The journey to discovering that I was transgender was a long and complicated journey. It took a very long time for me to learn and understand what transgender was and how it applied to me. Even after that, it was an even longer process before I was able to both accept it within myself, and then to come out to friends, family, and finally to begin my transition. I grew up in a small country town well before the age of the internet, so having any idea of what “transgender” was and meant for a person was nearly impossible. There were no resources, no understanding or support for people with alternate sexualities or genders. It was your typical homogeneous collection of Caucasian families with a few kids. A trip to the shops would take hours because everyone knew each other, so you’d stop every other step to have a chat and spread the gossip with someone or other. It was even a bit of a controversy when a family with a darker skin tone moved close by. Being gay or lesbian just wasn’t a thing there, let alone being transgender. Being so cut off from a more “progressive” part of society made it impossible to have even considered questioning my gender.
I knew at a young age that there were people who had sex changes thanks to those interesting medical television shows that used to play on TV every now and then. At the time I didn’t really understand why a person would want to go through with that surgery – meaning I didn’t understand that there was a psychological reason to want to go through that process of change, rather than it just being another decision about their appearance like whether they wanted a tattoo or piercing.
A lot of people who are transgender say they knew at a very young age (though by no means is it a requirement – my story is an example of this). After I told my mother, I asked her whether I made any indications when I was growing up that I may have been transgender, only to be met with a confident “no, not really”. Honestly at that age, I was probably more concerned with whether I was going to be able to use the TV to play video games after school, or hiding myself away from my younger brother who just had to follow me around with adoration, than debating the complexities of the gender spectrum and how it related to me. Looking back though, I feel like there were enough little moments strewn here and there throughout my childhood that you could take them and say “see, silly, it was obvious all the way back then!”
One of my earliest memories which I could probably take as an indication that I knew something was up at a young age, was one day when I wanted to play dress-ups. I’d never really done it before, but I must have seen it on the TV, so I had bugged and pestered mum to try it. She didn’t think that my dad had any clothes that would be reasonable, or that he’d appreciate me dragging out and playing with. She ended up digging through her wardrobe and pulled out a bunch of old clothes of hers she’d kept for whatever reason and let me go wild. I don’t remember a lot about it, but there was an old dress that mum had used as her uniform when she was younger and working as a waitress. I slipped it on, along with a pair of shoes that were ridiculously too big for me, and went about playing. I ended up bothering mum a couple more times to play dress-ups again, but I don’t really remember much more. I certainly don’t recall how wearing a dress at that age made me feel. I do know that at the time I was old enough to “know” that dresses and skirts are things that girls wear, and that boys wear pants or shorts, but I don’t remember feeling weird or having any shame for running about wearing mums old dress.
There’s not much more that I can recall until many years later when I must have asked one of those dreaded questions about why boys and girls are so different, which prompted mum to borrow a book from the library – the good old “birds and the bees” book. I remember her sitting down with me going through it all, talking about how girls and boys grow up and their bodies change, and that eventually I’ll stop thinking that girls are silly and icky, and that I’ll start to really like them. She went through and explained sex, pregnancy and birth. It was enlightening, but I remember thinking that I don’t want my body to change, I was happy with it how it was, so you know, why not just let it stay this way? I guess on some level I accepted it, and didn’t really question it again. It was simple biology, so I knew what I was coming, and that it would be coming along soon.
My next, and probably the first vivid and concrete memory I have that I wasn’t comfortable with being male was a year or so after the “birds and the bees” story. I’d gone over for a sleepover to my friends house like I always did. Those nights were awesome, because he had his own TV (which was a novelty being that my house had only one TV), so we could stay up as late as we wanted playing video games and pigging out on snacks and soft drinks. This particular time, my friend rushed me into his room, closed the door and listened for his mother to settle back into her place in the living room. Once he was satisfied the coast was clear, he dug through some of his things and produced a small pamphlet or magazine and popped it open with a devious grin on his face. “Check it out” he said as he turned to a page, upon which were full frontal pictures of a naked man and woman. Oh, the joy of young boys and seeing nude people! There wasn’t anything lewd or sexual about the pictures, because as it turned out, the magazine was a more mature version of the “birds and the bees”, and it described everything about growing up, puberty, and beyond. I very clearly remember looking at that page, and feeling uncomfortable and upset at the images I saw. At the top were illustrations of young, more androgynous looking boys and girls, and underneath each, were the photographs of nude adults in frontal and profile positions, describing the changes the body goes through during puberty. I distinctly remember looking at the male and not liking what I saw, because I knew this was going to happen to me. My biology dictated that I would grow up to look the same, have the same body of straight and ugly angles, of dark, coarse hair covering what seemed like every inch of the skin. Then I gravitated towards the image of the woman, and felt a sense of longing and jealousy. The way her body looked, her breasts, the lack of a thick covering of body hair were something I desired. Why can’t my body develop into this instead? But I knew the exact reason, and there was nothing I could do about it (at least that I could possibly have known about at that time and place). So, I pushed those feelings away and didn’t consciously acknowledge them for a while. For all I knew, that was just something that all boys and girls think about. Many years later I would discover that aside from the classic teenage thought experiment “what would you do if you could be a woman for a day?”, that people who are comfortable with their gender don’t think these things. What I felt that day was gender dysphoria, which in itself is a pretty strong indication towards being transgender. Of course, I still had no real way to know and understand what those feelings meant, so I simply continued on with my life.
In the year or so after, puberty began hitting me. My voice cracked, I had a few growth spurts, and I began to notice the first few darker hairs appearing on my chin and upper lip, and even a couple on my stomach. I’d think back often to that time at my friends house, and wonder about what I’d felt that day. Quite often I’d look at my body in the mirror and with a sense of hope, I’d question the way it was changing. Are my hips getting wide? Is my butt too round? Hang on, are they breasts? No? It was silly, and I knew it. I’d read the books myself, I’d seen the videos about sexual development as part of my schools health program. I was fully aware that my biology and my chromosomes were unchangeable. But one day, I allowed my hope to get the better of me. I remember discovering one of those trashy table magazines that always had click-bait titles in an age before that word would have any meaning. Usually they’d be something like “Widow’s Husbands Ghost Returned With Incredible News, you won’t believe what he said!”, however this time my eye caught upon a title that was similar to “Man Grows Breasts Using His Mind! More on pg 35!”. I snatched up that magazine and turned to the page and read a story about a man who apparently every morning and night would spend half an hour meditating, and using his will, forced himself to grow breasts over some long period or time. It was more likely that the man in the article had a medical condition called gynecomastia, which due to hormonal imbalances can cause men to grow breasts; but I didn’t know that at the time, and I was absolutely drawn in. I could grow breasts if I really wanted to and committed to the time? I very distinctly remember laying in bed one night, weighing the pros and cons should I succeed, agonising for hours until I decided that if I could at least have breasts, whatever consequences came as a result wouldn’t matter. I think I must have spent about four months, every morning and every night repeating the exercise this man had gone through, until eventually I realised that nothing was going to happen. I spent so long with a mind full of hope and denial, that I was utterly defeated.
After that, I put any thought of wanting to be a girl aside and didn’t revisit them for a very long time. But that’s going to have to wait until part 2, where I finally discover the term transgender, that I wasn’t the only one who had thoughts where I wanted to be a girl, and that there was something you could do about it.