Content warnings: Depression, Suicidal Ideation, Violent Imagery, Transmisogyny, Racism, Sexy Stuff, Masturbation, Stuff my Mom Might not Want to Read, Bad Words, Movie Spoilers, Really Long
Hello, I’m Trans
I’m trans, y’all. I’m way trans. I’m so trans, I’m like … Well, I don’t really know what the scale is, but I’m trans.
I didn’t always know this about myself.
It’s common for people to wonder, “When did you know?”
“How did you know?”
And, look, a warning in advance: this is going to be long. It’s going to be long, but if you stick with it, I hope you’ll think it was worth it.
It’s Always Three
If you’ve ever bothered to look up other trans people’s stories—or the stories of queer people in general—you’ve likely heard the phrase “I just always knew.” It’s a common sentence in stories of LGBTQ self-discovery, perhaps exceeded only in popularity by “I’ve known since I was three.”
I don’t know why three is so popular. I’ve never heard anyone say they knew they were gay when they were four or that they figured out their gender stuff when they were five. It always seems to be three. It’s like the Gay Fairy arrives precisely on your third birthday to awaken your inner … Well … Gay fairy.
But, I didn’t know when I was three. I didn’t know when I was two or five or twenty-four. I mean, in hindsight, it seems kinda obvious. It seems obvious in the way that tracing a path through a labyrinth looks kind of obvious when viewed from above, but when you’re down in the middle of the maze, it’s not so easy to figure out.
The … Thing …
When I was a kid, I don’t recall any particular desire to dress in girl clothing or play with Barbie dolls or any of the other clichés cis people like to obsess over. I liked He-Man and Transformers just fine, thank you very much. But, there was this … thing? It’s hard to explain, but it was this thing that would happen when I played with female action figures. When I played with the male characters, y’know, I just had fun making up stories about He-Man punching Skeletor. But, when I played with Teela or Evil-Lyn, I’d get this kind of … charge. I enjoyed it in a way that was entirely different from the way I enjoyed playing with Ram Man.
I didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but it was like a surge of electricity going through me. I look at it like this: When you’re a kid playing with your toys, you’re like a little method actor. You sort of put yourself into the head of the character you’re performing. And, when I put myself into Teela’s head, it was like every nerve in my body was lighting up and saying, “Oh … Oh, this is kind of nice.”
It freaked me right the fuck out. It really only happened a couple of times because it scared me so much I pretty much swore off playing with any kind of feminine toy, even if said toy was just the token female character in a show about muscley men beating up other muscley men.
I may not have understood what was happening, but I did understand that I existed in a world strictly delineated between boys and girls. I understood that boys did not like girl things and that to like a girl thing was to bring one’s boyness into question. Whatever the hell that electric-charge reaction might have been, I understood that to experience it was to risk having the whole of human society turn on me, hissing and pointing like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).
OK, I hadn’t actually seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers at that age. I’m not even really sure precisely what age this would have been, but if you made me give you an estimate … I guess three wouldn’t be entirely off the mark.
Anyway, that reaction I had … That feeling, that charge, that burst of electricity … I might not have known then, but I can recognize it now. It’s a feeling I’ve experienced many times in my journey of self-discovery.
It was gender euphoria.
I wouldn’t feel it again for quite some time. Because I suppressed all that. And, even though I had action figures of Janine from The Real Ghostbusters and April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I didn’t play with them. I left those for my sister while I played with Egon and Donatello. And, even though I occasionally imagined what it might be like to be a girl, I was able to convince myself that this was just curiosity, an interesting thought experiment. Surely, it wasn’t that weird to wonder what it would be like to experience the world as someone fundamentally different than yourself. The fact that I only ever wondered what it was like to be a girl—and not, say, black or disabled or really tall—never really occurred to me.
And, so the status quo persisted. With the electric euphoria charges in the past and the rest safely rationalized away, I had little reason to think that anything was amiss aside from vague feelings of wrongness and discomfort that were easy to attribute to the fact that I was an extremely shy child who never really fit in anywhere.
I had little reason to think anything was wrong, that is, until I started jacking off.
And look, I’m a little hesitant to share this part of the story—partly because it’s conceivable that my mama could read this one day and I don’t need her to think about me jacking off, but mostly, I’m kind of nervous that this could be twisted to reinforce the ideas of the autogynephilia crowd.
For those not in the know, autogynephilia is a controversial theory posited by Ray Blanchard. The basic gist of it is that trans women really just get turned on by the idea of being a woman. Transition, gender presentation, surgeries … At a fundamental level, Blanchard seems to pretty much think these are all things we do just to make our dicks hard.
Blanchard bases this theory on two things: 1.) The fact that some people describe being aroused by such thoughts and 2.) The wild guess that all the trans people who don’t are probably big, fat liars.
The autogynephilia theory is, ahem, unpopular in the trans community and is beloved by those who want to paint us as a bunch of great, big perverts.
For what it’s worth, I do not subscribe to Blanchard’s theories, and my gender identity is entirely unrelated to me being a big, ol’ pervert.
I’m not really a pervert.
But, elements of what I’m about to write could look like autogynephilia to an outside observer or someone actively trying to make my experience fit their pet theory.
But, I’m trying to be brutally honest, so here goes.
I was kind of a late bloomer, but I remember the exact moment of my sexual awakening. I was at least 14 at the time. Maybe even 15. I was at home alone, and I was playing Family Feud for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Aaaand, I got a boner.
It’s not like Family Feud for the SNES caused the boner. It was just one of those random popups boners like to do every now and then, especially when you’re 14. And, it’s not like it was the first such boner I’d ever had, but it was the first time I thought to myself, maybe I’ll rub on this a little bit.
I basically knew about sex—at least to the extent they bothered to teach it in my small, Southern private school, which is to say I had a vague idea of how to make babies. But, I didn’t know about masturbation. I assumed that no one else in the world had ever thought to do this.
I thought I was inventing something.
In itself, this doesn’t have that much to do with my gender, but there’s one kind of important detail: I didn’t know what turned me on.
I’d never really experienced sexual attraction at that point. I’d never even had a crush or anything like that. So, when I went about to wanking, I was really flying dark, so to speak … Or …
Anyway, I didn’t actually know what did it for me, so the pictures I was running through my head were just images of things I thought boys were supposed to be turned on by. And, I guess it sort of worked? I mean, I was able to masturbate, y’know … successfully. Not so much that day, but—because I did this multiple times, you see—I was eventually able to make the sperms jump out of my dick.
But, it was always kind of forced. Trying to imagine putting my bits and pieces into a woman’s bits and pieces basically got me there, but it was like eating McNuggets when what you really want is Chick-Fil-A. Sure, the McDonald’s will fill you up, but it’s ultimately bland and unsatisfying.
Yeah, yeah, I know …
Goddammit, y’all … Why do homophobes have to make the best chicken?
What did it for Me
As time went on, my brain started throwing out all sorts of other sexy scenarios as if trying to find the one that would make this all feel the way it was actually supposed to feel.
Some of the scenarios were quite extreme.
But I didn’t hit anything that really worked until maybe a year or so later when my brain tried flipping the genders.
That worked. That worked like gangbusters.
And, it freaked me right the fuck out. I swore to myself I would never ever let my brain go to that place again.
While my swearing off of feminine action figures had been largely successful, my willpower was no match for the needs of my burgeoning sexuality. And, as weird as some of the sexual scenarios concocted by my brain had previously been, nothing scared me as much as the comparatively vanilla fantasy of a man putting his dick in my hoo hoo.
I know it doesn’t make sense in hindsight, but I thought I was gay.
Back then, in rural South Carolina, in the mid-90s, gay acceptance wasn’t really a thing. Gay was mostly an insult hurled at boys who weren’t seen as boy enough. I was already a socially anxious weirdo with no friends. I couldn’t handle that possibility.
I could handle the possibility of transness even less. I mean, I was vaguely aware that there was a thing people referred to as a “sex change operation” that was allegedly performed on people who felt “trapped in a man’s body,” so the concept wasn’t 100% alien to me, and the possibility that this was actually what was going on did pop into my head in brief, fleeting moments. But, while contemplating the possibility of gayness was scary as fuck, the possibility of transness was too frightening to even think about. So, I didn’t. When that thought entered my brain, I reflexively pushed it away without even giving it consideration.
My family wasn’t the most religious in the world in that we didn’t really attend church, something of an anomaly in this part of the world, but I was raised to believe in Jesus and the Bible and all that jazz. And, I understood part of that jazz to be that it was bad to be gay.
Now, I was a Goody Two-Shoes. I respected my parents. I believed in the Lord. I was obedient. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink. I was well-behaved. I studied hard and made good grades. In those days, I didn’t even cuss. Being good was part of my very identity.
But, I thought I was a bad person. That’s what my belief in Jesus and the Bible did for me.
I thought I was going to go to hell.
I’m not here to bash Christianity or anything. There are a lot of Christians out there offering nothing but support and acceptance for queer folks. And, there are a lot of trans people who successfully transition without losing their religion.
And, more power to those people, but that wasn’t my experience.
For me, for the person I was and the situation I found myself in, Christianity offered nothing but guilt, shame, and self-loathing.
Even as I grew to sympathize with the plight of LGBTQ people in general, I could find no such sympathy for myself.
I prayed to God for help, for guidance. I prayed for him to please fix whatever was wrong with me.
But, he never did.
A lot of people find joy and meaning in religion.
I found nothing but pain.
Religion inspires some people to do good in the world.
It just made me hate myself.
For a lot of people, religion can be a thoroughly positive experience.
For me, it was poison.
I did finally manage to justify to myself that I wasn’t gay. There was always a woman involved in my fantasies, after all. And, even though I always put myself in the feminine role, I was able to convince myself that the focus of my fantasies was still a woman, even if that woman was me, thereby making me straight on a technicality.
So, when I started squeezing my flabby pectorals together to make it look like I had cleavage, I told myself that cleavage was a pretty standard thing for a teenage boy to be interested in.
And, when I progressed to sneaking bras out of the laundry and trying them on in the bathroom, I told myself that I just liked touching women’s clothing. Wearing the bra, I deluded myself into thinking, was just a way of touching the bra, and touching a bra seemed like a reasonable thing for a totally not gay boy to want to do.
I was so full of shit.
And also paranoia.
I still thought I was going to hell. As much as I tried to convince myself that everything I did was normal, I still knew that no one else would ever think so, and I lived in fear that someone would find out.
These experiments largely happened in the privacy of the bathroom, usually when no one else was home, but I was so paranoid. First, I’d always make sure the blinds were closed.
But, then, I would try to memorize the positioning of the clothes in the laundry basket before I removed anything. When I was done with the underwear, I wanted to be able to return everything to its exact position because, if the slightest thing were out of place, I was convinced that everyone would know.
I would open the closet door just to make sure there was no one inside.
I’d slide open the shower curtain just in case there was someone hiding in the bathtub waiting to catch me in a pair of panties.
But the most paranoid thing …
There was a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, a medicine cabinet with three doors. Each of the three doors had a section of mirror so that, when the three doors were closed, the three sections would combine to make one big mirror.
But, every time I went into the bathroom for some cross-gender experimentation, I would open up all three of the doors. I would open them up just in case someone had replaced the mirrors with a piece of one-way glass and hidden a camera behind there.
All these years later, it finally occurs to me …
I never thought to check inside the washer or dryer.
It’s not really that I actually believed any of this was going to happen … But, I lived in fear that someone was going to find out what I was up to. The sense of dread was overwhelming, and any risk—even the absurdly unlikely one of hidden cameras and sneaky shower sleuths—was unacceptable. The stakes were just too high.
So, my late teens and early twenties were a swirling vortex of confusion, guilt, fear, and shame. Under the circumstances, it probably shouldn’t have been that surprising when depression upended my life.
Now, I don’t know how much of the depression can be laid at the feet of my gender issues. I can’t really pin it on any one thing. The cause was probably a complicated, twisted amalgamation of several murky factors that combined in just the right way to completely destroy me, but let’s be fair: the gender stuff, my attempts at stifling it, the societal ramifications entailed by such, and the self-loathing that grew out of it were absolutely traumatizing. It was more traumatizing than I even realized at the time, and my mental health wasn’t exactly in tip-top shape to begin with.
The long and short of this is that, after three years on the dean’s list, I flunked out of college and spent the next couple of years locking myself in the bathroom every other day and sobbing hysterically until I just went numb.
I don’t know whether to say I was actually suicidal. I definitely wanted to die, but like, I didn’t really want to do it myself? If that makes a difference? When no one else was home, though, sometimes I’d sit and stare at my daddy’s gun cabinet and dream about it.
I was in a bad place.
The severity waxed and waned for a bit, but every time I’d start feeling even the slightest bit better, my daddy would decide it was a good time to start pressuring me to either get a job or go back to school.
To be fair to him, he’d seen me do little else but lie in bed staring numbly at the ceiling for weeks at a time, and there’s not really much of a future in that kind of work.
But, I was fragile. In the state I was in, even the slightest bit of pressure was enough to send me right back down in the shit.
a.k.a. Guess who’s an Atheist
Eventually, though, I lucked into a part-time job at the newspaper where my aunt worked. Being actually employed alleviated some of the pressure I was under, the work was enough to keep me from sitting around and ruminating all the time, and the hours were limited enough to keep me from feeling completely overwhelmed. And, the depression subsided. I won’t say it went away, exactly. I’ve never been quite the same, and it still doesn’t take much for me to start falling into despair, but it was better. It was under-control-ish.
The years went by, and my religious faith started to fade as I failed to reconcile the old stories with scientific facts. Under the circumstances, this was—if you’ll excuse the irony—something of a blessing. By the time I moved out of my parents’ house, I was a full-on atheist.
Realizing that I no longer believed in God was about as frightening as realizing I wanted to try on ladies’ clothes. When your whole worldview is based on something, it’s terrifying to feel that something pulling out from under you, but it was ultimately for the best. While I do have some psychological scars left behind by Christianity—I still can’t enter a church without feeling a tinge of guilt—I was able to get past a lot of the religion-inspired shame.
I still fantasized about being a woman, sometimes in a sexual way and sometimes not, but I no longer believed I was going to go to hell for it. However, it would still be several years before I was able to face up to what those fantasies might actually mean. After years of actively avoiding any kind of real analysis of what was going on, I’d sort of made a habit of it, and it would take a mild wake-up call to knock me out of it. And, when that wake-up call came, I finally thought to myself …
… Maybe I’m gay?
Yeah. I still had a ways to go.
The Wake-Up Call
a.k.a. Figuring Shit Out
Said wake-up call came in a comment on an article I read somewhere on the internet. The details aren’t important, but the gist of it was this: The commenter was a gay man who, in his youthful denial of his sexuality, had allegedly watched heterosexual pornography during which he imagined himself in the woman’s role. By watching heterosexual porn, I guess, he was able to convince himself that he was straight while still indulging in the fantasy of being fucked by a man.
Inasmuch as I’d ever let myself acknowledge my gender-bending fantasies—which was not a lot—I’d largely convinced myself that they were a sexy fetish, a weird-ass kink of some sort.
Now, this position required me to ignore all of the non-sexy being-a-woman thoughts I’d ever had, not to mention my predilection for playing female characters in video games.
But, as I think we’ve established by now, I was pretty good at deluding myself.
And, from the perspective of viewing my gender weirdness as a kink, Anonymous Internet Guy’s comment seemed about the closest thing I’d ever read to an experience like my own.
So, I watched some gay porn.
It didn’t work.
So, I watched some more. I tried to make it work, and … Well, I guess I masturbated successfully, y’know, but it was forced. Like, I’d rather be eating Chick-Fil-A, if you catch my drift.
I tried. I really tried to convince myself that I was gay.
But, I was attracted to women, so that didn’t really track.
Somewhere in the back of my brain, a voice whispered, “… trans?” I promptly pushed that voice aside and pretended it didn’t exist.
Bisexual! Maybe I can be bisexual! I mean, I did have some attraction to men, especially in the genital region, but …
… But, alas, the idea of a man having sex with another man remained unappealing.
Lesbian porn was hot. Straight porn was hot. But, two men doin’ it? Not my thing.
The one real constant was that the porn I liked required at least one woman in it: One woman to whom I could relate, whose experience I could imagine as my own.
The thought of having sex with a man was arousing enough, but only if I could be a woman. And, sex with a woman? Also arousing … If I could be a woman.
That’s when it hit me. “Aha! I know what this is!” I shouted to myself.
Look, people, I read about it online when I was trying to make sense of my shit. At first I didn’t know it even had anything to do with being trans. I thought it was just a description of a sexy fetish some people had.
And … I thought it fit?
When I was actively wrestling with all this, an interesting thing happened: I had a reason to live.
The worst of the depression was long since behind me, and it had probably been years since I’d genuinely wanted to die, but an actual reason to live? That was new.
I could see my life as a gay dude … Or, bi, or … Whatever I turned out to be … I could see the possibility of that life opening up in front of me. If I could just finally figure all this out, it seemed like it would be an opportunity. It looked like a real chance for me to be happy, not just vaguely contented to come home from work and play video games, but to be really, genuinely happy.
And, it changed something inside me. I was eating less. I was exercising. I lost, like, sixty pounds. I was cleaning the house instead of just sitting around in my own filth. I even pushed through my social anxiety enough to put in job applications, and interview for jobs, and even get a second part-time job to supplement the income from the first, which was growing increasingly difficult to get by on.
For the first time in a long while, I felt hopeful, optimistic, excited about the future.
And, with the second job providing a small amount of disposable income, I decided to indulge in this autogynephilia thing a little bit.
I bought some women’s clothes.
Not much. At first, just some panties and a bra.
I put them on, and yes, for the sake of full disclosure … I jacked my dick.
But, when the dick-jacking was done? I kept them on.
Not like that, OK. They were clean, y’all. I didn’t jack off in the panties.
Living on my own, it had been years since I’d had a laundry basket of other people’s clothes to pilfer, and I’d long since grown too big to fit into anything I would have been likely to find there, anyway. So, this marked the first time in almost two decades I’d worn women’s clothing. More importantly, it was the first time ever that I’d been able to do so without that combined sense of shame and paranoia there to overwhelm me. And, after the arousal was gone, I felt … Nice.
So, I kept them on. I slept in them. They just made me feel … Comfortable?
More clothes, I thought. I needed more. Not a lot—I still wasn’t making that much money—but since I’d already made a habit of wearing the underwear to bed, I thought a nightgown would be appropriate.
So, I got one. And, when I put it on for the first time … I don’t know, maybe I jacked my dick again; I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the charge, the surge of electricity going through me, the feeling of every nerve in my body lighting up.
It was that same feeling I had when I was three-ish playing with Teela and Evil-Lyn.
It was gender euphoria.
Gender dysphoria gets all the press. That’s the word that describes the negative feelings aroused by elements of a trans person’s assigned-at-birth gender. Gender euphoria is the exact opposite. It’s the positive feelings associated with presenting as one’s, y’know, actual gender. The feeling is hard to describe, but I feel like a big part of it, at least for me, might be this:
If you’d asked me before, I probably would have told you that I’d never experienced gender dysphoria. The truth is probably more like I didn’t recognize it for what it was. That sense of unease, that lingering discomfort with my body, that feeling that somehow, someway, I wasn’t quite as male as I ought to be … This, I’d thought, was just the way it was. For the most part, I didn’t even experience these things as distinct emotions. It was just the background noise of my life, like the ringing in your ears you don’t notice until you stop to listen for it.
But, when I put that nightgown on, some of that stuff, a tiny part of it, went away.
And, it felt good.
It felt so good.
Not good in a sexy way.
I can’t speak for everyone—we all have different experiences with this stuff—but for me, dysphoria was like carrying around a heavy backpack. If you carry it for long enough, you forget about it. You don’t even notice it’s there. Until you finally take it off. When the weight is gone from your shoulders, and there’s only one feeling left:
The heavier that backpack is, the better that feeling is when it’s gone.
And, while I hadn’t entirely understood it at the time, this was a fucking heavy backpack.
More than Meets the Eye
Here’s something else that happened when I was a kid, and bear with me; I am going somewhere with this:
When I was a kid, I used to play with Transformers. Odds are, you’re at least passingly familiar with them. The good guys are the Autobots. The bad guys are the Decepticons. Each side has its own logo: A red robo-face for the Autobots, a purple one for the Decepticons.
Now, back in the early eighties, the logos came as a set of stickers included with each toy. My mama used to stick them to the toys for me.
But, she always put the Autobot stickers on upside-down. I never corrected her on this, and she continued to do it. It was an understandable mistake. The upside-down robo-face still looked like a robo-face. It had eyes, a nose, a mouth … some kind of … war paint?
In some ways it looked even more like a face than the actual logo, just more sorrowful and less badass.
I mean, it kind of looked like Darth Vader dressed as a racist Native American stereotype for Halloween.
The upside-down Decepticon logo, on the other hand, looks like Cthulhu fucked one of the Pac-Man ghosts.
But, the point is that the upside-down Autobot logo looked so much like a face that I’d get confused when I saw the right-side-up version. Like … The thing I’d taken to be a mouth was suddenly on the robot’s forehead, and that … That didn’t make any sense …
The reason I tell this story is that my gender was kind of like that Autobot robo-face. That’s why it took me so long to figure this shit out. I’d spent my entire life—over thirty years at that point—looking at my gender upside-down, and … I thought it made sense? And, where it didn’t make sense …
Well, that weird detail over there … Surely, that can’t be you’re-a-woman. It’s probably a little bit of gay. And that squiggle on the top … I know it isn’t I-want-to-be-a-girl. It’s probably just a touch of this-makes-my-dick-hard. And that thing where it feels like I want a vagina? That’s probably just Darth Vader in a racist costume.
That night when I put that nightgown on for the first time … That was probably the first time I’d ever gotten a good look at my gender right-side-up.
And, I still didn’t figure it out.
Look y’all, if you’ve followed me this far, I wish this story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. This isn’t the story of finding happiness and acceptance in my life. It isn’t even about my coming out or transitioning—I still haven’t gotten that far. This is the story of discovering who I am. Before you go on, I’ll let you know that I’m in a better place emotionally and psychologically than I was when I finally figured that out. It’s not perfect, and it’s a damn sight worse than that high point when the future looked to be all cupcakes and roses, but it’s better.
But, this story doesn’t end there.
This story ends with darkness.
Here goes …
I wore that nightgown all night. I went to sleep feeling amazing. I woke up in good spirits, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth … It was all swell.
Then, I had to get dressed for work.
Not at all suspecting what came next, I pulled the nightgown up over my head.
And, instantly, my heart sank, my stomach twisted in knots, and I stared blankly forward, feeling this deepening sense of malaise spread over me.
Because, you may not notice the backpack until you take it off, but when you have to put it back on …
If it’s heavy enough …
It sucks big time.
There was one sentence that went through my head, one sentence, which was the only way I could think to describe the feeling that suddenly and unexpectedly came over me, one sentence that I think is still the closest I can come to putting it into words:
“A little piece of my soul just died.”
As previously alluded to, I am an atheist. I don’t even believe in a soul in any kind of literal sense, but that’s the best I got.
Something inside of me, something in my psyche, something central to my very essence, something that makes me ME … If it didn’t actually die, it got the shit stabbed out of it. What’s worse …
I stabbed it.
I stabbed it when I took away the one article of femininity that had finally let it sing. When I took that one piece of clothing off, I took that perfect, beautiful, vibrant thing inside me and shoved it back down into a dark, dirty hole.
That was the moment I knew that whatever was going on in my head wasn’t autogynephilia. It wasn’t just a kink or a fetish. When you take away a thing that makes your dick hard, it just makes your dick soft again. It doesn’t murder your fucking soul.
Autogynephilia is Bullshit
There are several problems with Blanchard’s theory, far too many to go into here. If you want a more thorough takedown, there are several to be found on the web. Feel free to google it.
But, one of the most fundamental issues is a simple, basic failure to differentiate between correlation and causation. Correlation does not equal causation. This was one of the first things my Psych 101 professor pounded into my head. Some people being aroused by picturing themselves as women may very well be a real phenomenon, and it very well may manifest in some trans people. But, Blanchard seems to make the most common, basic mistake in science: He forgets to separate correlation from causation. His typology relies on the unfounded assumption that the sexual arousal is the root cause of a mismatched gender identity when it’s just as conceivable that the gender identity causes the arousal or even that neither causes the other but that both are simply linked to some other phenomenon.
And, even those possibilities only seem likely if we assume that patterns of autogynephilic arousal manifest in trans people more often than in the general populace, which at least one study of cisgender women suggests may not be the case.
The other Freshman-level mistake Blanchard makes is his apparent assumption that trans women who claim not to experience such patterns of arousal are simply lying. And, look, let’s be fair: people do lie. And, embarrassing sexy stuff is certainly one of the things they’re likely to lie about. But, by making this assumption, Blanchard is essentially throwing out all data points that fail to support his theory. This is, ahem, an inherently unscientific methodology. I could very well claim that 100% of Ray Blanchards enjoy the smell of their own farts if I only assume that any Ray Blanchard reporting otherwise is simply a liar.
Julia Serano touches on this in her book Whipping Girl.
Autogynephilia, I mean.
She has this to say: “… more common in the MTF community are people who describe being sexually aroused by their own cross-gender expression during their early stages of gender experimentation, but who over time experience a reduction or a complete loss of arousal in response to such feminine self-expressions.” She goes on to add, “… the temporary sexual phase they experienced when they were crossdressing was more related to their overcoming the highly sexualizing cultural symbolism commonly associated with femaleness and femininity.”
She has a lot more to say on the subject—and many others—and the book is well worth a read.
Society sexualizes and objectifies women to a ridiculous degree. From movies to music to advertisements for deodorant, almost every artifact produced by our culture manages, in some way, to objectify femininity in a sexual manner.
Even children’s cartoons, for God’s sake.
We grow up with that kind of objectification ingrained in our brains, and when we start exploring our sexualities, maybe some of us—especially those for whom femininity was a forbidden desire … For some of us, maybe the only way our sexually awakening pubertal brains know to handle that confusing, toxic combination of factors is to start sexually objectifying ourselves.
But, even then, looking back at my own experience, I feel like a lot of what I interpreted as arousal at the idea of being a woman may have simply been that it wasn’t arousing to imagine myself in the male role.
I’d guess it’s probably pretty unusual for cisgender women to imagine themselves as men in their sexual fantasies. If we accept that transgender women are women … And, we should; we aren’t stupid assholes, here …
But, if we do accept that trans women are women, then it shouldn’t be surprising at all that we don’t like imagining ourselves as men.
That was more or less my experience. Imagining myself as a man having sex with a woman was always unappealing. But, I did like imagining myself as a woman having sex with a man. Or, with another woman.
The point is, imagining oneself as a woman having sex with a man is exactly the type of normal fantasy one would expect a woman to have. But, it was hard to reconcile that normal female fantasy with my ostensible maleness, and maybe I made sense of it the only way I knew how: By telling myself I had a weird fetish.
That way of looking at myself died at the precise moment as that little piece of my soul, when I took off the nightgown and mortally wounded that part of myself that had just learned to not hurt.
But, that feeling, that awful feeling … It passed.
For the rest of the day, at least.
I wore the nightgown again the next night. The good feeling—the gender euphoria … It came back.
The next morning, the bad feeling … If anything, worse this time. This time, I knew it was coming. This morning, I had time to dread.
The same pattern played out over and over. Day after day.
Then, one morning, I cried.
I’ve cried before. I’ve cried a lot, in fact. But, I’d never been so overcome with the crying that my knees buckled and I fell on the floor. Not until that morning.
It wasn’t the last time I cried like that, though.
It wasn’t an everyday thing. Not at first. That soul-dying feeling, the pang of stabbing myself in what felt like the most important part: That was every day. The crying, at first anyway, was maybe once a week. Then, twice a week. Then, three times. And, four.
You can see where this is going.
Every night, I wore some type of female clothing, and it was good. It was right. It was … relief.
And, every morning, I stabbed my own soul, collapsed on the bed, and I cried. Bad crying. Not nice crying like you see in the movies, where a tear or two rolls down your cheek. We’re talking ugly crying, with huge, wracking sobs. The word crying doesn’t even really do it justice. I think maybe there was an element of panic in there. I’d start hyperventilating. My whole body would shake uncontrollably. Sounds of pain bubbled up in my throat and came out of my mouth in strained, trembling whimpers. The tears … There were tears. Obviously, there were tears. It wouldn’t be crying without tears. But, the thing that sticks in my head the most … Apart from the pain, anyway … Aside from the pain, the thing that sticks in my head the most is snot. When you cry hard enough, the snot runs freely, and so it did with me: Snot running out of my nose. Big bubbles of snot inflating out of my nostrils until they finally burst. Snot running down my face and onto the bed, mixing with my tears, until I was lying in a pool of salt water and boogers.
Sometimes, this would last a few minutes. Sometimes, it would last an hour or more.
When I couldn’t cry anymore, I’d lie in bed, shaking. Eventually, I’d reach out with an unsteady hand to the box of Kleenex on the nightstand. I’d clean myself up as much as my trembling hands could manage.
I’d go numb. I’d feel … Well, I guess it was a combination of what psychologists call derealization and depersonalization. Everything was happening through a kind of mental haze. The world was there, but it seemed far away, not quite real. And, I became completely detached from my body, like it wasn’t quite mine, like I was trying to operate it from a distance. Or, even like I wasn’t operating it at all. Like I was sitting somewhere behind my eyes, and my body was just going through the motions without me.
In this state, I’d get to my feet unsteadily, finish getting dressed, and stumble into the bathroom. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. If I looked at myself too long, the whole thing would start right over again. So, I brushed my hair without looking, did whatever else I needed to in a foggy haze, then wandered into the living room to recuperate as best I could before going to work.
That may have been the hardest part. Nearly every morning, I was having what I can only think of as a traumatic experience, but I still had to pull it together, go to work and pretend everything was OK.
How I Knew
That’s what finally made me realize I was trans.
It was the crying.
It was the feeling like shit all day every day, trying to hold back my emotions.
It was getting home and having those emotions spill out in another round of tears almost as soon as the front door closed behind me.
It was the creeping return of depression.
It was getting ready for bed earlier and earlier every day just so that I could get into my nightgown and feel that sense of relief.
And, again, the next morning …
It was the crying.
Gender … It’s complicated … And, our relationship with it is complicated. People try to boil it down to a question of what kind of ’nads the doctor thought you had when you fell out of your mama’s pussy, but that’s not it. It’s a complex combination of genetics, anatomy, societal conventions, sexuality, and some ineffable quirk of mental wiring we haven’t even begun to comprehend. Some of those things are anatomical, some are mental, and some are cultural, but they all feed into the concepts of what everyone means when we use the words man or woman, the pronouns he or she. It’s just that traditionally, in the Western world, all that other stuff is assumed to follow on from what your crotch looks like.
It doesn’t. Not always. Often, it does. Maybe even most of the time, which is why the genitally defined paradigm seems so deceptively obvious. But, not always.
It shouldn’t be that hard to believe that male brains and female brains are different. It’s hard to measure, but easy to observe in nature. In blue jays, for example, the mother sits on the eggs while the father hunts for food. I think we can safely say the birds weren’t influenced by the gender stereotypes they saw on TV. There’s an instinct. There’s something biological going on there. When the doe watches passively while two bucks ram antlers over who gets to screw her, it’s not because they learned this behavior from the other kids on the playground. It’s something innate, something they were born to do.
And, it should be clear that … unusual things can happen.
The vast majority of men are sexually attracted to women. Most women are sexually attracted to men. The idea that this is learned behavior is about as debunked as debunked can be. Male brains are wired to want women, and female brains are wired to want men. Except when they’re not. Because gay people exist.
And, if the part of your brain that tells you who to fuck—probably the single most important impulse for the survival of the species … If the who-to-fuck part of your brain can get wired out of accordance with the physical aspects of one’s genitals and the reproductive possibilities implied by such, surely …
Surely, it isn’t that hard to believe that the fundamentally ineffable mental wiring that tells you whether you’re a man or a woman, that tells you whether to stay in the nest or go out and hunt, that tells you whether to butt heads or stare on in amusement …
Surely, it isn’t hard to believe that could get connected in a nonstandard way.
And, if you know that, and you still think genitals are the most important part, that a person’s innermost sense of who they are is less important than what’s on the outside, that the superficial appearance of the flesh between their legs should dictate every aspect of their existence and determine their very place in society …
If you believe that …
Well, if you believe that …
You can go fuck yourself.
A lot of people want to believe that transness is defined by stereotypes, that it’s all about entirely superficial things like clothing and makeup. While it’s true that one of the easiest, most obvious things a trans person can do to embrace their gender identity is to change clothes, that’s not really what it’s about. That’s not it at all.
When I took off that nightgown, stabbed myself in the soul, and collapsed in a puddle of tears and snot, it wasn’t really about the nightgown. Not really.
But, trans people can’t snap our fingers and have the body we’d feel comfortable in.
We can’t drink a magic potion and make the world see us as we want to be seen.
What we can do is buy an article of clothing heavily associated with femininity or masculinity. We can pick up a symbol of the person we want to be, the person we already are on the inside. And, by wearing that symbol, we can, in some small way, let that inner person free, assert ourselves in an affirming way as who we really are. And, while an article of girly or masculine clothing doesn’t fundamentally change us, our embrace of those affirming symbols can ease the pain. It can, in a very real way, make us feel just a little bit better, a little more ourselves.
For a lot of us, embracing those symbols can be very empowering. After a lifetime of fear, confusion, and repression, after we finally figure out who we are, we want to celebrate it. We want to take that gender and fly it like a flag, display it as a badge of honor, shove it down the fucking throats of every asshole who would hold it against us. More than celebration, we want to revel in it. We want to grab everything associated with our gender, everything we felt shamed and ridiculed for all our lives … We want to take it and wallow around in it. We want to hold our gender up to the sky and sing its praises. We want to climb to the top of the highest mountain and shout it at the very heavens.
And, if we can’t do that?
I don’t know.
If we can’t do that, I guess maybe we cry.
And, again, I’m sorry if this finishes on a down note, but that’s how this story ends:
With me crying.