I opened my passport for the first time in years, and I found myself looking at someone else. The photo staring back at me, that young boy with short hair and acne, might have my same brown eyes, but from where I sat, he was a stranger. I paused when looking at him, staring into those unblinking eyes, and wondered what he’d think of me now. He and this person, me, differ in so many ways, yet one day he will become them. Transgender journeys are complex by nature, so complex I don’t know if the person I once was could even understand who I am, and who I plan to become.
How then can I ever fully communicate the experience of Transness to someone else?
I currently identify as Non-Binary, though through my exploration of gender and the self I’ve realized that I am a Transwoman, a term which I will publicly use after physical transition. However, don’t necessarily apply this specific identity system to other Trans people. A person may identify as simply Non-Binary or may choose to identify as binary Transgender without any physical changes, and both are legitimate and valuable. Before I can really share my own story, I have to make clear that Trans people, no matter their own self-philosophy, are who they say they are. Do not use one Trans experience to gatekeep another.
In some ways, it makes the most sense to start at the end of the story, rather than the beginning. I, a college student, came out to my parents around half a year ago as questioning my gender, and a couple of months ago clarified my position to them as a Transwoman wanting to transition. My family is Christian, and in between reminding me of Jesus’s endless love while also telling me that they cannot support transition, my mother posed an interesting question. She asked, “what makes you think you’re a woman?”
That question is at the heart of most transphobia, stemming from either ignorance, bigotry or both. But also, it’s been the question I’ve wrestled with my whole life.
I could answer it by saying I always wanted to be friends with the girls, to be included in what they did, and be one of them, but many cisgender people also prefer friends of the opposite gender.
I could answer it by saying I can find no version of masculinity that I am comfortable with, despite seeing healthy examples around me, but many cisgender men do not fit into masculinity either.
I could answer it by saying my gendered body causes me distress, an experience medically called gender dysphoria, but many Trans people don’t experience dysphoria.
There are many other examples like this, but no external thing or set of things make me who I am, it is something intrinsic to myself. I know I am a Transwoman. It’s not a feeling, emotion, or belief, it is simply a fact of my existence. I am, fundamentally, the person I know myself to be.
To this, my parents would retort that God gave us our bodies and that we are made in his image, and therefore we should let our bodies determine gender, not our minds.
To this, Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (a fringe pseudo-feminist hate movement) would retort that a man can never be a woman, since he lacks a woman’s experiences.
To this, conservatives would retort that biological sex and gender are the same, (despite science’s evidence to the contrary) and state that a man cannot become a woman.
I could explain the flaws of each, saying that God could’ve created Trans bodies, that no two women share the same experiences and Transwomen do not pretend to be identical to Ciswomen, and that biology, psychology, medicine and philosophy empirically establish Transness as valid, good and normal. Those groups would all without a doubt doubtless respond with another argument, but that’s not the point.
The point is that I made all these arguments to myself for years, trying to push down my own transness.
When I was young, I believed in my parent’s religion, and so I assumed that I was made in the image of God. Once I became disillusioned with the Church, seeing its flaws, I leaned into my ignorance and assumed that a man could never really become a woman. Once I did my research and learned the actual science, I worried that I might be the one “transtrender”, not really trans because I didn’t check off all the boxes of experiences I thought were required. It took me years to unlearn my own misconceptions, years to learn to accept myself. I needed to find a philosophy of the world that actually fit with the truth about me.
But I did. I found queer community in high school by switching to theatre, and I found more in college. I discovered “breadtube”; the leftist side of YouTube where videos actually used science and research to argue for coherent points and positions. I found language for my feelings and got a space in which to express them. With time, truth, healing and patience, I succeeded in including myself in my own philosophy.
I’m now at the major turning point.
I am out to everyone in my life and plan to start transitioning as soon as finances allow. My family intends to let nothing change in our relationship, though they will not support my transition, so I have to fund it myself, but at least I still have a home and college. In many ways, I am terrified for what comes next, unsure of what lies around the corner, but I’m also so ready.
We often overlook the good side of Transness. Media focuses on the pain, but so much of it is beautiful and wonderful. If you are struggling with any of the ideas that I used against myself, know that it gets better. Transmasc, Transfemme, Gender-Nonconforming, or even Detransitioning after realizing it wasn’t really right for you, know that you all are loved, needed and valuable. Our journeys to understanding ourselves are not linear or identical, but they are all important. I’ve listed below a variety of resources on Trans- and Gender-related topics, all of which I, and others, have vetted and deemed credible. Hopefully, they help you as they helped me.
Useful Primers on Trans Issues/Help Resources:
The Human Rights Campaign explains Christianity and Transness
Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Transgender Primers
National Center for Transgender Equality Transgender Resources
The Trevor Project (Transgender Non-Profit) Transgender Resources
ContraPoints, a Trans-centered channel by Trans Philosopher Natalie Wynn
Samantha Lux, an approachable and friendly Trans Creator with a mix of Trans-related videos
Riley J. Dennis, a high-quality Trans Video Essayist with a strong set of Trans-related videos
Scientific Findings on Transness:
Cornell’s review of all peer-reviewed literature on Medical Transition (includes 55 papers)
Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences paper on young Trans-children
Respected Philosophical Commentary on Transness:
Philosopher Talia Mae Bettcher (notable essay)
Philosopher Judith Butler (Gender Trouble)