Following up my post on how to handle someone in your life coming out as trans, I thought it might be useful to provide some context. Or rather, I thought I might try and give you some insight into to one trans woman’s experience. I won’t quite give you my life story, but you may find some of these stories useful, interesting or at least different.
Part 1 – Childhood
I have one very specific memory from my early childhood, one that sticks with me to this day. I was very young, and on one summer, day, my sisters and I were playing with the children of some family friends, both of whom were also female. We were running around the backyard in our bathing suits with the sprinklers on, trying to combat the insufferable heat. At a certain point, the girls all decided to take off their bathing suits, running around in the buff. At the ages we all were, it wasn’t even remotely strange. Wanting to be a part of things, I did the same. I managed half a lap before suddenly becoming painfully aware of the fact that my body was very different to theirs, even at that young age. At that exact moment, I decided my body was wrong, and I hated it. I grabbed my bathers and ran inside, with no ability to comprehend or understand how or what I was feeling at that time.
I’ve never really been masculine, not in any way. I spent most of my childhood feeling, well, wrong, for lack of a better word. My grandmother once scolded me for being expressive and making too much eye contact, which you may be aware is a generally feminine expression. At school, I was a constant outcast, unable to connect with any of the other students. My teachers tried to encourage me to build relationships with the other boys, but I never really knew how to interact with them. They seemed so strange to me, basing their interactions on bravado and talking themselves up and one-upping one another and talking about things I never had any interest in. Unable to force myself to fit that mould, I found myself a constant target off bullying.
Let me just tell you now, the whole stereotype of girls being worse bullies than boys? Unfounded. I was subjected to the same psychological abuse as is generally expected from girls (from the boys), teasing and rumours and exclusion and more. I was also frequently physically abused, and I honestly don’t know which was worse. I can remember one time a bigger student literally picked me up and threw me at a wall, just because he could.
I withdrew from everything around me, unable to survive without shutting myself off from the life I couldn’t escape. My teachers contacted my parents, concerned that I might have some form of learning disability (my second grade teacher specifically suggested (more like accused) the word ‘retarded’ might not be out of the question. For the record, my parents immediately had my personality and intelligence tested, and found that that was very much not the case.)
At that point, I was moved to another school, a private school, so I would at least be somewhat protected by an ostensibly more protected from abuse. To an extent, it worked. I still had difficulty connecting, but I was learning to adapt, to contextualise my ‘otherness’ differently. I became a bookworm, obsessed with fiction because it let me lose myself in worlds that weren’t my own. Combined with my now considerably improved grades, my antisocial behaviour was interpreted completely differently; now I was just a shy, book-smart young boy who just needed a bit of guidance.
Eventually, I made some friends. The school culture demanded that my primary social interactions be with people of my own gender, so I sought out and located the boys least interested in being masculine. It was the best I could do, and in some ways, it was good for me. We were nerds, and bonded over science fiction and fantasy, Star Wars and role-playing and Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer 40,000. Despite being traditionally masculine pursuits, I loved them, because they demanded nothing masculine from me. I didn’t have to be aggressive or physical or confident or bold.
The friendships I made were still tenuous. Despite our shared interets, I never felt like I really knew any of them. I never felt the same as them. I was still an outsider, I just had a closer view. I tried, goodness knows I tried, but I never managed to convince myself I was one of them, and it took me years to figure out why.
Meanwhile, back at home, I became my own worst enemy. I looked at my sisters’ toys with envy, all cute and cuddly and colourful. I wanted them so badly, and sometimes, very rarely, I would play with them. And every time, every single time, a voice in my head told me that was wrong, those were girl toys, and I wasn’t supposed to be playing with them, even though I wanted to. What if somebody saw me?
Most of the time, I made do with what I had. I used the toys that were ‘appropriate’ for me to play with to concoct elaborate stories of adventure, romance and magic, and pretend that they were something else. It was the best that I could do.
Honestly, I am so lucky I grew up with sisters. They, of course, were always encouraged in their femininity, and though none of that transferred directly to me, there were definitely ways to tap that resource. I watched their TV shows (I have seen so many episodes of The Saddle Club, you have no idea, and I don’t even like horses) and pretended it was just because they wanted to watch it and whatever, I didn’t have anything better to do anyway. Once, a Spice Girls concert was on TV, but that shit was for girls, so of course I didn’t want to watch it. I could have left the room, but instead I stayed on the couch and covered myself with a blanket, insisting I didn’t want to watch it.
Back then, gender identity meant nothing to me. I was a boy, because I had boy parts, and because everyone said I was a boy, and that was all there was to it. Nobody told me there were any other options. Nobody told me it had to be that way. I was never given that choice. But oh, if I had…
I don’t remember the first time I thought it, but I know it was when I was young, before adolescence. The first thought, the first clue, the one recurring theme throughout my entire childhood and teenage years, one that I just couldn’t shake.
Why couldn’t I have been born a girl?
But I wasn’t, and as far as I knew, that was that.
Next time, I’m gonna talk about my teenage years, and I hate to break it to you, but they aren’t much better than my childhood. Still, if you’re curious, and want to learn – about me, about what it’s like growing up confused about your gender, or whatever – come back soon. It’ll probably be up by the end of the week. And if you want to share this around, please do.