Even the most open-minded outwardly trans-loving people don’t always have trans love when it gets down to it. Our gendered lives are so entrenched into our psyche’s, that even the most enlightened citizens have not thought it all through.
I have mentioned in passing conversations with a friend who speaks glibly about “loose” women and men who are “sissies”, both concepts that don’t sit easily with a sexual equality agenda, and perpetuate the wrong stereotypes.
In conversation recently with someone, she drew a straight line from my mother putting me in gendered female clothes when I was young, up to and including pre-school and kindergarten, as what “caused” me to be trans. My response was that such a conclusion was easy to make and understandable, but I know I was born trans. She disagreed.
“If your mother wanted you to be a girl, that would have affected you already in the womb, and certainly from the moment you were born. Children only have conscious memory from about the age of three, so you can’t ‘remember’ something like this.”
“I’m kinky for these reasons…learned behaviours, but I haven’t even the faintest nibble of doubt that I was born this way. I think if it were as you say, I would have sexualised cross-dressing, would have become a transvestite.”
There was no need to have a discussion; she had decided. As she said, “I am very scientific. There is very clearly cause and effect. Its obvious.” Thank you my dear; try living in my body for a lifetime.
How is it that self-professed open-minded people are often not that open-minded at all? Is this a curse of being smart? It is very un-smart if you ask me. From the particular to the general, right? Do we say these things to reassure ourselves, to utter the words, “I am open-minded,” or “I am not judgemental,” serves to tell us so, when its opposite is true?
Was I born trans or was I made trans?
I’ve spent many, many years turning this question over, on my own, with many therapists, with friends, with family. I have examined thoroughly whether I learned this somewhere along the way. Wouldn’t it be convenient if I could blame my mother? It sure seems like an easy answer. That doesn’t make it right. There are few things that I know about myself where I have no doubts…and it isn’t that I need to have doubt or not, it is rather that there are things we know…and this is one of them. When I gave light in this world I was non-binary. It has shaped everything about how I see and experience everything. Wrong body? No. But wanting to be female? Yes. Feeling punished to have been given a male body? Yes. Feeling that it was for a reason, one that my life is dedicated to learning, either implicitly or explicitly? Yes. Doing the best I could with the body I was given, trying to make it as female as possible? Yes.
Understanding dysphoria strikes me as a waste of time. I don’t need to understand it. My gender preference just is. I can’t explain that. But I guess that our gender identity is wired into us so deeply that this is just who we are. I don’t feel the same about any other aspect of sexuality, and all the flavours of kink that either excite or turn me off. With those, I want to know. Leaving no stone unturned is a big part of self-discovery—learning what happened along the way to make me like some particular thing.
From a political perspective this is relevant. The anti-trans arguments seem to hinge on this being “trendy” or something that people can be “groomed” for. It is absurd, and certainly has nothing to do with the lived experience of any of the now hundreds of transgender people I have met. It isn’t like that. And given that “regret” is as low as 1% for post-operative trans folks, you have to figure this is completely true.
Why did this come up? Well, in conversation with my friend we got into parenting and the school, and how to handle a trans child. Her views were remarkably conservative for someone who espouses open-mindedness and being ‘woke’. And her views seem to be very mainstream.
Being ‘woke” might be a pain in the ass. Learning someone’s pronouns, or learning to ask them, may be alien, but it is certainly not taking someone’s privilege away, as the white Christian conservatives like Ted Cruz say it does. As he said, “my pronouns are ‘kiss my ass’.” Such a shame that lines like that are deemed to be vote getters.
Language at its essence signifies meaning. Many languages are gendered…forcing those of us who are trans to choose one gender or another with nearly every sentence. Difficult for all. Language does evolve, particularly when there is a real need for it to. The computer and internet era has spawned hundreds of new words. Well, what is so awful about finding a common and accepted way of describing a third gender? Shouldn’t be that hard. Maybe the Academie Francaise will lead the way.
My friend was anti-woke in this sense, and hated how you can be professionally sanctioned for refusing to play the pronoun game. It seems to me that it isn’t very much to ask…that one should respect someone’s pronouns. She described a situation where she refused to give her pronouns, as she finds it offensive to have to do so. I know that many women feel this way and have expressed such to me. I don’t know many men who even care.
That said, when I switched my pronouns on various pieces of professional communication, people immediately knew what it meant. If a natal woman were to do that, it seems that it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. After all, society seems to view “they/them” coming from a natal female as an “upgrade” or at least understandable—when we “get” inequality, we understand that fixing that inequality might include a female desire to have a male body…that access to that privilege is worth wanting, where its converse, to give it up, is not.
My friend wondered why I would want a vagina. She described them as “gross”. She used other words like “messy” and described at length bacterial infections and the fluids that come out of them. I don’t know if she was trying to deter me or if she genuinely feels this way. I do know many women rail against the fragility that having so much “internal” whereas a male is all “external” causes. She cited the challenges of camping, or a more primitive life. Having spent time in the bush, she might have been speaking from experience.
It is hard to explain because it is hard to understand. Why is upcycling my pxnxs into a vagina so important to me? Commitment. Demonstrated commitment. Taking the good with the bad. When I sat for Ayahuasca that first time, I was confronted with all of the negatives that I will face as a trans person, as someone who will be anatomically in part female, and all the issues it entails, and it is hard to explain, but the vulnerability that comes with it is the most important part. For me, who has never willingly been vulnerable, it is the most important aspect of growth…letting go of the fear. It is the closest I can come to my own fulfilment. It is the closest I can come to overcoming my earthly failings. To confront my fear by becoming it.
The conversation with my friend strayed towards how a parent should handle a “male” child who says he/she is female…what if they ask to wear a skirt to school? Should the parent allow it? Her view was not. She described a story for her own life that described her future as lesbian, because as a little girl she found boys to be ‘icky”. Her teacher replied, “well, we don’t need to worry about that now, you have your whole life to decide something like that.” She found that moment moving and long-lasting. She decried the perception that if she were to do that now a teacher would be obliged to be ‘gender-affirming’. I don’t know what that means, but we get into sticky territory pretty fast.
She advocated a parent telling a child ‘no’ if they wanted to wear ‘gender-inappropriate’ clothing. This might generally mean a ‘boy’ wishing to wear girl clothes, something which society deems less acceptable and outside of the norm than being a tomboy. But that is just social. How many boys who were trans or even just wanted to play, had their desire pathologized through suppression?
I tried to explain to her how fragile it is to feel a desire to be the opposite sex when you are already 4 or 5 years old, how you know what it means, and how a parent who shows you that it is ‘wrong’ can very easily silence that voice in you. There are a great many men who finally find the courage to come out as trans after a lifetime of dutiful service to the status quo. I know, I’m one of them.
Somewhere at a very young age I learned to push these feelings underground. Wanting to be a ballerina was not ‘okay’ in my childhood home. Indeed, as I wrote about previously, my mother said she didn’t want me to be a ‘fag’ when she discovered a suitcase with a fetching black leotard, tights, and wonderful little dancer’s wrap in my closet. I am sure she also knew that there were diapers right next to the suitcase and chose not to say anything about that. Why not? Why was gender ‘noise’ so much more troubling than infantilism? Did she fear that she had a hand in my gender issues? It never came up, but she surely had a hand in my infantilism.
After a while, these kinds of conversations become very tiring. Someone who describes themselves as non-judgemental, open-minded, etc, may just be the opposite.
What would I do if my child displayed gender issues, wanting to assume the clothes of the opposite sex, or expressing at such a young age their desire to be the opposite sex? I probably would have gotten it wrong. I know this is a path of danger and pain. As a parent you want to protect your child from that. But the best protection for a child is to let their confidence and self-sense grow. What would have happened in my life had this been the case? I can be sure I would have transitioned at a young age…stopping puberty so that I could experience it correctly.
When a boy knows he is a she, is a girl, it is the greatest cruelty of all to force them/her to undergo male puberty, as the consequences of that are that the person will forever be an outlier, unable to “pass” which is a social stigma that most trans people carry…the first thing people look at are the tell-tale signs. As a trans person I spot it fast, and I can see the pain in the eyes when I do.
Would it have been grooming for my mother, other caregivers, teachers, to have allowed for that expression rather than for criticising it along the way? I just can’t feel it would be. Would that be so wrong? Isn’t it normal for us to be gender-fluid? Some more than others. Isn’t certainty boring?
One of my parents recently asked me if I wear dresses in front of my children. “Yes, I do. I’m not a man, why should I pretend otherwise. And I look great.”
“You do,” she conceded.
We aren’t going anywhere. Trans people have existed since the dawn of humanity. It is only inhuman to deny us our existence. We do more harm by saying gender expression outside of what society has decreed is biological is wrong than just letting it flow.
Beware fake open-mindedness. The bigots are the silent majority…only I don’t know if they even know it.