UPDATE: There’s now an edited version of this post online at the Huffington Post, which you can find here. This is the original unedited version, but they’re essentially the same article.
It took years to believe I was “trans enough” to call myself transgender. That’s not even an unusual story when it comes to the trans community, I know plenty of people who struggled in the same way.
Today I feel comfortable and confident saying I am a trans woman, but that wasn’t a conclusion I could reach on my own. It’s intimidating to walk into a clubhouse unless someone invites you in first.
I’ve been thinking about this all day because a story came out this morning that a trans woman is trying to police someone else’s gender, accusing them of not being “trans enough” to be transgender. I’m not going to bother linking to the story because they don’t deserve more attention. But I also want to distance what I’m saying as being just a response to that specific instance, because what I want to say now is about the sentiment behind what she said, something that affected me for years and certainly continues to affect people today.
If you’re asking yourself ‘Am I transgender?’ then this next part is for you:
If you’ve ever felt like you might be transgender, but you worry that you don’t hit the criteria, then I’m telling you now that you do.
When a person accuses someone of not being transgender, it is elitist, self-entitled, cruel-minded horse shit.
Ignore anyone that tells you there’s a checklist. There is no criteria. There is no benchmark of “you must be this trans to transition”. You are in control, you get to decide how you identify.
I used to believe the myth that to be transgender you must be absolutely miserable, suicidal even. Garbage documentaries love to force-feed the same tired narrative that trans women spend their days flipping through catalogues and crying over dresses, as if femininity is measured by how much you want to look like a 1980s Barbie doll. Meanwhile trans men are similarly held to ridiculous standards and non-binary people are erased altogether.
Together the media perpetuates a damaging fallacy that keeps a lot of us sat in denial and ignorance for years.
What finally started to help me accept the truth about myself was reading the words of trans people who intentionally spoke out against the stereotypes.
I realised things which now seem painfully obvious, but when you’re scared, lonely and disconnected from other trans folk, it’s a lot harder to learn these things.
So in the interest of helping anyone questioning their gender or asking ‘Am I transgender?’ here are some things I wish I knew back when I was in your position:
You can transition without needing to
Transition doesn’t have to be a desperate last resort. You can transition simply because you want to. Transition isn’t a sacred act only for the worthy, it’s for anyone that wants it. I’ll let you in on a secret; only trans people want to transition. Only trans people size up how difficult transition is going to be and still think it looks enticing. If you want to transition then congratulations, you’re trans.
Identity is fluid
You can try different labels for your gender. You don’t have to denounce your gender and take up another one immediately, no one will brand it into your skin. You can experiment. It’s okay to try on one identity and then later change your mind. I am a trans woman but before this I identified as genderqueer, which leads me to…
Gender isn’t binary
Non-binary gender identities exist. Being non-binary doesn’t make you any more or less trans. Gender is a huge confusing concept and it’s okay to find somewhere in that big confusing blob that feels right for you, without it being defined as wholly male or female.
There is no transition pathway
We’re told transition is a straight line, going through HRT and ending in genital surgery. This is a myth. Transition can involve anything that feels right to you. Don’t want surgery? Cool, this doesn’t make you any more or less trans. What transition entails and where it ends is up to you.
You know more about your gender than anyone else
This includes family, doctors, friends, strangers and especially other trans people. You are the ultimate authority on your gender identity and you can identify as whatever you feel is right.
Clothes only have as much meaning as you want them to have
Gender is in your head, not in the fabric you’re wearing. There is no mystical way to cut cloth which imbues a garment with special gender powers, changing the gender of the person wearing it. Personally I feel better when dressed in feminine clothes, but I’m no more or less a woman when I wear a dress than when I wear jeans. Dress in a manner that is comfortable for you. A cis woman doesn’t stop being a woman if she puts on a man’s shirt, the same is true for trans women. A trans man can wear a dress and he is no less of a man for doing so.
It’s not selfish to come out as transgender
This is only loosely related, but I think it’s important to state. Many people early in their transition, and some later too, worry that they’re being selfish by exploring their gender identity. They’re not. Your gender identity is you. If it’s taken you a long time to discover it then that’s not your fault. Society puts enormous pressure on people to not identify as transgender, it takes a lot of courage to finally explore your gender identity. That’s to be celebrated and commended.
It’s okay to disagree with other trans people
Finally, as long as what you’re saying isn’t harming anyone else, it’s okay to disagree with concepts and terms related to being trans. I know people, friends even, who will disagree with things I’ve said here, but that’s the point. Your gender identity is a very intimately personal part of you, if you disagree with someone’s perception of what being transgender means to you then that’s fine. Essentially, go your own way, just don’t be a jerk about it.
I hope the above statements are helpful to someone at some point. Because they are things I desperately needed to hear in earlier years. I think it also helps for me to remind myself of these things too. I’m still early into my transition and I certainly have plenty more to learn, but I think it’s important for me to remember that I’m transitioning for myself. If I tried to please everyone and tick every box, I’d never have gotten anywhere.
Anyway, regularly scheduled blogging should continue next time. This was just something I really needed to get out of my system today.
EDIT: So this has gotten a lot more attention than I expected! In light of that I just quickly wanted to underline that if anyone wants to talk about any of these issues then I’m more than happy to chat, or just lend a sympathetic ear. Basically, if you think you might be trans and you just need someone to talk to then I’m here. You can shoot me a message over Twitter where I’m @OhMiaGod, alternatively you can drop me an e-mail at OhMiaGod[at]gmail.com.
EDIT 2: If anyone is interested in reading a personal reflection of how I dealt with my own “trans enough” feelings and decided to transition, there’s a short piece on my new blog: Transition: “Do it Anyway”.