Several months ago, someone smart read several of my early posts here and said roughly, “You know, you sure are insistent that you didn’t know you were trans, and you get kind of up in arms about people who claim they always knew. It seems like maybe you’re protesting a bit too much.”
What I did or didn’t know is hard to pin down exactly. I’m pretty clear on what I know and what I’m feeling right now, but I’m also really trying hard not to rewrite history.
Until now, when thinking through what I was like as a kid, I’ve been looking at what I did. I didn’t like to wear dresses. I asked for short hair. I very specifically chose to play trumpet, just like my dad. I was frequently perceived as a boy, up until age 10 or so. Stuff like that. But I also loved to sew (and still do) and did gymnastics. I wouldn’t pitch total fits over dresses, I just didn’t want to wear them if I could get out of it and hated going shopping. I never played any team sports, though I sure did like beating the boys in races on our neighborhood track team. All of which might place me as a sort of run-of-the-mill nerdy awkward tomboy growing up in the 80s. Plenty of people with more extreme gender variance than I expressed in childhood probably grew up perfectly comfortable as women.
But what I remembered the other day so clearly, were my motivations. It wasn’t just that in first and second grade I told people my favorite color was black, it was that internally I was very clear that the reason I said so wasn’t that it was my favorite color (which actually was blue and/or green), but because black was as far as I could possibly get from pink or purple. When we played dodgeball in gym class, I would stay in the middle or at the front of the game, because even though I sucked, and was going to get thrown out in a second or two, I damn well wasn’t going to the back where all the girls were huddled. I wasn’t going back there even if it meant another round of humiliation, because I was not one of them. As I lost the more obvious markers of “tomboyhood” in my teens, there were still lines I just couldn’t cross. I wouldn’t curl my hair. I flat out refused all make up. I never pierced my ears. I didn’t think about clothes. I wore jeans and too big t-shirts and slouched. If you had asked me why back then, I would have told you I thought such things were a “waste of time.” But I avoided them because they felt like a fundamental affront to who I was. Girls did that stuff. Not me.
I might not have been able to say out loud exactly what I was, but I damn well knew I wasn’t a girl.
One of the earlier rumblings that things might need to change for me now, was knowing and understanding my daughter, a spitfire of a kid who is so very aligned with being a girl. I know plenty of kids love sparkly things (including our son, and come on, who wouldn’t?), but she expresses so clearly that she loves glitter and dresses and “beautiful” things in large part because they are for “more for girls” (though she now reluctantly grants they are OK for boys too if they like them). I look at how she navigates the world, at not just her comfort, but her revelry in who she is in her life as a girl, all while still being a total badass on her bike and running wild with the neighborhood kids. I looked around at my daughter and her immediate peers, and realized I didn’t see any kids like the kid I was, a kid who just didn’t fit.
I’m sure they are in there. I know some of these 5 and 6 year olds will grow up queer in some form, but it wasn’t until I had an adult’s eye view of how children navigate gender, and a closer look through my own kid, who expresses herself so clearly, that I started to understand that maybe I had made more compromises than I needed to somewhere along the way, that maybe there was a space in me, a space in my body, and a space in the world, that could fit a whole lot better, that maybe I still get to be that kid who had way more clarity than I give him credit for, only now I’m all grown up.