One of the interesting discussions I've had over drinks with lots of other trans people is the one that begins this way: "I have no idea how I didn't figure it out earlier." (Being trans, that is.)
I mean, in practice it's not surprising many of us took a while to figure it out. Media and lack of education about trans issues didn't help there. But despite that, it's, to me, morbidly funny how many things from my past seem like enormous glaring sirens screaming, "YO, YOU'RE NOT A GUY!"
It's usually a fascinating discussion - we run over the usual list of "signs". A lot of them I definitely had - I mention quite a few here.
It was the ones I didn't have that I began to focus on. I was desperate to "not be trans" that I latched onto everything that "wasn't me."
Now, in retrospect, when I talk to other trans femme people, so many of these things seem like something I could relate to, even if I didn't specifically have the experiences they're talking about.
So, here're two lists: the first is a slightly less verbose list of things, some from the above link, that I did experience... and a few that I didn't.
These aren't intended to be some definitive list of... anything. Instead my point is just that many of these, whether subconscious coping mechanisms, explicit results of dysphoria or whatever else did not and do not definitively "prove" gender dysphoria, being trans, etc. It's enough that in retrospect I realise I was in a desperate state of denial, but we all experience these differently, if at all.
So, firstly, A List Of Things I Felt or Did:
- I felt deeply uncomfortable in my own body, to a very small extent before puberty, and a very large extent once puberty began its damage to me. The discomfort followed me everywhere. Almost nobody ever saw me naked.
- I felt a sense of discomfort when I was in a gendered environment. Any time we were segregated by gender in school, I couldn't shake this feeling that I was in the wrong place. Every time I went into a gendered bathroom, the sense that I was going to be 'caught out' and made fun of for being there was constant. Every time I walked into a men's room and a guy at the urinal glanced up at me, I had to fight blushing and discomfort.
- I couldn't dance. I mean, my brain refused to let me do it. I got uncomfortable dancing in front of anyone. It took me until I was 27 and very, very drunk to dance with friends. And even then I did it maybe 3 more times in the following five years. I think the reason is the sense of much of dancing was gendered, even if it wasn't. That my body wasn't the shape that I associated with 'dancing'. I even used to vocalise it in that way, "If I was a woman, I'd dance. But it feels wrong with a male body." I said those precise words.
- A whole different level of discomfort happened when I had to use my body in an explicitly "male" way. Sex was incredibly tough as it felt fundamentally wrong, no matter how attracted I was to my partner. I was so uncomfortable peeing standing up that I didn't do it often for many years, and didn't do it at all in public bathrooms until I was about 30 - and even then only if I was drunk and nobody else was in the bathroom with me when I began.
- When my male friends asked me for relationship advice, advice relating to women, or something of that sort, I would get deeply uncomfortable. Like something about the question was wrong, or the context was wrong. I found relating to men in relationships with women was very, very tough.
- This extended so far as to be the same in romance / romcom movies. (I wrote about that in a bit of detail here.) In short: I couldn't relate to the women, because either I wasn't trying to (or trying not to) or I was therefore trying to imagine myself with a guy, and for most of my adult life I didn't accept any attraction I did have to men. I couldn't relate to the men, despite trying, because... I just couldn't. It felt weird, but I kept trying.
- I had enormous difficulty relating to male protagonists in media I enjoyed, unless they were incredibly a-sexual and androgynous; by contrast I found that I felt empathy much faster for intelligent, nerdy female protagonists. At the time, I wrote this off as me crushing on them.
- I wore mostly androgynous clothing, of the sort my slightly-tomboyish friends would wear. Any time things got too masculine - suits, jackets, ties, etc - I found myself deeply uncomfortable. I avoided all situations involving such attire - black tie events, weddings, job interviews, etc.
- I got along better with women than men. Very few of my close friends were male. Since transitioning, I've become closer to several men - so I think it was less "not liking men", and that I was trying to relate to them in a way that I found very tough.
- I almost exclusively played as women in video games.
- My interest in masculine stories tended to be ones where men related to men. It was something I had to do with some frequency, and I was training myself how to do it, almost by rote, watching other men - real or on screens. In retrospect, I was a terrible "man" - because all my behaviours were mimicked rather than natural. Some of my behaviour now could, of course, be read as masculine-coded. Nothing's as simple as "man vs woman". But that behaviour is now just things that are "me", which people can read however they like.
- I could never imagine myself having kids. As I got older I began to realise that this wasn't true - I just couldn't imagine myself as a father. Once I transitioned and began to realise that I'd be a mother, suddenly the proposition of being a parent became a lot less impossible - I had gendered parenting (or, society had) to the extent that it felt like something that was never for me. Now, it's not something I'd entirely rule out.
- Related to the above, I had a strange affinity for pregnancy. I wrote it off as a fetish, but it was always the idea of being pregnant; not being with a pregnant woman per se. It's... it's gotten worse since HRT. Which is frustrating.
- I fixated on ideas of what things might feel like "as a woman". Not always sexual - some were sensual or every-day things. I wondered what hugging another woman would feel like, for instance. (In response to past-me's curiosity, squishy boob hugs are the best. Sorry you won't get to experience that for a long while yet...)
- I (almost) exclusively enjoyed erotica that was written from a female point of view, and almost entirely lesbian. I never got into visual porn, as most of the 'lesbian' porn that I thought I'd like felt very false - and in retrospect, it was; it was staged for men.
- The only exception to the above point was when erotica was about a guy going through forced feminisation. Now THIS one comes up a lot as a common theme amongst trans femme folk. It wasn't that the act of being forcibly turned into a woman was itself appealing, so much as that I couldn't accept that I was trans, so the only way I could imagine fixing my body problems was if somebody forced it on me. My interest in this has lessened enormously now I've transitioned.
And now, the next list - a list of things other trans femme people did or experienced that I never did:
- [What I would have thought was] cross-dressing. Now, I did try this several times. The idea of wearing "women's clothing" appealed to me, but it felt wrong. I put on a dress with my narrow, boyish body and all I saw was a man in drag. There's nothing wrong with that, but... it wasn't me. It did nothing to assuage my body issues. In fact, it accentuated them. It took until nearly a year into HRT, with my body having become quite curvy, before I began to wear dresses with any frequency.
- Disassociation. For many trans people, disassociation, whether mild or severe, is a coping mechanism adopted. It lets us have sex - I've heard several trans people describe simply 'detaching themselves from their bodies' by intent, or even imagining themselves as their partner, not them. But not for me. My lack of disassociation is neither a good thing nor a bad thing - it's just something my brain never did, for better and for worse.
- Showed feminine mannerisms. I wasn't "camp", "girly" or however else people might describe it. As a child I was deeply emotional, but many people are regardless of gender. As I got older, I mimicked masculine stoicism, hoping it'd make me feel more comfortable. It never did. So the me of 5+ years ago would have read as a very emotionally detached, grumpy, bitter young man, rarely showing his feelings or admitting to any aspects of his sexuality.
- A sense of detachment from my emotions. Many other trans people I've spoken to mentioned this to me. But as I've said, I was always deeply emotional, and when I was really close friends with someone (usually another woman) I was comfortable showing it. I rarely was, but I was still that highly emotional person, and those emotions always felt very much a part of me. Nonetheless, those emotions were there. The cold behaviour I showed wasn't me detaching from my sense of self; it was an act. When I cry, hug, get excited, squeal, coo over cute things now? That's just me. It's always been me. It may SLIGHTLY have changed a bit through hormone therapy, but mostly? It's just me feeling comfortable expressing myself. (Side-note: the only emotion I hated was anger. When I got irrationally angry, which I think I saw as a masculine-coded emotion... I felt deeply ashamed and hateful of my own brain.)
I'm sure I've forgotten some (maybe I'll update this later?) but these are the big ones. As you can see, there were a LOT of common "trans things" on my "yes" list and far fewer on my "no" list.
But the variation on these when I talk to other trans people is huge. Many people I know are, to use a phrase one of them used, "trans as fuck", and yet still barely had more than a few of the "signs" on my big-arse "yes" list.
When I was trying to make excuses for myself and I began to suspect I MIGHT be trans, it was this last set that I fixated on. "I can't be trans because I don't like wearing women's clothing", etc, etc.
Oh, poor past-me. You were so desperate to avoid making a hard choice.
Just do it. It'll be the best thing you'll ever do.