One of the ways in which I’ve come to recognize that I am transgender is by seeing myself in other trans people. Sometimes it’s bits and pieces of stories that sound familiar, but other times I see accounts that, but for a few details, feel as if I could’ve written them.
Specifically it’s heartening to see narratives written by people who have come to these realizations later in life, people who are joyfully embracing their true selves in their forties (or later). Knowing that I’m not the only one who had these feelings as a kid and then spent thirty or forty years suppressing and fighting them, but still feeling the effects from those suppressed feelings in the form of depression, isolation, self-doubt, shame, and a general sense of wrong-ness. It’s incredibly validating, liberating and encouraging – and also, to be perfectly honest, completely terrifying.
I recently discovered a blog called TransLate written by a trans woman named Joyce, who started writing her story when she was still George and was dealing with, not to put too fine a point on it, the exact same feelings I’m having now:
I wish I could explain what this feels like. Starting a few months ago, I got into a bad place and couldn’t get out. I first thought it was just old crossdressing feelings, but I began to realize that it was quite different, that it was tied to my identity somehow… When that finally crystallized in my mind, I was horrified — I’d give anything not to have to face this, but the more I mulled on it, the more it seemed to unify my life and all the weird things I’ve done and felt in my 47 years.
Really, the only difference between Joyce then and me now is that I’m only 44.
Joyce’s life mimics mine in many ways, though it appears she went through an extended “socialite crossdressing” phase in her younger years, which I’ve never had. But one of the many things that struck me about her story is what she touched on at the end of that quote: so much of the various bits of weirdness in my head over the last forty years make so much more sense when viewed through the lens of “you’ve been living as the wrong gender this whole time.”
I’ve had “crossdressing feelings” my entire life, but those have always waxed and waned in intensity. Ever since January of this year, though, they’ve been back harder than ever and have had a different texture to them. Like Joyce said, they feel much more about identity now than they ever have before. And her statement’s not the only I’ve one I’ve come across saying much the same thing. It seems to be that these gender-dysphoric feelings only get stronger the older one gets, and I suspect that’s especially true if those feelings have been hidden or ignored. By all accounts, these impulses never go away.
(I might be quoting and linking to Joyce’s blog a lot in my entries here; she’s a far more eloquent and introspective writer than I am at current, and she’s already written up many thoughts she could have plucked from my own head. Sadly, it seems that she’s no longer updating her site; it seems that when she got “all the way through” transition – if there truly is such a thing – writing there had served its purpose for her.)
I had one other big “oh hey” moment of recognition this week when best-selling YA author Heather Brewer announced that from now on, she would be Zac Brewer instead. “Uncle Zac” (as his readers will now call him) published a Tumblr post announcing his transition from female to male, and much like with the quote from Joyce above, it sounded very, very familiar – though this time, the crucial difference in details is that he’s going the opposite direction!
Growing up, I always felt like I didn’t fit in—not with other people, and not even within my own shell. It was this strange, sad feeling that permeated every moment of my life, and contributed to my depression from a young age… When I was little, I can remember my mom arguing about trying to get me to wear a dress. I didn’t want to wear it and when she asked why, I said, “Because I’m a boy.” She said, “You’re not a boy. You’re a girl, and you will always be a girl.”
I had very close to that same conversation with my own mother. When I was four, I took a gymnastics class for a little while (I don’t remember how long). One day when we were passing the pro shop on our way out of the building, I pointed to a rack of leotards hanging up and asked when I could get one of those to wear for practice. And she told me I couldn’t wear one of those, because those were for the girls, and I was a boy.
I was crushed.
This moment, one which would likely be utterly inconsequential and long-since forgotten if I didn’t have gender dysphoria, has stuck with me for forty years. It’s the first time I remember being explicitly denied something because I was (genetically, at least) a boy, and I don’t think the what mattered as much as the why. The fact that Uncle Zac (who, by the way, is 41) remembered and attached significance to a similar moment from early childhood really resonated with me – it reinforced that this moment was indeed profound from an identity-construction standpoint and not just a case of “oh boo hoo, I didn’t get what I wanted.”
The more I see and read stories of trans people spending their whole lives “not feeling comfortable in their own skin” or feeling a near-constant underlying sense of things not being quite right… the more comfortable I get sitting with these feelings in myself. These stories don’t necessarily illuminate a path forward – I am absolutely not yet convinced that transition is a way to go for me – but seeing myself in others, and knowing that these people have found a way to authenticity, stability and happiness with themselves makes me happy. Their path might or might not be for me, but I’m glad to know it’s there.