The other day K and I were in the kitchen when she asked me, “Why do you refer to yourself as a boy or a girl?”
Initially I thought this was a trans/male/female issue, but that’s not what she meant.
“No, why on your blog do you write about feeling like a boy or a girl, when I would never think of you that way? I would think of you as a man or a woman.”
I never really noticed that I was doing that, naming myself (or refuting) the term “boy” or “girl.” When K asked, I thought, well, boy and girl feel general to me, as if they were synonyms for male and female. But that’s not true, is it? Male and female are the general terms in our language for the poles of sex, boy and girl are specifically for children. So why am I referring to myself in that way?
I had a conversation with another trans person, X*, via email last week and remarked that I thought of X as my “trans older sibling” even though X is about a decade younger than me. X remarked that they are “older than [me] in trans years.” And I think that is important to note: in “trans years” I am just a kid. I am just reading about our history, just getting started in the community. It is a funny feeling, to be young in a life I have been living for 34 years. I think of myself as a competent adult in my everyday life: I can hold a job and navigate a transit system and have obtained a Masters degree. But I make sloppy conclusions about gender sometimes that don’t reflect my capabilities as an adult, but rather betray my naiveté as a freshly out trans person.
Do I think this means I should rethink my decision to have top surgery? Is this choice just the whim of a young trans kid? Absolutely not: I have used those analytic skills, the ones I have honed over the decades, to make my decision to have top surgery. Just because I make some linguistic mistakes regarding gender, or my logic stumbles when thinking abstractly about gender performance and pronoun preference, that does not mean I can’t make informed decisions for myself and my own gender identity. Those mistakes expose my lack of experience in communicating the shades of gender available to us, not a lack of understanding of my own gender expression.
I know I have been trans since I was a little kid. First I thought I was a boy, as I have grown I have seen there are other options for my identity. I am trans, now, and I believe myself to have always been trans. I didn’t have the language for it as a kid, and I am trying to bring my history up to speed. I am in the process of reconciling my history as a closeted trans person with my present as an out trans person.
I think more to the point, I had a lot of trauma when I was young (alcoholics and a schizophrenic reigned over the house I grew up in) and so I have always felt small, out of control, and yes, inconsequential in the choices of my own life. I always defer to someone else, always believe another will know better than me. And this may be the root of the boy/girl issue. What is interesting to me is that I feel my choice to have top surgery, my decision to tell my family and friends, all make me feel much more like the grown-up I am.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli