Not long after I came out as trans* I found myself having a conversation with my granny. I had to explain why some women are happy living their lives as butch lesbians and that’s just grand but it wasn’t for me.
I needed to transition from female to male.
I had to tell this then-78 year-old woman the difference between sexuality and gender at a time I was only truly getting a grip of it all myself.
So how *do* you know?
It’s tempting to say ‘you just do’ because that would be a perfectly reasonable and acceptable answer, but it helps no-one who is trying to get their head around this whole thing for themselves. Nor does it help anyone understand why their friend, lover or family member is transitioning or considering it.
You mightjust know, in which case, how do you explain that to those around you?
And what if you don’t just know?
What if your blanket of denial has been so thick you are only starting to see through it and need help deciding if this really is the right thing for you?
I am not a therapist, nor a clinician, nor any sort of expert beyond being a trans* guy myself, but I think that gives me some measure of insight.
All other things being equal and assuming there is no psychological issue in play, if you are asking this question of yourself, chances are there is an answer waiting to be found.
The same holds true when it comes to transitioning as it does with any other question you find yourself asking - if it’s on your mind there must be a reason.
Many people might have issues with parts of their body but they don’t wonder if it is because the parts themselves are wrong entirely. A cis-woman who dislikes her breasts does not think it might be because she shouldn’t have breasts in the first place.
You may very well have grown up with a lot of people saying you were a tomboy but, equally, you might not.
I remember fighting with my mum when I was six because she had put me in a dress for my sister’s christening and I wanted to be allowed to put on trousers to play football with my friends.
When my dad took me swimming around the same age, although he sent me in to the women’s changing rooms on my own, I came out wearing only the bottoms of the bikini he gave me because I wanted to be like him.
Even as I told my granny for the first time that I was about to transition, she said to me, ‘I always knew there was something different about you’, before regaling me with stories of the times she tried to take me in to the girls’ department and I wanted to go to the boys. ‘I wish we’d realised earlier’, she said.
So do I.
For some it isn’t that clear cut, even with the benefit of hindsight.
My mum saw me grow up in the same way as my grandmother but she took a lot longer to get her head around the whole thing and has yet to admit that she saw the signs when I was a kid.
Some still are surrounded by people who struggle to see or accept the truth even when it’s pointed out to them.
Alternatively, some trans people manage to keep their feelings so well hidden they are able to replicate the perfect ‘girl’ child on the outside for the world to see. Many overcompensate and become extremely feminine.
None of these are markers that clearly identify a trans* person.
Only how you feel about yourself can do that.
All of the above examples can be flipped for trans women.
All the signs, markers, phrases, clothes, actions and ways of being that might indicate you are transgender mean nothing if it is not how you feel on the inside.
If, like me, you’ve lived with denial about the whole subject for a long time, you might find cracks starting to appear and light beginning to trickle in to help illuminate why you’ve always felt so different. But it isn’t a fast process until enough cracks appear to allow your whole veneer to shatter.
If you find yourself wondering and asking the question, the very least you owe yourself is the chance to explore it further and find out one way or the other.
Sure, the very thought can be terrifying, but I assure you, it is nowhere near as frightening as living the rest of your life as someone you weren’t meant to be.
This blog is adapted from the introduction to Lee Hurley’s book, ‘Transwer me this: How do you even know if you’re transgender?’, available here.