worked. Having so many “crushes” takes its toll, though, as it is tiring to constantly need to block so many distractions. I was so relieved when I realized I haven’t actually had crushes on all those femmes, because I just wanted to BE those femmes. I was just jealous that they got to LOOK feminine.
3) Similarly, I’ve had a deep mistrust of boys/men that I could never understand. I thought that mostly had to do with being mistreated by boys in middle/high school, but I realize now there is more to it. Why was I mistreated in the first place? Why do I continue to be mistreated by men? It’s almost certainly because I haven’t acted like they expect a “fellow man” to act. As a kid, I’m sure I desperately wanted to fit in as “one of the boys” and started repressing my femininity and other “unacceptable” behaviors as much as possible.
So, where does the mistrust come from? I have a couple of guesses: a) I mistrust masc people because I have been masquerading in a male body; surely they must be lying too? b) I mistrust masc people because they make it seem so easy to be masculine, while I had struggled; what’s their trick? Either way, knowing this about myself will hopefully help me deal with this bias. I’m sure it will be a difficult process, as even with the men that come to our monthly game nights, that I have known for a decade, that are the closest I have to meaningful, positive relationships with men… I still have a weird feeling about them. Those weird feelings aren’t necessarily bad, either — I just didn’t really understand the source until now.
4) I kept looking for ways to let women know I was friendly and okay to hang out with. Of course, there is no easy way to do this aside from just getting to know other people and gradually nurturing a nice relationship; you know, like making friends is supposed to be. My social anxiety and introversion are probably the main reasons “making friends with women” didn’t work. I imagine there was some leeriness from women at play as well, as there are so many misogynistic men out there being jerks — why should I be trusted?
My yearning for femme friendships is so strong that I haven’t used a picture of my face in a public profile in a long time. I panicked when I couldn’t switch away from “male” in my Words With Friends profile (there were only male and female options). I added a rainbow flag next to my name to make me seem “safer.” I changed my name to the gender-neutral “Gee.” My panic didn’t subside, so I switched from male to female in Words With Friends. I figured I would switch it back and forth occasionally as I saw fit, but I soon realized I didn’t want to. I felt more comfortable having a profile that said “female” than “male”. In essence, I wanted to express myself as a woman.
5) I had a lot of trouble relating to characters in books, shows, movies, and other storytelling media, and emotional connections are very rare. It turns out that I was just consuming the wrong media, because when I read a graphic novel called The Legend of Korra, my mind was blown. The Legend of Korra started as a TV series but its content was limited by the network and the creators couldn’t show same-sex relationships. After the TV series ended, it started again in graphic novel form, with the creators essentially having the freedom to do what they wanted. Thus, their first graphic novel release was a coming out story on multiple levels.
Korra is a woman with an incredible ability to manipulate magical elements (a bender), and she is reincarnated from a man who was known as “The Last Airbender” (from a previous series set in the same universe). There is a big scene where she officially comes out to her parents as bisexual, introducing her girlfriend Asami, and I was so happy for her! She is powerful and confident, while also being caring and fun, and I got so excited about this story that I was stimming more excitedly than I can remember. My partner had no idea what was going on since I was rocking so much and so hard! I looked distressed, but I was just ecstatic.
I finally FELT a connection to a character in a story, and WOW, that is such a powerful feeling. At the time, I couldn’t explain why I felt such a connection; I chalked it up to relating to a coming-out story, as I had similar recent interactions when telling people about my autism or non-binary identity. Also, her skin is brown — mostly an oddity in anime — which I’m sure helped me relate. I never before had such a powerful experience with a fictional character, so I never knew the difference.
Bonus: I forgot she was reincarnated from a man until I fact-checked to explain the reference correctly, so I just had a mini mind-blow while writing this! Of course I had an emotional reaction to her story; she’s a transgender woman!
6) Cladwell. It’s an app that helps you organize your closet and pick outfits, but it also has a social aspect where people can follow others and like/comment on everyone’s style. At first, I avoided the social side, since the app’s user base is mostly femme. I didn’t feel like I could get clothing ideas from them, and they probably didn’t want some random dude intruding on their space. After a little time, my outfits got a few snaps (instead of “likes” the app uses “snaps”, as in people snapping their fingers when they see a snazzy outfit) and I started exploring the social side.
I love interesting patterns, and over the past year or so my wardrobe has shifted accordingly. So, it was a thrill to me to see all of the cool patterns and styles in women’s clothing in the app. I snapped and commented and followed people, and I found a really accepting, inclusive community. I found myself wishing I could wear some of the women’s clothing, which was a new feeling to me. As I used the app more, I noticed my wishes started to be aimed at the more conventionally beautiful femmes — I was basically telling myself I didn’t have the body type to be wearing those kinds of clothes.
I wasn’t wishing that with other people on the app; with them, I was matching my style and body type and filing ideas and outfits away for later. In addition to organizing my attire, Cladwell has been helping me visualize new outfits for my femme presentation without needing to try on a bunch of clothes!
7) My strong desire to have children. I was the main influence on my partner and I having children together; they said they could have gone either way. I’ve always had a connection to kids, but here I had such a strong pull toward having my OWN kids. It’s obvious to me now that this was a motherly desire, especially remembering how much awe I felt when they got pregnant that they could do such a thing. I also remember being frustrated that I couldn’t really help out with breastfeeding, as it is one of the only things men can’t do with a newborn.
8) I’ve always had a preference for femme authority figures, from teachers at school to colleagues at work and experts on Twitter. This carried over to my healthcare as well, where I preferred femme doctors. I had no idea how strange this was until my partner pointed out that I should probably see men– I would likely get better physiological care by seeing someone with the same body type as me. I think I saw a couple of male doctors by choice after that, but I still feel a little wary. My primary physician’s office is a large medical group and sometimes I don’t have a choice. I feel much better around femme doctors.
9) Twitter. I recently went through the list of people I follow, with the intent of curating it and finding new people to fill gaps in my knowledge and experience. I follow a lot of cool people whose opinions/work I trust or relate to in some way: various scientists, lawyers, politicians, artists, journalists, editors, autistics, gamers, historians, and other leaders in their areas of interest– most of them are femme! There was also a group of people that did not really fall into any other category, and as I looked through them I realized they are people to which I relate on a more personal level. I follow them on Twitter because I enjoy their personality and I love what they have to say about almost anything, whether they are experts or not. They are all lesbian/bi femme and many are transgender. That has been my safe space on Twitter; I obviously see myself in those people.
10) Unmasking has revealed my natural feminine behaviors. A late autism diagnosis means that I masked without knowing it for years. I’m still not willing to let my guard down around that many people, so I have fewer environments where I feel safe to explore my natural behaviors. However, I was able to get comfortable enough at home to see certain changes in my posture, mannerisms, and tendencies. My behaviors became effeminate enough that my partner thought I might come out as a gay man… It turns out instead that I’m a transgender woman!
You might be wondering how I missed all of those signs… There are plenty of reasons:
- I was comfortable and in a solid relationship for years. I started dating my partner relatively young and never felt the need to question my identity all that much. Going through depression and therapy recently made it essential to start asking these questions.
- The health education at my middle/high school wasn’t great, and I lived in a conservative area that suppressed this type of information.
- I didn’t have much access to computers and the internet until I got to college, plus my college years were still mostly during Web 1.0, so I didn’t have so many videos, blogs, and social media platforms to figure it out. Now, it’s easy to find anything on the internet.
- I masked my natural instincts and behaviors unknowingly for years. My late autism diagnosis provided the information and motivation to try to unmask myself.
- Alexithymia dampened the impact of these signs until I had enough of them to finally put all the pieces together. It mostly just felt like something was vaguely wrong with me, which was a deep and unsettling feeling.
- My natural curiosity didn’t bring me around to the right knowledge and mindset until this time. For someone that read through the encyclopedia as a kid, I probably would have been curious about this topic at some point!
Now what? I’m starting to transition in order to align myself with my self. In the short term, that just means growing my hair out and updating my wardrobe. After I am able to leave my job for a more accepting environment, I plan on exploring hormone replacement therapy and other treatments. I’m sure there will be difficulties ahead, so I’m also going to bask for a little while in the good feelings of knowing myself.