How Being Trans Affected Me Before I Even Knew What Being Trans Was

And the signs along my gender journey that were clear, in hindsight

Photo by Dan Overholt via FreeImages

Unlike many trans individuals, I did not always know I was trans. For the first decade and a half of my life, I was completely content to live life as a cisgender girl, with only a slight inkling that I might be anything other than that. I am fortunate enough to have progressive parents and to live in an area that does not rely on strongly-enforced gender roles (and it’s more socially acceptable for girls to be masculine than for boys to be feminine), so diverging from gender norms but still identifying with my assigned gender was not difficult for me. Even still, there are so many staples of my childhood that I look back on and question if they were gender-driven.

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When I was little, I had girls classified into three categories: “girly-girls,” regular girls, and tomboys. I could write an entire essay about why such a classification is incredibly harmful and representative of internalized societal misogyny, but I won’t (yet). Being older and wiser has enlightened me to the fact that girly-girls do not actually exist and that tomboys barely exist, but regardless, I had always classified myself as a “regular girl” but would eye tomboyness enviously.

I longed to be the girl who had all of the guy friends, except I was seven and seven-year-old boys are gross and even though I thought it would be cool to have guy friends, I didn’t like hanging out with guys. I wanted to be into video games and skateboarding, but the video games I liked were Wizard101 and Pokemon, and I didn’t own a skateboard until high school.

I was anxious about wearing the color pink until I was a sophomore in high school because I had created such a persona of anti-femininity. I distinctly remember saying that my favorite colors were purple and pink as a child, until one day something clicked in me and I became vehemently hateful towards the color pink. For almost a decade, I went out of my way to avoid the color pink because it was a “girly-girl” color in my baby gender trichotomy.

Similar things happened with traditionally girly toys and games. According to my parents, I had never been that into dolls, but I remember feeling actively disgusted by them when I was older. Yet at the same time, I was hugely into Littlest Pet Shop, which I role-played endlessly with my best friend in early elementary school. It was not the principle of dolls that disturbed me, but rather the form they took because they are so quintessentially feminine.

Up until the past few years, I exclusively dressed in t-shirts that I got for free and yoga pants. I just prioritized being comfortable, I thought, even though there are plenty of nice-looking clothes that also fit comfortably. None of these clothes, however, feel comfortable, a fact that it took me a while to understand even after identifying as nonbinary.

Right now, I consider my shoulders to be my touchiest subject when it comes to dysphoria: a masculine tank top that shows them off is gender euphoria, but I get incredibly dysphoric when they are visible in dresses or blouses. Unfortunately, few “fashionable” shirts don’t trigger this, so for most of my life, I hated dressing up, even a little bit, even before I knew what dysphoria was or was able to really identify the source of my discomfort.

By the time I was in later elementary school and guys were less abhorrent, I had attached myself to multiple groups of guy friends. I would hang out with my older brother and his friends and together we would terrorize younger kids in their neighborhood for sport. Looking back, we were shitheads, but at the time it was a lot of fun to fight each other with foam swords and NERF guns.

Rough-housing is a prime example of “boys will be boys,” and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. But I remember becoming viscerally uncomfortable whenever anyone would address us as “boys — and also Val.” At the time, I thought it was a matter of drawing attention to myself, and maybe it was partially, but in hindsight, my hanging out with them was an expression of the part of me that was a boy and singling me out erased that status. Naturally, I wasn’t aware of this back then, but I knew that I just wanted to be part of the group.

That’s right. I spent so much of my childhood trying to avoid being feminine that I ended up fucking myself over. As I said, I am privileged to live in an area that doesn’t strongly enforce gender roles, but kids get sent some messages anyways.

To this day, I struggle immensely to make myself vulnerable, while at the same time not being able to say anything without making myself vulnerable. I get paralyzed when talking about my interests or plans for the future. I occupy a weird social role where I know a lot about everyone else but even my close friends don’t know that much about me, because I can never bring myself to share it, even simple stuff, like, hell, the fact that I write. I know my friends and family would support me, but I can never seem to find the words to say it because I’ve internalized the idea that I’m not supposed to have passions.

Emotions are similar. In psychology, neuroticism refers to how wide of a range of emotions people experience. Although I am probably the least neurotic person I know — my emotional range is so shallow that during my angsty teenage years I questioned if I had any emotions at all — I am still afraid to show the little emotion that I do experience, particularly if those emotions are negative.

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