Even though it may not be 100% accurate lol.
The first time I can recall feeling unhappy with my social gender role, I’d have been about seven. My little sister had just begun school at the same primary as me, and I wanted to be her big brother really badly. In my seven-year-old mind, molded largely by children’s books about happy siblings going on adventures together, big brothers were there to protect their younger siblings, and – though she may well not believe this – I felt strongly protective of Sister (probably too protective, actually – I got really sad when she made friends of her own and wanted to go play with them instead of hanging around being ‘protected’ by me. But that’s a whole other problem). I felt like big sisters weren’t supposed to be like that, and I felt really awkward and confused about the whole thing.
That was an entirely social thing. I don’t think I felt any kind of physical gender dysphoria at that time in my life – in fact, I’m not sure I actually knew the difference between girls and boys at that point, except ‘grown ladies have boobies’. Now, as an adult, I can easily see that I’m not obliged to follow old-fashioned gender models from 80s children’s books. But at the time, the ‘big sibling identity crisis’ was a big deal for me. It started off a problem that I could never quite escape from.
By the time I was ten, I was making lists of reasons why it’s better to be a girl. I can’t help but feel like people who actually are female don’t need to try so hard to convince themselves…I made several of these lists, but I never really felt happy with the idea. Then, when I was about thirteen, I saw a news report about a young trans man.
I knew, immediately, that I was like that too. But by that point in my life, I had a lot of other problems going on.
I began to experience suicidal depression when I was eleven. My anxiety got to the point where I was struggling to go to school, but all the professionals my parents tried to get help from just said I was faking it to get out of lessons. I began to get extreme highs and lows of mood. I started harming myself when I was twelve, and was using a razor blade to cut myself with almost daily by the time I found out there was this thing called ‘being transgender’.
I did not need another socially unacceptable problem.
So I talked myself out of it; I told myself that if this was true then I would have been *absolutely certain* from a really young age, the way the guy on T.V. had been. I’d have screamed blue murder about being made to wear dresses and begged to have my hair cut short. This couldn’t be me. I wasn’t like this.
I pulled myself into all kinds of different shapes over the years. I told myself that outward appearances were completely irrelevant, that I voluntarily wore make-up and therefore must be a girl, that women could do whatever they wanted these days so why did it matter, that I was making things up, that I was crazy, that I just needed to stop thinking about it.
Things really came to a head when I was…what, sixteen? Just turned seventeen? I can remember it as clear as day; I was standing in line in the corridor at college, waiting for a creative writing class to start. I had my hair cut into a bob, long nails and a woolen mini-dress. I felt like I had a flashing neon sign over my head saying ‘female’, and I just couldn’t stand it for one second longer. I don’t know how I didn’t disintegrate there and then. As it was, I stood there like everything was fine, went to class…and started a really, really strict diet. The kind of ‘diet’ where you end up on a drip in hospital being weighed and having your pulse taken twice a day.
By the time I was actually getting help for anorexia, it had become a way to harm myself. But it definitely began because I just couldn’t stand those feminine curves any longer. One of my obsessions, right to the end, was getting my boobs as small as they’d possibly go. I did try to talk about gender with psychiatrists a couple of times, but they always steered away from the subject or asked questions I couldn’t answer (‘why do you feel that way?’ ‘Er…’cuz I do?’), so I quickly learnt to leave it alone.
Anorexia very almost killed me. I had a massive breakdown and it took a long, long time to recover. My body has never really recovered. I still sometimes have problems around food and weight, even now, at twenty nine. So for years I just didn’t have the spare mental space to deal with gender.
Then I met this woman – this massively butch lesbian, to be precise. He’s now my husband, in an odd but rather entertaining twist of fate. But you’ll notice how I said ‘lesbian’? Yeah, Husband actually prefers chicks. Awkward. So for a few years I went through my famous ‘prefect housewife phase’, where I wore cute little dresses, acquired two bags and a whole shoe-box worth of make-up and nail varnish, and learnt how to bake.
Ironically, Husband did not massively appreciate the ‘prefect housewife phase’ (well, except the baking). He likes kick-ass women with piercings and ink. And I couldn’t keep the act up anyway.
But by that point I’d spent nineteen years, beginning age seven, tearing my gender identity into shreds. I didn’t know what I was. I could ‘logic myself’ into knots. And I’d been raised as female, been treated as female all my life, lived as a woman for my entire lifetime…All my experiences were female ones, if that makes sense. That has to affect your sense of identity, doesn’t it? Plus, people talk about guys ‘getting in touch with their feminine side’, so…am I a ‘girly’ guy? Can you be a girly trans guy? Does that not just make you a cis woman? What even is gender, anyway? Is it relevant any more? Should it be? Should we ditch the concept altogether?
And then it dawned on me that the only thing I was actually struggling with was what label to stick on myself. I knew what I needed to change and what I was happy to leave as it is, I had a strong sense of my own identity (at last!), I knew what made me happy and what brought me down with regards to gender…I just didn’t know if my label should read ‘trans man’ or ‘non-binary’. That’s it. I was driving myself back to a life of bleak, suffocating depression and 3 am, guilt-ridden panic attacks…over that.
So I’m going with he, him and male, because I feel comfortable with that. There’s no logical reason. If I went with them, they and non-binary, it wouldn’t make any difference to how I actually live day-to-day. I’d still be wearing the same clothes, asking for the same medical treatment from the gender clinic and generally being the exact same person, just with a different label.
Still wouldn’t know which bloody changing room I’m supposed to use, though.