The picture that accompanies this post was taken when I was two. Even then I knew that I was supposed to be a boy. I couldn’t express complex ideas about gender identity, but I knew looking at my parents that I was supposed to be like my father, not like my mother.
I have a hard time explaining to non-transgender people how I knew I was male from the start; I just did. I sometimes ask them, “How do you know you’re male or female?” Often, they go quiet and look stumped, because they can’t answer it either. Most people seem to just know, right? You can’t pinpoint what makes you feel that way or when exactly you realized it, can you? You likely always just knew.
Trying to explain what it feels like to be transgender is like trying to explain what it feels like to have green or brown eyes — it’s an essential part of who we are, but not something we can explain. If you’ve never lived another life, you have nothing to compare it to. The closest short-hand explanation tends to be “trapped in the wrong body,” which, for me, isn’t totally accurate.
I always felt comfortable with my pre-pubescent body even if I did wish that I had the same genitalia as the other men in the family. I enjoyed how strong I was and how fast I could run. When I hit puberty, I didn’t necessarily feel trapped in the wrong body, but rather betrayed by my own. I was intensely uncomfortable with having breasts and hips and the way they made others see me.
Up until then, I was usually seen as a boy and could move about the world with freedom and confidence. When breasts entered the picture, so did constant reminders that no one saw me as I saw myself. There was unwanted attention from boys, and even worse, older men who had no business looking at a child the way they looked at me. Having a period reminded me every month that the whole world no longer saw a boy when they saw me.
I became completely detached from my physical being. I could not take joy in my body anymore and I certainly couldn’t enjoy other people’s interest in my body. When I became an adult, sex held little pleasure for me because I had such an aversion to the female body I occupied.
My kiddo is biologically male, but when kids ask him if he's a boy or girl, he says, "I'm me. I'm a person." Kids, however,... Read more
Being raised in the 1970s and 1980s, no one talked about transgender people; or if they did, it was to make jokes or express disgust. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what I was feeling when I was a child and by the time I did, it had been ingrained in me that my very being was shameful and that I was an abomination.
While my father supports and loves me as his child, he is of a different generation. He does not understand what is going on even though he accepts me. He blames himself and wonders if I would have turned out differently if he had been stricter about not letting me wear boys’ clothes or participate in “boy” activities; he thinks if he had done something differently, I might have grown up to be happy as a woman. I don’t know how to explain to him that that isn’t the case. I can tell him, but I don’t think I can convince him. I was born this way and there is nothing he or anyone else could have done to change it.
When people ask how a child in first grade could possibly know they are transgender and speculate that the parents have done something to make the child feel this way, I boil inside. Not every trans* person knew early on, but the majority do. Many suffer in similar ways as I did. Had I had the knowledge to express what I was going through, had my parents had the understanding of what it means to be transgender and the possible ways of living with it, maybe a lot of that suffering could have been avoided.
My parents never suggested to me that I was a boy. They did the opposite. My mother tried in vain to wrestle me into dresses when I was a toddler and elementary school student. My Aunt Liliane had retired from a swanky department store and part of her retirement package was boxes of cosmetics and perfume samples sent to her each season. When she made her snowbird visit each year, she and my mother ganged up on me and played “makeover.” They delighted in trying to determine if I was an “autumn” and worked evil magic in the form of bobby pins and Dippity Do. It was like some horrible B-movie: Teenybopper Frankenstein.
My sisters kept trying to “normalize” me by suggesting I use Sun-In and try cutting my shorts even shorter or wearing a bikini.
None of it worked.
As a child, I tore off the dresses and dug the jeans and t-shirts out of wherever my mother had hidden them. I insisted on keeping my hair short and on introducing myself with a boy’s name to new people. I played football, made bike ramps and tree forts, and wandered in the woods.
They broke before I did. Everyone eventually left me alone. Sure, they dropped the occasional hint about how I’d look so much better if I would just put on a little makeup or that boys would notice me if I wore tighter tops, etc., but they let me be a “tomboy.”
I pushed my own feelings of masculinity down and ignored them; I pushed my true feelings down until I was totally numb.
Even though I say they broke, I also did. As I grew up, I knew my family wanted me to be more womanly. They wanted me to get married and have children and be like everybody else. I didn’t want to bring them embarrassment or shame. Their feelings became more important than my own.
I pushed my own feelings of masculinity down and ignored them; I pushed my true feelings down until I was totally numb. On the surface, I was what everyone told me I was; I got married, had children, did what I was told. And, except for the children, I was miserable. I had denied myself–the self I had known since before I could speak–my male self–to make everyone else happy and comfortable.
But I knew. I knew I was male even when I was married to another man. I knew I was male when I wrote my honor’s thesis in college. I knew I was male when I was in a garage band in high school. I knew I was male when puberty hit and I had a crush on the girl a couple streets over. I knew I was male when I lugged my Hot Wheels collection around in elementary school. I knew I was male when I told my kindergarten teacher my name was “Gary.” I knew I was male before I knew how to say the word “boy.”
I always knew.
Comments on I’ve known I was transgender since age 2
Thanks so much for sharing this 🙂
Thank you for taking the time to read this piece!
Love this! Thank you for sharing, you sound so much like my husband that I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t him.
I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Best author bio ever. 🙂
Lots of time and toil went into that.
Love this article!! It’s so sad that society keeps questioning young people on certain aspects, but then just is so nonchalant about others. Your point about knowing eye color or being cisgender is SPOT ON! I really loved this line: “I knew I was male before I knew how to say the word “boy.””
Thank you very much.
That was captivating!
As if growing up, puberty, marriage and parenting aren’t complicated enough….well written, thought-provoking, and an important story.
Thank you … and thanks, too, for letting me know about Offbeat Families in the first place.
Thank you for this post and for sharing your story. I can’t even explain what I felt for you, reading about how your mum tried to make you over, or your sisters telling you to wear clothes you were uncomfortable with. But I’m glad you’ve made it through, and are comfortable with who you are and what you want! Congratulations on making it through such a complicated time in your life.
My parents finally did just sort of let me be, but their discomfort and desire for a more traditional role for me was always under the surface. I hope things are better for younger transgender people now, but there is still a lot of misunderstanding about gender identity. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Telling life stories like this will hopefully help other parents recognize their children for who they are – as well as take away the shame/fear/confusion some families may feel as this becomes part of normal development as people. Thank you for sharing.
I hope it does help. There are some great blogs out there by parents of trans kids that are really doing a double service by documenting the family’s changes while helping people in the same situation.
Thank you for this post. I think your point about the sense of one’s gender being like one’s eye color is an especially powerful one.
Thank you. It’s really a hard thing to describe to someone who hasn’t been there.
Although our stories are different, I really appreciate that you shared yours. I really value hearing from other trans parents, and it’s hard to find good resources out there.
Incidentally, anyone who is interested, I started a new message board called Queering Rearing here: http://kerrplunk.org/queering-rearing/ If you’re a LGBTQ parent or parent-questioning or you know someone who could use a place to meet others, please check it out! (Hope this doesn’t count as pimping… I really hope this will become a valuable resource for people.)
Thank you for posting this. I am the mother of a trans child. She’s been socially living as a girl since age 4 1/2 and will be 10 this year. She’s shown me what true courage is and I love her more each day as I watch her grow up happier than she had been before living as her true self. Even her little brothers thinks she’s the best, annoying, big sister they could ever ask for.
Thank you so much for this. Although I have been friends with people who are gay and lesbian most of my life (probably all of my life, but I didn’t know it as a kid), I’ve never really understood transgender issues. Not that I claim I do now, but this has gone a long way to helping me move from simple “acceptance” to closer to “understanding”. Thank you so much for that.
I’d love to see a follow up to this that talks about your adult life. How did you come out to your husband and kids, what does life look like now, etc.
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