Original photo by MarjoleinART-Stock
Throughout this piece I use certain terms interchangeably, like “gender” and “sex”. I tried to be more accurate at first, but then decided fuck it, our language sucks, I’m just going to use whatever feels right at the time. For a more detailed deconstruction of gender, sex, and the way I actually define myself, check out the piece Disowning Labels in my chapbook, Bite. TLDR; I don’t actually have a gender, and for me transition is about fixing body dysphoria. I wish I had better words to use in the title. /pedantry
Oh and sorry to those who arrived via Google. This post doesn’t contain a series of photos showing my progress through transition. You’ll have to look elsewhere for that. /unnecessaryapology
There are many trans narratives—the stories of how a person comes to know they are trans. There is no one single way we figure outselves out. Some know from early childhood, some figure it out later in life. Some transition from one binary gender to another. Some are one gender their whole life, just not the one people assigned to them. Some change their bodies, some don’t. It’s complicated.
The media, however, likes to portray a “standard narrative” of transness. The idea is that “real” transsexuals always know their gender from a very young age, always exhibit signs of being normative members of that gender, and later get “the operation” to join the ranks of the so-called “opposite” sex. My own narrative matches the mainstream one in a few superficial ways, but differs from it greatly in others.
Due to my PTSD, I often have vivid flashbacks of memories that are “frozen in time”. I experience them as if they are happening in the present. I have relived many of my earliest memories this way. These early memories are from when I was a pre-verbal child, younger than two years old. My young age here is important—it means I had not yet learned about sexual anatomy, nor had I been taught gender norms. I had not yet finished the process of separating the internal world of the mind from the external world. I did not know how to separate the self from the other. Because of this, I experienced my body through my innate, internal sense of self, as opposed to experiencing it through my physical senses and then rationalizing that sensory input with my conscious mind.
There are many trans narratives—the stories of how a person comes to know they are trans. There is no one single way we figure ourselves out.
My first memories, then, are of being female. I use this term loosely, because I don’t subscribe to the binary model of sex. I don’t believe “female” has any consistent relevance to how people experience their bodies. When I say “female”, what I mean is that I experienced my body as having internal sexual anatomy instead of external. In my memories from this period I do not have a penis at all. In reality, of course, I did, but I was not aware of it.
Because I was operating on my internal sense of self, it is inaccurate to say I “believed” my body had female anatomy, or to say I felt my body “should” have female anatomy. My body was just female, period.
I didn’t remain in that state forever, though. As I aged, I became aware of the physical reality of my body. Around age three I figured out I had a penis. I tried to explain this sudden change by saying “girls have penises too, they’re just tucked inside.” (Ironically that’s somewhat true. The tissue that forms into the penis is the same tissue that can also become a clitoris, the structure of which is mostly internal.)
Around age four I became aware of the social concept of gender and the meaning others placed on my body. Around the same time, I was abused in ways that explicitly commented on my body. I rationalized this perfect storm of reality-changing events as an external force “changing me into a boy”. It made me very angry. It felt like my body and my family had betrayed me. This marked the beginning of a period where people reinforced a damaging message: “What you experience isn’t real.” My abusers told me the rape wasn’t abuse. The other people in my life told me indirectly, without even realizing it, that my self-perception as a girl was wrong. Everybody said they did these hurtful things because they loved me.
After this onslaught of invalidation, I doubted every thought in my head. Reality became fantasy; fantasy became reality. The part of me who knew she was female shrank smaller and smaller. She encased herself in a protective bubble and went into hiding. We fractured into several pieces, one of whom was a boy facade. The boy fronter served several purposes: One, since he saw himself as a boy, he stopped relating to our rapists as a girl, which they found less attractive. Two, he remained separate from the crushing pain of dysphoria and others’ disbelief about who I really was. Over time he learned how to “act like a boy”. By the time we reached high school, he had completely forgotten about that little girl, and achieved complete denial about being female. Since it was primarily the female part of us that endured the abuse, he also forgot all about the rape.
This was an extreme alienation from the self, and it was inherently unstable. Cracks began to form. In the later years of high school, the boy fronter began to question his gender and his sexuality. A year out of high school, he reconnected with that little child locked away in a bubble. She reappeared seemingly out of nowhere as a crying little girl. A month or so later, “he” came out as a girl.
My abusers told me the rape wasn’t abuse. The other people in my life told me […] that my self-perception as a girl was wrong. Everybody said they did these hurtful things because they loved me.
The next decade was a painful, arduous process of re-remembering my own past. The boy fronter had one version of the past, our core had a very different version. There were countless other fragments who held onto repressed traumatic memories, complicating the situation further. Every memory was separated from temporal context. They lacked a space or a time. After a lot of hard work, though, I have constructed a story that fits these memories together as a whole.
Much of this story is experiential and lacks objective fact to tie it down. That does not matter. The process of healing is foremost about easing emotional pain, and emotional pain does not care about objective fact. Even though my body stayed the same throughout my childhood, I still felt betrayed and hurt when society “turned me into a boy”. I still feel discomfort from dysphoria. I still feel confused by how my body could have possibly started off female and then changed to male, even though it didn’t do that physically.
So, to recap, in very loose terms: I was born a girl. Then something happened to turn me into a boy. I pretended to be a boy until I forgot I had ever been a girl. Then I remembered and went back to being a girl, except my body was stuck being a boy body. I changed it to be more like it should be, but it’s not quite there yet. This is my gender timeline. To most people it probably doesn’t make sense. But it is my lived reality.