10 Moments that really WEREN’T clues

I already did a post on the times that I probably should’ve known something was up, but I feel like it’s important for people to realise that even those of us who did have a lot of “classic” trans traits also often had some moments that weren’t so “typical boy”.

When I decided that my name was Anastasia. Emphasis on the ‘STAH’, not ‘stay’. I was adamant that people pronounce it properly. I was in preschool and hated my name with a passion, but Anastasia sounded just different enough to work. I was also a pretentious little brat who probably needed to be brought down a peg or two.

Which is why no one was too horribly surprised when I sent in photos of myself to John Robert Powers without telling anyone when I was six. It never went anywhere because unsolicited headshots in envelopes addressed in crayon (pink with sparkles and unicorn stickers so that it stood out) don’t tend to be taken very seriously. Ended up being my parents’ favourite “awww, she’s so cute!” story for years though.

I also loved my dance lessons. Sure, I refused a tutu and danced all male roles, but you could not make me miss a class. I had to be drugged to keep me from sneaking out when I caught chicken pox, that’s how obsessed I was. (Funny part is, I’m not a natural dancer. I can do ballet, but get me in a club and I start looking like Mark Cohen.)

When I wasn’t dancing I could generally be found playing with pretty dresses and tiaras. I loved dress up. Sometimes I was a fireman, but often I was Belle or Aurora or Jasmine. I was the kid with no siblings close to my own age (the closest one is college aged now) so when I was at home I had to be able to entertain myself. That generally meant dress up and other imaginary games.

Even outside of dress up, I adored books with strong heroines like Nancy Drew and Jo from Little Women. I was always a reader and while I did like my high fantasy and old mythology (English and Irish folklore being favourites), I was still a sucker for anything where the girl kicked everyone’s ass. Heck, I still read American Girl books whenever they come out with a new character.

I didn’t change all that much after I started going to school as a boy either. I still wore pink and purple (more purple than pink) and painted my nails. This wasn’t considered a weird thing for boys at my school, I was actually one of the more tame ones because my light up high tops didn’t have pink laces, only white glitter.

Speaking of nail polish, I had an entire collection of fun colours. Other kids my age collected My Little Pony or action figures, I had a bathroom cabinet full of nail polish. Mostly various shades of blue, but also a lot of silver, gold, and clear with glitter. I’d change the colour every night when I decided what I was going to wear the next day so that it’d match.

I was also obsessive about my hair (and eventually skincare). When I was seven I made up a chart and staged an experiment to figure out which brand and type of hair product worked best for me. As I got older and puberty made my skin rebel I repeated that for different skincare routines. Cleanser, toner, exfoliating scrubs, masks, moisturisers…my medicine cabinet still looks like a diva exploded.

Actually, looking back I realise that quite a few of my “girly” habits revolved around being image obsessed. I would spend hours picking out the perfect outfit. Always something that a baby Kurt Hummel or (for those of you older than 15) Simon Doonan would wear, but I didn’t figure that out until I was older. One of the biggest reasons I couldn’t handle the classic passing tips was that I hated looking like a slob. Even in my tomboy days I insisted on making sure colours coordinated and patterns didn’t clash. I was wearing horribly oversized shirts and jeans, but damned if I was going to make things worse by pairing chartreuse with violet or some other nonsense.

Any or all of these in a little boy would’ve been clues to possible future sexuality (and very much scorned by my macho-man relatives). However, I was considered a little girl. This meant I was behaving much as expected. Yes, I socially transitioned myself. Yes, I refused to admit that I was considered a girl until freaking high school. My family didn’t know that though. To them I was a safe enough balance between tomboy and appropriately girly.

Which is one of the biggest problems with using childhood and past gender expression as a guideline for transition: most of us don’t fit one category or the other. Especially those of us who are effeminate guys, so much of what would be considered rather queen-y in a little boy is perfectly acceptable for a little girl. There are some minor differences in how it’s expressed, but rarely anything that can be quantified.

27 thoughts on “10 Moments that really WEREN’T clues

  1. Again, an overdue text, NA.

    I could write a similar list (though I wasn’t into sparkle and collected weapons) (ouuu, I feel soooo butch *lol*)

    I agree that behaving that way is what is expected of girls and that we are a “safe” mixture of tomboy and girly. *And* we are into boys, which adds one more layer of “normal”.
    Still, reading this list (or my own), I think it’s sooo obvious, I mean “Anastaaaasia”? Come on ;) I was fanatically into MGM musicals when I was age 8-10, in a country with little connection to MGM musicals and certainly no girls were into that over here.
    When I met the first gay guys in my late teens and heard about their childhood stories and interests, my reaction was: hey that’s me! Culturally, I was already a gay guy of my generation. Don’t ask me how I did it without any connection to gay culture. Perhaps there’s a camp gene ;)
    And while a list of my childhood hobbies sounds normal for a girl, children noticed that I was very different from other girls.

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    • “Culturally, I was already a gay guy of my generation. Don’t ask me how I did it without any connection to gay culture. Perhaps there’s a camp gene”

      It’s funny, even without the early social transition I feel like I would’ve had a very similar childhood to cis gay guys my age. The biggest exception is that I never struggled with my sexuality, but none of the guys I grew up with did. We were taught from an early age that being gay is perfectly normal and nothing to worry about so when we hit middle school (11-13) no one made a big fuss about guys liking guys or girls liking girls.

      “And while a list of my childhood hobbies sounds normal for a girl, children noticed that I was very different from other girls.”

      That’s actually part of why I was able to socially transition as early as I did. Even the friends I have from before I switched elementary schools have told me that they never considered me a girl because I was just different enough. Similar interests sometimes, but apparently I acted like a very gay little boy. It’s kind of weird and interesting how that happens.

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  2. Very good post.

    I could also write a “girl stuff” list, though with somewhat less extremely feminine points in it.

    If only the shrinks who write our T and surgery letters knew that!

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    • Right? I wish there was more awareness of the different trans childhood experiences. We don’t all fit easily into one box or another. My childhood was pretty varied in that I had aspects of both the “boy” and “girl” extremes, try classifying that.

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  3. I didn’t grow up in places where it was OK for boys to be effeminate, so I had a somewhat more…complex…relationship with my effeminate side. I loved glitter and nail polish and all that, I couldn’t stand clashing patterns or colours, and sometimes I’d play dress-up in my room with my dresses and my mother’s (very limited) makeup…but I would have just about died if anyone had caught me doing it. I’d close and lock my bedroom door, pretend to be going to sleep, and then put nail polish and glitter on (which I shoplifted because I couldn’t bear to let my parents know I wanted it), braid my hair in ribbons, and then take it all off before morning and go back to school in my plaid shirt and baggy jeans.

    In public, I was all-boy even when I had to wear a dress, pretended I had no idea what in the world “chartreuse” was, wouldn’t be caught dead with anything pink. Ever. I played baseball and wanted to play football and fought and spat and objectified girls and did everything a little self-hating gay boy would to to try to fit in, except of course it didn’t work because they thought I was a girl. Yeah. Complicated. I would have made all kinds of sense if I’d been born with a penis, but…no.

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    • Woa, I can relate to that. When I was a kid, people shunned me because it was *too* effeminate. Somehow my masculine clothes and weapon collection made people put me in the butch category and they couldn’t handle my sissy side.

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      • and I want to add that it’s great to be able to talk about these things because usually people just don’t get that combination.

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    • I did a bit of that one I hit my enforced ‘tomboy’ phase. I was really lucky though, gender roles were only a big thing within my immediate family. All of the other kids and adults were hippies who thought people should be able to express themselves however they want as long as no one is hurt.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

      • “All of the other kids and adults were hippies who thought people should be able to express themselves however they want as long as no one is hurt.”

        I want to stress this– there once was a time, when this was pretty normal and mainstream. I grew up in a similar way and can’t believe what the world has come to.

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        • In the US it’s been skewed in favour of girls. The people I grew up with are some of the few I’ve ever met who think it’s just as ok for a boy to wear a dress as it is for a girl to wear pants. Even in the 80s (which was kind of the height of androgyny for us) there was a bit of an invisible line that men couldn’t cross.

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          • I think I just chalk that up to misogyny. It’s more acceptable that a girl shoudl want what men have; after all it’s so lovely and desirable; but for a boy to want what women have; that’s scary, threatening and really shakes the foundation of society as we know it. In terms of privilege, of course the janitor wants to be the CEO but why the junk would an executive quit their job to be a janitor?

            That’s why it’s so much more dangerous to be a transwoman than a transman most of the time.

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  4. Actually, even now I still have some of that. I love musicals and “chick flicks,” but I can’t admit to watching them – I only do it in the middle of the night when nobody’s awake. Same with skin care, hair care, shopping…if it’s coded “girly,” I hide it even from the people in my life who see me as a girl. Maybe especially from them. I’ve gotten somewhat better around the people I’ve come out to.

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  5. I was always obsessed with purple and glittery things, I collected unicorn stuff, I kept my hair super long until just a few years ago, I played with more or less stereotypical girl toys. I can still see quite a few hints that I should have seen this coming, but I guess because I associated those things with being a girl and not with just being somewhat flaming, it took forever to click.

    It’s really awesome that you are addressing issues like this because virtually every other FTM childhood story is of them refusing to wear dresses and playing with trucks and going hunting with their dad and uncles. That’s just not me, no matter what set of genitals. But when you’re first coming out it can really make you question the validity of your identity.

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    • I had my ‘classic trans’ things, but they were rarely in gender expression. At least, I don’t think my gender expression was particularly butch. I did martial arts and military youth groups, but everyone in my family did so I just consider them childhood rites of passage. It made for a bit of confusion when I was coming out and everyone said I must be genderqueer. Luckily, I had great friends who reminded me that if they could be giant sissies without being genderqueer then I could too.

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  6. I still collect unicorn things. And teacups. One of the things I dreaded most about transition was the fact that I believed I’d never be able to dress up fancy again. I love getting all dressed up – men’s clothes take a lot more getting used to in that regard and dressing them up in any kind of fun way gets coded feminine so often. Took me a while to get past that and also figure out ways of doing it that weren’t going to get coded that way as easily.

    About the little gay boy thing – my best friend when I was little was a gay cis boy. We had very similar interests but very different experiences because I was not penalized for creating gymnastic dance routines to Madonna songs while he was. I don’t know what that means for either of us but I know his childhood was difficult at that time (his parents’ homophobia) while mine was relatively unfettered. We both hit puberty and my life went to hell and he was able to finally express himself.

    Interesting how the same inclinations result in completely different and similar experiences at the same time.

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    • See, none of my flaming little gay boy friends ever got in trouble for being effeminate. My parents wouldn’t have appreciated an effeminate son (had they known they had one), but they were very much the exception. My (cis male) best friend in elementary school had a bigger collection of costume jewellery and princess dress than I did, it was awesome. He, btw, grew up to be straight and geeky.

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      • Wish I’d had any little flaming gay boy friends as a kid – backwards hick town where I grew up kept anything like that quiet, the only guy I could call effeminate out of my 1000+ kid high school had a rather influential mother and so was beyond being picked on, so whatever “essence of odd” I exuded was sufficient to make me everyone’s favorite target with nobody to share the title with. Hard to prove you’re into boys when nobody of any gender will go near you, though. Or before you’re out of the “cooties” stage.

        I always hated pink, but liked purple. Hunting and fishing and horses and gymnastics, nail polish (glitter especially, and all colors that weren’t pinks or reds!) but it’d always get chipped fast and I’d never be bothered to do anything about it. Terrible fear of anyone finding out I liked “girly” music as opposed to more hardcore stuff, I’m still not big into horror or blow-shit-up movies, but also not a huge fan of musicals or chick flicks. But I love shojo manga and find most shonen horribly boring.

        I was an only child and had no push in either direction from my parents, though my mother discouraged beating people up in retaliation (and was horrified anytime my dad suggested it) so I regrettably never learned to throw a punch. My father is still disappointed that I don’t understand American football. Society said “man up” and stop letting the other kids bother you. And I went to high school in the mid-90s – everything everyone wore was baggy, save for the odd fishnet on a goth, so fashion was not an option for anyone of any gender!

        Of course, when I hit uni and civilization, I started buying makeup I’d never use, and I did start doll collecting when I got over that little fear of showing that I liked girly things, was like “See, I do *so* have two X chromosomes!”, but I still never did the girly thing “right”, either. I’ve never really “passed” as female, I just come off as “not-male”, and have always resisted any “passing” tips given by women, as they felt so wrong. Most gay guys still think I’m lying when I tell them I’m not into women, their gaydar pings but it’s not for the reason they think. The only people my gender expression didn’t/doesn’t bother were/are my parents.

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        • “Most gay guys still think I’m lying when I tell them I’m not into women, their gaydar pings but it’s not for the reason they think.”

          sounds familiar

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  7. You know, NA, I’m starting to think you’re a unicorn yourself. You really had the most unique and supportive childhood in many ways (though I’m not suggesting it was perfect – just different). My jealousy is without bounds :)

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    • I have to give all the credit to the adults in my community. They were absolutely amazing. Problem is that we all grew up and moved away so now the same neighbourhood I grew up in isn’t nearly as great as it was when I lived there. Kids even four or five years younger than me had a very different experience because their set of parents wasn’t quite as accepting as the group I had. Still not horrible and the administration continues to be awesome to this day (my honorary niece goes to my elementary school), but some of the parents have punctured holes in my little bubble.

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  8. I had really long loosely curled dyed red hair (it was believably red and matched my skin tone really well, the curls are natural). For about 7 years, I took care of it better than I took care of anything else on my body. When I cut it off, my family and friends mourned it because it was their favorite (and mine!) thing about my look.

    When I regularly went swing dancing as the female/follower role. It made me feel very female.

    When I was in girls’ gymnastics as a young kid. When I joined a girls’ soccer team. When I chose to live in the same-sex dorm my first year on campus (I hated freshman even when I was a freshman :) ).

    There are so many things in my life that really weren’t clues to my transness.

    There are even ones I’m too embarrassed to admit.

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  9. *relates*

    lol I remember I was banned from wearing make up till I was 14 and I used to colour my nails in with felt tips!

    I also loved dressing up.

    I made a public show about hating girlie things as a kid, but I practically had a radar for boys who wanted to play dress-up, and then I let my sissy side out too. It was the closest I ever felt to being totally understood without having to explain myself to anyone.

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  10. You see, things like that aren’t part of a gay male childhood. They’re part of a female childhood. You claim to have been socialized as male, but no males are socialized like that. How many other males would be encouraged to wear dresses and makeup? How many other guys have experience being the woman in a heterosexual relationship?

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    • I would appreciate it if you didn’t make assumptions about my childhood based on your own socialisation. Where I grew up it was perfectly normal for little boys to play with dresses and makeup. Several of my cis boy friends had far bigger collections than I did and no one cared. As for being in a heterosexual relationship, that depends on how you’re defining that. Every guy I went out with before coming out was gay and either made it a point that they were with me because I wasn’t “really a girl” or thought I was a cis guy. I don’t know what the hell that counts as because it confuses me probably more than it does you.

      I thought the same way as you do about these things when I first came out. Trans groups are so obsessed with normative gender roles that no one ever takes into account people being socialised differently in different areas. Then I started coming out to my friends. When over half of your social group (closer to 90% when talking about friends I made before puberty) gets confused by your coming out because they thought you were a cis guy clearly there is something a bit different about your socialisation. I happened to be raised in a very progressive neighbourhood with only two or three adults who thought there was anything wrong with cross-gender behaviour. That impacted my socialisation and the socialisation of the kids I grew up with. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad it did.

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      • Also, there’s quite a bunch of gay men (and several straight men) who had a childhood like that.

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