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“You Never Showed Any Signs As A Kid…”
The transgender experience is far from universal. Here's one perspective of my own.
My 10th grade homeroom was my choir class. We were nearing the end of the school year, so we had already performed our spring concert. What for most of the year had been a room full of unison voices was now something of a do-what-you-want study hall. Time that was once spent perfecting pitch was now used to play card games, finish past-due homework, and shoot the shit with our peers. It was a very nice time of the year for a young “boy” like myself, especially as I wasn’t the type to stress about finals.
This was finally a point in my life where friends weren’t as hard to come by. I was starting to come into some version of myself that was actually likable, and so I could seek out a group of acquaintances and join in whatever activity they were doing without being shooed away. I came to find that I didn’t relate particularly well to the guys in the class; their conversations were always so brutish and sexual and immature.
I distinctly remember a particular time that I joined a group of girls in the corner of the room to play UNO and talk, for some reason, about the existence of a God (or lack thereof). That sort of thing was much more my speed.
It turns out this was a recurring theme. I never enjoyed anything traditionally “masculine,” be it hard labor or contact sports or the more crass humor that I felt was lowbrow. My family believed it was a combination of two major factors: (1) as someone on The Spectrum®, I had more of an affinity to brain-based work than physical things, and (2) I also had a higher level of emotional intelligence than those around, likely for the same reason. Girls’ brains tended to mature faster in that regard, so I likely preferred time around them because they were actually intellectually engaging.
My family was right, I had assumed. This was all just autism. I can’t think of anything more that would make me that way. So I pushed it down and went about my days.
My girlfriend in college lived halfway across the state. I was going to school in Johnstown, PA, whereas she lived in eastern PA and was studying biology at Juniata College. It was a long haul, but she was a wonderful, sweet, and affectionate person (and still is, based on my more recent interactions with her). She was very well worth the drive.
Her friend group largely consisted of a subsection of the queer community at her college. At first, I felt very at home with this group of people, though I couldn’t place exactly why. They just seemed more interesting, more insightful, more…relatable than others I had met.
This started to fall apart when I started to show childlike joy and a touch of femininity. I was the token cishet white boy of the group, and I guess there was some aspect of their worldviews that expected me to act the part. They seemed to think that I should be stoic and mildly toxic like all the other men in their lives.
So, they found it funny when I wore a dandelion crown at their spring festival, whereas I felt cute and oddly at home. My girlfriend started to feel alienated from this group as she too was targeted as a token cishet. She was cast out from the group when she called an event with “queer” in the name by its name. Why they used a name that cishet people shouldn’t say is beyond me, but it was somehow her fault.
In hindsight I find it so strange that the very group of people that were supposed to pride themselves on inclusivity, those who were more often the subject of such gatekeeping…were now doing exactly that to two others. We wanted to explore our own identities in ways they already had, and they seemed to take exception to that, as though we were trying to appropriate their culture.
When my “wife” said she might be interested in looking into polyamory, I was more than open to the idea. It was a few years into our relationship, and it was starting to occur to me that being married young at 21, never allowed to explore other people and romantic/sexual experiences, just wasn’t a life I could imagine. It was also only in the past few weeks that “she” had shown me gay porn, and I found that I wasn’t exactly turned off by it…so I would have no issue being intimate with someone masc-presenting if that’s who we found.
And yes, I do mean “we.” Like many young, dumb, first time explorers of non-monogamy, we hadn’t considered the strength of an existing dynamic between us, and how it would affect our relationship with someone new…but that’s an article for another time.
The person we found was a transmasc enby who lived just outside the Detroit area. This was the first trans person to whom I’d had any real long-term, regular exposure. Up until this point, with my backwoods upbringing, I’d had no idea that HRT was a thing. I didn’t know that there were plenty of trans people who never went under the knife, nor had any desire to.
It was also around this time that my “wife” had started dressing me and putting makeup on me to see how I would feel about it. I had just learned I was bisexual, so why not start breaking gender norms and see what I like and what style works for me? I was, at that point, fairly confident that I was a “femboy.”
When these two things combined — my affinity for a feminine appearance combined with my discovery of actual trans healthcare — everything clicked. I got along better with the girls in my class because I was one. I related to the LGBTQ+ group at my girlfriend’s college because I was one of them.
I’ve since pointed out all these early signs to the people in my life, and it all makes so much more sense to them and me. These are only the most poignant examples out of myriad ways in which I expressed my trans-ness before I ever had the language for it.
My ex girlfriend has since come out to me as asexual, specifically demisexual. She realized that her friend group’s toxic queer gatekeeping prevented her from exploring that aspect of herself, and made her fear that coming out to them would be met with accusations of trying to fit in. She felt pressured to act allosexual because any presentation of the contrary would be met with suspicion from her “real” queer friends, in addition to the others in her life.
My “wife” is my husband now, in case the scare quotes throughout the article didn’t make it obvious. He came out to me a few months after I started transitioning.
And our mutual lover from Detroit no longer talks to either of us. I don’t blame them, and I only hope that they’re in a much more equal and stable relationship than me and my husband’s younger selves can provide.
There are three takeaways I want to provide from this story:
1. Educate yourself on gender identity and “queerness.” Assuming that your kid is the same as you and not exploring other possibilities can result in a lot of confusion for them.
2. Being part of a marginalized group does not preclude you from needing to be welcoming to others who are still on their journeys. Queerness isn’t something to protect and hold from others you see as less worthy, but something to welcome others into and help them embrace.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about yourself. Share your experiences. You’d be surprised who can give you insight into yourself. Others may know more about you than you do. █