Not just one way to be transgender…
I had an interesting conversation with a trans guy who is a friend of mine. He was talking about how he’s both pleased, and yet feeling a bit invisible, with recent increases in trans stories out in the public eye.
The easiest narrative to understand, about being trans, is the one where the little trans girl at the tender age of two and three and four rejects all the boy stuff – the work-boots and football jerseys and toy trucks. She insists on wearing skirts and growing her hair out and wants to play with dolls. And as she grows up, she never wavers from this stance. Eventually, she takes hormones, has surgery, and becomes the feminine dress-wearing, nailpolished girl she always wanted to be. And the little trans boy cuts his own hair short, won’t wear a skirt, and wants a football helmet for his birthday.
And that is how it goes for some. Without a doubt. It’s also the easiest narrative for cis-gender folk to understand – the one where the child is sure about their misgendering from the very start. The one where the trans person loves all the stereotypical trappings of their identified gender. It’s not easy for those kids, by any means, but it’s clear and unambiguous.
But for this trans friend of mine, and many others, it wasn’t that simple. Lots of trans folk don’t realize in childhood why they aren’t quite at home with themselves. The differences between boys and girls in childhood are often more a matter of culture than biology.
It’s sometimes only at puberty and beyond that the dysphoria begins to have a focus. Their developing bodies feel wrong, and their social roles don’t fit. They may hate the way they are changing physically, or dissociate from their lives, in an uncertain way that is hard for them to understand until they are out in the world. Until the concept of “transgender” breaks through for them.
Some trans folk also want to transition, but may not want to squeeze into all the stereotypes of their identified gender. Some trans guys want to be a bit femme and wear nailpolish. Some trans girls still want to ride broncos and play hockey. Just like cis guys and girls.
The trap, though, is that for those trying to transition who don’t totally conform to all the stereotypes, there is a constant second guessing by acquaintances, family, and potentially even medical professionals. “If you want to keep your hair long, are you sure you’re really F2M and not just a bit gender fluid?” “If you like driving monster trucks, how can you think you’re a girl?” “Are you sure you don’t just wish you were thinner/taller/more athletic?”
And not every trans person wants surgery. That’s not a simple topic at all. And yet there are those who think that it’s the only valid proof someone is “really” trans, when they surgically change their bodies to fit. It isn’t. Not wanting surgery doesn’t mean you aren’t “sure” or “committed” to your gender identity.
So as we try to be allies to the trans community, it’s good to remember that there is no one trans story. Insisting “these people know from birth that they were mis-gendered” is a common way to try to say, “Yes, this is real!” But it’s not always true, and we need to be careful that we don’t exclude the individuals who take another path to their true identity, by focusing on the simplest story.
**disclaimer – the pictures are purchased stock photos; I have no reason to think these are, or are not, trans individuals.