You know what?
This blog is a fucking downer a lot of the time.
Now, I do what I do for some pretty specific reasons. We’re at the cusp of a very exciting shift in the trans rights movement. Over pretty much just the last year and a half, we have quite suddenly become visible. Cis audiences are finally noticing we exist, and being open to discussing the issue. 2011 saw an amazing wave of steps forward… the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, Chaz Bono on Dancing With The Stars suddenly putting a trans man in the living rooms of mainstream America, Harmony Santana giving an amazing performance as a transsexual character in Gun Hill Road finally being portrayed by a transsexual actress, the United Nations openly including gender identity in its LGBT human rights declaration, Andrej Pejic becoming one of the most talked about and coveted models in the fashion industry, Bobby Montoya being permitted entry to the Girl Scouts, My Transsexual Summer, the Canadian trans-rights bill, etc. etc. etc.
We’ve gone from the point in the struggle where they ignore us and laugh at us, and are now moving into the part where we fight. But we’re visible. We’re here. People can no longer pretend that trans people don’t exist, or that we don’t matter. They can no longer ignore our suffering and our dead.
Two years ago, would an internet blogging network that wasn’t specifically LGBTQ in nature, even the progressive ones, have considered a trans voice and perspective to be an important addition? Would anyone have noticed its absence?
Being a part of this movement means taking advantage of that visibility. Now that people are paying attention, we need to grab hold of the discourse and use it. We need to use our newly acquired voice to say “hey! What is going on is NOT okay!”. We need to speak our truth, and show what’s been happening to us, how we’ve been treated. We need to talk about the rates of suicide, murder, violence, sexual assault, workplace harassment, homelessness, addiction and survival sex work. We need to make sure this is heard now, while we have a chance. Before they begin fighting back and whitewashing everything. Before they begin trying to wrest control of the discourse away from us. We need to use this window to shine a light on our little corner of this world, and on the pain, brutality and oppression that has been going on just beneath society’s notice.
I believe that doing this work, calling attention to the completely unacceptable manner in which trans people have been treated within our society(ies), is important, especially now, in this particularly pivotal moment in our movement’s history.
But it makes for some depressing reading sometimes. And some depressing writing.
I often worry whether the image I’m presenting of what transition is, and what being transgender means, is one-sidedly bleak. That I’m neglecting talking about everything about it that is joyful and empowering and beautiful and wonderful. I worry most about the image this all presents to people who are questioning their gender, or at the cusp of transition, and whether I’m making it all seem really hard and terrifying, like that it means forever sacrificing the goodness in this world and condemning yourself to a life of struggle and discrimination. I worry that I’m playing into a bit of a trend in which the trans community has been defining its identity in relation to our victimization; which incidentally perpetuates our identities being defined only in relation to cis people, as other. It’s not much of a self-determination.
I’m not going to lie… there’s a lot of sacrifices. And a lot of struggle. And it’s never, ever easy. And we are victimized. But it certainly beats the alternatives: suicide or a life of sadness, regret, pain and desperation. Being trans is just something that happens to you. You can’t NOT be trans, and choosing not to transition isn’t going to get rid of the shittiness of that circumstance. But what it does do is deprive you of everything great that can come from this. And there are such things.
So I’m taking a tiny bit of a break from my usual M.O. and taking a moment to appraise those aspects of being trans, and transitioning that have been, at least for me in my own limited experience, a joy and a blessing:
I do not, and cannot, take my gender for granted.
For most people, gender is simply circumstantial, something that just happens to be one or the other. There’s never any questioning, and never any struggle. It doesn’t have any definitive boundaries or contours or structure, it’s no more defined than is the water a fish lives in. It’s just there, but more than that, it goes more or less unnoticed.
A cisgender person gets to live their lives with their gender and their body more or less in total congruence, experiencing no real conflict. But coming from that kind of background always being there, they take it for granted. They never end up noticing what that means, how important and profound and joyful it is to have a body and gender in which you can feel at home, in harmony.
Cis people have body image issues, sure. Probably almost all of them feel some level of anxiety or discomfort over some imperfection or another. But ultimately, they can still feel those imperfections are of them. But in the depths of gender dysphoria, your body is alien and repulsive entirely. It is not you, not of you, nor you of it. It’s just this thing that is just wrong.
Transitioning allows that to get better. Your body, bit by bit, becomes home, becomes you. And so does your gender. When you finally reach the point of having a sense of congruity and happiness, it’s yours and you earned it and you know it intimately. Having experienced its absence you understand its contours and significance. You know what it means.
I thought that by now, I’d have gotten used to it. That being a woman and at home and at peace in my body and gender would have faded into just mere background noise, like how I imagine a cis person experiences gender. But it hasn’t.
I still have these moments sometimes where I’ll catch a glance of myself in the mirror, and still feel this euphoria, elation and deep gratitude that what I see there is someone I can feel happy about being. That the person looking back at me in that reflection is me. It still gives me this amazing feeling of joy… a very particular joy that it took suffering through the dysphoria to ever be able to experience. What for others is just an unnoticed background detail of life is for me one of my principal sources of happiness and strength. Speaking of…
I’ve learned to understand myself and my own strength.
For most of my life I regarded myself as a pretty pathetic, cowardly, manipulative, lazy, pointless kind of human being. I was a big mess of wasted potential and lack of direction, just sort of stumbling forward through life, taking the easy way out of things every chance I got. I didn’t believe I had any real genuine strength at all, and mostly the only way I ever managed to survive anything was through just being clever and resourceful enough to find a way of getting by that didn’t require any real struggle on my part.
But my life ended up throwing some pretty… um… intense little difficulties at me.
It just so happens that beginning transition directly coincided with kicking heroin. That’s not exactly an easy situation to go through. But I was able to do that. I was terrified the entire time, of course, and nothing about it was easy, and while doing that I never felt strong. In fact, most of the time I felt like I was just doing what I had always done: clever, resourceful, find ways to make it easier.
But by the end of it I realized I had done some pretty impressive things. I’d done things I’d never believed myself capable of. I had managed to take actions that at earlier points in my life used to make me sick with fear just imagining having to do them. I was scared, yes, but I did what I had to do anyway, and I made it through in one piece.
So even though I still never actually feel like a strong or brave person, I have evidence that I’m able to make it through some difficult things when it’s what I need to do. I no longer can believe otherwise. If I were truly weak, I wouldn’t be here, and even if I was, I certainly wouldn’t be living the life I now am.
Transitioning taught me a lot more about myself than just that, of course. But that one means a lot, because that’s one that I don’t think I ever would have otherwise learned.
I know that I am living a genuine and sincere life.
Lives and identities are full of compromises. We’re constantly negotiating what aspects of our integrity and principles and things that we are and aren’t willing to sacrifice or modify or qualify and under what circumstances we’re willing to do those things. A huge part of growing up is knowing that, sad as it may be, you can’t always be true to yourself and your beliefs. We need to compromise, and balance, and weigh things out. And sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes it feels shitty, and sometimes we give up more than we were really comfortable giving up, and sometimes we stand our ground only to realize the consequences of that were more than we bargained for.
Grown-up life is like that, and it’s not nice, and a lot of the time you start wondering who you even really are anymore, and what bits of you are real and what bits are the compromises and negotiations.
But being trans I know that there’s this one really important, really meaningful part of who I am that I didn’t compromise. No matter how much the world hates me for it, or how much harder it has made things, or how much ridicule I have to endure, I know that when I really needed to, I was able to draw a line that I wouldn’t allow the outside world to cross, I was able to assert that ultimately I am myself and make my own decisions, and there are some things I’m just not going to give up or sacrifice.
That makes a world of difference. Just knowing that no matter how many little concessions I have to make in my daily life in order to get by, ultimately there really is a real me, and that when it came to choosing to have a life defined by those compromises and concessions versus having a much more difficult life that would nonetheless be genuine and defined by my own needs and identity and self-respect, I chose the latter. I always have this one piece of me that reminds me my life is my own. And similarly…
I know that my body and my identity are my own.
Being trans is definitely not something anyone makes easy for you. It’s something you have to fight tooth and nail for. ‘They’ do everything in their power to deprive us of the ability to define our genders for ourselves, and to make our own decisions about our bodies. I can certainly say that although abortion is perhaps one of the feminist issues that has the least direct impact on my own personal life, the concept of being in possession and determination of your own body, and how disgusting it is to see people try to take that away from you, is something I know very intimately.
But the thing is, at this point, it would be really difficult for anyone to ever take this away from me. And with every step forward one makes in transition, it becomes more and more difficult for anyone to ever undo your decision. It claims your body as definitively your body. It’s no longer the body that just happened to be assigned to you, it is the body you chose.
A lot like tattoos or piercings, it’s a beautifully empowering thing to begin being able to see your body as an expression and extension of yourself rather than the chance congruence of fate and genes and whatever you’ve been eating. It becomes symbolic of your life and your decisions, of your self-determination and identity. Your narrative, power, confidence, struggle, and possession of your own life become written into its contours and shape. It ends up being so much more than just a vessel.
When I used to look at myself naked I always felt heartbroken, defeated, hopeless and deeply sad. Now I can look at myself and feel proud of who I am and what I’ve made of myself. Proud of having claimed this little collection of flesh and muscle and bones and blood and stuff as my own to be what I want it to be, proud to have defined it rather than letting it define me.
And ultimately I know that nobody else but me is ultimately in possession of it, or the identity I use it to express. If they were, my body would not be what it is.
I’ve found community and friendship.
When I began my transition I was living in near total isolation. I only really interacted with my doctor, her nurse / assistant / administrator, my counselor, a handful of people who worked at business I was a regular at, and a couple semi-friends I knew from the Downtown Eastside harm reduction programs.
While transitioning, though, I began to become involved in the trans community. I met all kinds of amazing people, people who shared and understood my experiences, and accepted me fully and unconditionally as myself. That was a tremendous feeling.
The trans community is not by any means perfect. There are some rather nasty contingents, always a lot of people who have significant emotional and interpersonal challenges, infighting, resentment and jealousy, hierarchies, and pretty much every trans person has at least one horror story to tell about the support groups. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still a community, and one to which I belong.
When I was living as gay, I always felt alienated from the gay community. I never felt at home there, nor did I ever feel understood. The trans community is consistently a bit more difficult to be a part of, but there I do feel understood, and don’t feel alienated. I know that we share something.
It also provided me a meaningful window into the wider queer community. By approaching it as a trans woman rather than as a “gay man”, it seemed to be a completely different thing, taking on a wholly different character from the different perspective and angle. The queer community I knew as a trans woman was something far more meaningful, activist, powerful, passionate and interconnected than what I’d seen as someone kind of sort of trying to be gay but only just skirting along the outside edges of the most basic and superficial aspects of that world.
It was also my window into feminism. It was through transition and trans-advocacy that I began to seriously read and understand feminism. I’d always been sympathetic, but it didn’t have a significant or meaningful position in my life and thought, not anywhere near what it does now. That’s also been a source of connecting with other people, with investing myself in something larger, with being in the world, and engaged with it, finding things to do that feel valuable and right.
And through all of it, I’ve made some amazing friends. Truly amazing, beautiful, incredible people, who I otherwise would not have known. It’s hard not to be grateful for that, however difficult the intersecting paths we walked.
I’ve learned things about being human than most people never get a chance to.
Being trans is a very particular set of experiences, which allows to privy to all kinds of interesting little sides of human experience that most people, even those specifically interested in these kinds of things, don’t get to see. I’m constantly learning all kinds of new and fascinating little things I didn’t previously quite understand.
For instance, we can directly contrast and compare the ways that people treat men and women differently. We know all about hatred, ridicule and scorn. We know what it is to be stared at, and regarded as a freak. We know about the margins of society. We know what it is to be so thoroughly stigmatized that politicians can openly threaten your community with violence and not suffer any damage to their careers. We know about the quirks and idiosyncracies of hormones, and can have many alternate experiences of sexuality. We can compare fucking women as men, fucking men as men, fucking men as women, and fucking women as women. We know about different angles of a date, of flirting. We can know multiple languages of fashion. We know about sacrifice, risk and loss. We know about joy, triumph and strength. We know about anger and defeat and hope and hopelessness. We know about transformers and ponies. Tucking and binding. Make-up and every kind of shaving. We understand volumes about human perceptions and the shifting subtleties of identity and expression. We understand what it means to want to die and what it means to insist on living. There’s more that being trans allows us to get to know than I think I’ll ever have the time to get to know.
It’s really, really fun.
But there’s one thing that is more important that any of the other things. There’s one thing that supercedes them, and makes them look a bit trivial in comparison. There’s one thing that above all the others allows me to know, without even the tiniest whisper of doubt, that I made the right decision, that always outweighs the sacrifice, struggle and suffering, that always lets me feel it is was worth it. One thing that I think is important to know happens for us, is important to us, by everyone who is questioning their gender or considering transition, but still terrified as to what it might entail. One thing that comes with being trans that makes all the fears seem irrelevant in comparison…
I get to be myself, and get to be happy.
I wouldn’t trade it for the easiest life in the world.
And if anyone ever offered me the chance to live life over again as cis?
I’d turn it down without a second thought.
One of the best things for me is that it’s given the people around me the opportunity to show what awesome people they are. I never would have known how tolerant and loving most of my friends are without this experience.
And, yeah, being happy in your own skin is pretty great, too.
I have only one comment to make. Natalie, you rock!
I find your last statement particularly interesting. Being pre-everything myself I would kind of absolutely love to wake up tomorrow and be cis (cis female that is, my identified gender) and I know that LittleLynn (of the webcomic Rain) says that she thinks that the majority of trans people feel the same way. So my question is did you find that your response to the hypothetical question changed over the course of transition?
I can’t speak for Natalie but I know myself that if I got a free cis body, right now, that I’d take it in a heartbeat for the simplicity of no longer needing HRT and saving for surgery and having to deal with as much transphobia. What I would NOT take is the chance to live life over as cis, because so much of the struggles and pain that have made me the person I am is because of living as trans. If I lived life over as cis, that might have freed me from dysphoria and misery, but I wouldn’t still be me, I’d be some other person. What if I grew up, and my new privilege let me become really hateful towards trans people? That would be sickening.
That’s my thought on it. If I could wake up tomorrow with a cis body? Sure! I’ll take it! But living my life over as cis? No thank you. Everything I’ve gone through has made me who I am.
…unless I could keep my memories. Then I’d still be me, and if I’m still me, then I’ll take it.
Ah, yeah, if I could keep my memories I’d go for it. Plus then I could cheat the stock market! ~X3
I’m not sure, being pre there’s a few parts of my body that hormones/surgery won’t affect, where it would help to be cis, but on the other hand… no periods!
It would also depend on how similar that body would look to my current one. I mean, I still want to look like me, just not male me.
Natalie Reed says
I’m not talking about waking up tomorrow and having a perfectly cis-female body or whatever. That I’d have to think about. I’m talking about being given the chance to trade the life I’ve lived for a cis one. THAT’S what I’d turn down, without hesitation.
I’ve gone round and round about this one. No, I would quite happily be cis over this tortured, expensive, perilous existence as an American untouchable.
That makes a lot more sense actually, yeah. I just sort of mashed the two together mentally.
I get this concept fully. I had a wretched childhood that, while I would love to take it away, I am the person I am today because of. Not only that I have also had memories, experiences, and loves that would have never existed had I not been through the trials and tribulations of my past.
I cannot separate the me today from the past that helped make me. I find it often difficult to not be somewhat thankful to the man who raped me as a child and the spiraling circumstances that led me to where I am now.
BTW, thanks for a happy post.
Life In Neon says
I wouldn’t either. I value the experiences I’ve gained living as both too much for that, and despite my angst over the effects of starting in late young adulthood, if my heredity is any indication, being cis wouldn’t have set me up for a modeling career and I’d have far larger hips than I’d be comfortable with. 😛 So as much as I’d love to have started earlier, being trans itself is something of an interesting quirk like having different color eyes.
The parts that suck about this process have nothing to do with “being” trans(or “having been” for those who prefer that nomenclature) and everything to do with systems in the way. Without those, this is actually a pretty simple and straightforward thing. “Do X and/or Y and/or Z. Sign a few papers in front of a court official. Wait a few months and settle in to the new life.”
I think some of it comes down to the type of person one is. I realized to my shock a few months ago that I was pretty much “done” aside from surgery stuff, but socially, emotionally, legally, everything was done, no one around me cared, and I was already just living my life, under a year from when I’d started. But I also pursued it with a tenacity that I, too, didn’t realize I had until it was over. It was that driving voice that said “Work on your voice even though you sound like an idiot because you will find your life to be intolerable otherwise” and “stop pacing and dial the phone and make the appointment” and then actually listening to that voice.
Personally prior to transition i’d have given anything to be born Cis Female, but since I realised that it is my life so far that makes me me, and without being trans I wouldn’t be the same person, so no way would I want it, the only thing i’d want to change is transitioning at an earlier age.
Can I add an 8th? Or maybe it’s implied? But because of your blog, and because of your activism, cis people like me are able to share some of these accomplishments with you.
When I worked with a man who was transitioning, he made a throw-away comment about how, now that he was on Testosterone, he was starting to get hairs on the backs of his hands. For some reason, this made me look at the backs of my hands. I’m not a particularly hairy guy, but when I looked, there they were, a bunch of black hairs on the back of my hands and fingers. It made me realise just how much of my gender identity goes ignored and taken for granted by me. The hair on my hands, the sound of my voice, the way I can walk into a room and be instantly noticed and respected, the times I hear “yes” when someone who isn’t male would certainly hear “no”, using the men’s room without worry, the choice to wear a beard, a moustache, or go clean-shaven, being able to lift heavy things at the gym….
Reading your posts, I experience a similar opening up of my experience, and I’m able to glimpse just how, exactly, my gender, and my relative comfort inhabiting my body, has shaped me and helps to inform my actions, interests, and feelings.
So, while I can’t truly know what it is to be trans, your experiences (and others who I’ve known and/or read) help people like me to have a better understanding of the world and how it works.
I am learning so much here. I feel I have grown inside from this blog.
Tim C. says
As a trans man, I appreciate this comment. I have had the experiences of noticing things about my body that changed when I started exogeneous testosterone, and then asking myself, “how many cis guys dwell on it a lot when they start getting…” [insert feature here — actually, hairy hands/wrists was one of them.] At the time, I felt kind of silly because something that most cis people surely take for granted was so important to me. But I guess another way to look at it is not that I’m being silly, but that I have the ability to derive meaning from places where most people don’t see any.
Absolutely. The trans* people in my life have all enriched my life in such enormous ways. Each of the trans* people that I have been close to have helped me to learn about myself in ways that I never would have, have I not known them.
This is beautiful, thank you. I’m so bookmarking it for when it’s needed.
This post is awesome. When they list awesome on Wikipedia, they should link to this article. It’s a monument to the human spirit, and all that is best in it.
My own, somewhat snarkier thoughts via my blog on the bright side of being trans:
Most of the time, being trans seems like a curse. And really, by any standard definition, it is. The price most of us pay for it is reserved for characters in Greek tragedies or Biblical tests of faith. Losing ones parents, siblings, spouse, children, and all worldly possessions reminds one of nothing so much as Job. I suppose incarceration for failure to pay child support while unemployed can stand in for being covered in boils and sores to keep the analogy moving along.
Even if one doesn’t suffer these things (I haven’t suffered any of them but the parent one, communications have completely broken down and I am done trying to explain), we live in constant fear that they will, because the risk never does go away.
But, something from this weekend made me decide I should, as Monty Python put it “Look on the Bright Side of Life”, even as we’re metaphorically being crucified. Nothing like a spot of black humor to make you think of things from a different angle. SO, without further ado, a brain-storming of reasons why this situation doesn’t completely suck.
* My daughter is friends with a rather whiny, unpleasant child. Her father is also a Baptist minister. The issue should take care of itself in a few more months as I go public.
* Discovering I can still surprise people at the age of 37. Nobody has seen this coming.
* Learning to empathize with my spouse over why it is so !@$!ing hard to find women’s clothes that fit. And I’m not even tall or big (5-4, 140 lbs). Everything is cut in such a way that it will only work with one body type.
* I’m a women’s size 8 in shoes. I can finally find shoes off the rack that fit me.
* I finally have the emotional range that should have been there in the first place.
* I’ve met a ton of amazing people I never would have otherwise.
* Someone once said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Consider it examined, from the most basic elements of what makes me, me, on up.
* You find out who your real friends are very quickly.
* Same with your family.
* It’s been a real eye opener on the dark undebelly of America. And I’m not talking about the seedier side of trans; I’m talking about the pure, unfiltered hate that gets poured out at the trans community. It doesn’t make me happier, but at least I am the wiser.
* Being able to appreciate jeans that make my hips and butt look bigger.
* Being able to teach my kids both how to tie a double-windsor knot, and how to do contouring with both powders and liquid bases.
So, now can I get back to my regularly scheduled grousing?
Gavin Wyer says
Thank you so much for writing this possitive and motivating essay!!
Thank you, Natalie. “I get to be myself, and get to be happy.” So important to be yourself.
Thank you Natalie! I’ve been reading your blog for a while and have been nothing but impressed by your insight and writing. Like you say though, it feels like a bit of a downer at times (and educational and thought-provoking one though!). This post has given me lots of hope, so thank you. Also, I’m keen to hear your response to McKenzie’s question too.
Claire FAISE says
This is by far my favorite article you have ever written, Natalie. Being trans is wicked awesome for all of these reasons (and more, in my opinion) and I love that others out there acknowledge these great things too!
Ace of Sevens says
I wish I could get a certain someone who thinks you are too negative to read this.
Natalie Reed says
Meh. I sort of think that ship has sailed.
Kate Bornstein says
Thanks for the articulate reminder. I’m saving this to my hard drive to look at when times are hard. love & respect, Kate
You might know that the British press has recently had a field day with Zach Avery “the 5 year old boy being raised as a girl”.
When that story hit the headlines it hit us like a thunderbolt because we realised that our son (nearly 4) has been telling us, more or less explicitly, for over a year that he wants to be a girl. He pretends to be a girl, and insists that he is not a boy. He refuses to be called by his name (an old family name – this bit is causing my wife particular pain) and generally chooses one of his girl friends’ names. He went through a phase of wearing dresses and fairy costumes, although he doesn’t seem so interested now. He will “be” a boy in certain situations. For example, he said that he would be a boy at school otherwise people wouldn’t know who he was. But when he’s playing at home he always wants to be a girl.
From what we have seen and read, children as young as 2 can know that something is “wrong” with their bodies. On the other hand, he could still be going through a “phase” that he will grow out of.
Everything we have read so far, even from support groups, paints a pretty bleak picture of life growing up in the wrong body: the internal turmoil and the external rejection and bullying. It was good to see your thoughts on the positive aspects of your experience (not to belittle the difficulties you must have gone through to get where you are).
I notice that you have not mentioned your family, and I don’t want to make you say anything that you’re not comfortable with. But I wondered if you had any thoughts on how worried parents should approach this issue. What did people say and what would you have liked them to say/do? At the moment, it feels like we could lose our little boy. It’s almost like he’s dying.
Natalie Reed says
Hmmm… I’ll sleep on this but get back to you in the morning.
In the mean time, I’d just say that whatever of your child is “dying” or being lost, those parts were never really there, and were at most a disguise that only would have hindered and harmed hir (“hir” = gender neutral pronoun). Your job right now, as a parent, is to love unconditionally. To accept that whomever your child is, that is who your child is, and THAT is who you need to love and support, not the imaginary son you expected to have or wanted to have or think would have had an easier life. A great deal of the pain and difficulty that comes from being trans comes because we weren’t accepted, and weren’t taught to accept ourselves. If you are open, loving, and supportive of your child exploring hir gender, and expressing it however ze wishes, that will make an ENORMOUS difference in terms of ensuring that ze has a happy and fulfilling life.
It could be a “phase”, sure. But there’s an equally strong possibility that it isn’t. You need to be fully open, with absolute unconditional love, to whatever the case is. If you have a daughter, you have a daughter, and she deserves every bit of your kindness, understanding, compassion, love, support and protecting as would your son.
Allow hir to explore. Allow hir to choose hir own name. Allow hir to change it from day to day if ze wishes. In fact, don’t simply allow it, but encourage exploration. Ask hir over and over again what gender ze’d like to be on a given day, and allow hir to go ahead and be whatever gender ze expresses the desire to be. You’ll face a lot of hardship from the people around you, who won’t understand, and may even accuse you of “abuse” just for trying to give your child a chance at happiness and self-acceptance. But your job is to endure that hardship on your child’s behalf. Your job is to give them the chance to be who they really are, and not have the outside world police hir gender and identity. That is what you need to do. It won’t be easy, but shirking that responsibility, and making your child’s life a nightmare as a result, is not something you should expect hir to easily forgive you for.
just to add one anecdote, which is that my brother went through what seems like a very similar phase to your son, which was when he was between I think about three and five years old? He would wear dresses and make-up, and insist on being called by the feminine version of his name (Davina, not David).
Being exposed to primary school and the strictures of being called by his real name and treated as a boy by teachers and fellow pupils soon put an end to it, especially because children tend to tease kids who seem different in some way. It may be that social pressures are better these days, but it is more than likely that your child will be the target of bullying or teasing if he continues to assert his gender variance, and that is obviously tough on you and your partner as parents. Teachers these days however should be much better informed at supporting and encouraging students, for example.
My brother’s phase did not end up being predictive of his eventual gender identity… instead, he’s gay, which was something he became aware of at the age of eleven or twelve, well before going through puberty. And as we were brought up in an Anglican (i.e. Church of England) family and he was a believer, he heavily repressed his sexuality and didn’t come out until he was in his late twenties. As far as I know he’s never re-questioned his gender since. (I on the other hand felt more or less totally asexual and cis-gendered until the age of fourteen, and only then did I find myself to be bisexually inclined and somewhat gender dysphoric.) The same dynamic of ostracising the ‘outsider’ or the ‘other’ happens to bisexual or gay children as well as those with gender variance or dysphoria, obviously.
Anyway, best of luck.
Thanks Xanthe and Natalie
Having had a chance to sleep on it and talk it out a bit, we’re a bit calmer now.
We’re not going to make a big deal out if things at the moment, just allow our child to lead us and be whoever he wants to be and not put any pressure on either way. We’ll see where we are as time goes on.
We’ve already had some trouble. We’re pretty sure he’s been told he can’t wear the “girly” dressing up clothes at school for example. So I think, for the moment, there will be places where he needs to be a boy until we can see more clearly what’s going on.
We have made contact with Mermaids so can get support as we need it.
I presume being disruptive in kinder is the problem, and it might be possible to let his kinder teachers know what your views are so that you are all on the ‘same page’ as to what is in his best interests (I tend to think it rather authoritarian if a kinder or school has a policy to insist that they have the right to gender a child as they wish to maintain some sort of order or discipline).
I wouldn’t dream to suggest clinical expertise in child psychology, but I think your son being nearly 4 years old would be far too young to be certain of anything yet, let alone a diagnosis of a gender identity disorder, so it’s totally possible this will turn out to have been a brief phase. All the same you’ve got time to observe and avenues to find help available for both you as parents, and your son, to be able to make informed decisions if it should come to that.
(I’m really sorry if any of this sounds patronising – I do wish you all the best.)
Natalie Reed says
I think that contacting Mermaids and getting advice from them on how to handle it is a really good idea and they’ll probably have much better tips than any of us can provide. I wish you the best, though. And honestly, as long as you get the “unconditional love” part right, you should be fine. 🙂
Wow, this was beautiful. Thanks for writing it. I’ve never read your blog before but I’ll definitely be adding you to my reader now.
right before reading this post i was writing in my journal. I ended the entry with ‘fuck the trans. fuck my life, fuck me’ I’m sorry Natalie. I think you’re way cool but I just can’t get behind this one. I still think the trans sucks.
Natalie, This is a fantastic post. My current post right now is also based on the idea of turning to more positive thoughts, as a cis “ally,” I want to make it clear that the world is truly blessed and enriched by people like you. Articulate, thoughtful and strong, I have learned a lot about myself from reading your thoughts. Thank you.
Incredible article. Thank-you for sharing it with us. Empowering, well written, and moving. I’m now off to read the rest of your blog.
Arctic Ape says
Reading Michael’s comment and your beautiful reply, I just realized one thing: cis people have given names but trans people have chosen names.
If I may ask…Was it difficult to choose? Did you feel attached to your birth name? Is it appropriate to say that it was really *your* name at the time?
Sheila Crosby says
Another cis here who is grateful to be able to learn a little bit more about and from the people he shares a planet with.
Thanks Natalie, and everyone else who shares.
This is exactly what I needed to read today. Beautifully elucidated as always!
Thank you, Natalie, for a beautifully written essay.
My life was completely destroyed when I transitioned. Ten years later, I have been unemployed for 3.5 of them. It’s easy for me to get interviews as my credentials are outstanding, and my specialty is one in which there is a critical shortage of qualified candidates. I’ve had DOZENS of employers fly me all over the country at their expense for job interviews. In almost every case, my interviews and the demonstrations of my skills brought great acclamation, I am told (once with these exact words) “Z, everyone loves you!” and in most cases left with oral promises that an offer would be forthcoming.
But all the green lights turned to red after the security background check. It’s VERY notable that in almost every one of these cases, these positions had been vacant for years, and NO ONE ELSE was hired for them. Rather, the employers who thought I was a first class candidate chose to leave the lines empty rather than hire me.
Socially… most people turn into the road runner when they learn my background. I’m post op and your other piece on the “Cotton Ceiling” resonated deeply for me. It’s especially remarkable when people with whom I have completely hit it off and have made new dates with cancel once they learn of my background.
I learned the hard way to NEVER disclose until a relationship has been well established. Unfortunately that’s not happened and due to an error in judgment I made, likely never will.
Some years ago, a person who asked me for a date via email phoned me a couple of hours before our date (I had never before heard the voice) and very nervously claimed to be TS. Given the voice, there was no way this person could pass as genetic female. In an effort to be supportive, I confided my status to her.
VERY Unfortunately for me, I learned that evening that she was not TS but rather a self deluded alcoholic CD with no concept of boundaries, who has repeatedly outed me in an attempt to legitimize herself to lesbians in our city: “Don’t reject me, I’m just like Z!”
And with that the news spread like wildfire in the lesbian community: “Can you believe it? Z is TRANS!” or “I saw you talking to Z.. you need to know that she is TRANS!”.
So my main comment was, although you closed your essay with
“And if anyone ever offered me the chance to live life over again as cis?
I’d turn it down without a second thought.”
I’d have to differ.
My former life was miserable (aside from financial success and stability, which I no longer enjoy) and when I transitioned, I simply left one impossible existence for another one.
I am grateful and privileged to have emerged with a cute face and a “smashing” (in the words of one hetero male friend) body, and I can’t help but think how different (and wonderful, and SO MUCH EASIER) my life would have been had I been born cis.
So if I were given a chance to live life over again as cis?
I’d grab it in a nanosecond.
Heather aka Kent says
Being at the initial stages of trangendering from F to M, I found you outlook rather uplifting.
It says a lot about the kind of person you are and what you have learnt about yourself and others.
Thank you for sharing!! It was inspiring!
Thank you so, SO much for this.
I had such trouble coming out to myself as a trans man because of my sexual assault history. It felt like I was betraying or defecting. I also didn’t feel “trans enough” because I want to remain non-op to keep my job and have biological children.
But when I look in the mirror now, I don’t see an awkward girl. I see a MAN, I see ME, and it’s so beautiful it makes me cry. I still can’t believe that I get to be called Matt, my true wonderful name, by my partner and friends. I can’t believe I get to be called Matt to myself. I can, ironically, finally indulge my love of feminine clothes now that I realize I am male.
I, too, would not choose to live my life over as cis (but I would take a cis male body, if I could see it beforehand).
I wouldn’t be a man who so intimately understands the pain of women and misogyny, understands it on the most visceral, horrible, blood-and-guts level possible. Because they’re my struggles too.
Would I want a re-do as cis. Nope pass, for starters given where I grew up, and my socio-economic circumstances as a teenager etc it’s virtually a mathematical certainty I would have ended up teen pregnant. That’s kinda a bad start in life, at least to me.
At this point if there was a cheat code to be cis now with my memories intact, i’d probably go for it more for reasons of social convenience… I wouldn’t be hated on any more, at least not for *that*, i’d still of course get another kind of degrading treatment I already get, namely the sexual objectification of openly bi women.
I should point out the entire reason I feel that way, is basically because i’ve been worn down by the micro level othering that you can’t really object to without suffering an even greater degree of social exclusion.
This has everything to do with how people treat me *because* of what they perceive being trans to be, and also my non-conformity to that expectation, which in some environments (eg college campus often makes me subject to to some level of erasure of my trans status (including straight guys willing to be my boyfriend) as long as I don’t be annoying and start mentioning it or sticking up for other trans people thus breaking everyone’s convenient pretense that i’m cis. This usually a trade off i’m no longer willing to make as soon as I see another trans person being given a hard time.
Jeez, Natalie. I have a feeling that this brain crush thing is happening to me. I find myself strongly agreeing with almost every point you make. Please, keep on going. You’ve become my go-to for difficult questions and doubts, you’ve become my motivation to insist on living myself and certainly, you’ve become my idol.
What can I do to help your cause?