Gender identity is in your brain at birth, and it’s not hard-binary for everyone
Ayoung Facebook friend of mine, who lives in Pennsylvania, posted a meme this morning, poking fun at transphobes and being supportive of transgender people like me. I slightly modified her meme, filed the serial numbers off of it, and added a line; this is my version of it (BTW, she is cis, not trans, but she is 100% totally committed to LGBTQ acceptance):
This was my response to her:
Gender identity is in your brain at birth. It’s just there. I take estrogen hormone therapy, and I got an orchiectomy (surgical removal of my testicles), to find some kind of peace with my gender issues, and to feel better about myself. I didn’t do it as a “lifestyle change,” or to try to “convert myself into a woman” — I already was one. Four years on estrogen now, and every day, I become more sure that Transition was exactly what I needed to do. When they wake up in the morning, go through their daily routines, and finally prepare to go to bed at night, cisgender people know exactly who they are. They never need to question their own identity.
The only times in my life when I knew who I was, and felt at peace and happy, were the 29 years I spent with my wife Lynn, and these last 4 years post-Transition. This photo — that’s me on the left — is one of only a few photos of myself in my former gender that I don’t cringe at, and it’s because I was with Lynn that day. In fact, it was Lynn that shot the photo.
For nearly half my life — this being about nine years longer than the sum total of the years that my young friend has been alive — I hated myself. I hated my name. I hated looking in mirrors. Cross-dressing was something I was compelled to do by some internal force that I didn’t understand, and while it comforted me somehow, it also terrified me, not just because I was worried about “getting caught,” but because 𝙄 𝙙𝙞𝙙𝙣’𝙩 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙄 𝙬𝙖𝙨.
I used to echo that stock phrase that’s popular with the trans community, “Trans women are women, period,” but I don’t “shout it out” myself so much, not anymore. Each of us is a unique individual, and I have come to know many trans-feminine people, and not all of them are hard-binary trans women. Some of them are bi-gender and seem to live happy, dual-gendered lives: male sometimes, female other times.
These are real friends, not just casual acquaintances, and I have had some deep conversations with them about who they are inside. Some, but not all of them, are married. Most, but not all, are attracted to women. They are thus “straight” when living in their male mode, and “trans-lesbian” when in female mode.
It must seem utterly bizarre to most cis/het people, especially men, but I will submit to you that these friends are “just people.” They are IT professionals, Civil Engineers, Doctors and Nurses, Architects, Accountants — almost every job classification you could possibly think of. Some of them are parents, mostly with kids that are grown up and have lives of their own now.
And in many ways, I am a lot like them. I lived very happily as Lynn’s boyfriend and husband for almost 29 years, and 𝙄 𝙙𝙞𝙙𝙣’𝙩 𝙝𝙖𝙩𝙚 𝙢𝙮𝙨𝙚𝙡𝙛 𝙣𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙡𝙮 𝙖𝙨 𝙢𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙙𝙪𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙮𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙨 𝙖𝙨 𝙄 𝙙𝙞𝙙 𝙗𝙚𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙄 𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝙇𝙮𝙣𝙣, or during the two years immediately following her death. This seems to me to mean something profound, but it’s something that I don’t have the language to describe, even to myself. But in order to integrate my past life as Lynn’s husband, into my life today as Laura-Ann, I have decided that I have to loosen my grip on the “Trans women are women, period” trope.
Today, it comforts me that I seem to be usually perceived as a woman, and I get treated as one by customer service employees at businesses and restaurants. I asked for, and was granted, the right to change my legal gender from male to female, and my name from “Laurence George” to “Laura-Ann Marie”. And I hate to be misgendered. But I have come to realize that I have always been simply “this person” — the consciousness in this brain, and the soul under the skin and living in this heart, from which my inner light pours forth to illuminate the darkness. Just because my parents gave me the name I had, and that Lynn knew me by that name, shouldn’t mean that it was only that name that made me feel bad about myself.
Where the rubber meets the road, I felt bad about myself because the soul of a woman is what lives in me, and that fact could not be openly admitted until the time was right. And at the same time, I have to acknowledge that, when I was trying to be a guy, for the sake of my family, I did a reasonably good job. I earned an honest living, and I kept a roof over our heads. Lynn thought I was a pretty good husband, and, although I can’t ever be anyone’s husband again, Pauline seems to like me, too. Lynn and Pauline both were able, apparently, to see that inner light, even when I often can’t see it myself in the mirror.
I’ve been very lucky, and had a very good life, despite having to put up with decades of gender dysphoria. Way fewer than half of the people I know had full and happy marriages that didn’t end in bitter divorces. My own father only stayed with my Mom out of a sense of duty, and the hope that, despite how awful my Mom was — alcoholism would eventually kill her at age 52 with terminal liver and kidney failure — that I would turn out okay, which I think I did.
After 59 years of looking in the mirror, and at photos of myself, and more-or-less hating what I saw there, I now finally see someone worthy of being loved, even by myself. And that’s all the justification any trans person should ever have to give anyone for “why” they undergo gender transition.