Go ahead and ask: How do you know you’re “trans”?

Heath Brandon photo from Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.
Heath Brandon photo from Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

I was listening to a podcast of Adam Carolla and celebrity physician Dr. Drew Pinsky, and they were asked to explain what it means to be transgender.

Now, I could unpack their conversation, because some of what they said bordered on homophobia (or at least transphobia) … Carolla was fixated on someone “cutting into his junk,” while Pinsky compared transgender people to people who “think they have Napoleon trapped inside them.”

But I’m not going to beat up on them, because some of what they said was just ignorance. And Carolla made what I thought was a good point … he hesitates to even bring up anything about transgender people, for fear that he’ll be attacked.

I’ve heard this from friends of mine. They want to ask me something but they’re afraid I’ll be offended. Um, I’m pretty hard to offend, and my feeling is, it’s better to ask a question than to stay uninformed. My feeling is, go ahead and ask me.

(HEY! Maybe it’s narcissistic of me, but I’m going to try to answer some questions I’m asked from time to time … and if you have a question, go ahead and email me, with the caveat that my perspective is only my perspective, and I’m white and MtF, so those are the only experiences I bring to bear on this. An online friend of mine says, “If you’ve met one transgender person, then you’ve met one transgender person.”)

The most common question I get asked when I come out to someone is … “How do you know you’re male-bodied but feel female inside?”

And my answer is, I don’t. I don’t know what it means to be born and raised female. I was born and raised male. I can’t compare those two things.

I mean, I could tell you a whole lot of stuff, like how when I went through puberty, and started to grow hair on my chest, I wanted to cry all the time, or how I hated to get undressed in front of the “other boys” in the locker room. I could tell you how I often seem to be the only male-bodied person in a roomful of women, or how I have trouble relating to men engaged in “guy talk.”

I could even veer into some places that border on “men are from Mars, women are from Venus,” like how I always seem to gravitate toward stereotypically feminine pursuits, but I think gender essentialism is a load of crap. (I’m sensitive and I like to sew. Lots of men are sensitive or like sewing. It doesn’t mean they’re transgender.)

But the truth is, most of how I know I’m transgender isn’t so much because I feel “female” (because I don’t really know what that means), and more that I don’t relate to being “male” or a “man.” And when I stopped trying to be more masculine, I was much more comfortable with myself. And when I have a chance to relate to people as a woman, I’m even more comfortable.

Now, there are scientists trying to determine if there are differences in the brains of transgender people—does the brain of a female-to-male man look more like the brain of a woman born and raised female, or a man born and raised male? Or does it look like the brain of a gay man or a lesbian woman? But it’s all a lot of conjecture and speculation at this point.

So, for better or for worse, if someone tells you, “I think I’m transgender,” you probably should just trust them. When I figured it out, it’s just like a light bulb came on over my head, and I just … knew.

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