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Not just one way to be transgender…

June 15, 2015

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.

GirlFootballHelmet

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.

BlondLongHairGender

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.

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**disclaimer – the pictures are purchased stock photos; I have no reason to think these are, or are not, trans individuals.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jacy Green-Sprehe permalink
    June 15, 2015 4:04 pm

    Well said! May I forward this to others complete with your email address? This is an important message and should be shared. Thank you, Jacy

    • Kaje Harper permalink
      June 15, 2015 4:23 pm

      Feel free to share it. I’m only an ally, not an expert, and this is just my opinion. I’m sure there are others with a deeper understanding of the issues and complexity who can address it better. But if this moves the dialogue forward in a useful way, then I’m happy if my words have helped.

  2. June 15, 2015 5:47 pm

    Reblogged this on Bran Lindy Ayres and commented:
    Diversity, in all things.

  3. Des livres permalink
    June 16, 2015 4:00 am

    I really want to read those complex stories. What is taken for granted in those “simpler” narratives is gender stereotypes. I’m a cisgender female, but I hate pink and frills and babies and love to have a highly powered engine in my car. Doesn’t make me any less a woman with a strong aesthetic (yes, I care about colours matching and interior decorating). All real humans are complex. Let’s enjoy that, and make room for it, in our writing and reading.

    PS: I love your books.

    • A.P. permalink
      July 7, 2015 8:02 pm

      Agreed–it seems like there could be some wonderful novels that explore those kinds of stories. Maybe it would help straight, cis people like me gain more understanding of what many trans people go through. Although I am a woman who does not adhere to many of the female stereotypes (hate pink, frilly stuff; have no desire to get married and have kids; am good at math, etc.), I don’t claim to have much understanding of what it means to be trans. The older I get, the more I am working on being open-minded about people and life. But I was still raised a girl (and all the social BS that comes with that) in conservative SE Texas by older, very traditional, Catholic parents. So I know I have a lot left to learn!

    • July 7, 2015 8:15 pm

      Thanks, Des Livres.🙂

      I hope we will see more complexity in the stories coming out. The freebie transgender novel I’m releasing this summer is the traditional narrative of the knew-from-childhood trans guy (because it was written for a prompt of that kind) but I hope it will still present a trans guy in a relatable context. I’ll try to do something less predictable next time.

      • Des Livres permalink
        July 8, 2015 2:19 am

        Hey, I’m sure it will be great and I will be looking forward to it. Hopefully the whole Caitlyn Jenner thing will open up public space for these more complex stories, also Chase Bono.

  4. June 16, 2015 9:24 am

    There are a lot of people out there that “come of age” on this topic well into their 30s and 40s. A friend of mine finally found peace in her forties and is embracing the change. She dresses herself as she wants now but it did take a long time for her to come to that decision. Knowing her for 20-something years, it wasn’t surprising and I’m glad for her.

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