Are you sure?

May 5, 2011 § 7 Comments

If I had a shiny pound for every time a cis person has asked me that about being trans I would finally be able to live my childhood dream -

Fuck socialism - this feels so good!

Honestly, that much money.

And it isn’t just the pain and aggravation that the question causes. It’s the way in which it shapes the trans narrative as as whole, and the internal experiences of trans people as we try to live up to that narrative “perfection”.

So here’s how it should go in the eyes of many cis people: I knew that I was a little boy from the moment I could articulate the words ‘boy’ and ‘girl’. I played with typically “boyish” toys, and insisted on having my hair cropped. I was distraught over my lack of a penis and told the world to treat me as a boy. And the minute I found out about the possibility of transitioning I did it without a second thought, or a glance back.

I’m sure there are people who have lived that story. But, in the interests of balance, here’s what actually happened. I was blithely uninterested in the supposed differences between ‘girls’ and ‘boys’. I didn’t like being called a girl, but I did like pretty dresses and sparkly glittery pink things. I also liked getting into fights in the playground, and playing adventurous rough and tumble kinds of games, and proving that I was stronger and tougher than any boy in my class. I was at home in my body until puberty hit and then it became horrendously, traumatically wrong. I wished every night that I would wake up the next morning in the right, “masculine” body, but was terrified of physical transitioning because I didn’t want to spend my life consigned to the ‘freak’s corner’. Yet the whole genitalia issue never bothered me. Coming out as trans was well, not easy, but manageable. Doing something about it was not. I hated being seen as a beautiful woman – it made me want to rip my own skin off –  but I liked the privilege and approval that came with that interpretation. I knew that I was going to have top surgery from the moment I heard about it. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. That didn’t mean I didn’t question myself over and over again:

How do I know I’m right?

What if this is just a symptom of a mental condition?

Am I secretly an evil misogynist?

Wouldn’t it just be easier to put up and shut up?

What if nobody will ever love me again?

Did those questions mean that I was somehow confused, or mistaken, or ill? No, but it could appear that way in the eyes of people looking to discredit trans experiences. And, given how fragile our sense of confidence in our trans natures can be, who wants to give the naysayers a way in?

But it worries me that by toeing the ‘born this way/no doubts ever’ line we’re setting an impossible standard to those just questioning/realising/setting sail. And we’re heaping shame upon those who, like myself, transition in ways other than along a strict binary.

So, two points for those who are caught up in worrying about worrying, or are frightened to admit that they’ve ever had a long dark night of the soul.

Firstly – are trans people superhuman? Well, yes, obviously we are (and we have the swanky costumes to prove it) – but, honestly – why are earth are we expected to be utterly confident, sure and serene when the rest of humanity lurches along in a state of constant angst and neurotic navel-gazing? Doubt is normal. It’s GOOD to question yourself. And questioning yourself into a state of misery is one of the things that people do best. I’m happy to announce that my mother is the best mother who ever existed (and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise) – it didn’t stop her from being overwhelmed with fear after having me, terrified that she wasn’t up for the job and convinced that she would do everything wrong. Those fears were groundless. But having them was, sadly, a necessary psychological step to go through. I don’t know of any musician, regardless of how strongly they’ve been called to the vocation, who hasn’t had times of “what the fuck am I doing, oh god it’s all so pointless, oh what, what have I done?”. We have doubts about our faiths, our relationships, our careers, our politics – so why would our gender identities be any different?

Secondly – everyone, have a nice sit down and cut yourselves some slack. A cup of coffee would help, I’m sure. Being trans doesn’t negate being raised in a profoundly transphobic society. We ate up that bigotry along with everybody else. Learning that trans people are sick, wrong, confused, disgusting – is it any wonder we’d have our doubts about being what we’ve been taught to despise (or pity, at best)?  You can’t unlearn it in a day. But, gradually, you can challenge it, and change the way you view yourself, and others around you.

Wrestling your fears and doubts is a necessary part of transitioning. We’d all be wiser people if we’d just admit to that. Happier too.

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§ 7 Responses to Are you sure?

  • Fantastic post! :) Thank you.

  • James says:

    Thank you so much, CN. May I repost this on tumblr with a credited source / link back to you here?

  • Tim says:

    It’s always difficult to strike the right balance between presenting a coherent, simplistic, and reassuring front to those we need to win over, and acknowledging the contradictions and complexity and weirdness inherent in being trans (or cis, or anything else).

    As someone who does fit the prescribed narrative fairly well, I try to avoid making those calls without consulting someone who doesn’t. It’s all too easy to cross the line between practical and callous when you aren’t the one being marginalised.

    Great post, as usual.

  • maddox says:

    Of course, because the minute we are born we know, without a doubt, that we’ll want to grow up to be mechanical engineers with a wife, two kids, a brown dog and a red house.

    Thanks for writing this. I try to emphasize, especially to younger/emerging transpeople, that being confused is more than OK, that it’s actually a good thing to question yourself, and that discovery is more than just hitting the right answer on your first try.

  • owanderer says:

    Whenever I’m asked “Are you sure?” it reminds of this whole real/fake dichotomy that comes along with being trans. Obviously I’m sure, would I be telling you otherwise?

    Of course, I have my doubts on occasion but I get through them. It’s everyone else that seems to be wondering about the realness of my person and what fake actions or feelings could be going on.

    I have no idea what they’re talking about. My birth name and all that I had to appear to be was fake. The boy that I am feels more real than anything else I’ve ever done.

    Sure I might wonder if hormones or surgery is a good idea but doubt lets me check in with myself to make sure I’m going in the right direction. Doubt is good! I would just really appreciate it if my identity was taken more seriously.

    I’m quite sure of my gender identity, thanks. Are you?

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