It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
Actually nodded off there for a second. NOT a good sign. It’s way too early in the night to start accidentally falling asleep.
One of the many, many frustrating questions us People of the Transitive Function are often asked is “but how did you KNOW?”
Oh, bugger off.
The truth is that most of us didn’t KNOW until we were already well into transition and had a little moment of “yep, this is totally working out”. Before that, most of us mostly just try to muddle through on best guesses, intuitions, compelling questions, scraps of insight, and whatever coping mechanisms we can cobble together. That’s it.
And the process that leads us to the eventual decision to attempt transition… well, that’s intensely individual. We all have our origin stories and they’re all very much only our own. Learning one such story isn’t likely to really tell you much at all about yourself, about gender, or about the nature of trans experiences.
But it can tell you a little bit about the person in question.
My own process was not the classic archetypal tale of the kid who hated haircuts, asked Santa for Barbie Dolls, and requested that parents refer to them by a female name. In fact, my own process was a very strange one, with a lot of weird, unusual twists and turns. I’m extremely hesitant to talk about it, because those twists are turns fall a bit too far off to the side from the range of narratives we think of as typical trans experiences. A bit so far wide of that range that I’m well aware it could be used against me.
But I’m tired. My wrists hurt. My brain is mush. This post will be buried in a set of 24. Everyone in my own time zone is snug in bed. And I just don’t particularly care all that much right now.
I had my moments indicative of gender confusion throughout my early childhood, but it didn’t crystallize for me into something I could name and articulate until adolescence. Specifically, I was 14 years old when I realized that what I wanted was to transition. To take advantage of the medical options available to become a woman. I even told my family, though their reactions were negative enough that it terrified me into what became a very long, prolonged, painful and miserable lifetime of denial and hiding in a closet.
It hurts so much to imagine the other life I could have led. If only I’d been just a tiny bit more brave. Or they’d been just a tiny bit less… grues, I guess.
Normally, what I tell people in terms of why adolescence was when it became concrete and identifiable to me was because that’s when my body began going through the physical changes of a masculinizing puberty. Changes that I was deeply uncomfortable with, and that produced a traumatic sense of alienation from, and disgust with, my own body that lasted all the way until, at age 26, I finally found the courage (or, more honestly, desperation) to transition.
That’s not a lie. But it’s not by any means the whole truth.
What I don’t talk about it is that it wasn’t an entirely masculinizing puberty.
For reasons that still aren’t entirely clear (I’m strangely hesitant to get tested for any of the intersex conditions that may have been responsible… though not quite sure whether I’m more scared that I am intersex or more scared that I’m not) in my adolescence I developed both male and female secondary sexual characteristics. Some of those affects still linger today, and help me look a little more feminine than many trans women in certain ways, such as have slightly wider hips than most AMAB people, having very slight wrists and hands, having a very feminine shape to my skull (brow and chin and cheekbones, etc.), things like that. I did develop physical masculinizations too, such as developing body hair and very, very slowly, over time, developing a beard that eventually had to be painfully, expensively lasered away.
But the most noticeable “abberant” characteristic of this atypical puberty was the development of breasts.
This is called “gynecomastia” when it occurs in men. It’s a strange term, since the biological process it described is absolutely identical to the “non-pathological” development of breasts that occurs in women and has no medical classification. So it’s one of the few “disorders” that’s definition is entirely dependent on the gender of the patient. And I do mean gender, not sex, as it is not called “gynecomastia” when breasts develop in trans women on exogenous endocrine treatment.
Whether or not it can really be called “gynecomastia” in reference to myself is an iffy question, but that was certainly how it was diagnosed at the time.
Along with that came a huge amount of ridicule and bullying, which cut very, very deep since it hit upon the very painful, open wounds of the confusion I was experiencing over my gender identity. They mocked me for looking like a girl, and I internalized it and amplified it through the shame I felt over the fact that I felt like a girl…or wanted to be a girl, or should have been a girl, or however the hell you want to categorize those amorphous, complex feelings of dysphoria. It wasn’t long before I learned to never take my shirt off in public, to wear baggy clothes, to walk slouched forward, to hide from people, to outcast myself.
One of the most painful acts of bullying ridicule ever done to me was when a group of kids who really really hated me somehow managed to sneak a bra into my locker. I opened the locker, saw it, immediately broke, immediately felt like crying… or just running away, or killing myself, or disappearing, or something… but I was not alone. The hall was crowded. And I saw the kids who had done it looking over and snickering, practically salivating with eagerness to see how I’d react. So all I could do was quickly grab my books and shut the door, acting like nothing had happened, with the intent to deal with later when I had a bit more privacy. How was I going to sneak a bra out of my locker and into a trash somewhere without anyone noticing anyway?
Swallowed it. Didn’t cry.
That might have been one of the moments I learned the lessons that led to my not being able to cry for a whole decade.
So many of the jokes, ridicule and bullying I received centered around the theme of calling me a girl, saying I looked like a girl, asking me whether I was a boy or a girl, addressing me by female pronouns, etc. I was even “ma’amed” not infrequently by adults.
The house we lived in at the time I was 14, in Nova Scotia, it was fairly big -this was the pinnacle of my father’s navy career before everything began going wrong and he slid deeper and deeper down into poverty- but there were many of us living there. Me, my two brothers, my dad and stepmother, and a friend of hers who was a bit down on her luck. I didn’t have much privacy. I liked to often go out into the very large yard and woods (the house was on the edge of the little village we lived in) and walk around to think and get some privacy. The night I first told myself what I was I had being doing so, and then had hopped into my dad’s car to listen to some music by myself. I had a CD in the player, and sat in the passenger seat thinking about things.
I was looking in the little rearview mirror and eventually started to think that if everyone was going to constantly say I looked a girl, or not be able to tell which I was, then really, I’d rather be a girl. If I was stuck in-between, then I knew which side I actually wanted to be on, and it wasn’t the male side I had until then pretended to assert.
I looked in the little rearview and thought about what I’d look like if I just let go of all the silly, unwanted pretenses of being a boy, and putting up fake resistance against the way that I was gendered female, and just let myself be a girl. I pictured my hair long, wearing girl clothes, etc. I wondered what name I’d pick, what sort of person I could be. I realized that’s what I wanted for myself.
And I made up my mind.
But, as said, it’s easy to get scared. Really, really easy to get scared. And it’s also far too easy for a human mind to lie to itself when it feels it needs to.
There is one really horrible regret I have about my life. And one I can never escape, because it’s written into my body, in the form of a permanent disfigurement. And that’s that over time, eventually, I let the bullies, my family, my society, my culture, the expectations placed upon me, and a bunch of callous doctors who NEVER really bothered taking me aside to privately ask me what I really wanted, talk me into breast reduction surgery.
I had breasts. Ones that had developed on their own, without the need of medical intervention. That were of a healthy, nice size. And I gave them up. Had them cut away. Because that’s how much I denied who I was.
One of the horrible things I can’t shake is that one of the primary reasons I did it was because I thought that if I just went along with it, I would be “fixed”, “cured”. That if I no longer had an androgynous body, I would no longer have any more conflicting thoughts about my gender identity. If I simply made the outside look “properly” male, the inside would adapt to match.
It didn’t work, of course.
I got lucky, though. There are three other trans women I’ve spoken to over the years who had the same experience. For all of them, the surgery consisted of the glandular tissue being excised along with everything, meaning that even with HRT they could never develop any new breast tissue. In my case, though, thankfully, they only lipo’d out the adipose tissue, leaving my glands in tact. That meant I could re-grow at least some small amount of breast tissue once I began HRT.
But still, I have small breasts. I probably always will. And I have two little scars on each side of my torso, a little bit beneath my arm pits, to remind me of what I did to my body to try to be normal, to try to fit in, to try to be fixed.
I’d like to think they remind me of something positive too… but what?
It was my body that led me to asking the right questions. That was “how I knew”. But that exact same body led me to a lot of the denials, confusion, attempts to “cure” myself, and ultimately, ways I permanently harmed myself, as well.
When you ask “But how did you KNOW?”, your asking for easy answers.
We never got any. Why the fuck should you?
Ours almost always came with sacrifices. The least you can offer is the patience and understanding to recognize the complexity of our histories.