#291: How do I know if I’m trans*?

Dear Captain Awkward,

First of all I’d like to say that I’m not even sure if this is a problem or if I’m just making problems up because clearly SOMETHING in my life has to be going wrong (I frequently second guess myself, but that’s a separate issue) but here goes anyway. I was born with a male body, but I’m not entirely sure that I was born with a male mind. It’s not always an issue, hell, a lot of the time I don’t even think about it, but when I do I realize that I may be happier if I were a girl. Part of me thinks that this may just be some sort of “grass is always greener” issue, and I’m suffering from the delusion of “well if this one thing were different all my problems would go away”, but I don’t really think it would solve everything, I think I just might be more comfortable in my own body that way.

I am currently 18 so I don’t know if this is just a body still changing I’ll settle in eventually thing blah blah blah HORMONES thing or not. I have talked briefly with my mother about it (she is an incredibly open minded woman, so this wasn’t TOO difficult, though there is still always going to be some sort of fear there) but the main thing I remember getting out of that is her wondering if I really should be female or if that is just the result of me growing up in such a liberal, open minded area and being receptive to the idea. I am certain that she would have no problem with me really being a girl if we knew for a fact that I should be, but that’s still not the answer I wanted from her (not that I know what I really did want). I guess what I’m asking is is there some way for me to figure this out? Am I just making extra problems for myself? Am I just looking for fantasy solutions to magically make me feel better (when in reality I would feel no different if it were the case)? Is it normal to be this on the fence about something like this? One last thing, I don’t feel extremely WRONG being male….. I just don’t feel entirely right, either.

Sincerely,
Dazed-and-Confused

Dear Dazed & Confused:

No one here can tell you if you really *should* be a woman, but I can tell you that this isn’t some kind of silly, manufactured problem and that the desire to become comfortable in your own body is an important and essential part of being human.

I also think it is normal to be on the fence. The societal pressures are so strong to PERFORM YOUR ASSIGNED GENDER that it takes a huge amount of courage, patience, and resources to transform yourself entirely or even go against the grain in small ways that feel good to you.  You were very brave and smart to bring it up with your mom and I’m so glad she has your back.

I suspect your next steps are to find:

1) Therapy: Locate a caring therapist who has some kind of specialization in gender/trans issues, and, with the help of your cool mom, go see that person regularly and figure some things out. It may take a few tries to find the right person.

2) Community: Seek out a local LGBTQ group or center where you can meet other people who are exploring similar issues for themselves. You can see how it plays out on a continuum. Some people will fully transition: Present completely as the other gender, change their legal names, and possibly get surgery, etc. Some people will play around with dress and gender presentation until they find what’s comfortable for them. The people you meet will have recs for therapists, doctors, shoe stores, safety measures, safe spaces for you to experiment, and a million stories.

3) Play: I know a fair amount of trans people, and I can’t speak directly for them or their experiences, but I know they all played around with gender presentation and dress as a way to find out how to feel good in their bodies and good about themselves when they were early in the process of figuring this all out, and I remember the exhilaration and nervousness they described the first time they “passed” as the other gender. What would happen if you experimented with this? Bought/borrowed clothes? Created a wicked Pinterest for your alterego?

Commenters, I’d like to keep this discussion fairly focused and centered on the experiences of trans people, people who experiment regularly with gender presentation & dress, and people like the LW who are thinking about this question for themselves. The Captain Awkward Dot Com Rule of No Internet Diagnoses stands.

Some starting discussion questions for readers who have transitioned or questioned their gender identity:

  1. How/when did you first question your assigned gender and know that you should explore a change?
  2. What were some of the steps in the early stages of figuring it out that helped you or were particularly positive?
  3. Where did you go for information and support? (Websites, organizations, books?)
  4. Was there any kind of deciding moment where you knew for sure that you should transition (or not transition)?
  5. What’s one thing you learned from your own experiences that you wish you could help this LW understand?

If you blog and have already talked about this stuff on your own site, feel free to link with a short logline of what to expect rather than rehash the whole thing here. Link-heavy posts to tend to go to moderation but I’ll be on top of the queue today.

Letter Writer, I hope you can find something here that you can use and relate to.

52 comments
  1. Liennae said:

    *Big Jedi Hugs* I think it’s normal to have some confusion at that age. This does not invalidate how you feel, quite to the contrary, this is where you really start to suss out if you’re trans, or just not keen on sticking to stereotypical gender roles. I would be from the latter group, but I still feel like there is all this pressure to conform. It really sucks somedays, but I have hope that eventually the herd mentality will end and people won’t feel pressured to fit in the same stock image society has for male and female anymore.

    Best of luck on your journey!

  2. I can’t speak from experience, except on the ally front, but I highly recommend coming to Wiscon next year. It’s known as a feminist science fiction convention, but there are a lot of panels that go beyond SF to race, class, disability, gender and other issues that lead to marginalization in the dominant culture. Usually there are some panels on trans and/or genderqueer topics, and there are always trans and genderqueer folk in attendance at the con. And the last couple of years there has been a big dance where playing with gender presentation is kind of the dress code. It’s a fun weekend in general, and the concom does a great job of making it a safe space. It’s Memorial Day in Madison, Wisconsin every year, so this year’s is already past, but it’s never too early to think about next year.

  3. Alukonis said:

    Link drop: Sincerely, Natalie Reed is a blog by Natalie Reed, who is MtF herself. She is an awesome writer and posts a lot of stuff about trans issues and intersectionality and what the trans community is like, and how did people figure out they were trans, etc. I have found it very enlightening!

    However, as a heads up, this is also a skepticism/atheism blog, so there are also posts relating to that. If you find that interesting, great, but if not just stick to her articles on trans-related issues.

    • Natalie is fucken awesome! (Disclosure: She and I are both at the FreeThoughtBlogges network.)

  4. Also, there are options other than binary male/female. You don’t have to decide whether you’re a guy or a girl. Maybe you’re both, or neither, or somewhere in between, or which one it is alternates depending on how you feel.

    • JenniferP said:

      Yes, thanks for amplifying this point!

    • Elysian Deliration said:

      An excellent point! Long rambly screed ahead:

      This particular distinction took me a very long time to figure out how to articulate. I’ve never felt particularly “female” (whatever the crud that even means) despite a lot of my hobbies being coded feminine. But I also knew I’m not a boy. I first came across the concept of non-binary gender around the LW’s age, but even then it took a couple years for it to sink in that “Hey, this is a pretty accurate description of me, maybe I should look into this more?” and then to finally start thinking of myself in those terms.

      The Captain’s advice about meeting people all over the spectrum is excellent. Since you’re 18, I assume you’re starting college soon? Look into LGBTQ groups on your campus. They can absolutely provide support while you figure out what kind of spectacular you are! Meeting other people in the non-binary part of the spectrum really helped me sort out that that’s where I belong gender wise.

      The one thing I wish I’d known from the outset is that you don’t have to be an obvious misfit for your assigned gender to not actually BE that gender. Just because I love to cook, and sew, and I like pretty clothes doesn’t mean I have to continue to frame myself as a girl when I don’t feel like one. I think this especially hard for non-binary folks, because at least in my experience, there’s not a strong sense of “This body/gender presentation is WRONG” but rather a nagging feeling of “This doesn’t quite fit” or “There’s so much more that isn’t covered by this role” and it’s very hard to draw the line between just not being very masculine/feminine and not being male/female.

      I’ve only gotten comfortable enough with where that distinction lies for me very recently and only just started asking people to call me by my chosen name instead of my given name (which is a very feminine biblical name I’ve always had a distaste for. My new name is more neutral and better reflects my cultural heritage!) I still haven’t worked up the courage to start asking people to use neutral pronouns, in no small part because no one can agree on them and they’re really hard to remember. But someday! Hopefully someday soon!

      • Jinian said:

        While it would be wonderful if the LW were in a position to attend college, it’s not exactly something we can assume. My big liberal city definitely has groups for QUILTBAG youth regardless of economic privilege, though, and hopefully LW’s does too. A lot of the groups are intended for people in high school or younger, but I’ve never heard of an eighteen-year-old being kicked to the curb just for their age. A web search for “[city] queer youth” should find something relevant. I’d definitely recommend a youth-specific space, especially for someone who’s grown up in an accepting environment; one of the wonderful things about QUILTBAG rights is that we’ve made a ton of progress, but that can mean that older queers like me can fail to connect completely with younger people because our experiences have been so, so different.

    • Keri said:

      Yes, this! I’m actually very similar in story to Elysian Delirium above, but I’ll share it, too, for another perspective. (And I’ve also chosen a less gendered name! but it wasn’t for this reason – it just works out that way, which I like. I like it because I always wanted to be like Cary Grant, but the spelling is more reminiscent of my legal name, so it seems like a nickname.)

      When I was 22 or 23 or so, I went through a similar period of recognizing that not feeling “right” in my body/gender assignment, but not really sure that it was “wrong”, either. I was friends with queer people of all types, so I talked to them a lot and experimented with identifying certain ways and how that made me feel. the end result, after I also “tabled” the idea for a few months just to focus on something else for a while, is that what I really want is to have a body that has NO sexual characteristics. I would prefer to have a penis over vagina+breasts, but not so strongly that I have any desire to act on it – I just really hate having the bits I do, and I have looked into options for removing them, but for various reasons am unable to do so. (Also, I’m asexual but when I do feel vague attraction it’s towards women, and had a peach fuzz mustache when I was 8, amongst other things that make me feel less than “feminine”, so that adds a bit to the queer feelings.)

      I found that if I pretended that I had a male body, I was just as ambivalent as when not pretending, and I am okay with being id’d as female due to my dress and appearance. I’ve got a very hourglass figure, so if I try to dress ambiguously, I tend to look sloppy and feminine (and I hate looking sloppy!), and if I get men’s-style clothing that fits, I just look feminine. So I’ve ended up mentally shrugging and dressing in a way that I think looks good, even if it’s not the ambiguousness I’d prefer. (I don’t show cleavage or wear anything shorter than knee-length, though. I also tend to wear clothes that are more gendered to work, because of my role there and what is expected of someone in that position. It’s also a matter of what I can find at a price I can afford that doesn’t look sloppy.)

      I’m just one person with one example, and it is very strongly influenced by my values and cultural background, and my own mental/emotional needs. But I don’t really think of myself as fitting into the binary, even if I play along. (one day, though, i am going to get a mastectomy and a partial hysterectomy and it will be one of the best days in my life)

      • Elysian Deliration said:

        …I think you are future!me.

        Seriously, some of your story is scarily similar to things I didn’t mention as I thought they were tangential to the current conversation. (Particularly being ace/homoromantic and a hairy little child.)

        Creepy twin buddies?

        • keristars said:

          I meant to return to these comments and then I got swamped with work and was too exhausted when I got home. BUT.

          Ha, yes. 🙂 I think the ace/homoromantic/childhood hirsuteness play a big role in my self-identity. I didn’t include a few other things, but i had to have some surgeries that made me wonder if I was intersex when I was in middle school (I’m not, just queer).

          Huh, typing that, I think the “when I was 22 or 23” statement from last week is a bit misleading… I knew when I was in middle school that there was something uncomfortable, but mostly attributed it to puberty? and the medically necessary surgery. I guess 22/23 is when I started being more cognizant of it in a different way and learned that there are other ways of being. It’s also when I learned about asexuality, for that matter.

    • Kaz said:

      Adding to the line of genderqueer people!

      It’s actually ironic, because I spent years thinking that I had a strong internal sense of myself as a woman (I’m FAAB) and even using that card to be a cis ally. Then one day I realised that it wasn’t that I felt like a woman, it was that I felt not male, and these weren’t the same thing. And then a lot of feelings I’d buried and repressed like discomfort with my body and feeling kind of alienated from my gender jumped up and blindsided me. These days I consider myself to be somewhere in between “female” and “neutrois”, possibly a moving target.

      So, yeah, OP. You could be a woman. Or you could be a man. Or neither! Or both! Or one/both *and* something else, or in between, or…

    • Utter East said:

      Another genderqueer person here– I’ve always been vaguely uncomfortable by being forced to “pick a side” re: gender, even as a young child. As a young child I had “masculine” interests (fuck that, dinosaurs, lego and geology are for EVERYONE) and fought tooth and nail to not have to wear dresses or be a “proper girl”. I would use these feelings as evidence that I was not a girl/a nonstandard girl but I was told by my parents that girls weren’t limited in their desires and choices to “girly” things and thus my feelings were within the “canon” of being a girl. And I felt different from boys, certainly, so I accepted this designation.

      My body dysphoria really came to a head when I got older: I very much disliked my obviously-female body and created characters for RP that were butch girls, androgynous people, alien beings, or older people who were “stuck” as prepubescent children.

      Somewhat OT but related, I also had a deep loathing for and felt squicked by the “script” for heterosexual sex as soon as I heard about it (around 8 or 9) and decided that I was asexual. But then I discovered that, actually, gay and lesbian encounters between characters I liked could be very interesting– was I perhaps gay?– and then I started to develop crushes on young men, and not women. Woe! The thought of having to “follow the script” with them left me feeling ill. I got into anonymous internet sexy roleplay one summer as a teenager and I always pretended to be a man– it made me feel much more in control and safer. All of my catholic school sex ed and novels that I’d read with sex scenes had taught me that women were constantly in danger of being victimized sexually, and that sex was a thing done to women by men, and out of their control.

      I started thinking about how much easier it would be if I were a gay man. I knew vaguely that being transgender was a thing, but while I was quite strongly NOT a woman, I didn’t really feel like a man either, and would only want to make the switch if there were a magical Ranma-like way of doing so.

      I also wanted to make sure my feelings (“I am NOT a woman”) weren’t just a reaction to my growing knowledge that society actually really doesn’t treat women very well, but upon reflection (above) I realized that, actually, my wishes for a mutable/nonspecific gender have their start as far back as I can remember. Relatedly, it slowly became obvious that what squicked me about heterosexual sex was the expectation that “normal” sex required a submissive/passive woman, and I am actually a top or even a dominant despite my shy exterior. So did I not want to be a woman in order to escape this expectation? But like I said, my neutral-gender desire preceded my finding out about sex.

      So I wallowed in confusion for a long time before– just in the past couple of years (I’m 24)– the concept of being genderqueer/neutrois/an androgyne sort of floated along to me through the magic of tumblr and the wider internet. I would really like to make a transition to present as an androgynous person (one of my profs calling me “sir” during a low-light lecture put the biggest smile on my face) but that would probably require losing weight, compressive clothing (which I can’t wear due to tactile issues) or more covering, masculine clothing (ditto) which would have to be fitted right so it looks good. I’m at the age where my friends are starting to get married and the thought of wearing a suit to a wedding instead of being forced into a dress I hate (again) fills me with glee, but clothes are hard.

      So yeah, sorry for the essay! But that is the story of my FtGQ transition, and my slow realization that hey, sex might be fun if I can do it in this specific way (step 2 is finding male-bodied people who are okay with the proposition). Now I just wish that facebook had genderqueer as an option so I could announce it quietly; so far it hasn’t really come up with anyone I know since I’m keeping on using female pronouns and such. But I think I might have to speak up soon, especially if anyone is going to demand I wear a dress. (Sorry for all the dress hate in this post! I love them on other people, just not on me.)

      • keristars said:

        I also wanted to make sure my feelings (“I am NOT a woman”) weren’t just a reaction to my growing knowledge that society actually really doesn’t treat women very well

        I think this is very common! It’s something that I am still always wondering. Is my low-level attraction to women because I’m a latent lesbian (primarily asexual) or is it because I’m constantly inundated with images that tell me that women are sexually attractive and desirable? Is my desire to be genderless because that’s truly how I am, a result of my nature and the path society presents me, or is it because women are treated in a certain way that I don’t like, and men are shown to be dominant and powerful and what everyone should be?

        But that’s where the experimentation and roleplaying comes in, to determine how strong the desire is and how long-lasting.

  5. sirgabe said:

    I’m gonna say this as a trans* person myself, only you know for sure who you really are, in the sense of being male, female, both or neither. You have to give yourself permission to be. Yes, talk to as many trans* people as possible. I would also recommend going through mental exercises and keeping a very secret notebook to write everything down if you like–think of what names, pronouns, and so on make you feel most comfortable. Remember: this is your life, you don’t have to listen to cisnormative and heteronormative dictates if you don’t want to.

  6. Personally, the thing that really helped me in figuring out what my gender was was just to table the question for six months. Instead, I asked myself: does X gendered thing make me happy? does it make me more comfortable in my body? does it make me feel more like myself?

    To me, those were much easier questions to answer. It doesn’t matter if I’m a trans man or nonbinary or a crossdresser or just doing it as a fashion statement: binding makes me feel happy, so I’ll bind; gender-neutral pronouns make me happy so I will use them; perfume makes me happy, so I’ll wear it. After a few months of this, I found that my gender experiences could be best described with the words “nonbinary” and “androgyne,” which is my current identity.

    Good luck! (hugs)

  7. neverstopsayingmaria said:

    Oh, sweetest pea!
    All of this is really good advice. I doubly second advice #3 from the Captain: Experiment! See what feels good to you! No one will know better than you do what feels right, and often people’s sense of their gender changes over time, and the scope of how you can identify is huge. Limitless. The whole world is a possibility.

    Nobody at all can tell you whether or not you are trans (whatever that means to you-because lots of people identify as gender non-conforming, but that doesn’t mean anything at all about how they may choose to dress or what pronouns they use or what their community looks like or pursue or not pursue medical interventions (HRT etc)- but what we can all, collectively tell you is that whatever it is you might be wanting is totally alright. And the world is not always the gentlest place to folks that are gender-expansive, but indubitably you being you is great and okay and can be marvelously happy whatever way you want and there are many many people who will love you in whatever gendered fashion you live.

    Have you heard of Julia Serano and Kate Bornstein? They have written very good books called Whipping Girl and My Gender Workbook. If you live in a big liberal city they probably have them in used bookstores or at the library.

    And lastly, me being a queermo raised in a big liberal city (Seattle!) I think that sometimes flustered parents say weird things like,”Oh, well, you just got the idea because of being raised in a big city.” The cool thing about being raised in a big city is that you’re exposed to lots of different things and ideas, but you probably also didn’t take up juggling or slam poetry or veganism or whatever thing that your city may have also introduced you to. My Awkward Liberal Mom said very much the same thing to me when I came out to her. Don’t take that too seriously.

  8. Hi LW! Big jedi hugs to you as you think about and sort through gender stuff.

    My gender identity has shifted a bunch. I was female-assigned-at-birth and about ten years ago I started questioning that. I was pretty strongly genderqueer-identified and when I made the decision to pursue medical transition I swung to being more male-identified for a few years. Right now I am at a point where I am very happy with having a gender presentation most people read as “queer man” but my actual gender is pretty nonspecific most days. And that works really well for me!

    It is totally normal to be on the fence, and even if you make some of the Big Decisions around gender identity, some of those could shift and change. And that’s ok! It really is! I spent a lot of time feeling scared and like I couldn’t “really” be trans if I was unsure about exactly what I wanted, and when I realized that wasn’t the case, it was a huge weight off of my shoulders.
    So if for now you’re unsure, that’s all right. I think the Captain has great ideas about playing around with your gender and presentation and thinking about what might work for you. For me this can go from “whee, I’m playing with my presentation” to “OH GOD why can’t I get any of this to look right” pretty quickly, so if it stops being fun it’s ok to walk away from scary clothes/makeup/sparkles/whatever for a while. Ideally the fun experimentation and genderplay stuff should stay fun!

    Talking to a sympathetic friend and spending time in meatspace and online support communities were helpful, but honestly the BEST thing for me was going to drag shows. There was a fantastic drag king group that did shows once or twice a month and I was able to take baby steps in my presentation (I was terrified of looking dumb in boy clothes but it was a safe space to play around with what I wore) and just spend time around a lot of people in various stages of queerness and genderfuckery. It showed me that there is plenty of space for fun and sexiness around trans identities, which was a big help to me (there is a lot of potential for sadness and tragedy for trans people but I am sad when it’s presented ONLY as a tragic situation. There is a lot of joy and self-discovery and fun that exploring gender has brought to my life). Also a lot of their work was political and I was introduced into the fantastic work of feminist/queer/trans activism through sexy drag acts and dancing tampon boxes. So you may want to poke around in your community and see what events and resources are out there; support groups are fantastic but you might click with something else in a way that turns out to be helpful.

    The other thing that helped me sort through my feelings was keeping a gender-feelings journal. I often process thoughts better by writing about them and I was able to look back and sloooowly see a change from “what the hell is my gender, what am I going to dooo” to “I am pretty sure this is the right step for me.” I had a much better handle on my changing perceptions of my gender when I could go back and read what I’d written months or years before.
    I knew it was time when the pain and frustration I felt with my body and gender presentation outweighed the fear I had of the unknown and how I would deal with the changes of transition. It was scary but it was also a huge relief.

    No matter where you find your support group or advice, I would warn you to stay away from people who try to tell you there’s one right way to be trans or assume that you’re going to make the same choices that they did. “When are you getting surgery?” “you need to wear/do x to pass better” (and oh how I hate that term) “if you’re going to be a real woman, you have to stop y” are all things you don’t need to hear. There are gender police everywhere and I think they can be extra harmful when they look like allies and community members. Your gender is your own and I hope you can feel free to explore and settle into your identity on your own terms.

    I said this above but I want to stress it: it really is ok not to know where you stand for a while. Your gender might be nebulous for a bit, or you might be confused. It really is ok, and I know it can be stressful but it isn’t a sign that you’re doing gender wrong or are/aren’t really trans. You’re just sorting out something that’s pretty fucking complicated, and these things take time sometimes. I wish I’d spent less time being angry at myself for being so confused about my gender.

    • JenniferP said:

      WILD APPLAUSE. So glad you came by here, thank you.

  9. Kate said:

    The Captain’s advice is wonderful and I just want to add that trust yourself and figure out what feels comfortable.

    I was and am close to someone who has been transitioning from MtF for a couple of years but it took them a long time to feel ready to do that. Their journey was complicated but the right one for them, yours might be something else.

    Take advantage of all the support out there for you and figure out who you are. *jedi hugs.

  10. solecism said:

    I’m trying to figure this out right now too, so you are not alone. I second the recommendation for My Gender Workbook. Kate Bornstein also wrote Gender Outlaw and most recently Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation. In terms of online resources, check out What Is Gender?, Neutrois and Androgyne Online.

    [Note: possibly TMI in sharing my personal experiences and feelings]
    I’m coming at this from a completely different direction. I grew up in the Midwest in small cities and barely grasped that homosexuality existed, much less trans* folk, or that the male/female binary wasn’t the only option. I know that I resisted gender-based expectations my whole life, from my earliest memories of being scolded for playing with my brother’s Tonka trucks. Beyond a brief flirtation with dresses and purses (and cowboy boots!) in elementary school and make-up in middle school, and the occasional formal dance in a dress in college, I pretty much grew up as a tomboy and dressed androgynously. I went to a fairly subversive college with a very active and visible LBG(T) group and an environment that allowed many to play with gender presentation. But I was a science geek and a gamer, and didn’t really explore social issues or identities.

    At the end of my freshman year, I went to dinner with friends. I made an effort to dress up (without wearing a dress), and one of the women exclaimed, “[Solecism}, you have cleavage!” and one of the men asked me if I didn’t present in a more feminine manner because I was afraid that I couldn’t compete. To be honest, I’d never thought about it, and the question gave me pause. I think I ended up agreeing with that viewpoint, but it really wasn’t the right question. I never gave a more feminine presentation because I didn’t feel particularly feminine. But not masculine either. I’ve never thought I was a man or wanted to be a man, but I didn’t identify much with feminine either.

    I eschewed careers traditionally dominated by women and pursued hypermasculine jobs. I didn’t start presenting as more feminine until being a wildland firefighter for awhile, wearing green/yellow Nomex (fire-retardant saturated synthetic pants and shirts) for extended periods, with ash, sweat, and dust being ground into my pores from weeks in the field without bathing, and 8 pounds of leather armoring my feet 16+ hours a day. On my time off I wanted to get as far away from that as possible: sundresses and sandals and frequent perfumed baths. So I began to get more comfortable with my feminine side.

    However, my presentation has always been fairly gender neutral. My name is gender neutral, and when preparing bios or whatever, I have always taken care to make them gender neutral. I have been identified as both male and female in various circumstances over the years, though mostly female, if only because I usually have long hair. My voice varies from fairly low to moderately high, so the uncertainty about my gender has been greater on the phone than in person.

    Fast forward to my late 30s. I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. I had one mastectomy, and some friends asked me how I felt about losing the breast. Again, I didn’t really have a good answer, but I realized it was because I hadn’t really known how I’d felt about having breasts in the first place. I had just started exploring my own body and sexual agency, my early sexual history being an exercise in compliance and not realizing that this was not the same as enthusiastic consent. I was enjoying playing with my own breasts and the kinesthesia of feeling my breast gently brushing my arm as I walked. And then boom, I lost a part of myself. Cancer treatment is a brutal violation of the body after the body’s betrayal of self. I was poisoned, amputated, and burned. Then I repeated the whole experience on the other side. Now the long, slow recovery and rebuilding the self.

    And I was okay with no longer having breasts. I also had my ovaries removed. So I don’t really meet most people’s concept of female. And I am okay with that. But these physical changes are not why I think I may be trans*, they are simply an outward manifestation of a lifelong ambivalence. In the midst of treatment, when I had only a buzz from the hair slowing starting to grow back, I went out with friends, and the waitress called me sir. I smiled and didn’t correct her, and one friend asked why I hadn’t corrected her, and I pointed out that it didn’t matter. She replied that I was engaged in genderfuckery. “No, I’m not! Wait, what’s that?” was my reply. I haven’t intentionally neutralized my physical presentation, just my textual presentation, so I didn’t think that people’s confusion about me in person was due to my deliberate obfuscation, and therefore I wasn’t engaged in genderfuckery. But that conversation started me exploring queerness and gender identity and so on.

    I no longer automatically fill out the sex bubble on standard forms, since I no longer feel comfortable with that. I am hoping to attend a FtM/GenderQueer/SOFFA support group in the near future to start exploring these issues with others. My partner has been amazingly supportive during all of this. It’s a work in progress.

    I commend you on seeking (and getting!) the support of your family and starting to explore yourself as you are getting ready to explore the world as an adult. Good luck. There are no “shoulds” in this process, just finding what makes sense and works for you.

    • rattata said:

      Slightly related to solecism’s restaurant anecdote (food for thought, btw; thanks!) and a question I wonder about as I’m about to start a service job: is there a polite address for a person equivalent to sir/madam which doesn’t pidgeonhole the person as a specific gender?

  11. eightri said:

    It is so so so absolutely normal to be on the fence. “Not feeling trans enough” is a ridiculously common feeling, even for trans folks who are many years past starting a transition. Would you give advice to a friend to stay in a relationship that “didn’t feel extremely wrong, but didn’t feel extremely right either”? It’s your life and your body; you deserve to feel extremely right about it.

    Most trans folks I know have simply taken their feelings of discomfort with their gender one step at a time. I had always been particularly uncomfortable with my body, in particular my body hair, so I started getting electrolysis first. I liked those changes, so I took more steps to get access and take hormones, and those felt right enough to me to continue one step at a time with other changes. I know somebody who felt more uncomfortable with the way they were presenting themselves to the world and played around with clothing as a first step to explore their gender. (I would have been terrified to do that as a first step, but it was right for them. I think they would have felt the same about my first steps.)

    I feel like there are a lot of societal narratives that gender is this monolithic entity, gender transition is a singular permanent irreversible event, and that if you are trans you will somehow just “know” (often from your earliest memories). All of these bogus generalizations set up expectations that you must be certain before you move forward on anything and that you must somehow change everything at once. You can always turn around, even after something like hormones. It’s totally ok to not have a final destination in mind and to simply have an initial direction.

    LW, when you say you think you’d feel happier being a girl, what are you picturing when you think that? Is it a social thing, in how you’re interacting with other people? Is it a presentation thing, in how you look and are seen? Is it a physical thing, in how your body looks? It sounds like there’s a kernel of discomfort somewhere there, and I’d suggest playing around with whatever aspect that happens to be. I think that’d help you to understand better whether this was a grass-is-greener thing or if this was something that would make you feel better and more comfortable with yourself. I will emphatically second the Captain’s suggestion to play around.

    So, so many jedi hugs.

    Re: resources. Kate Bornstein’s _Gender Outlaw_ was a really useful book for me when I first started thinking about gender. Julia Serano’s _Whipping Girl_ is so excellent that I need to keep extra copies around to forcibly loan to other people. http://www.youtube.com/user/HandbasketMedia has some excellent videos from a butch trans women panel (among other excellent videos); I don’t know if that’s useful for you, but past versions of me certainly could have used more butch trans women role models.

  12. maggie said:

    I think that the preferred term is usually “presenting”, since “passing” makes it sound like you can fail?

    • solecism said:

      Yes, failing is the inescapable corollary to the concept of passing, which probably has seen the most usage in the United States with respect to racial identity and only more recently to gender identity and also sexual orientation. It’s a very fraught term weighted with oppression that can manifest as some extreme violence and the desire to escape those risks by trying to disappear into the privileged group, often by severing important relationships and suppressing important histories and aspects of self. There can be a lot of head games and self loathing wrapped into “passing.”

      Presenting is just that, how one presents oneself to the world. It is about claiming identity more than hiding aspects of it.

      At least that’s my understanding of these two distinct terms.

      • I had never heard the passing/presenting distinction, and now I’m happy to know it exists. “Passing” bugged me. Not so much because “failing” was possible, but because of what constituted failing. Why did claiming a woman’s body necessitate acting more feminine? I mean, if the person wanted to act more feminine, more power to her, but otherwise …?

  13. Zavire said:

    I’ve been following along here for a while, but never felt the need to say anything. As both of my girlfriend and I are trans, now seems like a good time to break radio silence. I was assigned male at birth, and currently identify as genderqueer and like to dress very femininely. Those are good questions, so I’ll answer them in order.

    1. I’ve been questioning my gender since I was 12, at least, but had to seriously repress it because my parents would not have been (and still aren’t) accepting. I imagine that most people sometimes idly wonder what it’s like for those of other genders, but not many cis people actually seriously consider transition in anything more than a cursory way. If you find yourself thinking about clothes for or being treated as a different gender, you definitely should explore that in a way that makes you feel safe.

    2. One of the first things that I did was find one pretty outfit that I like, then wear it around the house. It was a strange experience, because I had been so repressed that it felt actually somewhat uncomfortable, but in a different way than I was used to. I’m lucky that my girlfriend was there to reassure me and offer me encouragement, or else I would not have done even that small step.

    3. One of my early resources was the TS roadmap, although I don’t really like it anymore because it has a huge emphasis on passing, which can be a major hang up, especially starting out. There are a number of subreddits (communities on reddit.com) that I like. I usually hang out in r/SRSGSM, but r/lgbt, r/transgender, and r/asktransgender are really good safer spaces that helped me with random questions. Recently I’ve found a local trans youth group that I’m not yet too old to hang out with.

    4. I knew for sure I wanted to transition about a month after starting hormones. That may sound odd, but I had a lot of worries and doubts leading up to that decision, especially about passability (not nearly as big of a deal as I was making it out to be) and whether my friends would accept me (they have, unanimously). I really want to emphasize that you don’t have to be sure. You don’t have to know ahead of time. It’s good to explore, and even if you ultimately decide not to go through with it, at least you will know.

    5. If you are trans, it will be hard, even if you have a lot of support. There might be times where you hate yourself, or you hate the “maleness” you see in yourself, or the fact that you spent so long trying to be someone your aren’t (to pick a few of the bad days I’ve had), or any number of other things. You may even want to throw out all of your feminine clothes, and just try to forget about all of it. This is normal and very understandable. It doesn’t mean that you are trans or cis. It’s just a thing that happens very often.

    Many *jedi hugs*!!!

    • Adelene said:

      /r/lgbt has some issues – the mods tend to be a bit overzealous in keeping it a ‘safe space’. /r/ainbow was made in response to that to give people a space that’s a bit more relaxed and safer for people who are new to the community and might not realize that certain things might step on peoples’ toes a little. (Not that folks don’t get called out, but they’re called out, not run out on a rail like seems to be common on /r/lgbt.)

      • Zavire said:

        I don’t direct potential trans people who are trying to figure their gender out to spaces where cissexist slurs are not actively removed. Some people don’t mind, but enough do that it seems rude of me to do that without adding some sort of warning, and my post was already getting too long.

  14. fuego said:

    I changed my name and went “full time” at 18 and had surgery at 21. I’ll just answer the questions above.

    1. Around 12 or 13
    2. Going as female on line in chat rooms and being who I wanted to be without fear
    3. Internet groups, school gsa, glad events, queer events
    4. I pretty much decided at 14 when I met two other women that had transitioned and were successful.
    5. If you’re asking the question at all its something to investigate. Try things out! Find friends that will help.you! Try out being female in safe queer space. Does it make you feel right when people acknowledge your female identity? Spend time in queer space and meet others. I’ve had a wonderful life having lived longer as female than male now, I have a family, a job, a house and happiness in my own skin.

    If you want to contact me, get my email from Capt.akward.

  15. LW, speaking from my personal experience as someone whose gender doesn’t fit any boxes I’ve ever found, I want to share the most important lessons I’ve had:

    1) Some people have clear narratives for their lives that match cultural expectations. I don’t just mean straight cis narratives, I mean “I knew I was really a boy/girl/gay/bi when I was three” or “I did x and y experiments and they showed me z” type narratives that work out all nice and neat and people like to repeat because they satisfy our human desires for stories to explain everything. Some people, like me, do not fit those narratives. You may not fit those narratives. That does not mean anything about the validity of your identity, whether you’re a man or a woman or something more complicated.

    2) It’s okay to be wrong, to try things on, to make mistakes and get messy. You don’t need to decide for once and for all that you’re trans* and stick with it even if it doesn’t make you happy. I suggest you consider, perhaps, a secret online female identity, or finding a specific social group to approach with a different presentation – I go to university as a man and go about my business as whatever, for instance – and see how that feels.

    3) What this post by my hero Dingsi says.

    Full disclosure: I’m currently in the difficult position of reading as female, wanting to be seen as male or non-gendered, and not being sure whether I want to physically transition. The hardest part is that my personal preference is to tell people if they read me wrong and it always embarrasses them, which I don’t want to do, and the full explanation is really complicated so I have to estimate what level of detail a given person will understand – every time someone lets slip a pronoun. It’s intensely awkward and unavoidable for me, and I’ve wrestled with a lot of self-judgment and worse since I started on this path. Basically, I haven’t worked everything out for myself, so all I really can say is, well, don’t feel like you have to be like other people to be “really” trans* or cis, you know?

    • +1 to this, to all of this, and especially to the link to Dingsi because YES.

  16. Two resources I’d recommend are Eli Vanderberg’s “Body In Progress” blog – http://www.bodyinprogress.blogspot.com/ – he’s a transman who also makes art about transitioning from being a woman.

    I’d also recommend Chris Bonjalien’s “Trans-Sister Radio.” It’s a novel that focuses on a small town when one of the born-male teachers at the local college transitions to being a woman. Though, I will say the chapter on her surgery is very explicit, so if you’re someone who can’t watch medical stuff on TV, it might be a bit intense if you’re not ready for it.

  17. Colin said:

    Hello LW!

    At 27, I struggle with my gender identity (I tentatively identify as masculine-leaning genderqueer), but please don’t let that discourage you! Sometimes while exploring gender identity, I feel there’s pressure to ‘pick something’ in order to find a group to belong to or a category to fit into. It’s very important to figure out what’s comfortable for you, even if that takes some time, and it’s always okay to change what you identify as to something else later if that fits you more. Other identities include genderqueer and non-gender as well, and there’s many different options you can explore safely in online communities. It’s really helped me to hang out and read in trans* communities, even when I’m too shy to talk to anyone.

    Just keep in mind that the only person your gender choice has to satisfy is yourself, you’re not alone even when you feel like you are, it is okay to be unsure about your gender, and it is also okay not to ‘be’ anything right now.

  18. I don’t think I’ve seen The Genderbread Person linked yet? I mostly like it for its, hmm, accessibility might be the right word. It’s not too simple, but neither is it so complex that it’s beyond the intellectual grasp of folks who may have never considered gender and/or sex and/or sexuality to be along a spectrum.

    For me personally – I don’t use trans* to describe myself, although I maybe could? I was assigned female at birth and grew up a tomboy; when I got into college and onto the internet I started to learn more about the fluidity and constructedness of identities around sex and gender and sexuality, and began to play around more with a little more intention with regards to my gender expression/presentation – I shaved my hair off, wore guys’ clothes, and, with my boyfriends’ help, started trying to “pass” more often as a guy. I really liked being taken for just another dude, and so I changed my name.

    Then I got pregnant.

    It’s been – interesting, learning to reclaim these feminine pieces of me (even as they forcibly reclaimed my body; Thomas Beatie aside, I think there are few things more publicly identifiable as Obviously A Woman than being nine months pregnant, except possibly breastfeeding). With the help of other folks along the trans* spectrum (most of whom I’ve met online, some of whom I’ve met through my Unitarian Universalist congregation), I’ve mostly stopped feeling like some kind of imposter when I choose to wear dresses and heels, and I’m still really comfortable in guys’ clothes. I feel more like a dude than a lady – a phrase that I find most useful for this is “masculine of center” – but, you know, chasing around after my preschoolers means that I just don’t have a whole lot of energy to throw at my ho-hum gender identity. So now when people ask me I laugh and tell them that my gender identity is lazy, although genderqueer and genderfluid also work for me. I prefer neutral pronouns or male ones, although most people who know me still use female pronouns to refer to me and I am not invested enough to correct them.

    tl;dr it’s totally normal and all right to be “on the fence,” to be questioning or unsure or to not give any fucks, to explore and to play and to ask questions over and over again until you figure out what works for you. Lots of people do it! I wish you luck on your journey.

    • Kaz said:

      Late comment is late, but I want to add a caveat on the Genderbread person thing. Because it’s a simplification, and that means it can be unhelpful, damaging and erasing. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t use it. If it does work for you, still remember it won’t work for everyone.

      Like – for example? This thing does not work at all for me. On any of the levels. I’m somewhere in between “female” and “neutrois” – and there’s no third-gender option, at least not one that doesn’t conflate every single third-gender option along with being genderless. The closest I could come on that diagram is “half female, not male” which I am not kthxbye. My gender expression is also kind of complicated on that front! Aaand I am also wtfromantic asexual with queerplatonic attraction to women and possibly also neutrois people and other people along that spectrum, so the whole “what binary gender are you attracted to” thing with its conflation of all forms of attraction leaves me scratching my head. And “biological sex” can bite me.

      I mean, if you find it helpful that’s good for you, but it’s still an individual thing and I keep, keep, keep running into people who toss these things out and expect them to be universal. And I understand wanting to keep things accessible to people who haven’t thought about this before, but it was precisely “accessible” models like that that kept me from realising I could possibly be nonbinary for ages (“gender is more complicated than the binary! it’s the binary with a spectrum in between! I guess that means I’m a woman!” eurgh).

  19. Alex said:

    1. How/when did you first question your assigned gender and know that you should explore a change?

    I don’t know that I ever really had a coherent sense of my assigned gender until probably high school, when (despite being female-bodied with ultra-long hair at age 13) probably considered myself something closer to a femme gay boy most of the time. Fantasies about myself were generally either myself as a lesbian or myself as a gay man. (If I’d had my druthers I’d have been a shapeshifter.)

    I still most of the time feel like I’m in drag no matter what my presentation is. They ALL feel wrong in some way or another. Which is, erm, unhelpful.

    2. What were some of the steps in the early stages of figuring it out that helped you or were particularly positive?

    I used to get a lot of “is that a boy??” (the best was when I was holding my giant pink Sailormoon bag, close runner up was when I was the only female in the “co-ed” soccer league). These pleased me greatly. 🙂

    I also explored to some extent interacting with people “as” a man and “as” a woman. For me, these were… somewhat different but overlapping personalities?

    3. Where did you go for information and support? (Websites, organizations, books?)

    This was back in the days of Windows95 and AOL, but yeah, I mostly used the internet. I’d read any books at the library about queer stuff and felt really drawn to what we now mostly call “two-spirit” (it wasn’t generally described that way in the books I was reading, though – the Androgyne site linked above said they were often called berdache, I think? and that seems to fit with my memories – that site also had a quiz, the COGATI, that I took several times, although looking back at it now I think that the quiz had a pretty essentialist bent to it).

    4. Was there any kind of deciding moment where you knew for sure that you should transition (or not transition)?

    No. I mostly describe myself as a cis woman, which isn’t quite true because I don’t feel comfortable as a woman, but I feel more uncomfortable claiming trans* status. I guess I could call myself an androgyne or neutrois or something similar, but… I dunno, they’re labels that just don’t work for me. So. *hands*

    5. What’s one thing you learned from your own experiences that you wish you could help this LW understand?

    Sometimes, there’s just not a good answer. Maybe you’ll always feel slightly-off as male, but ambivalent or actively disinterested in the idea of transition. Maybe it’ll be a day-by-day thing where your presentation will suffice to make you feel like you fit yourself. Maybe you’ll always feel like it’s not quite there. Be gentle with yourself about it, because a lot of other people won’t be.

  20. JS said:

    First off, I want to say to the letter writer that I think you’re courageous and awesome. I could not have spoken about something like this with my mother at your age.

    I’m not trans, but I did spend a lot of time in my past wondering about what it means for me to be a woman, and gendered behaviours. I also considered what it might be like to be a man and tried to understand the behavioural traditions expected of them. This is probably because I liked ‘boy’ things like maths and science fiction while growing up and couldn’t understand my more traditional peers when they bullied me for it. I know gendered interests aren’t the same as a trans experience, but I have in the past felt excluded because I wouldn’t conform to what others thought being a woman meant. One member of my family thinks I’m unwomanly for not wanting children (whether my feelings on that are a not-at-this-time-of-my-life thing or permanent is yet to be seen). Other people have suggested that when I meet the right man, I’ll settle down and give up my career, which makes me ridiculously angry. I generally meet such opinions with a pointed look and utter disdain.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that even if you do determine that you’re not trans (and I believe that comes down to you thinking about it and feeling around it, and there is no time limit on that, believe me. I still think about what being a woman means for me), that doesn’t mean you need to fit the gender roles people expect you to. There is no right or wrong answer to who you are. There is you, figuring out who you are day by day. In the end, your instincts will be right and will lead you to where you need to go, where you can be the woman/man/non-gendered person that you are happy with. I hope this helps somewhat, and good luck!

  21. Jill said:

    My first high school was so very, very binary. I remember days when I would be the only girl in pants. It was exhausting to be constantly surrounded by dudely dudes and girly girls and nothing in between. Then I switched schools, I joined the woodsmen team (where I learned how to throw an axe AND hit the target), I took a blacksmithing class, and these things weren’t presented as things men or women did, just things that awesome humans do. We didn’t have a football team because the school didn’t believe in sports that “only boys play.” Being in an environment that was safe for all flavors of gender expression was amazing and it 
    gave me the space to realize that I wasn’t 100% butch or tomboy or dyke or 100% anything–some days I wear heels and some days I throw an axe (not nearly enough)–and there are countless ways to be a woman, not just the one narrow definition I saw at my first school. 

    You’re 18, so perhaps you just survived Prom Season? The most binary of high school traditions? You say that you’re not sure if you were born with a “male mind.” What does a male mind mean to you? Sure, maybe you’re trans or genderqueer or any number of non binary gender expressions, or maybe you’re a man who rejects the narrow definition of masculinity that is presented to teenagers. The other commenters have suggested some great resources to help you figure it out. “Feminist cisgender man” is not the most common label to find in high school, but if it turns out that that’s your label, you’ll find many allies in college!

    • JenniferP said:

      Why did my school not have a Woodsmen team? WHY? WHY?

    • AMM said:

      I’d also like to put in a plug for the idea that “being a ‘man’/being a ‘woman'” can be whatever you want it to be. That whether you’re labeled/label yourself male, female, trans, cis, or “other” needn’t (or shouldn’t) have any bearing on who you are or how you live your life.

      \begin{TMI} (no, not Three Mile Island), mostly because I’m very slow at editing and don’t have 8 hours to write this.

      My first high school was so very, very binary.

      My entire growing up was very, very binary. (We’re talking mainly early to mid-1960’s.) I was frequently called “queer” because, though male, I couldn’t do “tough”, hated organized sports (mainly because I was lousy at them), and liked science and reading (especially, for a time, the Oz books.) I was attracted to pretty clothes and pretty things, but the idea of even liking looking at them was too frightening to think about; I used to have nightmares of waking up as a girl. (Cf. “The Marvelous Land of Oz”) I’d heard of boyish girls (tomboys), but nobody talked about girlish boys — the least hint of anything that could be considered girlish was the occasion for so much humiliation and torment that death would have seemed preferable. Growing my hair long (in high school) was the only rebellion I dared, and only because the Counterculture had finally made it to my home town. Leaving my home town (which I still refer to as “the Ante-Bellum South”) and going off to college in the Northeast (USA) was a huge improvement, because deviations from the male script were tolerated (if they weren’t too big.)

      In many ways, I feel like I’m more like what people figure a woman would be than a man. I get along a lot better with women than men. (It doesn’t help that I generally find men threatening, and there are only a couple of men in my entire life that I have felt safe around.) I empathize a lot better with women’s descriptions of their experiences than with men’s. I have never been able to understand the idea of “losing your masculinity,” or why anyone would care, except maybe the fear that your fellow males would tear you to pieces if it happened. I love babies and children, (even though taking care of them wears me out.) I sew. Male “bonding experiences” even at their best are meaningless to me. And in the past 5+ years, I’ve started trying out wearing “women’s clothes” — mainly skirts and dresses, and I feel a lot more like me when I’m wearing them than when I dress in the male uniform. I really feel like they dumped the chips with “male” characteristics, “female” characteristics, and “unisex” characteristics together in one pot and mixed them up before they pulled out the ones to make me.

      Yet I’ve never thought of myself as anything but male and have never considered transitioning. If I could actually magically transform my body into a female body, I might want to give it a try — but only if I could transform back.

      Part of it is that SRS doesn’t result in a body that would be female enough for me, especially with a body like mine.

      But a big part is that I don’t want to trade the restrictions of the male role for the IMHO equally rigid restrictions of the female role. I’m sure if I were magically transformed into a woman, I’d start complaining about other stuff that would now be expected of me that isn’t me!

      And, finally, I simply don’t grok the concept of having an inner gender, independent of anatomy and social brainwashing. When I look at my inner self, whatever “male” or “female” labels there may be always feel like something from the outside, as if vandals with spray cans had gotten into my soul and spraypainted male and female signs on things at random. Anatomically-based categories my brain is still able to handle. The idea of arbitrary lists of what’s “for boys” vs. what’s “for girls” I can sort of handle, even if I think they’re stupid. But inner gender? I get SEGVs.

      Maybe if I were growing up now, I would call myself “genderqueer.” Or maybe I’d still say, this stupid business of trying to assign gender labels to everything and everybody is just too weird for me to wrap my mind around it.

    • Liennae said:

      OMG…I so want to go to your second school. Even though most of my high school years were a disaster I’d never want to repeat and happened about 10 years ago.
      Blacksmithing?! AWESOME!

  22. Kavla said:

    I pretty much could have written this question. I’m 19, FAAB, and have recently started therapy because my dysphoria (which I had originally dismissed as a series of strangely-alike-but-still-totally-coincidental panic attacks and discomforts) is getting severe enough to make it difficult to function. Like you, LW, I never felt particularly like one gender or another. I knew I felt really horrible in a lot of situations in which I was coded as a woman, or reminded that I have female reproductive organs. I don’t know about you, but the most common advice being “you are whatever you feel is right” has never been particularly helpful for me, even if it’s true. I don’t KNOW what I feel is right (well, okay, I guess I do? It is just confusing and probably not a physical possibility? And there is a ton of self doubt mixed in there still?), and I don’t know how I’m supposed to find out.

    I don’t have any answers for you – I still struggle with dismissing it as a valid identity for myself – but I’m glad that your mom is supportive and you have resources available for you.

    Good luck.

  23. Carmilla said:

    Since I don’t think anyone’s linked it yet, I just wanna say check out Genderfork to see a many, many awesome people and the huge variety of genders and gender expressions that are out there.

  24. nonny said:

    I agree with all the commenters who are telling you to play with your body and presentation. Wear different things around the house/your room. Adjust your body into your clothes in different ways. Grow your hair out, if you like, or cut it short, or style it in different ways. How does it make you feel? Since you don’t seem to be in extreme distress, take the time to play around and figure out how these different things make you feel.

    It took me a long time to realize that I was trans, since I was raised as a girl by feminist parents, there was very little policing of my clothing and presentation, and so my gender presentation has been relatively masculine since I was small. It took me until much later to realize how much of a problem I had with my body—and then I had to deal with some stupid internal narratives about how transition was betraying the cause. For me, body and gender operated as two very different things; for some people the opposite is true.

    It sounds like you’ve got good family support and you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, so I think you’ll be fine no matter if or where you end up on the trans* universe. Have fun!

  25. I think it’s pretty normal to be curious/confused/attracted to the idea of playing around with gender/etc at any age, but especially as a teenager. When I was around fifteen or sixteen I experimented with dressing as a guy (I didn’t remotely pass, but that isn’t the point). It felt good to do it. I now (at the ~advanced age of 22) identify mostly as a cis woman, but presentation on the femme to butch spectrum varies day to day. I, like you, grew up in a very liberal environment with parents who have always accepted my queerness. So perhaps part of it is a natural receptiveness to the idea.

    You sound like you’re very introspective and reflective, Dazed, and I think that’s a huge advantage for you, even if it makes you that much more aware of all the grey areas. You’re already doing some serious thinking, and that’s the most important part of figuring out who you are (right now) and who you might want to be (someday). I definitely agree with the idea that you should look for the right therapist/counselor, someone with expertise who you can bounce ideas off of.

    Best of luck!

  26. Kaz said:

    So as mentioned above, I id as nonbinary – somewhere in between female and neutrois. I actually ironically spent ages thinking I was sort of “very cis”, because I had a strong internal sense of myself as Not Male, and made the “not male =/= female, why am I assuming I’m female?” jump when I was twenty-four.

    I’m going to echo some of the advice that’s already been given… focus on the positives, if you will, rather than the negatives. Don’t wonder if you’re dysphoric enough, if you’re uncomfortable enough in your assigned gender, if your desired presentation is far enough away from your assigned gender’s, and so on and so forth. That way lie horrible neverending spirals of “I am not miserable enough to be trans*”. I say this from experience! In fact, the whole question of “am I trans* or am I cis?” is one I found pretty unhelpful.

    Instead, focus on what makes you happy and comfortable. What kind of presentation do you like? What pronouns are you most comfortable with? What sort of body do you want? Where do you think you would be happiest in terms of gender expression? It’s not about “are you miserable enough in your assigned gender/expression/etc.” or “do you tick enough Trans* Boxes”, it’s about “which gender/expression/etc. is best for you?”. I’d say I’m semi-comfortable in my assigned gender and the presentation I have, my body issues run more along the lines of “weird dissonant feelings” than “dysphoria”, I’m most likely never going to socially transition or have any form of surgery, I am no one’s idea of a trans* person… but at the end of the day, I’m still not cis. I take ze over she, I bind on occasion and generally spend ten minutes beaming at myself in the mirror whenever I do, and above all I do not consider myself a woman and cannot apply that word to myself in my head. That’s what counts.

    Oh yeah, and – don’t expect to have all the answers straight away, don’t be surprised if you think you find the answers and it changes on you, don’t be surprised if there are periods where you just go “oh god why is this happening I want to stop thinking about this now”. (True story: on a nonbinary forum I participate on, my pronoun box was “ohgodwhy” for the longest time. ^^) This is really difficult stuff to work through, and I wish you the best of luck.

    I also hope you find a good community near you – I’ve been going to my LGBT society’s trans* events for a while, and they have been fantastic and made me feel much less alone. Depending on the sort of events going on, you may also have a safe space for some experimenting – I managed to participate in a drag king workshop this way, for instance. Just be careful and run for the hills at the first sight of “in order to be trans* you must be/do X”!

    • Thanks for the “it’s ok to table the question” comment. This question/thread has kind of started me on “well, I’m pretty sure I’m cis (except for the things that don’t quite fit, but would they fit again if I stopped thinking about them?)” trains of thought, not always comfortably, and reminders that I might be asking the wrong questions at the moment are welcome.

  27. T.J. said:

    I’m a FTM (female-to-male) transsexual, but a lot of the same sort of gender questioning-ness applies.

    How/when did you first question your assigned gender and know that you should explore a change?
    Well, in like real terms of gender and changing it, I was about 15 when I discovered that FTMs even existed. Realistically, pretty much my whole life was spent trying to figure out where I was in terms of gender and bucking up against gender norms. I was (and am, tbh) really bull-headed, so for the most part it was just frustration on the part of other people, but especially when I started transitioning hormonally, things really started making sense for me in who I wanted to be, what I like, and that sort of thing.

    What were some of the steps in the early stages of figuring it out that helped you or were particularly positive?

    I was actually identifying as a “butch lesbian” when I discovered FTMs existed, which was generally accepted in my world and family at that time, so I was already dressing exclusively in mens clothing, cut my hair short, etc. Then I started just kind of exploring what being trans meant, and what were some common experiences – many of which I shared. I was going to driver’s ed at a high school that I didn’t attend, so I decided to bind my chest, refer to myself as male with a male name, and just generally think of myself as a guy, and I sort of made a promise to myself that I would do that for a month and then come back and revisit the idea and see how I felt, and if I wanted to continue.

    Where did you go for information and support? (Websites, organizations, books?)
    The FTM resources are way different than the MTF ones, but that should actually be more to your advantage – I’d just Google and look into things. If your local library has books on it, or there’s a queer bookstore around, or maybe even an LGBT community center or support group, I’d encourage looking into those sorts of things.

    Was there any kind of deciding moment where you knew for sure that you should transition (or not transition)?
    Definitely when I came to revisit after just thinking of myself as a guy for a month, it was like yes, this is a world of being more comfortable in my skin. I still had a lot of problems going on, but it felt good.

    What’s one thing you learned from your own experiences that you wish you could help this LW understand?
    Um, well, I mean obviously – even if it is your identity ultimately – it won’t solve all your problems, but I think you’re pretty aware of that. If you do medically transition, it’s exciting and strange, and you will likely have a full spectrum of awesome and horrible experiences about it. You’ll also learn a lot of things, chief among them is that changing your gender simultaneously changes absolutely everything and absolutely nothing at the same time, lol. I don’t think there’s anyone who really does take medical transition that lightly, but it’s really something you either feel you need to do or something that you simply do not need to do. So, you know, explore – I highly encourage The Cap’s “play around.” There are also a lot of gender identities in between man and woman, and pretty much everyone falls somewhere between the two.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks so much for this. Thanks so much to everyone for being so awesome and helpful in this thread.

  28. hayley said:

    LW,

    I’m going to tell you something I wish someone had told me earlier: if you decide to transition, you are going to be beautiful. Or hot. Or queerpunk. Or butch. You will be able to occupy the gender spaces that feel comfortable to you, whatever they are. It’s okay to want people to see you as just a girl, uncomplicated, un-hyphenated. And that will happen. You will be able to have relationships that feel right. You will be able to have a body that feels right.

    I’m telling you this because I put off transition for longer than I wanted to because honestly, I was terrified of occupying that space in-between. And not just during transition. The image of trans women that you get from pop culture is not exactly a nice one (though that’s changing), and I was terrified of becoming that. I was afraid of being seen as a guy in a dress, forever. That fear―that person―seems so far away now that the words are very odd to type.

    So: It’s okay to want to be however you want to be. And it will happen, and you will be beautiful.

    And along these lines: it’s okay if you don’t want to play with gender right now. It’s also okay if you do! If you want to go out presenting as a girl, just present as a girl in a safe space, try on androgyny, all those things are awesome. But if you don’t, you don’t have to. That’s okay. My gender presentation is actually pretty punky and increasingly butch now, but I’m only comfortable presenting that way because I feel really solid in my underlying gender presentation. That took time.

    I had a lot of friends supporting me along the way. Also, I had the Internet! There are a lot of amazing trans women writing amazing things on here, it turns out. Here’s one piece that I still read occasionally, to remind myself (warning, it’s kindof intense) http://takingsteps.blogspot.com/2009/03/fair.html .

    Some concrete things about transition: when you think you want to be on hormones, get on hormones. Many women and questioning people start on an androgen blocker to see how they feel―that stops the effects of testosterone, but doesn’t produce huge bodily changes. (Also, the current endo society standard of care allows for prescribing drugs that stop puberty to pre-pubescent trans and questioning people to give them some time to decide. I don’t know if treatments like that are an option for you, but they might be. Ask, but also do some research. Doctors and even endocrinologists are often not up trans medicine.)

    If you’re not sure, by all means talk to a therapist who knows their shit. I didn’t see a therapist at all, because I was terrified of them. I mean, what if they decide I’m not trans? Gasp! Except, as a friend recently pointed out, therapists can’t decide you’re not trans. They can say they’re not comfortable diagnosing GID. They can refuse to write letters. And if they do that? You can go see another therapist. That’s okay. They can’t put a black cis mark in your permanent record. And with most therapists, good therapists, that won’t be an issue―their goal will be in helping you figure out what’s best for you.

    If you want to talk more, feel free to email me any time. My username is hayley, and the domain is queerlyamorous dot org.

  29. I’m not going to be very original here, possibly because I didn’t read all the comments (apologies! All the ones I’ve read, about half of them, were fantastic advice).

    Let me start by saying the Captain’s advice is good, and you should heed it. Please bear in mind that, wherever you are, it will be difficult to find a counsellor or therapist that is good with trans people as well as affordable. For that matter, I’d recommend trying to contact the local LGBTQ centre, if there is one, or any local area support groups. Social media may be able to help you out, tumblr in particular is full of really helpful, compassionate trans* people and allies.

    Here’s a decent directory of trans tumblrs: http://transdirectory.tumblr.com/

    I want to second what everyone else says: There is no ‘right’ way to be who you are. In a way it’s great and liberating, you can find out what fits you best! On the other hand it can be really scary, you know? I know it has been for me. I’m a trans woman who is not traditionally feminine. I am queer, and I identified strongly with the many kickass feminist cis women around me. Even with all their support, they weren’t trans, and thus couldn’t advise me or help me with some trans specific things. Most of the trans women I used to know were nothing like me.

    Eventually I did find people who were like me, but even after knowing people who match my experiences so much, I’ve realised everything is still so so unique. I guess my advice is: Don’t look for people with the same history as you, because that barely ever exists. Rather, look for people who are up for supporting you and helping you figure out what you need. But never settle for people who tell you there is only the one way to do things, or that it is their way or the highway, or that ‘if you don’t do X then you’re not a real woman/genderqueer/etcetcetc’.

    Go with the people who want to cherish you and see you grow, not the ones that want to constrict you into something you’re not.

    And remember: While some discomfort and anxiety is normal at the stage of self-discovery, try to keep yourself safe. Taking risks is one thing, facing your fears also. But don’t feel like you always have to do that. It’s a complex trade-off, but hopefully with support (and having a cool mom helps TONS believe me) you’ll get there.

    Massive hugs/love/solidarity from Ireland,

    Ariel Silvera

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