By Riley Wood
There’s a conventional ‘trans narrative’ that can be picked out of forums and message boards that describes transwomen. This narrative is the same one that they fed to their therapist, their GP, their parents, with the hope of being treated seriously as a transwoman. There will are variations, different details, and different points of realization. But the themes will remain consistent.
“I always played with dolls, never cars.”
“All my friends were girls.”
“Well, puberty literally ruined my life.”
“I just knew.”
These themes don’t come close to adequately describing every trans experience (of course they can’t, everyone has their own story), but they’re repeated enough online that it feels like they are. Especially when you’re 12-years-old and trying to explain why you’ve stashed tampons under your bed (despite not knowing what they’re for), or stolen a garter belt, the dissonance stands out. You have to have played with dolls, been friends with girls and hated puberty to be a transgirl. I was clearly a fetishist, young-me thought. My obsession with girly stuff was obviously sexual in nature, because hey, I didn’t relate to any of the trans narratives that were accessible to me.
When I was a kid, I played with cars and rode dirt bikes. I spent a lot of time rough housing and getting into fights with my guy friends, I played a whole lot of video games and I liked puberty as much as anyone can. Puberty made me taller and thinner. I was excited to shave for the first time. Hell, it even made people stop mistaking me for a girl, which happened a lot, and I was all the happier for it.
So when I started having these weird feelings of wrongness about my body, I had no clue what it was that was making me feel so shitty. Neither did my therapist, who suspected clinical depression. But when I put on the clothes I had stolen from my mom, something came together. In those moments, things felt okay.
As far as 12-year-old me knew, I was a crossdresser. A male who was comfortable as a male, but seemed to gain something from wearing women’s clothing. Cool. Whatever. Honestly, this suited me for a long time.
Yet, my gender feelings never went away, and the older I got, the more I was compelled to wear feminine clothes publicly. First, on Halloween. Then, girl’s jeans everyday — things that were socially acceptable for effeminate queer men. You’d think that after I made female friends who shared my interests, dated a transman, and had transwomen friends, I would finally accept my identity. At the very least, realize that elements of the stereotypical trans story are just that — stereotypes.
I couldn’t, though. I still liked masculine elements about myself. I didn’t feel like dressing up in women’s clothing most of the time, even while I felt compelled to other times. I still knew something was different. I was still drawn to things that let me express my femininity. But I thought transition would minimize the masculine aspects that I liked about myself, so I didn’t.
My inaction climaxed in my first year of university. I was sure that coming to Toronto and living away from my parents for the first time would allow me to be myself and transition. I had grown a lot and learned a lot about myself, and knew that even if I wasn’t sure I was trans, I definitely wasn’t sure I was a man.
I went to a support group. This discontinued group, Trans Youth Toronto, facilitated young adult trans people (mostly women) to talk, share experiences and support one another. I thought I would find other people like me. People who needed assurance, and guidance, and didn’t fit neatly within the mold of the gender binary.
Instead, I found a lot of lovely girly girls who, while great people, just reinforced the notion that I wasn’t like them. At the time, they seemed like over exaggerated women; girls who had deeply embraced their femininity and expressed it thoroughly.
But for me, I was still into camping and hiking, motorcycles and building. I wanted to wear baggy men’s flannel shirts. Men’s work boots. A shorter haircut fit my aesthetic better, but it felt weird asking for ‘a pixie cut,’ and not just a short men’s haircut. I still thought I couldn’t transition because it would mean erasing my masculine elements. For a while, I identified as gender fluid where I comfortably just expressed myself however I wanted to. Mostly, this was a masculine expression, even though I felt pretty much like a woman in my head.
All of this changed when I read Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl for a sex and gender studies course. In an essay, Julia describes herself post transition as a woman who, “rarely wears makeup, who regularly dresses like a tomboy, who often goes long periods of time without shaving her legs or armpits, who sometimes curses like a sailor, who is sometimes very physically active, and who is unafraid of taking supposedly masculine tasks.”
Despite being someone I had viewed as a woman the whole time, she was unabashed in her masculine traits and had no problem holding onto them as a trans woman. I immediately started crying.
This was it! I thought, this is who I am.
There are tomboyish women! OF COURSE there’s going to be tomboyish trans women! Of course I can dress in men’s clothing and still be feminine. I’ve been so silly all these years!
For the first time, I finally found a trans voice that I related to. One that spoke to me. Then, I started to transition.
Now that I’m in the middle of it, I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts on being a tomboyish trans woman. First, while I know my identity is legitimate, there are a lot of people who are weirded out that I would go through all of the hassle of physical and social transition so I can, what, wear men’s clothing? It doesn’t make sense to them, just as it didn’t make sense to me for most of my life.
Second, I get misgendered a lot. People are already bad at assuming everyone is a binary gender. Dressing like a gender opposite of yours as a trans individual just confuses/reinforces their idea in their heads that you are a member of your assigned sex. But women can wear men’s pants and boots, and men can wear skirts and dresses, and this doesn’t invalidate their gender identity even a little. I can be a trans tomboy. You can be a trans man and wear a skirt and makeup and shave your legs, and if anyone has an issue with that, they’re assholes. Clothing does not belong to any gender, even if it does play a role in how you may express it.
Third, I realized why all those trans women seemed so hyper feminine to me. I’m sure to some degree it’s related to their personalities, but being misgendered simply fucking sucks. For many trans women, highlighting and exaggerating your femininity is a requirement for anyone to take you seriously. Or even to gender you properly at all. These days, I understand the appeal as I fumble with an eyeliner pencil I don’t know how to use, pad my bra and put on fake glasses. Otherwise, people will have no idea that I’m a fucking woman. But that’s a problem with society, and not with me.
Gender shit is confusing for everyone. Even for those with the staple narrative, because realizing your trans is a huge moment, and transitioning is a big deal. Before you get to convincing your family, friends and medical professionals that you’re serious about your identity, you have to convince yourself. You feel like you have to search for those signs, those clues as to who you really are, and you hold onto them because they seem more real than the feelings in your head. Because those evidences don’t change, aren’t ‘a phase,’ aren’t affected by any mental condition known or otherwise. They feel like they’re the only way to be sure, but they’re not, and you don’t have to be sure to be trans or transition.
In my experience, cisgender people don’t usually spend all that time contemplating their gender, and if you’re feeling unsure, like you’re lacking sufficient evidence, just trust yourself. Men and women and everyone else are all unique, and no one else’s experience will be the same as yours. So, just be honest with yourself, and let’s stop perpetuating this notion that it’s somehow not okay to celebrate elements of our assigned genders, because in the end we are people and there is more to us all than a predictable narrative.