Trans 101: How Do I Know?

I just went through my keyword data and was surprised to find that “how do I know if I’m trans” is the fifth most commonly used search term to find this blog. How I’d managed to miss that before is beyond me, but it’s a question that should probably be answered.

Problem is, there is no real answer. It’s like being gay, you either know or you don’t. Some people figure things out when they’re very young, others take longer. There are some things you can do if you’re confused or unsure, but they’re not exactly guarantees.

In my case the biggest indicator was that I really prefer guy clothes. I know, it’s stupid and shallow, but it was a big deal at the time. I was a young teen in the late 90s when the baggy skater style was popular and I stopped growing at 13 so up until a year before I officially came out I’d worn clothes that were technically from the girls’ section, but looked identical to the stuff in the boys’. Thanks to a set of genetics that gives me an androgynous-leaning-pretty-boy appearance this meant that I started being seen as a guy when I was nine and had teachers asking if my name was misspelled on the roll sheet by the time I was 12. Then at 19 I figured I should probably try that whole girl thing so I could finally get a damned boyfriend and get laid. When I came out at 20 I was at the height of the only “girly” phase I’ve ever gone through, wearing clothes from the guys’ section really helped me realise just how much more comfortable I was being seen as a dude.

What also helped was telling myself I could turn around at any point if I started to be uncomfortable. In fact, I seriously considered it twice. Once early in transition when I was being harassed daily by some asshole at my school, and then again when I’d been on T for about a year and was debating whether or not it was worth the hassle. I think most transguys question themselves at some point, we just don’t talk about it. Either way, always having that option to change my mind helped me quite a bit. It meant that I could wear girl clothes for a day without placing any value judgements on it, I was simply deciding which option I liked better. For me it’s very much being a man, I can’t even imagine living as a girl anymore.

One thing I always recommend to people who ask me if I think they’re trans is to find a trusted friend, the kind of friend who you can tell anything to without worrying about being judged. Ask this friend to refer to you using male pronouns and a name you like (doesn’t have to be the one you stick with forever) for a week or two. See how you feel. Some people realise they’re not so much FtM as genderqueer, others are fine with being girls, others find it reinforces what they already suspected. Either way, it’s a safe way to test out the waters a bit.

If you’re too afraid to tell anyone (I was) sit down and close your eyes. Picture yourself 10, 20, however many years in the future. Imagine yourself at college, starting a “grown up” job, retiring, married, with kids, researching for your dissertation, going through your second divorce, whatever seems like a long time away for you. Do you see yourself as a man? A woman? Someone in between? That’s probably the direction you want to head. If you’re like me and you can’t see anything other than a blurry figure you may want to do the more explicit version below.

Same as before, except this time imagine yourself in bed (yeah, that kind of in bed) with someone (or several someone’s, whatever works for you). What are you doing? What parts are required for what you’re doing? Are they the parts you currently have? If nothing else, this can be a fun way to spend a few hours.

At the end of the day you just kind of have to close your eyes and leap. Usually your gut instinct is right. Biggest thing to remember is that no one knows if you’re trans or not except you. People might think they know, they might try to convince you they do, but you’re the one who has to live with yourself. Try to ignore them, at least until you’re secure enough in whatever your identity is to not be swayed by what they say.

20 Replies to “Trans 101: How Do I Know?”

  1. Sound advice. I love your blog btw. I think we have quite different views in some areas but i admire you for standing up for your point of view.

    • You have no idea how thrilled I am that someone who tends to disagree with me still enjoys this blog. I like to think that I can express my opinions without making people think I’m some sort of radical who wants to squash all dissent, but sometimes I wonder if I’m actually being effective.

  2. Lol, we seem to go through that girly thing because we figure out that is the way to get guys into bed. I did it for a year too and it was a very conscious decision after looking around and analysing what most guys were into. But I felt very unconfortable, like I was standing besinde myself all the time.
    The pronouns didn’t work with me. In my gay male community, most guys were using female pronouns for each other. I guess that also made it easy for me to feel included, even when I wasn’t out yet. But when people started addressing me with male pronouns, I got panic attacks, I felt like under a spotlight and that everybody would now know my secret. I also felt ashamed as if I was doing something forbidden.

    • Yeah, I hated trying the girl thing. It’s weird because the clothes honestly weren’t that different and most of my friends were the same, but the change in how guys treated me and how I was expected to act was…uncomfortable. I was always super self-conscious.

      Pronouns where I grew up were interesting. I didn’t actually experience much of the gay men calling each other ‘she’ and ‘her’ thing until I left my home town. Where I grew up it was mostly a ‘girlfriend’, ‘mother’, ‘daughter’ thing while still using male pronouns. It helped that I’d had sort of a half social transition in elementary school so by the time I came out I’d gotten used to answering to whatever someone called me.

  3. The “she” things seems to be a very specific tradition in the town where I lived. Fags don’t do it where I live now. The other town has one of the oldest gay communities in this country, and a very history-conscious one. Even the butch guys used female pronouns, and everybody got a female name as some sort of initiation ceremony. I’m not talking about a drag queen community here.

    • I grew up in San Francisco, there aren’t a whole lot of places in the US with a richer gay history. It’s funny, here it seems that the further away you get from a major gay cultural centre the more likely you are to get the old, pseudo-heterosexual actions.

  4. The place I used to live in is a harbour town too, and had a comparable function as San Francisco. It’s also a very big city.
    I assume for a while it wasn’t politically correct to do the “she” thing, just like with butch/femme in lesbian communities. Gay men had to be “real” men and all that. Or is it a generation thing? I’m not sure if the younger generation still uses “she”.

    • Actually, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area in general tend to completely ignore any and all semblance of assimilation. We appreciate our diversity, to the point where we bend over backwards to facilitate it. It’s one of the many things I miss about living there, where I am now is far too Stepford. The guys here are predominantly the “Oh no, I’m just like the straight couple down the street with a husband and white picket fence and 2.5 kids” type. I miss my drag queens.

      The guys I know who are my age and younger tend to not use “she” as much as the older guys. Some do, most don’t. It’s interesting, there seem to really be three or four different groups of people. The guys who came out pre-90s and are vehemently GAY (divas, Pride, drag queens), the guys who came out pre-90s and are assimilationist, the guys who came out post-90s and are new GAY (Lady GaGa, Christian Siriano, GSAs), and the guys who came out post-90s and are gay (eh, I like guys, but I like football more). At least, that’s what I’ve noticed since moving.

  5. Yep, same here, I also moved to Stepford. And I want drag queeeens!!!
    The guys that I used to hang out with must have been your type A group then.
    Who the heck is Christian Sirino? *lol*
    And yep, in the past the community would meet to watch bad taste music contests, now they meet to watch football – disgusting, really 😉

    • Lol, I actually like football as it’s known in most of the world (not the American nonsense I have to put up with), but I much prefer bad pop music and divas.

      Christian Siriano was a contestant on Project Runway, a really awesome show that’s sort of like Pop Idol for fashion design. He epitomises all that is New Gay with the emo-esque, post-queer, I’m so edgy and cool attitude. He also thinks it’s appropriate to use “tranny” as an all purpose insult. When called out on it he decided that the comparison to make was to trailer trash and drag queens. I kind of hate him.

  6. totally off-topic (ontopic: I loved the article 🙂 ), but
    ShipofFools, is your username derived from a song?

  7. This —> Then at 19 I figured I should probably try that whole girl thing so I could finally get a damned boyfriend and get laid. When I came out at 20 I was at the height of the only “girly” phase I’ve ever gone through, wearing clothes from the guys’ section really helped me realise just how much more comfortable I was being seen as a dude.

    YES. Was Me. In a nutshell.

    • i’m sorry i’m just trawling through old entries dropping comments everywhere but i totally did that too omfg

      such a strange dissonant period of my life

      in all honesty i still love clothes. i really enjoy the girly skirts and things i bought. i just don’t actually want to wear them. will someone wear them for me. i think they are very attractive and deserve to be worn. 😉 by someone who will appreciate them!

      meanwhile can i please register a formal petition to be moved to a universe where hot dude shoes come in a size i can wear

      • I still have an intense love of clothes too. What I do is find girl friends who love clothes as much as I do and then become their personal fashion guru. It’s fun and means I get to see people wearing the awesome things I never felt comfortable in anyway.

        And if you’re in the US, check out Nordstrom. I have teeny tiny feet and get all my dress shoes from there because the kids shoes are usually shrunken down versions of adult ones. Expensive, but worth it.

    • Same here. My mother and then-boyfriend actually had to take me shopping and explain that girls wear tighter (and less obnoxious) clothes than guys do – I really hadn’t differentiated before, past skirts and dresses and suits and ties for formal wear (of course, having been in cadets, I was rather comfortable with the shirt and tie deal), a t-shirt and pants was a t-shirt and pants and had no gender attached to it, to me. I agreed because it was worded more like “you look like a slob”, and I really had no desire to be an unattractive member of either gender, thanks.

      I wore a shirt and tie with a skirt to my university graduation, melding my ancestral tartan with my work uniform, as I had to go to my shift right afterwards, no complaints. Closet panic when I had to go to a funeral, no shortage of black clothes, but the button up shirt, the girlier dress shirt, and if the former, with a tie? Pants or skirt? I ended up going with a black “queer sweater” (the style having been named by a bi ex, it’s really a Steve Jobs thing) and a skirt, but heavy duty boots. Goth…the accepted third gender.

      I need a gay friend to go shopping with, my mother just ain’t cutting it. Never mind the fact that I’m not out as anything to her. Closest I’ve got since my last moved away is barely bi (“I’m attracted to you, and some other guys are hot, but I’ve never dated any, so I don’t know what that makes me”) and can’t even dress himself. Someone come and help with my closet, please?

  8. Hi- sorry this is probably weird considering this post is from 2009 and it’s 2014 now…

    Anyways, I was looking for this because I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve suspected that I’m not the girl everyone else wants me to be for a long time, and I’ve come out to some close people- who all just ignored me and treated me as if I was a girl (or said a few offensive things and then completely forgot. So much for Best Friends!) and for a while I just shut down. I made myself unhappy by living and pretending like I was the daughter my parents want. But it just made me feel so… lost and empty and as if something was really wrong, and then for a while I wondered if they were really right because I’m just a stupid teen who really wants to have everything. To be loved and to be myself and to be accepted and for a while I thought the only way to do that was to ignore being myself, because hey, two out of three isn’t so bad! At least everyone likes me!

    And for a while I doubted myself because of the “trans enough” stuff. Because one of the things my best friend did was pin my preference of barbie dolls as a kid on me, which was really unfair as my brother loved barbies when he was younger too (and according to my mom, my super-macho uncle as well). And honestly, I’m feminine (my love of bath products and my old love of romance novels is a part of this), but that doesn’t equal being a girl. (I also have to agree with the others about clothing too, female clothing looks nice and I like it but I’ll always feel more secure and more myself in male clothing. But I don’t think I’d mind doing drag.)

    And, for your list of seeing yourself later on in life, I’ve always seen myself as being happiest as somewhere along the lines of being a guy and being something else. And, as uncomfortable as the in the bed question is, that’s one of the reasons I figured out I wasn’t a girl, because I didn’t want to be a “girl” in the bed, I wanted to give pleasure to the person I was in with or be the one penetrating them because it was a discussion on both anal and vaginal sex in the beginning (I don’t have as much of a problem now because I’ve discovered there are some people who switch, I also have less of a problem being a bottom if I’m a guy and my partner knows I’m a guy) which the people who asked me that question thought was totally crazy and basically called me stupid.

    Sorry if this is kind of long, it’s just been bothering me a bit and I kind of only could really reply if I wrote a lot to go with it.

  9. Pingback: Questioning Gender | Ordinary and Liminal

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