I can’t remember the age when I discovered the difference between boys and girls. We are all socialised very quickly, so probably as soon as rational thought set in.
My best friend, a girl, showed me her privates when we were both 5. I was shocked. I was also intrigued. I thought my own were ugly. Hers, in contrast, were not. I had vulva envy.
Most of my friends growing up were girls. My mother dressed me as one until I went to school. I don’t know why or whether this was a topic of conversation, but I sure remember how often she would say wistfully, “I wish you were a girl,” or when she was angry at me, “you’d be so much easier to be around if you were a girl.” Despite how she played with my head, I believe I was wired for this from birth.
I wore my hair long until I was fourteen and was frequently mistaken for a girl. I always felt like it was a compliment. After all, girls were pretty, and boys looked like spider webs. I didn’t know how important all of this was to me until I lost it. At 14 I switched to single-sex education, a strict Christian school, and there was no room for long hair. Nobody mistook my gender anymore. Outside of school, though, I still managed to express myself in a limited way.
Growing up, the concept of a sex change was an unknown. Renee Richards, a male to female tennis player, was the first I can recall. It can’t have been easy for her, given the narrative was pre-pronoun and snide, “he’s just doing it so he can improve in the tennis rankings.”
No role models, no conversation, no social media or ways to find out. Transitioning looked and felt like a way to become despised, looked at as a “freak.” I already felt bad enough, but to come out the other side of a transition as someone who still looked like a man and who would be a lightning rod for hate was not something my then teen mind could handle.
Never mind that I had discovered a medical textbook at the University library in my town, and spent countless hours looking at clinical guides on sex change operations. Over and over. That I would ride my bicycle over there and spend hours with that book, studying it, thinking about becoming a doctor, wondering if I could conduct the operation on myself. Wishing it could be a better and more successful operation. That it could actually work.
Times have changed, science has advanced, we know so much more.
Taking the steps to go through with a transition process takes extraordinary courage. Courage I never had. I tell myself that if I were growing up today, with all the information and inspiration that are out there, that I would do it. That I would be able to find the courage to take that step. To have the strength to overcome the stigma, loss of friendships, risks to career and life happiness. I don’t know if I am deluding myself.
What I do know is that what has evolved in its place are three things which are very important to me. I do not believe that I would feel these things with the same intensity or complexity were I not trans, and stuck in this beautiful, but bittersweet nowhere-space of non-binary life. I love and cherish women in a way that is existential, in a way that goes beyond sex. I respect and admire trans people as heroes and warriors, creating the space for many of us to breathe, and forcing the rest of society to confront discrimination and nastiness that leads to violence against women. And I am deeply suspicious of men and their motives and have made one of my life goals to help unpick the patriarchy.
My biological purpose is fulfilled, I have had children. In a decade or so I will be able to retire, no longer have to worry that I can’t work because of my status. What comforts me the most? The thought that I might be able to die as a woman.