“I Always Knew”


It often strikes me that one of the most central means by which transgender identity, and the whole transgender mythos, as it exists for our culture, is held together is through narrative, “our stories”. The very concept itself seems hinged in a narrative progression, a story told in miniature even through the terms we use: “Male to female”, “female to male”, “assigned male at birth”, etc. Even the prefix trans, in defining us, places us forever in the action, the crossing. What we are being defined by a story of how we became… or, as the terms would have it, how we’re becoming, locked forever in the story arc, the transition, the transgression… male to female.

One of the more overt ways in which the idea of trans people, what we are and what we mean, is held together in the cultural imagination through the iteration and reiteration of the transgender narrative can be seen in the endless documentaries, human interest stories, TV specials, and so on, wherein we’re approached over and over again by journalists who ask to tell our stories, to “represent us” through those stories… all of which are, of course, asked to either conform to the standardized narrative or edited to it. This version of the narrative in turn is used to reinforce a whole universe of cultural beliefs, assumptions and values about gender and sexuality, with the same recognizable motifs, themes and tropes employed to some degree in almost every instance. The Before/After shot. The putting on make-up scene. The moment you finally felt like a “real” (wo)man. Etc.

And savvy trans folks learn quickly to recognize and laugh at the absurdity of all these predictable, recurring elements of the Trans Story, no matter how sexist, othering, dehumanizing, reductionist or inaccurate they may seem.

Outside of the culture industry this process occurs repeatedly on a smaller, individual scale. Cisgender friends or strangers or partners or people you run into on the internet, on learning of one’s transgender status, will frequently approach asking for the story, asking for the narrative to be performed again, this time with a living, breathing trans person there to tell the story hirself. A lot could be said about the spooky way in which trans bodies suddenly become treated or approached as public property, available to public scrutiny, with people seeing nothing wrong, for example, with directly inquiring about our genitals or breasts, but less noticed is how our private histories and narratives are claimed in a similarly audacious manner. I’ve even had clerks at convenience stores, after seeing my ID and realizing I’m trans, feel entitled to casually ask about my relationship to my parents and whether or not I’d been disowned. Smiling. As though asking where I got my jacket, or what kind of TV shows I like.

And savvy trans folks, again, we learn to recognize these patterns, and we chuckle amongst ourselves and swap funny stories about the most ridiculous questions we were ever asked. Though with a tad less awareness of how interconnected this aspect is with the cultural concept of transsexuality, and the construct of the trans narrative. Which is perhaps connected to a far more interesting oversight we make.

We don’t tend to notice how we perform the narrative to one another, and for ourselves. And we certainly don’t notice the patterns, motifs, themes and cliches to that version of the Trans Story, abundant as they are, nor tend to talk much about what they mean and why they’re there.

There are many different reasons that human beings tell stories to one another, and many different kinds of stories. There’s a pretty impressive amount of thought and writing and conversation placed into deconstructing the media and pop-cultural interpretations of the trans narrative, and how that narrative is represented. There are lots of very interesting theories and ideas and stuff about why they take the form that they do, and what cultural needs are being fulfilled for a cis-centric (and patriarchal) culture to repeatedly perform that story in those ways. What’s generally missing, however, is analysis of our version of the story. We haven’t been talking much about what needs of our own we fulfill in how we perform our narratives to one another.

And we certainly do perform them, with almost the same fervor and obsessiveness with the narrative of how we came to be trans that the cis world approaches us. Yes, there is an entire niche industry built around the publication of trans memoirs (very few of which are worth reading, and fewer of which are noticeably discernible from the rest, despite the degree to which the larger trans community adores this particular sub-sub-genre of literature and admires its writers), but more tellingly is the structures that emerge in our support groups and web forums and so on, in which our stories are told and retold to one another, all with their own recognizable patterns (almost as consistent as the Before/After shot, the soft focus lens, the butterfly motif, the tears and the putting-on-make-up shot in the cis media’s versions of the narrative), and likely not without reasons for those patterns.

I imagine that a great deal of why and how we perform our stories like this to one another is relatively benign, harmless and understandable. We want validation, for instance, and we absolutely want the chance to recognize ourselves in someone else, given the intense loneliness and isolation that often accompanies our lives. We reach out to one another through the stories, and we find moments of recognition, and that makes us feel less alone, more connected, more human, more like we actually exist and matter in the world, more like there’s a chance we can indeed be understood. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, and of course patterns would emerge along the lines through which we can attain that sense of recognition and belonging.

But I don’t believe this process is entirely benign or entirely harmless, both due to some of the problematic aspects of trans communities and how we relate to one another when we’re together, and due to some of the problematic aspects of storytelling and narrative memory itself.

Storytelling and narrative are intricately connected to memory and how we perceive and interpret causality. Telling and retelling a story, of an event or an aspect of a life or a chain of events or a memory or whatever, that has been shown to have a huge impact on our capacity to recall those memories later, and also is (perhaps obviously) connected to how we come to understand how events relate to each other, how certain things can lead to certain kinds of consequences. We build an ENORMOUS amount of our understanding of ourselves, our lives, the world, and our relationship to the world, through the stories we tell about them. Unfortunately, however, human memory is extremely fallible, and the world is NOT composed like a novel. It’s not a narrative, and it doesn’t have a tidy plot arc. It is incomprehensibly complex and chaotic, with things that seem to be connected having no relationship to one another, things sometimes happening for reasons we would never have imagined, and things sometimes happening for reasons that are completely arbitrary or beyond the control of those they affect. Rather than a well-written narrative, the world is a crappy, free-verse, avante-garde poem written by an underslept, overconfident MFA student.

Due to this disparity between the world as it really is and the narratives through which we try to remember and understand it, the stories we tell about ourselves and events and such are just as likely to result in magical-thinking and other mistaken apprehensions of causality (“I was in the bathroom when we scored that last goal, so if I get up to pee again, we’ll score again and tie the game”), or in distortions of how we remember things. This latter effect is especially true (and indeed is a well observed and studied phenomenon) when the stories are shared and told amongst multiple people. People’s own recollections of an event can often end up not simply being distrusted by the initial observer, but actually changed to conform to the story of that event as its being told by others, even if those dominant stories are actually false or mistaken.

The stories we tell ourselves, especially about emotionally powerful issues… like, say, transition … or about things with enormous social and cultural weight …like, say, transition … should be approached with care. And we probably shouldn’t hesitate to analyze the motifs that recur in shared narratives, and to think about what those motifs might be offering us, or how they relate to the community’s own heirarchies and other social pressures.

For instance, something that often bothers me is the “I always knew” motif, the related stories trans women (maybe trans guys too, I’m not sure) will tell about the early childhood “signs” that they were already “really” their identified gender, and the reflective “ooohhh, NOW that makes sense!” moments of supposed revelation in regards to some expression or act of gender non-conformativity in childhood.

Some of us seem to collect and show-off these assertions, memories and stories like so many pink, sparkly pogs, tokens of the legitimacy of one’s gender. Of course, it’s impossible to claim any given trait or memory or experience adds to the legitimacy of gender without structuring a heirarchy of gender, without participating in the “transier-than-thou” culture by which some trans women are REALLY women and others are merely… something else. Something less.

For instance, there’s the very very VERY clear implication in this performance that the earlier one’s expressions of a non-assigned gender, the more valid and legitimate they are, the less likely to be… “fake”, I guess. And special privilege is given to the stories and moments of “knowing” that precede adolescence, as though somehow, despite the fact that that’s when MOST people acquire enough understanding of themselves and their body in relation to sex, sexuality and gender, and enough understanding of the world and the existence of transition, to articulate such a desire to themselves, any story of understanding occurring after this point is treated as less pure, more corrupted by sexuality, more likely to make you someone who “just” had some kind of sexual perversion or paraphilia or something that made you merely “think” you’re trans.

Though I’ve yet to see anyone adequately explain how there could be any difference between being trans and just thinking you’re trans. Because to me they honestly seem to kinda be the exact same thing. Being trans IS mostly about how you think of and understand yourself, and what, in relationship to that, makes you feel comfortable, genuine, happy and actualized in embodying and expressing that understanding.

Of course, there ARE people who transition in childhood or adolescence (I kind of dislike the term “early transitioner”, given how it plays into the all-too-pervasive notion that there’s never actually a right time to transition. Which is technically true, but only when placed alongside the corresponding understanding that there’s never a wrong time, either. Just the time that works). I wouldn’t want to invalidate their identities or exclude them from the conversation surrounding trans experiences. However, those who transitioned young are already excluded from the standardized Trans Narrative. What occurs in these stories isn’t a valorization of younger transitioners (these are often the very same people likely to suggest that someone shouldn’t transition until “absolutely sure” and “old enough to choose”, after all), this is mostly people suggesting that they could have, or would have, transitioned in childhood, but waited until it was necessary. That’s the expected standard.

More often than being genuinely salient instances of childhood gender non-conformativity, these stories often center around things that are in fact fairly commonplace actions children take in their process of defining and understanding themselves in relation to gender. Whatever neurobiological traits may be a part of what we express and understand as our gender, the way they manifest, the gender that appears, even in early childhood, is already being mediated and articulated in relation to social and cultural cues, including those picked up on from parents (that can begin in infancy!). There’s no structure in the brain that genders pink and glitter as feminine, for instance. All children gradually come to understand the cultural codes of gender and gradually come to understand how they fit themselves into those codes. It doesn’t happen immediately. All of us- cisgender, transgender, male, female, binary-identified, non-binary, etc.-  have memories of negotiating that landscape, and instances that, if we felt the need, we could interpret in our understanding of our lived experience as “early signs” of being whatever gender we want to see there.

But it’s not real, and we could just as readily find “early signs” to delegitimize said gender. In our moments of denial and refusal to accept the necessity of transition, or at the hands of the most ardent gatekeepers, that can and does happen… when a trans woman is desperate to believe she isn’t trans, she’ll find the stories of her childhood that read “male”, and when she’s desperate to validate her transition and belong to the narrative, she’ll find the stories of her childhood that read “female” .

It’s a bit like how astrology works, to be honest. We edit what details of our personality we recall and consider salient in order to fit the sort of vague archetype we’re being told represents our real self. We see, from a vague set to be found in a hugely broad collection of memories, what we’re coaxed to see. Under the demands and pressures of the trans community, with its explicit heirarchies, we see how we “always knew”… or at least the “early signs”.

“OOOOHHH! That’s why my first merit badge in Cub Scouts was for sewing! Now it all makes sense!

Having played with dolls at the age of 6 doesn’t make you any more female than someone who wanted to play with dolls but hid that desire in response to social cues, and that person isn’t any more female than someone who never felt any interest in dolls whatsoever. What makes us female is the definition of ourselves as such, at any point in our lives… the moment of realizing or declaring that this is the concept of gender that most resonates with us, through which we feel our self is best expressed, realized or embodied. Dolls and pink and childhood development, or Tori Amos and eyeliner and adolescent rebellion, or feminist butch dykedom and 20-something restlessness, or a sudden epiphany with no history of “signs” at all, discovered in middle-age… all of it is exactly as valid as it is felt to be.

In telling and retelling those stories of our childhood, clinging to and exaggerating those “legitimizing” moments that are no more likely to be the memories of a trans woman than of a cis man, we rewrite ourselves, and distort our own memories. We build a childhood we never had. The heartbreaking part, though, is that we end up sacrificing what our histories really were, the actual complexity and multifaceted nature of our narratives, in order to allow ourselves to feel valid within what is ultimately a cissexist, patriarchal, invalidating conception of what is required to be “legitimately” one gender or another. We don’t just rewrite our own histories in order to find a sense of comfort. We also allow the cissexist narrative of gender to rewrite all of us, collectively, and erase the actual complex (and perhaps beautiful) story of human gender itself, participate in and become complicit with that rewritten conception of what we are and the larger cis-patriarchal structures it supports… and punish those who remember.

I have my own stories of my childhood transgressions in gender. But I’ve tried my best to recall these in terms of what they mean to me now, in terms of how my sense developed of which ways of expressing myself felt permitted or forbidden, and how the performance of my masculinity was gradually created. They weren’t signs of a female self bleeding through a mask. They were points in the process of my gender being constructed… in relation to my feelings and desires and sense of self, yes, but also in relation to the people and culture around me. I know the moment that I first “knew”, and it came much later. I was 14. But I could have been 7, or 25, or 60 for all the difference it would have made in terms of its legitimacy.

Though the funny thing is that I know even my own version of my own story, accepting all that, probably isn’t entirely accurate. It’s distorted by my own needs, emotions, biases, perspective, and negotiated in relation to who I am now. That’s okay, I can’t really help it, that’s just how human memory works, but… I need to try to be aware of how and why I may have edited things.

And we certainly need to take care in observing the templates we collectively build and respond to. Trans people should understand that we ourselves are every bit participants in and enforcers of our oppression, and aggressive editors of our own narratives. Lives are lived, not written, so when you notice a genre, it’s kind of not a bad idea to ask what it’s doing there.

Few amongst us always knew, and the stories of having discovered or explored or carefully negotiated or fluidly shifted are just as worthwhile to tell, and just as much a part of what transgender lives can be.

Comments

    • Tanya2 says

      On the other hand, maybe you really are mentally ill.

      Of course, a mentally ill person can seldom see that, an gets very angry at the suggestion.

      • says

        Was that comment for me down below? I am guessing yes since it popped up right after but even if it was for someone else or natalie please take these points:

        a. there is nothing wrong with being mentally ill. Do you make fun of cancer patients?
        b. You are not really in a position to say that about anyone.
        c. Being mentally ill has nothing to do with being trans. They exist independant of each other.

      • says

        Natalie, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this poster before trolling elsewhere on FtB and so might be one to add to the moderation queue to prove they can post a comment in good faith, before any more offensive and potentially triggering derails from them are permitted. Anna’s response above is a model answer to this particular troll, but she shouldn’t have to waste effort on such an oxygen thief.

  1. says

    Natalie, thanks for such lucid writing on this topic, seeing as there are no end of differing transition narratives. I don’t think I had very much at all in terms of childhood signs or indicators of transgenderism, despite not always having a happy time of childhood socialisation (I had chronic asthma and eczema-like allergies that regularly put me in hospital from about the age of three onwards; I was always the shortest child in my class, the weakest at sports, the slowest runner by quite a margin, and so on).

    Instead from adolescence onwards I had a deep, disturbing confusion of what my gender identity was at all, combined with feelings of my body being wrong, and adding to the mix a lack of role models outside of the harmful stereotypes prevalent in the media about transgenderism that I knew didn’t correspond to myself. The brain is remarkably plastic, but even so it took a long time for me to accept myself as being transgender, as opposed to the rather shorter time it took me to come to terms with having non-heterosexual feelings for others, and I think the comparative invisibility of trans* people when I was much younger was something of a factor, seeing as both were heavily stigmatised.

  2. One Way Monkey says

    Great piece, as usual.

    I think there’s a lot of confirmation bias going on in “I always knew” narratives. Instances of childhood cross-gender behaviour. are magnified, and push out memories of thoughts and behaviours that fit with someone’s assigned gender.

    The “transer than thou” competition happens among trans men too. There’s also the “gayer than thou” version that accompanies the gay “I always knew” narratives.

    Like you said, everyone has to figure out gender. I’m a cis dyke, but mainstream transmasculine narratives seem to reflect my thoughts and experiences eerily closely.

    Now I suppose there’s a minute possibility I’m a femme trans man in denial, but I think it’s more likely that we all share experiences to a greater extent than we’re aware.

    I didn’t know I was gay either, I just thought all women felt like I did. It didn’t feel ‘abnormal’ to me, because I’d never been inside anyone else’s head, and I’d always thought the same way. Standard gay narratives featured a sense of alienation, anguish at feeling the ‘wrong’ things. I felt fine, ergo I must be the default, straight, because I didn’t feel like I was substantially different.

    When met with “When did you know you were gay?” I counter with “When did you know you were straight?”. Usually stumps bank cashiers/retail staff/random people long enough for me to get away.

  3. says

    Let me add myself to the list of people who didn’t always know. I just figured it out. I’m 28. How could I have known earlier when religion crushed my sense of self? I haven’t really gotten to know who I am until recently.

  4. says

    I’m never going to understand how you can manage to write so beautifully and be so informative at the same time.

    This was totally something I needed to read. All that stuff about ‘signs’ can get really confusing and annoying. I feel cis 90% of the time I’d say, and 10% I feel comfortable more with genderqueer (I guess I’m genderqueer-queer?). And it makes me tend to look for things to legitimize either being 100% cis or 100% genderqueer. And those things can change so much just with the day. If I want to validate genderqueer, I can point to the times when my uterus seems weird and alien inside of me, or when my boobs feel like annoying hindrances added to me, or how I have (what I consider to be) mostly male body language personality aspects, or how I take pleasure in not being thin in the female sense.

    But if I want to validate cis, I can point to the times when I take great pleasure in shit like motorboating myself in the shower, or when I enjoy looking feminine, or how I’ve recently begun wearing dresses, or how I enjoy having feminine curves, and things like that.

    But, yeah, I could look for any “signs” for whatever I wanted to prove, and none of them would legitimize anything.

    And I think it’s nice to be reminded that “legitimacy” should mean nothing.

    • thunk, circumzenithal arc says

      Yes, me too sometimes- gender-queer-queer Should Be A Thing. (though I think the split is more even in my case).

      I think I realized that at least partially due to Reed’s writing (Thanks). Though I try to justify myself one way or the the other sometimes, depending on how I feel that day, it’s really just cherry-picking data– a logical fallacy.

  5. rq says

    Glad you’re back. I’m in need of the brain exercise. Thank you! Lots to think about. Especially about how I look at people who are not like me and what I expect from them. Looks like another deep session of introspection.

  6. says

    And when TERFs reject trans identities, what they are typically rejecting is a very shallow reading of these narratives. It’s something like “You liked girl stuff, so you had to be a girl. That just reinforces the idea that girls are supposed to like girl stuff, therefore, you are part of patriarchal structure.” You did a great job delegitimizing these superficial arguments.

  7. emptyknight says

    And this is why I read your blog. Beautiful writing containing ideas and arguments that challenge my thinking about, well, everything.

    Lives are lived, not written, so when you notice a genre, it’s kind of not a bad idea to ask what it’s doing there.

    I love this line. Still digesting the article as a whole, just wanted to express my appreciation for it, and you.

  8. says

    I don’t actually understand why “always knowing” is so celebrated anyway. I am one of those people who can genuinely say I knew at a very very early age. I was sent to guidance coucillor at age 6 where I articulated my desire to be a girl. By 7 I was in repartive therapy, my gender monitored, my life miserable. I was contemplating suicide by age 8.

    This was of course the 1970s and I will say any older transitioners who claim they “always knew” were fairly unlikely to be mentally well. I just don’t buy the happy knew as a child, finally fullfilled myself story in most cases. Perhaps if you were lucky and found the world’s most advanced and understanding system as a child but I never heard people even discuss trans existance out loud when I was growing up.

    My reward for “always knowing”? No happy endings here. Multiple suicide attempts, social phobias, never had a job or finished my education. I have lived 20 years on social assistance, I have had no relationships of any kind, no children, and I am just now rebuilding.

    I never hear that part of the always known narrative. Generally when I tell that story the other people who “always knew” dismiss me as mentally ill or a failure of some sort. Frankly it is torture to know your female that young because there was nothing in place to validate those feelings. I think its wonderful that there is beginning to be services addressing the needs of trans kids. Its a horribly difficult experience.

    I will also say my narrative doesnt make me in any way more trans. I also feel for the hardship of people who decide later, have to leave families they have built, lost their children, go through the military to purge feeelings they don’t understand yet etc. Every story is differant with the one commonality that being trans in our society sucks and is horribly difficult. It shouldnt be but it is.

    I try to take the I liked dolls so I always knew thing as someone who is just trying to understand themselves and heal from wounds most of the times We can be desperate to understand why we are who we are. For me I read all the research on brain differance for trans people like that will somehow make it better for me but really it shouldnt matter why I am trans. That is the other problems with stories, its like we have to justify ourselves and really we dont because its totally ok to be trans for any reason.

    Each story is unique from each trans person I have met. That I find wonderful and I will never understand the urge to prioritize and value certain things. Each of us helps the others understand the world and our differances lead to a greater understanding of how gender is policed in differant ways and how we can fight to make it better for everyone.

    • No Light says

      *hugs*

      Stories like yours are why I’m so glad I didn’t realise I was gay until I was 20. My childhood was miserable enough without having another thing to suppress.

  9. northstargirl says

    Great to have a new post from you, Natalie.

    I’ve been doing some writing to help me sort through some things, and some of it’s been on this very subject. Yes, early on I had a very definite sense of my gender identity and tried to express it, and there were times it caused emotional distress (both from internal pain and from being punished). But I also remember a lot of boy stuff I enjoyed, and several things I accomplished pre-transition that I’m still proud of and would like to talk about more than I do. Getting to this point in my life has also taught me lessons I wish I could share more than I do. Even with the struggles, it’s been a great life and I would not have wanted to miss it.

    Unfortunately, experience (and misplaced trust) has taught me people sure enjoy cramming others’ stories into their own preconceived narratives. I would love to find ways to share my story and maybe help some folks, but experience has taught me a lot of people hear “trans” and their brains get hung up on that.

    Again, Natalie, wonderful to have you back. You mean a lot to so many of us.

  10. says

    Hi Natalie!

    I’m sure you don’t know who I am, but I’m one of those people I think you’re speaking about. I’ve told my story online, but before I did, I knew my story was partially the ‘narrative’ that the gatekeepers used to want to here.

    Since coming out, I’ve done nothing but support trans people; never once belittled another as ‘less trans’ for not knowing young; I went to an informed consent clinic over a psychiatrist to say I align with the greater trans community and I’m not a cis-wanna be Uncle Tom.

    But, it stings when the people I am one of and stand up for, criticize my narrative. I thought long and hard about telling my story and checked my facts. I just, simply, had one of those childhoods.

    I’m the product of what would happen to the young girl Bobby or Kim, if they had grown up deep in the mountains of the East in a very hateful place, and instead of being allowed to transition young, were forced into a masculine hetero world which turned them inwards in self-hatred and denial.

    It took a long time for me to overcome myself hatred, and to understand I couldn’t fix myself or change myself, or help myself. And some of us, actually, did know and had to deal with all self-hatred, drugs upon drugs, suicide attempts, etc. without an internet community or any community at all for that matter. Why should my real past be questioned? Especially when I’m fighting side by side with you?

    So what should I take away from your article? I’m stupid? I don’t know my own history? Everything I went through wasn’t real? Or I’m delusional and actually should have sought psychiatric help? Or maybe I don’t belong because my struggles are not what the real majority of trans struggles are? Or maybe my pathetic self-hatred and cowardice about coming out in the pre-internet era is really just too pathetic and I should shut up?

    Signed, one of those trans people who’s stories you’re skeptical about.
    Nikki

    • says

      I’m not criticizing the narrative itself, or the legitimate instances of such histories. I’m criticizing the standardization of that narrative, and the additional currency its lent within the present-day trans community.

      Some of us who learned at points later than early childhood, by the way, also had to deal with denial, self-hatred, drugs, suicide attempts and an absence of community.

      Also, it’s not simply what gatekeepers “used” to want to hear, it’s what a great many of them still want to hear.

      • says

        Okay fair enough.

        I do know this, all our narratives are valid, even the ones that the gatekeepers wish were the only narrative. We can’t go excluding or silencing those of us who are in alignment with the cissexist desires of us. I’d hate to see these young children be forced down my path, so that they could “discover” themselves later in life where the seeming majority of trans people figure it out. It’s not fair to them; it wasn’t fair to me to forced down that path.

        Now with internet, which I didn’t have in high school or young, when my mind was being attacked at all angles, I hope that my narrative will be just as okay to speak about as anyone else’s.

        Maybe I’m being sensitive today. More than once, the online community has attacked the early transitioners or those that knew early. Why? Why attack those that this is true for? I understand the rift that happened with the HBS’ers of old, but that doesn’t mean people who knew young don’t exist.

        Through solidarity in the community, any community, we move forward. We can’t exclude what the gatekeepers want to hear anymore than want they don’t want to hear. I’ve always been against them, always, and my actions speak true of this.

        My first read of this article was, I’m not real and I’m not an ally of my own community. Your clarification shows me that you’re more concerned maybe with including those that the gatekeepers want out, even at the cost of excluding those of us the gatekeepers do want.

        I went around the gatekeepers, intentionally, proudly, and in support of the community by going to an informed consent clinic. And if I can find away to avoid them for SRS too, I will.

        To be fair, if someone like me, was deny their trans status or to attack the rest of the community, I would thrash them for it.

        • says

          I’m not talking about excluding anyone at all. AGAIN, I’m only talking about being critical and skeptical of how we standardize narratives and give preferential treatment to some stories over others. Where are you getting this idea that I want to exclude or silence or attack people, or that I don’t recognize that early recognition can also be legitimate?

          I also EXPLICITLY included a paragraph recognizing and supporting the existence of people who transition young, and EXPLICITLY opposing the “they should wait” concept.

          • says

            You did include that paragraph, but you also said you’re skeptical of people who did know young and then went into denial until their 30s.

            So those that are lucky enough to be in a time – post internet – and a large enough accepting place and who transition young are okay, but those that were not in a time nor in an accepting place, who would have transitioned young; but those who went into an adult life of denial must be seen skeptically, as cis-apologetic, and wannabe HSB’er narratives? (To me, that is doing the vary thing that was done to us – excluding people based on narrative.)

            I had an argument on reddit not long ago, with a younger person, someone who didn’t grow up in the 80s and early 90s, who had lots of internet access, as to why I would internalize such transphobia when I was young. But I think the internet generations are being insensitive to those that didn’t have the internet. The volume of resources and the size of the community we have here is billions of times greater than what I did in the 80s and 90s, in a small mountain town of less than 4,000 people.

            I still feel, you wanted your article to be aimed at those that might want to take my narrative as their own to feel safe, and to prevent or ridicule those that did do this, rather than being inclusive of the whole trans community.

            Your piece to me felt hurtful and excluding of me as a whole, and for me it is easy to read this and think, “damn, she thinks people like me are lying!” So it is hard for me to walk away from this piece and think, “yea, my narrative is as valid as hers.”

            Your piece attacks, “I always knew” people. I’m one of those people. Even though I’m rare and not common, and a lot of variables had to be in place for my narrative to occur, it nevertheless did. So amongst the rare and uncommon narratives of trans people, people like me are too rare and we should be questioned for our validity? That sounds awful gatekeeper~ish to pass personal judgment on what you feel is a legit and plausible narrative for a trans person.

          • says

            Where did I say I was “skeptical of people who did know young and then went into denial until their 30s”? Where? I did say that it’s likely that many of us misremember, misperceive and edit our own narratives in response to external pressures, but at NO POINT did I say any particular narrative is a “lie”, impossible to be true, doesn’t happen, or ought be excluded or ridiculed. I think you’re strongly misreading this post, and also rejecting my attempts to clarify what the intent and concept actually was, instead just holding onto your initial misperception.

            I also don’t understand how relative access to internet and resources is at all relevant to this.

            One last time: my piece does NOT attack or exclude any particular narrative or history. It is critical of the preferential treatment and standardization of given narratives. I’m not going to repeat myself any further.

        • says

          What on Earth?

          Natalie didn’t attack anyone at all in this article, and is well known to support trans people with every possible life story. I don’t know what article you think you’re arguing with, but it certainly wasn’t this one.

          It sounds to me like you’re so angry about something that you’re mistaking any mention of your hot button for an attack. I suggest you back off and think about this; Natalie isn’t your enemy, and treating her like she is just makes you look bad.

          • says

            Ummm, hi?

            I thought I was having a conversation with Natalie in a peaceful tone. I was reading hers as peaceful, and mine was peaceful.

            Am I misreading your tone “I suggest you back off and think about this; ” as a fairly aggressive tone?

            I’ve thought about this, neither am I attacking her, or being angry with her.

            I’m simply pointing out how it is seen, by people in my shoes, this piece, that questions all those that say, “I always knew” as illegitimate, is in its own way denying our narratives. It isn’t my fault, that people who aren’t in my shoes try to adopt a similar narrative because of gatekeepers; it is the gatekeeper’s fault, and I’m actively fighting against them with all of you, but I’d like to have an entire piece aimed at questioning my existence.

            Good day Abbey, I’m not wanting to be in an angry place, nor told to be silent and walk away until I can come back with an opinion more in line with hers, or don’t come back at all.

          • says

            You are coming across as aggressive, Nikki.

            I haven’t said any of this is the “fault” of people who lived particular histories.

            As said, I am not going to continue repeating myself on this point infinitely. If you want to just outright ignore my responses to you, that’s fine, but I’m not going to continue debating this with you if you do.

      • says

        “I’m criticizing the standardization of that narrative, and the additional currency its lent within the present-day trans community.”

        Okay, I’m not trying to upset people here, but simply say how it was my personal opinion on this piece that it felt hurtful. That’s a valid response right? Regardless of whether it may seem logical to anyone, it made me feel that way.

        I too agree it should not be “the” narrative, and actively – in digital and physical form – fight against it.

        Within the trans and lgbtq community I walk amongst in life, I’m more the oddball than most, and no one gives weight to my narrative over others – nor would I tolerate them doing so. Possibly this is a local (net or physical) region to your area? Honestly, my community is not at all like that.

        Okay, I’ll move on peacefully Natalie and readers. I’m not mad, I just feel silenced and questioned after reading this. And sad that my narrative can be used a tool/ attack/ etc by any party for any purpose. I really did know all along, honestly. Sorry. Take care all.

        • says

          If you feel like an article is attacking you because it is talking about how people like you have some sort of privilege, even if you don’t see that happening in your own community, it is always a good idea to take a step back and read the article again. I did this on an article my friend wrote–someone who later became my friend, that is–and it’s amazing how it looked completely different on second reading.

          In other words, I agree with Abbey. I know the above sounds condescending but you could make much more effort to get the point, already. Natalie’s not attacking anyone.

      • Sarah says

        Natalie, I understood on first reading that you were not trying to single any particular group out for critique, but I must confess that this article made me feel immediately defensive, because I did always know, and yet I transitioned late anyway. Coming to terms with my own life and forgiving myself for the mess I made of it required excruciating honesty and a lot of hard work, and I challenged myself on every point, every step of the way, because I knew that if I accepted the conclusions that my experience seemed to imply, the consequences for me and my family would be very painful. After everything I’ve been through to understand and accept myself, and then to recover a worthwhile life from the aftermath – a suggestion that certain key details of my story are so unlikely as to merit skeptical challenge feels…deeply insulting.

        • Sarah says

          These are some of your words that read to me as a generalized accusation that every trans person’s story is inaccurate, maybe even a self serving lie:

          We don’t tend to notice how we perform the narrative to one another, and for ourselves.

          We haven’t been talking much about what needs of our own we fulfill in how we perform our narratives to one another.

          Due to this disparity between the world as it really is and the narratives through which we try to remember and understand it, the stories we tell about ourselves and events and such are just as likely to result in magical-thinking and other mistaken apprehensions of causality…

          But it’s not real, and we could just as readily find “early signs” to delegitimize said gender. In our moments of denial and refusal to accept the necessity of transition, or at the hands of the most ardent gatekeepers, that can and does happen… when a trans woman is desperate to believe she isn’t trans, she’ll find the stories of her childhood that read “male”, and when she’s desperate to validate her transition and belong to the narrative, she’ll find the stories of her childhood that read “female” .

          It’s a bit like how astrology works, to be honest. We edit what details of our personality we recall and consider salient in order to fit the sort of vague archetype we’re being told represents our real self. We see, from a vague set to be found in a hugely broad collection of memories, what we’re coaxed to see. Under the demands and pressures of the trans community, with its explicit heirarchies, we see how we “always knew”… or at least the “early signs”.

          In telling and retelling those stories of our childhood, clinging to and exaggerating those “legitimizing” moments that are no more likely to be the memories of a trans woman than of a cis man, we rewrite ourselves, and distort our own memories. We build a childhood we never had.

          And finally:

          “Few amongst us always knew,”

          • says

            “Few amongst us always knew” is not at all the same thing as “Everyone who claims to have always known is lying or deluded”.

            Also, yes, every trans story IS partly inaccurate, because every human story is partly inaccurate. This is how memory works, and I’m sorry, but it is naive to think that we don’t embellish and distort our recollections of how we came to understand gender in response to social and cultural pressures.

        • says

          It’s not at all a “so unlikely as to merit skeptical challenge”.

          It’s a “recurs with such frequency, and is given such primacy and privilege within the community, that it’s likely many of these stories are at least partly distorted by that, especially those which explicitly hinge on details that would not in any way be out of place in a cis man’s life”

          • A. Person says

            especially those which explicitly hinge on details that would not in any way be out of place in a cis man’s life

            These are details that not of place in any person’s life, regardless of gender identity. But they are specifically gender-coded details, so the fact that they are important to the narratives of people who belong to a community that defines itself around gender identity isn’t surprising. Arguing that because these details are common and therefore not important to identity and serve only as post hoc justification of identity is bizarre.

  11. says

    One of the most important things I can do in terms of self-care and self-love is to remind myself that my story, my narrative, is not any less valid than anyone else’s. So what if there are many or few points of congruence with whatever BS “standard narrative” I’m evaluating myself against? I remember much of my childhood through the lens of “always just knew”, but was it actually like that? I don’t know—but it doesn’t really matter for who I am now, and my own sense of self-identity. (At least, this is what I try to remind myself of on my good days…)

    It’s great to see you back, Natalie.

  12. nicholas says

    I still don’t “know” at 33. I have plenty of moments where I wonder whether I’m just a cis woman in a tight bra and this has all been a catastrophic misjudgement. I’m learning, very slowly, to be OK with the fact that it makes me feel more comfortable this way, without needing some cast-iron proof.

    I played with dolls a lot, right into my teens. Doesn’t prove much except that I enjoyed playing with dolls (and I suppose resisted social pressure to say I shouldn’t). On the other hand, I deliberately taught myself to love football because it was male-coded, and ended up building huge pieces of my life around it.

    “I was in the bathroom when we scored that last goal, so if I get up to pee again, we’ll score again and tie the game”
    For me, that’s a necessary self-delusion. When I face up to the fact that there’s nothing I can do to control the score, I end up drinking heavily, and I think a few false beliefs are healthier than liver damage. And I think we do that with our trans narratives as well sometimes. A pinch of false confirmation is sometimes the only defence we have against a cis world constantly insisting our identities are no more than a delusion.

  13. Hope_WA says

    Natalie, I wish you would have led the blog post with this sentence from one of your comments, “I’m not criticizing the narrative itself, or the legitimate instances of such histories. I’m criticizing the standardization of that narrative, and the additional currency its lent within the present-day trans community.”

    You and I have discussed this issue before and in general we agree with differences so minor as to be almost inconsequential. The major point we agree on is that all trans narratives, as long as they are truthful, are equally valid; that there isn’t a hierarchy of “trans-ness”; and that age of recognition and age of transition are worthless as barometers of dysphoria or intensity of experience. I abhor the way people turn being trans and transitioning into a completion in the Oppression Olympics in order to make themselves feel better by devaluing the experiences of others.

    I think the point you are making is valid and was definitely worth exploring but it seems to me that the tone was more dismissive than you intended. I agree that for many reasons people mentally rewrite their own histories and narratives, whether it is to cope with internalized transphobia, to reassure themselves in order to fit either the standard narrative, or to meet the outdated and groundless expectations of the mental health complex. What was left out, but showed up in your comment, is that there are people who did know from their earliest recollections that they were trans and it isn’t just a case of wishful thinking or a delusional retelling of their own story but a valid representation of their experience.

    • says

      I had sort of assumed that my recognition of the fact that early knowing does in fact happen, and isn’t always a case of misrecollection / selective memory / edited pasts / wishful thinking / etc. would have been in explicit, and I certainly went out of my way in the paragraph concerning young transitioners to make it clear that I wasn’t dismissing the fact that these kinds of stories are indeed a part of what we experience. And things like how I said “I could have known at 7 or…” and at the end said “few amongst us always knew”… like I deliberately worded those things very carefully such that I wasn’t dismissing that it happens, and was recognizing that those are PART of the variety of experiences we have. In that “few amongst us” statement there’s also the clear implication of “yes, some of us did always know”. It just happens to also imply “some of us did always know, but they aren’t everyone, those stories aren’t more legitimate than than others, and there’s lots of other kinds of valid stories that are worth telling”, which is what my point centers around.

      I was indeed taking care to make sure this was clear, that I didn’t directly exclude or dismiss any particular narrative, and didn’t think it would be misunderstood as “everyone who claims to have always known is a liar or mistaken!”.

      It’s also worth mentioning that “I always knew!” was just an example I was using as part of a larger point about taking care to pay attention to how we frame our own narratives, how we tell and represent ourselves to one another… that it’s just as important to pay attention to how WE represent the Trans Story as it is to pay attention to how cis media represents the Trans Story.

      • Hope_WA says

        Peace…like I said, we really do agree and knowing your previous comments on this subject I was more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt because I understand the point you were trying to make. I just think that despite your efforts in places the post was a bit rough even though it wasn’t your intention, which is why other commentors felt defensive.

        As I said, I know it wasn’t intentional and I realize you did take care to insert some inclusive language but I can see how someone could interpret it differently.

  14. KayDee says

    I knew there was something different with me only when female puberty happened in my friends and I simply couldn’t follow them were their body (and accompanying social implications was leading them). Prior to that, gender didn’t mean to much to me. Sure I was bullied to death from first grade to early fifth grade when I grew to 5 foot 5 inch tall and bullying stopped. But, I believed it was because I was a teachers pet and had the best grades and not because my friends were all girls and I was always with them in class. Outside class, my main friends were my books (read 5 a week) and Legos. So, I kind of found out that I didn’t quit fit as a male by the age of 12. From that time on, I wished I could be like the other girl, every night I wished I could wake up and be a girl. So, while I didn’t know at 7, I surely knew at 12 and at that time it was IMPOSSIBLE unless praying was successful.

    So, I tried my best to be a guy for the next 6 year, being pretty successful athletically, academically, but not socially. Socially my life was abysmal and I didn’t know what I could do to make it better. I had no friends, no girlfriend or boyfriends, my parents were verging on divorce and nobody else knew my pain. No surprise, I cracked at 19 and went on a quasi continuous depression until I reached 39! Careers in shambles despite 3 high value degrees, no significant friends and never a single relations with either sexes.

    • @Anna66Newton says

      KayDee,

      Your post so relates to me it’s scary. Apart from the degrees bit, I pretty much screwed that pooch before I even had a chance.
      (x)

  15. KayDee says

    On the original point. Yes, there is a lot of confirmation bias and several other biases in our memories, especially early ones. Myself, I barely remember anything before the age of 7. So, I’d have problem believing that someone could for such a definite view about themselves before seven unless they were in a very gendered environment where they couldn’t be themselves unless identifying with the other gender.

    In my case, I was doing hopscotch or whatever with the other girls and nobody seemed to care so why should I think I’m different than them? I dressed differently, but for me manner of dress wasn’t identity because it didn’t seem to matter to my girlfriends.

    I didn’t even have any idea about possible differences in sexual organs until my sister was born in 1974 (I was seven). But, to me, that could have been just variation between humans and not identity.

  16. Sinéad says

    I take exception with what you are saying. I knew from my earliest days that I was physically wrong…and was always trying to push my dangly bits up inside because of whatever reasons…I was beaten and abused for insisting I was a girl. So I hid it all, becoming a closet crossdresser because I thought that was the only way to express myself. Even after I come out around 19 as started to go out in public, I thought that was enough, and it took time but by age 25 I knew that it wasn’t the clothes or expressiveness at all, it was anatomical. As an atheist, I just had no way to rationize it because there weren’t many resources, and the few websites that did exist in late 90s were either by and for crossdressing straight men, whose stories weren’t like mine, or the older transsexual women who had lived more priviledged lives that allowed them to get surgery and then whatever path their lives took. I was never the type who joined the army and become hypermasculine to compensate and bury my feelings. I tried to be happy as a gender bending warrior. I really just wanted the feeling of why my bits were uncomfortable…and then later on, the disturbing theory of autogynephilia made me think everyone was right about me, that it was just a sex obsession, that I wasn’t getting laid, or that I was a gay male and just needed to reconcile that. I have cried too many tears over the physical discomfort I have with my body, and none of that has anything to do with how I dress. How I dress would not change or ever will change who I am, I am perfectly happy with how I express myself and think it shouldn’t be a stigma for “males” to dress in ways that are coded for “females.”. That is not why I considermyself trans! I am trans because it wasn’t until hormones that things started to be better. I can’t take spiro anymore, I just can’t take the pissing all the time and I’ve been too poor and had to prioritize my meds. I still don’t consider myself a “man” or “woman” in a social sense, I never had proper socialization as anything, I’m just a loner. As a child, the only friends I felt like I could relate to were tomboyish girls. I don’t undestand anything that seems to come naturally to most people when it comes to cis-hetero gender roles.

    If I didn’t have this physical dysphoria, I don’t know if I would consider myself cis, trans* or genderqueer or an androgyne. All I know is what I have had to live with since my earliest memories. I don’t know why I feel this way, and I’lll never know if things would be different if girls and boys clothes weren’t coded so strictly. And I have no way of knowing if my anterior hypothalamus is a certain configuration, all I have is my existential and subjective experience that my anatomical configuration should be different from what it is, and if an orchiectomy relieves it enough, I’d settle for that. The only inference I have is that I’m not the only one who feels something is or was wrong, and nothing in the last 38 years of socialization, dressing or antidepressants has fixed that.

    I just get tired of taking shit from older trans* (especially the HBSers) who think I’m not trans because I’m not feminine enough physically or in my expression. And I’m tired of taking shit non-trans* people giving me shit because I am a tomboy that I can”t be trans. I only know that I’ve had every endeavor of mine backfire, my education and career…because people look at me with disgust. I know I will never have a relationship, never had one. I’ll never probably kiss another person again, either. I’ve only had one blowjob and PIV sex once, that is not what I want. I want love. I hate not being on spiro because I can’t stand feeling sexual urges. I hate feeling obligated to masturbate. But I miss kissing. I just wish I could have a normal life. I don,t honestly know why I haven’t killed myself already. I ask myself why I didn’t at least go through with my attempts in the past, and it isn’t for fear of death, it,s for fear that I’lll fuck that up and be brain damaged. Because believe me, I would dead right now if I had it my way. I don’t want to live anymore.

    • Sinéad says

      Just a post script, all of what I said above is only applicable to my experience, and is not an extrapaltion of how I define “trans*” identities for others.

      And a pps, I may be reading Natalie’s article wrong, just feeling defensive because I keep masochistically reading radfemscum denouncements of our narratives, so to feel like my “always knowing” is being judged by how it does or doesn’t fit any standard narrative is frustrating.

    • maxdwolf says

      Sinead, I am not in your shoes and could not even imagine what you must have gone through. But I can relate in some small way to your situation. I myself have not had any physical or emotional intimacy for a number of years. I too miss kissing. I cannot say it becomes easy like breathing, but one does gain the strength to carry the burden over time. Again, I cannot know your mind, but in my case my I came to realize my reluctance to kill myself, my “cowardice”, was actually born of a joy in life I had been in denial of. I would urge to consider this. As corny as it sounds, there is something to accentuating the positive. Seek out and appreciate those who will support and accept you. Finally, seek professional help. You have probably had many bad experiences in the past, but focus instead on the value that finding the right professional could have for you. It’s much like diamond mining. You have to go through tons of useless stone to find a single gem. Please exhaust all you options and opportunities before making that final exit.

  17. says

    Regarding the fallibility of memory, for me certain aspects of transitioning have allowed me to watch it happen to my own memory.

    Today, for some reason, the subject of the women-in-computer-science tshirts at my university came up. My thought process went like this:

    “I never got one of those. Why didn’t I get one of those? OH RIGHT I forgot, I wasn’t always mostly-but-not-always seen as a woman by other people. Funny that!”

    I find many of my memories just retconned to contain my current body configuration. I know the fact that my body was in many ways different back then, but when it becomes relevant to the story it now sometimes causes a little pause and an “oh right” reaction.

  18. A. Person says

    I’m a bit troubled by the rhetorical structure created by the introductory story of savvy and unsavvy trans people paralleling the natural dichotomy created by people who accept or reject your thesis.

    I think you are overstating the importance of the reliability of human memory when it comes to identity. Identity is how the self understands itself. So the objective factually reality of events isn’t what is important, but rather the conclusions the self draws about itself from how it remembers those events.

    In a lot of ways I feel like the discussion is paralleling the one about sexuality from a while back. How do we discuss the problematic elements in identity construction without getting sidetracked by the more basic identity arguments.

  19. says

    Glad to see you back and writing Natalie!

    I love reading stuff like this cause it calms the little anxiety I have about transitioning. It breaks the though that I’ll go to a therapist who’ll say “you’re not trans enough to be put on medication” and those little niggling bits in the back of my brain that try to convince me I’m not trans at all because of this or that. I’m one of those closet types who tried throughout my teenage years to deny it, while I was playing in safe places as the woman I wanted to be.

    I didn’t ‘always know’ and I’d be worried if I had actually presented as trans to my family back when I was frustrated about it – what would happen. We didn’t belong to one of those ‘gay therapy’ (or in this case ‘trans therapy’) type churches, but I’m pretty sure they might attempt to convince me otherwise. The end result would be the same, closet and deny, but I think that an outward delegitimization of my struggle would result in some other problems.

  20. natashayar-routh says

    My but that went sideways fast. It realy sort of dampens my interest in commenting ever. I’m just a very I’d gender queer stone femem who figured that out very late in hir life.

    I guess I don’t fit into any trans narrative at all ans am beginning to think I don’t want to. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to be alone then get involved in yet another endless dispute. Then again maybe I’m just tired and depressed again.

    So carry on all and it’s nice to see Natile back again.

    No there is no point to this comment, I’m old and my mind wanders.

  21. says

    I take Natalie’s point here, and I’m a bit surprised at the umbrage from some of her readers who feel this post somehow invalidates their own personal understanding of their history of self-identification.

    Natalie’s main point, as I see it, is that the claim itself is not inherently problematic; it’s the way the claim has been fossilized into a kind of arche-narative that has become in so many forms of discourse the PARADIGM for *all* trans identities. Think of our trans ‘spokespeople’ who have upheld this storyline as the needed ‘proof’ for transition being worthwhile. “If you’re not %100 sure . . . if you didn’t always know . . .” Think of the medical practitioners who use “always knowing” — whatever that means exactly, I’m not sure, since inner realities are so hard to express — as the primary “check” in granting access to hormones. It’s the standardization of the claim, not that some people make the claim itself, that Natalie is critiquing. Perhaps her secondary point — that some of us should exercise more reflexivity in our assumptions about ‘knowing’, and under what conditions we ‘knew’ — is more controversial. But she isn’t invalidating anyone. She’s advocating for a more critical perspective in trying to disentangle the stories we tell about ourselves, and the external pressures that have influenced the shaping of that story. She’s not taking autonomy from anyone! She’s just forwarding a very basic premise of feminism: don’t be so certain that our stories came into being without being meddled with by Power.

    WHen I was six years old, I told my granny that I was a girl. She said, “No you’re not! You’re a boy. You look like a boy. See her,” she said, pointing to a young girl my age in a floral dress, “That’s a girl. And her. And her. They’re girls. You do not look like them. You are not one of them. You’re a boy.” Did I *know*? What I did know was that the ‘born in the wrong body’ metaphor, around that time, started to take shape in my self-concept. As much as some people loath the cliche, it always worked very well for me, and that moment certainly helped cement it as my way of perceiving what was happening inside of me.

    • LicoriceAllsort says

      I second your post and want to expand on a part of it:

      She’s just forwarding a very basic premise of feminism: don’t be so certain that our stories came into being without being meddled with by Power.

      She’s also forwarding a basic premise of skepticism, here as it applies to our understanding of neuroscience and memory. Conceptions of memory that frame it as if it were a specimen under a glass case–plucked from reality and placed in an area where we can observe it but not interact with it–have largely been shown to be false. New memories are shaped a lot by our brains at the time of formation, and old memories can be molded after the fact by our experiences and desires.

      Natalie’s taking skepticism about how reliable & objective our brains are and pointing out the implications on gender identity, which is (partly) a product of brain function. She does this not in the usual way of casting doubt on our own gender identities, but to point out that our identities (and our recollections about how they developed) are subject to the same flaws as anything else that relies at all on the use of our imperfect brains.

      So, yeah, we’re subject to being meddled with by power and also by a shitload of other internal and external environmental factors.

  22. Rilian says

    I first suspected when i was 14 or 15, but having never heard of the idea of being transgendered, I just put it out of my mind and didn’t come back to it till i happened to read about it online like 5 years later. And what I suspected was not that I “was a boy” but that I would have been happier to be a boy, and I wished I could magically transform.

  23. says

    I guess, in some degrees I haven’t talked about it intimately with others, but since I found this post I feel inspired to do so. Early in transition I latched on to a lot of nonsensical, harmful, untrue, and contrived tropes. But when critically thought about it, I found layers of assertions piled upon me by our culture. My transition was as much about becoming a critical thinker (less magical), and a skeptic as it was about my gender. It’s only been the last year I have been in transition for long enough (coinciding with becoming an Atheist as well), and had time to think it that I have found myself comfortable enough to peel away those assertions.

    My early transition was reactionary, meaning I over compensated to match cultural expectations. I jumped from one extreme to the other, completely in contradiction to how I actually felt about my gender. I wasn’t overly feminine growing up, though I clung to and enhanced the times that I was, and favored the assertions that I was “feminine”. It was because of those narratives. What I started to realize in critically analyzing it, I didn’t feel that “feminine” was entirely me (at least not all the time), but I knew with certainty “masculine” wasn’t (most of the time). Realizing that I started to transition away from over compensating.

    I can’t say I’ve figured it all out, like (expression wise) why I feel flexible androgyny more comfortable, but the way I feel about my body (anatomically) requires more transition. It seems, other than non-binary/androgynous, I can’t find a word that really articulates entirely how I feel about my gender. Certainly, I am still psychologically disposed to a little bias about my memories, so I agree with you. We should be willing to critically analyze it, and it’s harmful to a person to cling to a falsehoods in the name of validation. Especially since it is divisive and creates separatism within the trans community.

    I feel happier in transition now than I did for doing so, though I still have gender dysphoria about other elements that will eventually change. What’s funny is that the narrative didn’t change me, or what I need as I still feel the same about my transition so far, and transition to come. It was just preventing me from being honest about who I am and how I felt. I feel being honest with myself is better policy than following without question the social archetypes. I am me, and I am unique, but I also happen to have other traits, and even some similarities I share with others. The hope now is that more people will read and see this. Thanks for your thoughts on this matter.

  24. says

    I’m a long-time reader who has always enjoyed your writing (but never commented before). With this entry though, in the same way others have described, it felt like you were saying that most people who “always knew” are just deluding themselves. It felt like you were mocking people whose stories are similar to mine. You actually compared it to astrology.

    I realize that you’ve explained in above comments what you truly meant, but if so many people have reacted in the same negative way, perhaps you should consider that there was a real problem with how you originally presented your ideas.

    Beyond that, I feel like you’ve set up an argument that can’t even be disproved. Your point is that people’s perceptions of their own lived experiences can’t be trusted, which allows any disagreement or opposing assertion to be explained away via “But how do you know that’s what *really* happened? You can’t really trust your own mind!”

    It’s reminiscent of Freud saying that all women experience penis envy, and if they don’t remember it, that’s just because of >insert “defense mechanism” here<.

    • says

      It’s also possible that people have responded negatively, and in such contrast to my explicitly stated messages, precisely BECAUSE of the phenomenon I’ve been describing, how much we want to believe that our gender is valid via having “always” been there (even though it’s valid no matter what). In fact, I think the degree to which people felt personally insulted by what are statements about human memory and narrative in a general sense points to that possibility.

      Maybe people’s memories of having known from an early age are accurate. Maybe they aren’t. It doesn’t really matter either way. However, a lot of the stories I hear people tell about their “early signs” aren’t things that in any way would indicate a female gender identity or whatever. Just things that any kid might do in the process of exploring their gender. And pointing to things like that, saying “see! see! I was always a girl!”, that shows a buy-in to a cissexist heirarchy of who “counts” as their gender and who doesn’t.

      • says

        It’s also possible that people are simply upset because you are questioning (denying?) what they consider their lived experiences.

        Sort of like how cis people do sometimes ;)

        • says

          Sometimes questioning ourselves and our memories is a destructive, erasing, prejudicial thing. Sometimes it’s not, and is instead about inclusivity, acceptance, and taking care of ourselves.

          • says

            I would think that a better road to acceptance and inclusivity would be one which emphasizes empowering and celebrating currently less-heard narratives, instead of attempting to deny or deride (astrology, really?) the lived experiences of others with unfalsifiable arguments.

            It’s not a zero sum game.

          • says

            You’re right, it’s not a zero sum game. We need to approach the policing and self-policing of narratives and identities from a variety of angles, including being critical of ourselves and how our own community engages in such actions. Including talking about how we hold certain stories as being more valid than others. Including accepting that memory is fallable.

            There is absolutely no progress to be had in denying basic truths of what human beings are like. Even if those truths might be uncomfortable. Such as “what we believe about our own pasts is not reliable”.

            What counts in terms of the validity of an identity isn’t its past anyway. It’s the self-determination itself.

          • says

            “Including talking about how we hold certain stories as being more valid than others. Including accepting that memory is fallable.”

            I’m curious as to how you personally decide which “always knew” narratives are valid and which aren’t. I’m also curious as to how you’ve determined that your “didn’t always know” narrative is comparatively more accurate/not subject to the fallibility of memory.

          • says

            “I don’t decide which are valid and which aren’t.”

            Obviously you are not the sole arbiter of determining whose stories are true and whose aren’t. I didn’t imply that at all, and I feel like that was a deliberate (whether conscious or subconscious) misreading of the words I wrote on your part.

            What I asked was: Here you have setup a framework where you’ve hypothesized that some people’s “always knew” narratives are basically “fake,” while also including the caveat that some probably are accurate. So, when you hear an “always knew” story (or one incredibly similar), how do you evaluate for yourself if you think it’s genuine or not? Or do you not think about it at all?

            Please realize that I’m commenting in good faith here. Your post, especially towards the beginning of it, did seem very alienating to me, and my story is not even 100% “I always knew” either. I don’t have a stake in proving you wrong or anything like that. I also think, in regards to trans women specifically at least, the greater airtime sometimes given to “always knew” stories can be problematic, because it can validate the (wrong) idea that there is a Right Way to Be Trans. But I disagree with your approach to remedying the situation (questioning others lived experiences), as I mentioned in another comment already.

            I’m sure it’s slightly frustrating since I stumbled upon this a few days after the initial conversation had died down, and for that I apologize. But I think the things I’ve written thus far have been sufficiently different from other comments–and I certainly haven’t mindlessly repeated myself, either. Based on that, I think your charge of ridiculousness is what is actually ridiculous. I mean, would you have been just as seemingly dismissive if our brief exchange had taken place face to face?

          • says

            I just reread my last comment and realized parts of it could be construed as “tone trolling” by eyes which are looking for that. I want to clarify that it’s not.

            I think your method of encouraging diversity by introducing the idea that lots of trans women are deluding themselves can be harmful. We already deal with people questioning what we actually feel, critiquing us for not being able to adequately explain ourselves with the words available to us. And now, under the banner of a “skeptical eye,” you are advocating further mistrust of trans women’s accounts of their own lives.

            The last part of my previous post addressed your comment about this being ridiculous. To be clear, I was not driven to pearl-clutching indignation by your words and thinking you should be nicer. I thought that remark was completely irrational, given the exchange that had actually taken place at that point.

          • says

            HUMANS are all “deluding themselves” (if you want to use that kind of aggressive language). There’s nothing to be gained from insisting that all our memories are always perfectly accurate, especially not in the service of the cissexist concept that our identities are somehow more valid the longer we’ve been aware of them. I’m not going to participate in a trans-feminism that requires shutting down discourse into actual human truths. Same reason I think we shouldn’t talk about having “female souls in male bodies” or any other false way of validating ourselves. We’re already valid, and it only undermines progress to ignore human realities for the short-term gain of constructed legitimacy. Any feminism I’m to be a part of must be a critical, unflinching feminism, willing to deal in truths, even the ones that make us uncomfortable, and willing to critically examine ourselves and our own perceptions.

            I’m not talking about any special, extra “mistrust”. I’m talking about accepting that the assertion of our identities, our self-determination in the present moment, is what’s important, and all that’s required for our identities to be valid, as opposed to the particular narrative of how we came to arrive at those identities. Those narratives may be meaningful to us on a personal level, sure. But they aren’t 100% reliable, and ANY narrative is valid, ANY story of when or how we came to “know”. Even the stories of those of us who never really “knew”, and decided to just go with it anyway, are valid. So leaning into our narratives for legitimacy and validation, as in the privileging of the “I always knew” narrative, is an INHERENTLY excluding, heirarchial, cissexist, invalidating act. As long as one behaves as though their story is what makes them “really” a (wo)man, they are constructing a system in which some people, whose stories don’t fit the template, AREN’T “really” (wo)men.

            The problem with cis people mistrusting our lived experiences isn’t act of applying a critical lens itself. It’s the motivations and biases and cultural heirarchies driving that critique.

            I’ve made countless clarifications, and I feel like I’m being forced to repeat myself ad nauseum. Believe what you want to believe about my intentions. Believe that I’m trying to “invalidate people’s life experiences” or saying people are “lying” or “deluded” or that I’m suggesting some special skepticism should be applied to particular stories. If nothing I’ve yet said has clarified any of this, and made it clear what the actual point of this post was, nothing IS going to clarify that. I’m sorry, but this has gotten extremely frustrating, and I believe that people are seeing something that isn’t there due to negative associations with something somewhere else, and the degree to which people are holding on to that initial perception despite my repeated explicit clarifications makes me feel like further discussion is pointless.

  25. embertine says

    Hi all, didn’t know where to put this: there have been two (so-far) successful uterus transplants in Sweden which might give hope for trans women that they could carry a child in the future if they chose.

    One of the women (both of whom are cis) was born without a uterus and the other had to have hers removed. Both women are undergoing IVF but obviously the proof will be if they are able to carry a child to term.

    Exciting, no?

    • Rasmus says

      One of the researchers is chatting with the public at DN.se right now. About every fifth question is about doing it on men and/or on trans women.

      The researcher answered that there has been no research on that and it is completely unknown whether or not it would be possible.

      In case anyone thinks that Scandinavians are more skeptical and reasonable I’d like to point out that about half of the questions that she got were basically “the natural fallacy leads me to believe that this is evil and by the way you’re stealing tax money!!!11″. The project was privately funded…

      • Rasmus says

        Oh and I think the angry questioners were raging against doing it on cis women, in case that isn’t clear in my comment above.

  26. NameWithheld says

    Keeping anonymous with this post. It’s odd trying to relate my own trans inclinations (I guess? I’m still not really sure how to classify myself, and I’m scared of how I’ll be accepted if I transition) with the narrative as for a long time, at least since I was in my teens, I’ve felt.. awkward in a male body and realized that I’d probably be happier as a woman. However, I never associated this state with gender roles. Quite the opposite, as for the most part I still tended towards things which society deemed masculine although I also enjoy some of which is conventionally labelled feminine. The whole gender-role aspect never really dinged a bell on my consideration compared to the physical aspect and how I see myself.

  27. says

    I didn’t always know. There were some isolated ‘off’ moments, but none of them were in my childhood — the first one I can reliably identify was on the week of my 16th birthday when a clerk at a Subway identified me as female.

    I didn’t know until a few days ago, and that was after months, not of constant worrying, but of haphazard reading, talking to some close friends, playing with my expressions, and not feeling wrong any step of the way. I can’t say I even began to know until a GQ friend stepped up and talked to me about my identity directly, after which things sort of fell into place in my head.

    And if it hadn’t been for posts like this, a total repudiation of the myths and frameworks that go into the standard trans* narrative, I probably would never have known at all; I don’t fit the narrative at all, much less the gender binary that the narratives assume.

    Thank you, Natalie.

    • julie ann Richmond says

      No ones trans experience should be left out ….
      There is no one path fits all in coming to terms with ourselves and gender issues . Everyone’s road to get there is as individual as they are ..
      I do not think anyone’s claim to being trans is more valid than anyone elses.
      I mean if a person says that they are trans they are …. It takes a lot of will and thinking to come to that pinnacle conclusion .
      Some deal with it early some late … Does not make one less or more valid than thee other …

      Although you are right about the … Folks who always knew .. they did know … So far I have experienced exactly what other always newers .. knew. and that is to spend your whole early childhood going to sleep at night praying that you would just turn into a girl /boy by morning … And that never happens … So after years of praying and not turning into your ideal sex by morning … You suppress it and try to fit into
      society’s little gender box .. that your body fits into …. Not ideal but atleast you go and try to be a part of the whole (society atlarge ) .

      • says

        Those sorts of things, stuff like going to bed every night wanting to wake up… those aren’t always knowing. Those are experiences that inform what we ultimately come to know. There’s a BIG difference between “there was always something there” and “I always knew”, at least in terms of how I approach these concepts.

        • Julie-Ann Richmond says

          Yes.. but that is knowing you want to be the other sex … You are praying and wishing …how much more knowing can that be …

          For example.
          I personally knew I had the wrong genitals ..
          When my mom changed the neighbors daughter …
          I told my mom ( this is like at 3.5 years old .)..
          I was suppose to have one of those ( vagina
          ) … I was told no .. after we bantered back and forth for a moment …
          She told me NO you are my littleboy .. and because I said so ….

          It is the suppression that drives it down deep into hidding .
          We get shaped by society and try to mask and hide that stuff … Until we are ready to say the hell with it and try to rediscover who we are … In that process we tend to define our belief system .. and in doing that .. we free ourselves … Err sorry I am ramblingnow

  28. says

    One of the primary reasons for me in terms of remembrancing / narrating the history before transition is a way of very slightly reclaiming it.
    I’m particularly odd in having no history of any gender issues before waking up one day to find that I was very different to the way I’d gone to bed the night before. Bearing in mind that, due to extraneous medical issues, I was essentially on a light HRT dose and that nothing else remotely fit the way I was and continued to be save some major gender shift, I started transition shortly afterward.
    This has left me with an enormous biographical gap. Who I was more than 4 years ago is about as acccessible to answer as who I was when I was under 5. Sure this is very atypical, but do wonder whether or not there always is a way in which transition marks the death of a life that had been dying since the first realisation, as well as a birth. In that way remembrancing becomes, partly, an incorporative aspect of mourning for someone that is now so very distant. And maybe, by setting the date of clearly remembering back a while, one can minimise what may have been lost.

  29. julie ann Richmond says

    I also want to thank you for the effort you make in your writing…
    I really have been enjoying these blog posts… I just recently found your blog …
    Peace Love and light
    Julie-Ann.

  30. Great American Satan says

    Wow, it’s hard to blog, isn’t it?

    No matter how good a writer you are or how many pains you take to explain your well-reasoned and progressive positions, some people are going to flip out on you.

    Probably the sanest bloggers are the ones who never respond to comments.

    I just wanted to say thanks for saying something that could be reassuring to late-bloomers (my bf didn’t even know being a gay transman was possible until sometime after we started dating, and he’d known a few trans people for years before that). Instead of what I expected to see, I’m scrolling through The Dead Sea Scrolls of torturous debate.

    Sorry about that.

  31. todd bstevens says

    I do not agree, but I think I understand.

    As a signifigant other of a trans person, the ‘ always female’ meme is a convenient ficton.

    Is there a cost here I do not percieve?

    • A. Person says

      There are a few different costs. For example, the direct cost of discouraging those of us whose trans identity forms later than others because it hides/delegitimizes our existence. The mental & social cost of having to maintain that convenient “I always knew” narrative. The cost of social hierarchies and access to services forming around how well you match to that narrative.

      • Julie-Ann Richmond says

        Regardless if you feel it delegitimizes
        your narrative the truth is that is those folks story.
        Education is the key here .
        I know that in the trainings here in Maine .
        Teach that everything falls along the spectrum..and that there is no one set way that one may identify.. weather that be
        Orientation, gender presentation, or how and when you came to understanding ones feelings varies widely across the spectrum…

        So getting the right info to the CIS population that helps us trans folks is critical. That is why we do what we do .
        Seeing kids like Jazz and others get recognized early and dealt with makes it all worth the effort to educate the m community. And any other entity that is going to be dealing with trans folks …

        More more places are making way for trans folks by making sure they have access to the things they need . ..

  32. LIsa K. says

    There are some things that have always bothered me about the “narrative”…

    One of them is this notion that we were women trapped in “men’s” bodies…which may be somewhat true for some people I guess, but a lot of us started out with more androgynous bodies, and after being on hormones for long enough it’s really hard to claim that one’s body is a “man’s” body just because surgery hasn’t been performed. It’s more like we’re women who started out with in ambiguous/masculine bodies whose bodies are becoming more feminine (if not completely female at least pushed to the other side of the “ambiguous” side)…our bodies are still our bodies and they are women’s bodies, just not the “typical” cis-women’s bodies. (at least once we’re on HRT) . But they’re definitely not “men’s” bodies; not on hormones anyway.

    That leads into this “used to be a man” concept that always bugged me too, where cis people get off on this idea that one’s actions pre-transition must have fallen explicitly into the binary male spectrum, or at a minimum into the “gay” male spectrum, when that is often not true at all. But yet the “narrative” loves to eat up these stories of people who played football or joined the military or did equally “macho” things to disguise their “true selves”. As if everyone went out of their way to be overly masculine while they were still “processing” their gender identity. The “narrative” leaves little room for those of us who did the bare minimum necessary to “pass” as male so that we could avoid ridicule. On the flip side it also further genderizes certain activities (as if no women ever played sports or joined the military).

    The “narrative” also leaves little room for those of us who were virgins when pre-op, or who are asexual or whatever. Bisexuals also tend to get thrown under the bus in the “narrative”.

    I agree too that memory is very tricky…in fact I know that I personally suffer from some degree of memory loss / over-compartmentalization to the point that I’ve found myself confabulating about certain aspects of my past because I can’t easily tie all the pieces together.

    “I always knew” that something was wrong. That I felt uncomfortable in my skin and that various expectations placed on me. That I was being told over and over again that boys are supposed to act like abc or be xyz. Initially I just found other ways to “be a boy” without arousing suspicion of gender conflicts while simultaneously embracing activities that i felt comfortable with that didn’t piss people off for focusing on.

    If I did ever have an “aha” moment, it was when I watched a TV show about a woman who had “gotten a sex change” (probably about Renee Richards?). Up until that time I had no idea that such a thing was even possible. It was a heavy thing to be exposed to all at once, because it completely changed my perspective on things. Which was not helped at all by the fact that my dad was watching that documentary with me and started teasing me about how I was going to “get a sex change”. It didn’t really fix anything, but it opened my eyes to the possibility of thinking of myself *as* a girl instead of thinking of myself as someone who “should have been born a girl”. I had been scared to entertain those kinds of thoughts, because I didn’t want to actually deal with the implications of it.

    Yet it took me many years to realize that the reason I didn’t fit in and often felt miserable trying to live up to other’s expectations of me was because I’m actually female. I just wasn’t that self-aware growing up. The process of becoming self-aware is long and arduous for everyone, and it’s even more so for someone with gender issues. It’s just not that black and white for most people.

    The other thing that is never brought up in the “narrative” is how heteronormatism can really fuck with a young trans* person’s head (well maybe not so much now in the “information age” but pre-internet it was a really huge issue). For me since I’m bi I had all these confusing feelings from this notion that boys are attracted to girls and girls are attracted to boys. I had never met any gay people…there was no LGBT culture that I was aware of, just random stories or movies here and there…it wasn’t on the news at all. So I felt really ambivalent about my attraction to boys, and I was thoroughly confused about how I could be a girl inside, while being attracted to other girls. I had no concept of the idea that gender identity and orientation weren’t the same thing, and the label “transsexual” really made me uncomfortably and further re-enforced this idea to me, that it was some sexual orientation thing. When I did finally have the courage to talk about the gender issues, this was always brought up, this notion that because I liked girls and wasn’t head-over-heels attracted to the macho action star du jour then that “proves” i’m really a boy and that I should just “get over it” or whatever.

    So the typical “narrative” doesn’t really apply to me. Because I waited until I had a stable job and was living on my own to start transition, it actually went incredibly smoothly. I saved up a bunch of money and had decided to quit my job and just find another one once I went full-time, but then my boss pulled me in to his office and asked me why I wanted to quit when it was clear that I liked my job and that they were happy with me. Once I told him what I was doing and how I just wanted to start with a clean slate and didn’t feel like outing myself to anyone, he convinced me that it really wasn’t a big enough deal to quit my job over, and that if I just took a couple weeks off he would take care of all the logistics so I could keep my job while I was going thru the process.

    I guess my point here is that the “narrative” is a big stereotype of how cis people think trans people are supposed to be. The stories they like are heteronormative and “fish out of water” type stuff. And it bugs the crap out of me, because when I do work up the courage to disclose my history, people have all these false preconceived notions of what it actually means.

    The worst offender being this idea that it’s so fucking courageous to transition, like it’s equivalent to beating cancer or something. This doesn’t even come from people who are transphobic; it comes from cis society’s expectations of what it’s supposedly like to be trans. It’s hard to figure out who you really are and what you want out of life. It’s hard to deal with people’s prejudice’s. But transitioning is more of a logistical hassle than anything else. It’s not some awful tragedy like going through a divorce or losing a loved one or surviving an earthquake. Instead, transition felt a lot more like finally paying off a huge loan or graduating from college or something…the logical conclusion of years worth of hard work and focus on a goal.

    But this is real life, not a movie script. I’m all for inspiring others and giving back to the community, but I’m not interested in my life being some sob story for cis people to feel better about themselves because they never had to deal with gender identity issues. Or some “motivational” story, like when an autistic person does some fantastic piece of art, as if they’re “overcoming their disability” instead of just accepting them as a human being who is expressing their own unique talents. Sadly, I believe that is generally the idea behind the media and the cis populace latching on to these stories. They want to archetype us into some kind of feel-good story, or even worse as some kind of sensationalist tabloid exploit (hence the obsession with before/after pictures).

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