Earlier I wrote about how transgender people are plagued with demands of unrealistic levels of certainty from society at large. Today I want to write about another harmful myth which bothered me for a long time: the myth that all trans people know they are trans since about age 3 or 4.
I think for me this belief was a large factor in me taking so long to realise that being trans was even a possibility for me. From there, it continued to be a thorn in my side in the process of truly coming to terms with my transgenderism.
Nowadays, I know the fact that I didn’t know it till I was 22 means nothing. I have interacted with a hundred or more trans people, and as far as I can tell those who know it since such a young age are actually something of a minority. If I were to make a wild guess, I’d say they are only about 30% of all trans people. (Figures about this online seem hard to come by – I’d appreciate it if anyone knows of a study.)
The thing is, the transgender people featured in mainstream documentaries are almost all of this mould. I guess this is because these particular narratives are more sensational somehow. Or perhaps it seems more legitimate this way, more convincing that the trans people were “born like this” rather than having made some weird decision one day in a bout of incorrigible gayness.
…Or perhaps it’s just simpler, and needs less explanation, and less thought. If we were to show mainstream audiences the years-long internal struggle and introspection we often go through to come to terms with our identities, perhaps their light evening entertainment would be spoilt.
…Or maybe this idea is attractive to non-trans people because it doesn’t make them wonder whether they themselves might be trans too.
In any case, mainstream documentaries are questionable allies at best. The information people are exposed to leaves such a simplistic, distorted impression. It’s no wonder that when we start to consider that we might actually be trans, the path to self-knowledge is unnecessarily rocky and confusing.
The myth that all trans people know since a very young age is so widespread that it’s even found in our transgender-oriented health services.
In France, you have to have known since you were 3 in order to be prescribed hormones. Well, to be exact: you have to lie about that point.
In many other countries which offer treatment to transgender people, there isn’t a codified requirement for having known since such a young age, but if you haven’t known from such a young age, you often have to work extra hard to convince your psychiatrist. You have to try to explain why, as if that actually needed explaining.
And let me be clear here: it doesn’t. Being trans is often a subtle thing. You aren’t always inspired from heaven with the knowledge; it’s often worked out as you experiment and experience and realise you feel more comfortable acting and being treated in certain ways.
In my case, I tried on a pair of women’s underwear one day when I was about 20 and my face just lit up. That started me thinking that there might be something unusual going on with me.
But even then, I needed to read about the experiences of trans people – of real trans people, not sensationalised half-truths – before I could understand that being trans was actually a possibility.
If I had told my parents when I was small: “I’m a girl!”, they would have said, “No, you’re not.” And the evidence, at least according to their definition, would have been hard to deny. It would be only when I realised that I could define myself that being trans began to be a possibility for me.
Going deeper into this, I think a lot of us repress our feelings of transsexuality. Instinctively we know that if we tell anyone, we will get harshly rejected, and so we hide our feelings even from ourselves.
And I think a lot of us who experience same-sex attraction (trans women who are attracted to women for example) mistake feelings of excitement when “crossdressing” for sexual excitement. Perhaps there is an element of that, even, which distracts from the true meaning. Either way, talking about this is taboo. When you haven’t said a word of this to anyone, or heard anything from others, it’s easy to assume that this is just what everyone goes through and leave it at that.
This is how it was for me, and for other trans people I know. Shame and fear of what other people think, fear of being a freak, causes us to repress our feelings, to ignore them, or to misinterpret them.
All this ties into what I was talking about in my last article: society expects you to be unshakably, imperviously sure that you are trans. For society, questioning and working it out is probably already too uncertain. You have to have known since forever.
This is not realistic. This is not healthy or balanced. We shouldn’t be falling for these myths.
As I see it, all this is to do with society’s fear of transgenderism, a blend of fears that include mysogyny (thinking a male-bodied person degrades herself by acting like something so dirty as a woman), homophobia (equating transness to homosexuality, and from there the male fear of having the tables turned and having to deal with a male’s aggressive come-ons), and binarism (a fear of the gender divide breaking down, along with roles, superiority and privilege).
People don’t want the gender divide to break down, so they need to neutralise the trans narrative as much as possible; they need it to be simplistic, sensational and nothing to do with them.
I think we need to provide an alternative voice. We need better documentaries, ones which show the diversity of different experiences and narratives. I think we need more personal accounts in general, and more visible ones. We need to knock down myths and show the world what a real trans person looks like.
If you’re a trans person, or think you might be, but have conflicting notions in your head about what a trans person is supposed to be, I suggest you make trans friends if possible, and otherwise just seek out all the personal accounts you can. The more you hear from real trans people, the more realistic your perspective on trans people can become.
I’m hoping that as trans activism makes headway, we can create not just acceptance but also a real, nuanced understanding in society.