By Dave, 2007
"The sense of who one is--[boy or girl]--is powerful and inborn." William Reiner, MD –
About Me First, I need to say that I was born with mind and body in alignment, so I can’t really know first hand what it‘s like to be transgender. However, I am fairly empathetic, which at least allows me to begin to understand. I am still learning though.
In any event, my observations are those of someone who understands much of what it means to be transgender – that it is a true medical birth defect and not a psychological condition or fetish – that trans-people are humans who need even more compassion, understanding, and support than the average person – and that society at large hasn’t gotten the message yet. Mine is the objectivity of a caring outside observer, hopefully allowing me to see things with a degree of clarity.
Over the last few years, I have listened to, counseled, and been a friend to a number of transgender teens and young adults. I’ve also studied reams of professional literature and read many personal accounts. It has been an interesting look into lives very different from my own.
On Objectivity From the depths of your own confused feelings, it can be very difficult to see yourself as others see you. Strong emotions tend to cloud your perception. If you are lucky, you have parents and close friends who understand and support you. They can provide a helpful “mirror” that allows you to see both yourself and your situation more clearly. When that is not the case, you will likely have another very deep layer of issues and emotions to deal with. I hope I can help a little with my own general observations.
Superman and Superwoman For most younger TGs, the goal is to be treated just like everyone else – as though they were born in the right body in the first place. With adults though, I’ve noticed that some try “too hard” to create the perfect gender image. They create a hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine identity, perhaps as though it could make up for all those years suffering in the wrong body, or compensate for a body that just won’t pass. Sometimes it becomes almost cartoonish, and makes them really stick out.
For trans-women, hyper-feminism may mean using too much makeup, over-the-top hair styles and jewelry, and wearing fancy dresses all the time. For trans-men, it can mean really “tough-guy” or “butch” attitudes and clothing, affected interests in super-masculine interests and behaviors such as auto racing, picking fights, or playing contact sports. All things considered, it is somewhat easier for trans-men to gain a level of acceptance than for trans-women. “Tom boys” have been well accepted in our society for a long time, and even the most feminine body can at least be made to look like a teenaged boy with short hair, hormones, and top surgery or a binder.
I guess this is understandable when someone is truly uncomfortable in their own skin, and will do almost anything to “fix” themselves. However, unwanted attention brought on by over-doing it can actually decrease acceptance. In other words, they may be working against themselves.
What’s in a Name? A name change, even an informal one, is often the beginning of the new identity. Many of the adult TG names I’ve seen have been a bit unusual or obscure, particularly those chosen by transitioning adults. (I won’t offer examples to avoid offending anyone.) Transitioning children and teens seem to pick more common everyday names. One strategy for choosing a good name might be to look at which names are most common for your generation and pick the one that “feels” like you. Stay away from really odd or unusual names unless you want quizzical looks. A good resource for names can be found at www.babycenter.com/babyname.
Stuck in the Middle For both genders, especially those with challenging bodies, one strategy is to go for the androgynous look. Neither male nor female, but somewhere in between. Some TGs identify this way, but for others it’s simply a "look." This can also work with names that have both male and female versions, but share a common nickname, like Max, (Maxine, Maxwell). Other names can be used for either gender with slight spelling variations, such as Johnny/Jonnie or Billy/Billie. Names like Jamie can be used for either gender. The problem with androgyny is that it can leave you feeling as a less-than-complete man or woman and confuse those around you, even though it may be the best overall image solution for some people.
Careers and Education Most of the TG teens I talk to are so involved with just being teens and dealing with the body/brain disconnect that they let schoolwork slide. I know it’s a lot to deal with all at once, but if your goal is to get the body and brain on the same page, you need to think about education and a career. These might not seem all that important when you are just taking first steps, like coming out to family and friends, but can have huge implications for a complete transition and life-time happiness.
It all comes down to earning power. Let’s face it – surgery is expensive, and so are hormones, psychiatrists, lawyers, and lab tests. If your career involves saying anything like “Do you want fries with that?” you’ll to save for a long, long time – or talk your parents into funding the fix. Otherwise, if you want to change your body before it’s old and gray, you will need significant earning power. Getting a good job requires a good education. So, stay in school, work hard, get good grades, and then choose a well paying career in a field that will accept you for who you are. Simple logic, huh? Besides, if you haven’t already done so, it’s easier to begin transitioning in college than at work.
By the way, just in case you’re tempted, forget earning money illegally. Jail is no place for any transgender, but especially not for a trans-girl.
Not Quite There Something else I’ve noticed is that transitioning TGs often display certain behavioral traits of their birth gender. For instance, I’ve noticed typically feminine behaviors and mannerisms in some trans-boys. It seems more true for those just beginning to transition, and more pronounced in transboys than in transgirls.
It leads me to wonder whether these traits were learned, or copied in an attempt to conform to the biological gender, or is it that the brain isn’t fully one or the other gender in the first place? It can’t make transitioning any easier, that’s for sure. I’ve never seen a scientific study on this topic, and I’m betting there aren’t any. It’s food for thought. I think the answer might lie somewhere in the middle, or perhaps the answer is different for each individual. If you have an opinion based on your own experience as a TG, I’d love to hear it.