When I first started exploring my gender, I was a proud outlaw. Then I was a conformist: I wanted to be just a regular dude. Today I am a proud outlaw once again.
I’ve noticed a pattern of identity development among binary trans folks. (Not sure how this applies/doesn’t apply to nonbinary people. Feel free to fill me in!) As we discover and express ourselves, we often have a shifting relationship to queerness and gender norms. These shifting feelings often follow a particular trajectory, which I’ll dub circling back to queerness.
Initially, many of us embrace being queer or different. We may have spent years or decades living in silence and shame–but as we dip a toe into the great lake of honesty, we start to feel okay with being different. Many times, we feel passionately about our difference. We are proud rebels, outlaws! We are rule-breakers! We have no use for sexist bullshit or gender stereotypes. We are going to be free, goddammit!
But as we wade deeper into these waters of genuineness, something changes. We get real with ourselves about the longing, hurt, disappointment, and exclusion we have felt for so long. We admit it: we always wanted to be just another one of the boys or girls. We wanted to belong. We wanted to be recognized. And we still do. We want to be a woman or a man, period. We want everyone to be able to spot our gender with just one glance or a few words on the phone. We want to look and act and fuck just like all the other dudes or ladies. We go stealth, if possible. We begin to insist we are normal–we are just like everybody else. If we could erase our painful former lives and be cis people of our post-transition genders, we would do it in a second.
Months pass, then years. We continue our march into the lake, and the water gets deeper. We know ourselves better. We are recognized more often for the women or men that we are. Dysphoria eases, a lifting fog. We begin to relax a little. We are not so painfully insecure; we are not so alienated from our bodies. Something changes.
We begin, again, to notice that we are different–and that being different might not be such a bad thing. We notice all that we’ve learned from our suffering. We start to actually like ourselves, and we realize that being trans has helped to make us who we are. We get more comfortable. We begin coming out about our trans status, if safe and possible. We get our outlaw spirit back. We realize it’s not an either/or choice: we can be men and women and we can be different. We stop pretending and we stop making concessions. We have no use for their bullshit system. We don’t have to be just like them–and we don’t want to be.
We are rebels. We are queer again. We have learned to swim.
I recently noticed some search terms popping up with folks looking for other ways to say LGBT. They probably found my rant on how LGBT is not a synonym for gay. I certainly stand by that. But what is a good synonym for LGBTQ+?
The best I’ve got is gender and sexual minorities or GSM for short. I like this phrase because it’s clear and inclusive. I like that instead of trying to name each specific minority experience–an impossible project that will always leave someone out–it just points out the axes of experience we’re talking about. It’s a logical grouping; gender and sexuality are so intimately related. Gender and sexual minorities are everyone from lesbian, gay, bi and trans people to asexual, nonbinary and queer people, to kinky and poly people, and more.
In casual settings, I frequently use queer as a synonym for LGBTQ+. It’s not a perfect fit. A lot of people, especially LGBTQ+ folks of the older generation, are just not down with the word queer. And a lot of queer people feel that being queer is quite distinct from being, say, plain old gay, because it includes a certain critical, anti-assimilationist attitude. Still, it rolls off the tongue, and people invariably know what I mean.
In theory, GSM is my preferred term, and queer is not. But in practice, I haven’t fully integrated GSM into my vocabulary, and despite its imperfections, I say queer all the time.
What are your favorite alternatives to LGBTQ+?
Why don’t you ever talk about being bi on your blog? Alma asked me, half asleep in bed on a recent morning. It’s a good question.
I’ve come out four times. The first time I came out, at age 13, I came out as bisexual. Two years later, at 15, I came out as gay (my word at the time–never could get comfortable with the word lesbian). At 19, I came out as butch; at 21, I came out as a trans man. Well, I’m going for number 5, and I’m finding myself circling all the way back around again. I am bisexual.
This is something I’ve concluded recently. Part of what’s made this a tricky learning process for me is that I have extremely lopsided attractions. To get really specific here, I’d say I am bisexual and heteroromantic: I experience sexual attraction to both men and women, but romantic feelings only towards women.
My attraction to women feels fully developed, vibrant, definitive. I know, very clearly, whether I am attracted to a woman or not; and if I’m attracted to her today, I will probably be attracted to her tomorrow. I get crushes on women. I am madly in love with a woman.
My attraction to men feels vague, fleeting, more potential than realization. Feelings of attraction come and go, and I can be uncertain whether I’m attracted to a particular guy. If I’m attracted to a man this morning, I might feel differently this afternoon. When I feel a more stable attraction to a man, rather than feeling romantic-love-type feelings, it’s more like feelings of friendship and comradery with a slight sexual twist. Even if I were single, I don’t think I’d want to date or be in a relationship with a guy.
My attractions towards men remind me a little bit of what I’ve read about how some gray-asexual folks experience sexual attraction in general. I want to give a shout out to the ace community for doing so much groundwork in exploring and coming up with terminology for different types of attraction. I am allosexual, and I wouldn’t have the language to describe what I’m feeling without the asexual community. Asexual people of the internet, you are awesome!
I have felt these attractions, in this imbalanced pattern, since the onset of puberty. But they made no sense until after transition. I experimented with guys a little bit as a young teenager, but the experiences felt all wrong, because I was in a female role. As I realized that I had romantic feelings for girls but not boys, I figured I must be exclusively attracted to women. As I began exploring my gender, I concluded that my feelings towards men were a result of identifying with them–which is definitely part of it. The feelings are a longing to express sexuality with other men, as a man.
So there you have it. I feel it’s important for me to share this here because there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be bi. Until recently, I never considered identifying as bi because to me the term suggested strong, close-to-equal attraction to men and women. But I now see this is untrue, and in fact many bisexuals experience lopsided attraction. I was partly inspired to claim the label of bisexual by that essay by Charles M. Blow on his sexual development and imbalanced interest in men and women [content note for child sexual abuse].
I don’t like the prefix “bi”–there are more than two genders, and I definitely experience attraction towards genderqueer people. But of course, homosexual and heterosexual, gay and straight have the exact same problem–they are all based on a gender binary. I feel like bisexual gets unfairly blamed, when really this is an issue with our whole concept of sexual orientation, and I see that as an example of biphobia. So despite these flaws, I’m using bisexual because it’s widely recognized and because I can no longer claim that the definition does not accommodate me.
“Bisexual” seems to have this strange problem where a huge proportion of people who could be described as bi reject the term. This seems to be a special case; I don’t see large numbers of people who could be described as straight or gay rejecting those words. I respect each person’s self-definition–your sexual orientation is whatever you say it is–but I think the larger pattern here is biphobia, plain and simple. I want to do my tiny part to help change that.
Alma and I have been sharing a process of discovery as we both continue to grow into our queer identities. We’ve carved out a “monogamish” arrangement (to use Dan Savage’s excellent term) to allow me to explore this side of my sexuality. Specifically, I’m curious about fooling around with another trans guy. This is meaningful to me both as an expression of my attraction to men, and as part of my ongoing process of learning to love my trans body and envision myself as a sexually embodied human being.
At this point, this isn’t something I feel any need to actively pursue. It may or may not ever happen. But it always feels good to get a little more honest.
A moment of clarity recently. Sitting deeply in my body. Thought in the form of words, spontaneously.
I am a hermaphrodite. I have no idea why.
I laughed for a long time. I am baffled and I am whole.
I am letting go of the need to be as close as possible to the system’s ideal of a man. I am okay with my ambiguous body. I am proud to be a member of a secret tribe. I am comfortable moving through the world as a man. I am an undercover outlaw. It’s a condition of my life: very well.
I am a man. I see a man’s face in my mirror. Other people see a man when they see me, hear a man when they hear my voice. The best part about this is how little I care. Sometimes I feel a pleasant sense of affirmation and belonging; sometimes I feel the gnawing pangs exclusion and isolation. Both are okay. Most of the time, I just don’t think about it. What a goddamn relief. As Amy has said, the best part of alleviating dysphoria is forgetting about gender and just living.
I am not a man. Not because I am transsexual–because I am a soul. In my essence I am an open eye, perceiving, no content. In our deepest essence, no one is a man, woman, nonbinary person. I am a man, as much as anyone is, which is to say, superficially. Gender exists on the level of form; it’s about human bodies, human personalities, cultural lenses, social roles. Nothing wrong with that–it’s part of life. One part.
It’s good to do what we can to be genuine, to be at ease, to be ourselves, to enjoy life. But we don’t want a Pyrrhic victory in which we imprison ourselves in our bid to be free. So we need a right relationship with the project of self-discovery and self-expression.
The experience of being trans can potentially reveal what is transient and what is solid, what is real. This is a twofold realization. First, we realize who we are. We might be feminine, masculine, androgynous; we might be men, women, genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, etc. It is healthy, courageous and invigorating to be honest with ourselves. We then begin a process of evolution and manifestation is which we express ourselves in the world. Beautiful. This is a very good thing.
But in itself, it’s incomplete. If we get trapped in a rigid idea of ourselves as our labels, we will be back in the box all over again, if perhaps a somewhat friendlier, roomier box than before transition. I have observed that trans men and women often run directly from the box of assigned gender to the box trying to fit in perfectly as the more suitable gender, trading a cage for a carpeted cage. (Not sure how this plays our for nonbinary people–let me know in the comments!)
This is what I did and it seems to be quite common. We get lost between competing false selves. After beginning medical transition, I became very hung-up about my gender, feeling a completely overwhelming desire to be gendered correctly by others and to be not one iota different from a cis man. It’s perfectly reasonable to try to express one’s gender and want others to recognize it. But the painful need to be seen, and, more troubling, to be the same, was actually rooted in transphobia. On some level, I accepted the bullshit line that being trans is inferior, that we are less real and less legitimate; I thought I needed to be as close to cis as possible in order to be okay. But I don’t. I just need to be me.
It is totally understandable that we try desperately to “pass”–our very lives depend on it, and assuming a person genuinely wants to live as a woman or a man, there’s no deceit involved, just the intense desire to express ourselves honestly at long last. The danger is getting stuck there. By getting stuck I don’t mean simply living as a particular gender–nothing wrong with that–but getting stuck in the belief that our very worthiness and even existence depend upon our gender.
We also need the second realization: what we are not. We are not our personal histories, our genders, or check-boxes on a form.
What are we? Deep, alive, mysterious. We are exactly how we’re supposed to be.
I am post-transition. It now seems rather impossible that I was once viewed as a girl. In the steady rhythm of a daily life in which dysphoria casts no shadow, things start to seem very solid, real, definitive, sensible. Of course I am a man.
And now I feel a strange, subtle weight upon my shoulders, something most unfamiliar: legitimacy. I am the legitimate transsexual, if you’ll permit such a paradox. Here I am: thoroughly, obviously male, confusing no one; comfortably masculine and heterosexual; expert-tested and little old lady-approved. I am the kind of transsexual you can take home for dinner: invisible.
Now that I have arrived on the far shore, shapeshifted once and ceased shifting, it all seems obvious, credible, inevitable. My transition, because it appears so complete, so, dare I say, natural, colors my whole life, past/present/future. The strangest bit is the way transition rewrites the past.
Two levels here. One, I appreciate: my secret truth, the burden I carried, is no longer my silent curse. Instead it is an open fact, and my retelling of my childhood now reflects that. As it should be. I didn’t grow up a girl; I grew up a masculine, gender-nonconforming kid deeply confused by the world’s insistence that I was a girl. The secret subjective has been brought forward.
The other level: very strange: the “true transsexual” narrative has been bequeathed to me, an inheritance, like a consolation prize from society. Now it appears that I always knew I was a trans man, that the signs were indisputable, that it was all very straightforward. I appear to fit the all-important narrative, the only story they’ve allowed us.
I first realized this was happening when my counselor wrote me a letter for top surgery. She helpfully explained that I had a stable male identity from the age of 3. True trans narrative jackpot! I laughed out loud when I read it, because it is, well…not false, but not exactly true, either.
What I told her was that I lived under a strange fog of unhappiness from the time I was in preschool; that I had a deep, foreboding sense that I was not like other people; that I had a vague awareness that I was somehow a failure of a girl; and that, in retrospect, I can trace my many years of childhood unhappiness to gender dysphoria. But that’s a bit fuzzy and hard to explain. She cleaned my life up for me.
Missing were my desperate bids for girlhood, my deeply meaningful experience of living as a butch, my stubborn suspicion of the gender system, the subtle, spiritual quality of my masculinity, the dance, the very dance itself, the essence of all of it. Poof, gone. Replaced with a reassuring and convenient story. No more mystery. Like it was all obvious from the start. Nothing to see here, folks.
I am grateful–she knew the letter was a bullshit requirement for surgery, and she wanted to ensure I got what I needed. But how strange, how damn strange, to see the narrative reproduced and imposed in real time.
The narrative is not for our benefit. It helps the cis majority sleep at night. If I could have once appeared to be a girl, and today be so clearly a man, what the fuck does that say about the reality of gender? What does–what might–that say about other people’s genders? This is a terrifying prospect for those who’ve lived their whole lives in the security of the gated city. Better to smooth things over, keep it simple, say it was always clear, like anyone could’ve taken one look at me and spotted one of those people. That way, no one else has to worry about themselves, their loved ones, their children; no one need contemplate that horror of horrors, one of us in their own midst. Perhaps under their own roof, sleeping in their bed, in their own skin.
Sometimes the narrative divides us. I now experience the weight of legitimacy in my interactions with other trans people, in person and online. People early in transition, people questioning their genders, people who don’t seem to fit the narrow narrative for whatever reason, sometimes seem to regard me with wonderment or adopt a slight crouch of defensiveness. Sometimes it seems like I am the real deal, a card-carrying certified transsexual, and other people might be amazed (“How do I get that?”) or irritated (“Conformist.”) or afraid (“Am I real enough?”).
It’s a surreal experience, because I have been to all those places. I have been completely certain that I could never fit the narrow transsexual mold. I have believed that I would never change my body because of my feminist principles, and felt a strange mix of envy and betrayal towards those who do. I have felt awkward, ambiguous and afraid in the presence of post-transition men, as if witnessing some grand achievement. I have been sure I would never be one of them, and wanted to be one them, and not wanted to be. I have jumped through the gatekeeping hoops to get the care I needed. I have lied and oversimplified my story to professionals to ensure access. I have said, “I can’t be transsexual because…” I have said I would always identify as queer, stopped considering myself queer at all, and starting calling myself queer again. I have lived in the badlands between the sexes. I have transitioned. I have moved through the world in the form of a man. I have been the same person all along.
So let it be said: I am a card-carrying true transsexual, and I don’t fit the narrative, either. I played with Legos and I played with baby dolls; I dressed up in my father’s clothing and I dressed up as a princess; I kissed girls and I kissed boys; I struggled mightily with my gender identity; I never thought I would actually transition, or that it would all fit together so perfectly. I tried to express what I was feeling, but it took me many, many years to find the words say it.
I always knew I was trans, and I had no idea at all. The narrative can only be true after the fact.
Legitimacy doesn’t love you, respect you, or make you whole. Legitimacy provides a minimum of safety. Legitimacy is a raincoat. If you’re getting soaked, cover yourself up, if you can. Don’t mistake access to rain-gear for your own essential worthiness, for your right to live, for who you are.
And when the weather changes, take the raincoat off again.
Questioning your gender is an essential part of transition. In a real sense, transition begins the moment we break the great taboo and gives ourselves permission to wonder: Who am I, really? Who do I want to be? This is a road rarely traveled, and sometimes we get lost or stuck along the way. I thought I would share some of the questions I found most helpful during the years I spent investigating my gender. Some of these I asked myself, some others asked of me.
A caution–these questions cannot test your gender. An answer doesn’t have a definite meaning about your gender or what choices you should make. Rather, they raise possibilities, little windows through which you might catch a glimpse of yourself. How you feel and any images or associations that arise are likely to be as important as any answer you can put into words. Some questions may resonate with you, others, not so much.
Now, in no particular order…
- If you lived alone on an island, how would you feel about your body and/or gender?
- If you could make any wish about your gender, what would it be?
- What would it feel like to be at peace with your gender (or your body)?
- What is your gender in dreams?
- What is the color, flavor, scent of your gender?
- Who shares your gender?
- What gender were you in your past life?
- What will your gender be when you are old?
- If you lived in a different culture or time period, how might you express your gender?
- If you could snap your fingers and change anything about your body and/or gender, what would you change?
- Who is most like you? Most different from you?
- If your assigned sex were different, how might you express your gender?
- If there were no risks and no costs involved, what would you do?
Please feel free to share your answers. Readers, what questions helped when you were uncertain about your gender?
Will LGBT people always need to come out? This question reverberated in my mind as I reflected on the steady pace of progress on LGBT issues in the US in recent years. Like so many issues that affect our community, I see a big difference between LGB on the one hand and T on the other.
Alma and I were recently discussing the amazing shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage we’ve seen just in the last decade. We made friends through youth activism, a lot of it centered around marriage equality. Every legislative session, we swarmed the state capitol, asking our representatives to vote “No” on proposed DOMAs and “Yes” on domestic partnership bills. We thought we would see marriage equality in our lifetimes–but we didn’t think it would arrive so soon, or so decisively.
This year, marriage equality came to our state. I shed a few tears watching the first same-sex marriages performed in my county, a ceremony in English, Spanish and Hebrew. What will it be like for kids who grow up in a marriage equality world?
The gap between my generation and my parents’ is massive. When they were growing up, coming out young meant one’s early twenties. In contrast, many people my age (mid-twenties) came out in high school or even middle school. Realizing you’re gay at 25 seems surprisingly late to me. No disrespect meant to those who come out later in life; it’s just a cultural norm. The point is that in some spheres, “early” and “late” have completely shifted in just a couple of decades.
This means that “coming out” for young LGB folks can have a completely different meaning from earlier times. For example, my mom, who is in her fifties, sensed she was a lesbian from a young age. But she had no words and no role models. She married my dad, and ended up coming out in her late thirties. For her, “coming out” meant letting go of a false self she’d presented to the world for many years. Of course, many in her generation came out at a younger age and never entered a different-sex marriage, such as my step-mom. Still, the phrase “coming out of the closet” surely suggest a sojourn in a narrow place of hiding, shame, and restriction.
But what is coming out for the person who is able to say “I’m gay” (or whatever) at age 14? Many of these people will move smoothly from childhood to adolescence to adulthood without ever presenting a false straight self. They will have their first kiss, first date, and first marriage with a person they are actually attracted to.
So I wonder whether in the next generation, “coming out” will have the same resonance for LGB people. More and more individuals may have the chance to simply “come in” to their selves, without no detainment in the closet.
But what about trans people? Acceptance and awareness of our lives are on the rise, too. The Time piece on Laverne Cox seems to suggest a new level of mainstream affirmation. Yet it seems certain that for the foreseeable future, trans people will always have to come out.
Ascribing sexual orientation to a child is different than ascribing gender. I think more parents will be willing to wait and see who their child loves. But how many will be willing to wait and see who their child is?
I am not advocating gender-neutral childhoods. Many of us wish we’d had the chance to grow up as a boy or girl–why deny that to others? The fact is that for the vast majority, sex assignment works.
So there may be no getting around it. In cultures that have a deep and wise appreciation of gender variance, trans kids may be sensed by the community, and may not need to come out. But in this country, I believe we will always need to announce ourselves. We will do it younger and younger, til many come out as children and young teens. We will do it to greater and greater acceptance, til rejection by one’s family becomes rare. But I do not think there will come a day when being trans doesn’t come as a surprise. Maybe someday they’ll have a test to diagnose us, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. They’ll probably try to exterminate us if they do.
Because the shackles of assigned gender will always confine us, we will always know the narrow place of the closet, even if we only know it for a few youthful years. Because no one is going to find our genders for us, we will always walk a crooked path, a path that forever remains less traveled. We are rare birds. Twenty-five years from now, trans kids may be less different–but we will always be different.
That’s my guess, anyway. What do you think? Feel free to speculate about identities I did not address.
Theeegreatdane laments that so many trans guys are hyper-focused on “passing”:
It really saddens me that many of these young trans* guys only care about “passing.” They post a multitude of photos of themselves asking other guys if the world will read them as being a cis-male. To me, only caring about “passing” degrades a lot of what it means to be a trans* person. But I also recognize that this is my personal experience being a queer trans* person who doesn’t identify as being a man. […]
All of this is fine except when it’s not. It’s not okay when these guys get depressed and angry (and sometimes worse) that someone in the group does not think that they “pass.” It’s not okay that a majority of the FTM community wants to live stealthily and not make their identity as being a transgender person known to the world. I understand the stigma, ostracization and rejection associated with being transgender. Only a few states in the US have anti-transgender discrimination laws that protect transgender people’s rights and jobs. Wanting to be seen as cis is defensive and protective for these guys, so in this respect it is not their state of mind, but the institution (and this it universal, not just in the US) that needs changing.
I appreciate theeegreatdane’s take on this. Discrimination and second-class-citizen status are huge parts of the motivation to “pass,” and it is very sad when trans people feel like shit because they don’t look a certain way. I share their hope that someday, “passing” will be unnecessary.
I’d like to add a few observations from my vantage point as someone who keeps my trans status relatively private. Just for the record, I am not trying to refute any of what theeegreatdane says; I just want to add another perspective.
The problem isn’t just that we may be fired or worse for being out as trans. It’s also that our ability to inhabit a male role is conditional on passing (being read as cis men). There is simply no space in our communities to be read as men and as trans at the same time. The gender binary works under a logic of opposites–categories are mutually exclusive. The extent to which we are viewed as male is the extent to which we are not viewed as female or a third gender. The reverse is true for trans women; being viewed as female depends directly on not being viewed as male. In the logic of the binary, “not female” and “male” are near synonyms, as are “female” and “not male.”
This is why I usually put scare-quotes around the word “pass.” Like many trans folks, I feel the term implies some kind of duplicity or deceit–passing for something you’re not. We’re not doing that; we’re living openly in our true genders. It not our fault that others demand we conceal our trans histories or forfeit our gender identities.
I also think “passing” implies more action on our parts than it actually entails. Yes, most trans guys deliberately cultivate a male appearance and worry about how they look and whether others can see they are male. Can you imagine how freaked out most cis men would be if they thought being read as female were a serious possibility?
However, as a stealth-ish guy myself, one thing we don’t typically do is go around actively trying to convince people we are cis. “Hi guys, I’m Josh, and just fyi, I was totally not raised as a girl”? Not so much, except perhaps for the safety reasons theeegreatdane notes. What we are doing is trying to convince others we are male. “Hi guys, I’m Josh.” It’s everybody else who figures that if we appear male, we have XY chromosomes, were declared a boy at birth, etc. The flipside is that therefor, in order to be viewed as male, we must look like we have XY chromosomes, etc. (Not that you can actually tell by looking, of course.) If you accept that trans men are indeed men, their is no “passing” going on here, just the wish to be gendered correctly–a wish we share with most of our species. Guys who are early in transition tend to be highly anxious about this, while those of us who’ve lived as men for years tend to mellow out about it.
I’d like to note that I don’t stop being a vocal advocate just because I don’t share my trans status at work, with all my friends, etc. I continue to call bullshit when I smell bullshit, and I bring up trans issues as often as I can. For example, during a recent workplace training on diversity, I asked my 150+ coworkers and supervisors to be aware of transgender issues, since the training made no mention of us. Coming out as trans would have been one powerful way to do that, but I didn’t want to–it just didn’t feel right. Speaking out from my position as a straight dude (presumed to be cis) is another powerful way to do it. People responded very well to my comments, and a few made a point to thank me for bringing trans issues up. I think my comments on transphobia, homphobia and sexism are especially effective in reaching other men. Too often, only women and visibly queer folks speak up. This story is just to illustrate that “passing,” including an intense desire to be viewed as any other guy, need not be at odds with trans pride and advocacy.
I hope for a world where where we can be trans and men or women at the same time, no contradictions. I do think trans folks coming out and sharing our histories is a key part of this. That lets people get to know us, and people who know us don’t hate us. However, we can’t embrace a part of our identities that isn’t there. For some of us, myself included, being trans feels above all like an unjust political circumstance. It is a core part of who I am–but it’s not a core part of my gender identity or expression.
Another dream that has stuck with me over the years. I was 7 or 8 then. In the dream, it was evening, and I was at home. A person came into the house. They looked like my mother, by they had a shaved head and were wearing a red flannel shirt. I was frightened and confused; I ran to the person, and they held me in their arms. I was crying. “This is who I am now,” the person said.
A few years later, my mom came out as a lesbian, and my parents got divorced. I chalked the dream up to a premonition about what my mom was going through.
Something didn’t sit right with me, though. As I grew up and started addressing my own gender and sexuality issues, it bugged me even more. What did it mean, and what did it have to do with my own identity? Did my mom’s sexuality somehow confuse me about gender? I didn’t think so, but the dream seemed to imply otherwise.
Last night, the dream came to mind again. I suddenly saw its true meaning. My mom never started wearing men’s clothes or acting masculine; she is comfortable as a woman. The person in my dream, I now see, looks exactly like me around age 19. That androgynous figure was never my mother–he was me. He came with a message I wasn’t ready to hear yet.
I even own that red flannel shirt.
I thought my male identity came out of nowhere. I couldn’t put my finger on any thread of maleness that ran through my whole life. I couldn’t remember ever saying I was a boy. All I remembered was a thick uneasiness, a sense of something wrong, a sense of being different.
This really bothered me at first–I wanted to find the proof, the sign, the memory. I wanted to know I’d been trans my whole life.
It happened slowly. A shadow here, a twinkle there. Onionskin layers of pain and non-comprehension fell away from my life. And it happened. The memories came flooding in to me. One of the sweetest gifts of my transition.
It was nothing I had actually forgotten–more like misfiled. Early hints of my maleness lost in folders labeled Birthday Parties, birth to age 9 and Summer evenings, childhood. I deciphered their secret language, and suddenly they all came rushing out, together for the first time. Only together was their meaning revealed.
Here are two of them.
I was about seven. I was at a friend’s house; it was a hot afternoon. We were playing in an inflatable kiddie pool in her front yard. I had forgotten my bathing suit–I have some dull sense that maybe I wanted to forget it. So I asked if I could swim in the shorts I was wearing. My friend’s mother looked at me kindly, with mild concern. “Sure, if you want to,” she said. I did want to! I remember how I looked and felt, standing in just shorts with the water up to my knees.
“You aren’t embarrassed?” the mother said to me quietly, gesturing at a group of men doing construction across the street. It hadn’t occurred to me to be embarrassed. “No,” I said, with what strength I could muster, but her question made my face feel hot and most of the fun was over.
I was about twelve. It was one those end-of-year camping trips we used to do at my school. I was on a hike with a small a group of students and teachers. Making conversation, I remember that one teacher asked, “If you could live in any historical time period, which would you choose?”
I found the question irritating at first. I don’t remember what anyone else said. But when my turn came, I couldn’t resist answering. An image filled my mind, complete and wonderful. Quickly, with the purity of conviction of early adolescence, I said, “The Renaissance. Then I could live as a man and be a painter!” I was charmed by a vision of myself in fancy, puffy clothing, painting portraits of important people and consorting with women. It was the most comfortable, natural image of myself I had known.
I was so happy with my idea, I barely noticed the moments of silence, the look of confusion on the face of the teacher.