Something that’s become increasingly clear to me, especially through recent conversations with other trans people, is that trans people are held up to unrealistic standards of certainty about their transgenderism.
In a previous article, I explained how through working with a therapist I realised that I had been trying to meet my parents’ unrealistically high standards of certainty.
My parents do get a lot of flack on this blog, don’t they? Well, thinking about it further, as far as I can tell it is not just parents but pretty much all of society which holds trans people to such standards.
The trouble is that no-one is 100% certain about anything (except for fools). Of course you can somehow figure out one or two hypothetical situations in which you might possibly be wrong. But you can still have a pretty good idea, and, more to the point, you can have a good enough idea to be able to take action. That’s all we ever have, and all we ever really need. Not to be totally sure, but to be sure enough.
Society tells trans people to be even surer than that. To be totally, unchallengeably sure. To not even brook a moment’s uncertainty. Really, the standards of certainty it pushes on us are impossible to meet.
But there’s more to this than meets the eye. Behind that innocent sounding admonishment, “You need to be really sure if you want to transition,” is the message, “don’t transition.”
Most people who believe that transitioning is a bad thing to do, or just hold unconscious prejudice towards transsexual people, will tell you to be really sure. But they say that because they know you won’t listen if they say “don’t transition“.
So the message of being really sure is loaded with fear, with the suggestion that transitioning is dangerous and best avoided if at all possible.
The effect of this is that trans people, myself included, spend much more time doubting ourselves than really necessary. Some of us, I think, never stop doubting ourselves.
And asides from just time wasted, there is the added component of anguish. We are stuck between transitioning and not transitioning, all the while being hard on ourselves and negating our own feelings.
When I was journalling to overcome my self-doubt in this area in order to begin transitioning, I was struck by how irrational all my doubts appeared when I examined them closely.
My final conclusion was that I was negating my own feelings. Listening to the loud, fearful voice of doubt in my head, I was ignoring the gentler voice which just said how I felt.
This gentler voice didn’t need reasoning. It didn’t need proof. Why would it? I’m not trans for a reason, I didn’t choose it because X therefore Y therefore Z: I just am. And a part of me simply knows that.
I became a lot more confident about this when talking with a trans friend who has been through the same struggle with doubt as I have.
The crazy thing is, that from the outside it seems very, very clear that she is trans. She talks to me about her experiences with gender dysphoria, story after story. I can say that if she isn’t trans she must be a very good actor.
And I think, from the outside, it must appear the same for me. Despite our transsexuality being basically obvious, we both still doubted and feared for much longer than we needed to.
I told her, “In English we have a saying: ‘If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then it is a duck.'”
For many of us, I think this phrase contains all the answers we need.
I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t question ourselves, and analyse ourselves, and consider all our options in transitioning or not transitioning. I think all that is very necessary.
Still, I think a lot of readers who happen to be in a similar situation will recognise the difference between this and negating your own feelings. One arises out of healthy caution; the other, out of fear. One is constructive; the other very destructive.
I think we need to support ourselves and each other in whatever we decide. I think calls to be “really sure” should not replace actual support from those who should be giving support. And I think we as trans people should be aware when these calls are there in lieu of actual support, see the subtext in that, and not take the whole message on board.
I think we also need to challenge the myth of large amounts of transgender people regretting their transition. Very few do. Less than 5%, and probably a lot less.
And it’s not like those e.g. trans men who regretted it suddenly realised one day, “Oh! I’m a woman!”. If you’ve been drawn so strongly to living as a certain gender for so long, then obviously something is going on.
According to this article, most who regret transitioning seem to regret it because of the difficulties which their new life presented them.
And I can believe it. A heck of a lot of trans people have serious issues finding work, for instance. A lot of them are forced onto the streets or prostitution. Yeah, it’s possible to not want to live as your chosen gender for reasons other than the fact that you’re not really trans.
These things should be taken into consideration, definitely. If you’re likely to get thrown out of your house, or to not be able to earn a living, or something along those lines, maybe you should delay your transition.
Perhaps, too, your gender might be a bit more nuanced than you thought originally; maybe you feel genderqueer, i.e. in-between, but still need to transition to be more masculine/feminine. Perhaps you are gender-fluid. Perhaps you feel like a woman, definitely a woman, but want to keep your penis. These are all valid options, and it could be good to consider them before you commit to a conventional M-t-F or F-t-M transition.
But note that these are practical reasons for which you might not consider transitioning. They are not reasons to negate your own feelings. If you have been feeling like you are a certain gender consistently for some time, chances are you are that. If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then it is a duck.
Stop doing violence to yourself by squashing down what you feel. There are enough people doing violence (psychic or otherwise) to you already for you to contribute to that too. If you feel something, you feel it, and you feel it, and you feel it, and that’s how it is.
Perhaps you do need to come to terms with exactly how to interpret that feeling. Perhaps you do need to work out how, exactly, to respond to that feeling, whether through transition or not, and then through what sort of transition. Of course! But the important thing is you feel that feeling, and that is incontrovertible.
Further reading: Here is an interesting resource on the topic of trans regrets which I found while researching this article.