The short answer: I can’t tell you. In a masterstroke of unhelpfulness, I have to tell you the truth: only you can decide if you’re trans. Even then, there isn’t a definitive test to find out. So instead of telling you if you’re trans, I’m going to give you a few questions to meditate on and some experiments to try out.
If it helps, work through these questions in a journal, sketchbook, song, conversation with friends or by yourself, roadtrip, or hike. Whatever helps you remember, open your mind, and reflect. Keep in mind that for most people, this isn’t a worksheet you grind out in an afternoon. It’s okay if it takes days, weeks, or even years. Work at your own pace. Trust yourself. And try to give yourself the benefit of the doubt when you aren’t sure of your intentions.
What does being trans mean to you?Personally, I say there are only two requirements are to be transgender: 1) identifying as a different gender than what you were assigned at birth and 2) choosing the label of transgender to describe yourself.
Notice how much is left out. Coming out, new clothes, new name, new pronouns, voice training, hormones, surgery, legal name and gender marker changes, and all those other steps? Those are optional, and they’re all decisions that can be made one at a time. To know if you’re trans, you only need to know your gender and whether or not you want to be called trans.
What does gender mean to you?
Gender is a slippery subject that resists objective description. It’s supposed to be messy. But let’s start with what it isn’t. Gender identity isn’t the same thing as sexual orientation. Sexuality describes who turns you on; gender describes who you are and how you see yourself. While many trans people are gay, they are completely different parts of a person.
Gender also isn’t limited to being a man or woman. You can be non-binary—something other than male or female. You can even be multiple different genders, changing over time or all at once. No matter what description you go by, those words mean what you want them to mean. Not all women wear dresses, not all men love football. Not all non-binary folks look androgynous. Be the person you want to be.
Your identity doesn’t depend on what your body looks like or how other people see you. It is an experience, a feeling, and a set of choices. In queer studies, we sometimes call gender a performance. Not because it’s fictional or fake, but because gender is something we do and create for ourselves, not something we are assigned.
If you want to be a boy, you are one. If you think you’re a girl, then you are one. If you decide you don’t fit in any gender, then you don’t have to be any of them. Of all the complicated things we’ll talk about here, this may be the simplest and the hardest.
It’s a good idea to educate yourself as you think on these questions. Reach to other trans people in support groups, subreddits, blogs, tumblrs, youtube channels, and even here on How To Trans. We’re everywhere, and a lot of us are parent hens looking for a baby trans to coddle and protect (you’ve been warned).
What road signs have you come across in your past?
- Were there expectations placed on you as a child, teen, or adult based on your gender that didn’t feel like they fit?
- Did you obsess over clothes, make-up, toys, or activities that are usually only acceptable for somebody of a different gender?
- Did you enjoy wearing differently-gendered costumes for holidays, parties, or performances?
- Did you often choose characters in games and video games who were a different gender?
- Did you overcompensate to try to fit into your given gender roles or push away obsessions that were “unacceptable”?
- Did you secretly like it if someone called you sir, mister, miss, or missus? Alternatively, did you feel hurt or get defensive when they used one over another?
- Did you fantasize or dream about being a different gender or wonder what it was like?
- Did you identify most with friends of a different gender? Were most of your friends that gender?
- Were there people of another gender who you idolized and wanted to be like on a deep level?
- Did you connect with stories where the character switches bodies with someone?
- Did you feel discomfort over your name or parts of your body?
- Did that discomfort increase during puberty? Did you find excuses to shave areas you weren’t expected to?
- Did you feel like you had a secret growing up that even you didn’t know?
- Did you ever harbor feelings of shame or depression without knowing why?
- Did you ever find yourself fascinated (or horrified) by the stories of trans people?
- Have you ever felt like your body was a set of clothes or a costume too small or too large for you?
- Have you spent a lot of time thinking about trans people or what it means to be trans?
Again, none of these are required to be trans, and sometimes non-trans people experience some of these things, too. But these are the kinds of things that stick out to many of my trans friends and I looking back. If several of these questions evoke strong emotional responses, pay attention to that. Those are puzzle pieces, and you get to decide when those pieces give you a clear picture.
What would you wish for your future?
Forget repercussions, forget responsibility, forget rules, forget fears, forget everything. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and indulge in a touch of fantasy. Think about a future where everything in your life goes perfectly. You have accomplished all of your greatest dreams and have become your best and happiest self you could possibly be. Now, take a look at yourself.
What do you look like? What are you wearing? What do people call you? If you have kids in this fantasy, what do they call you? When I came out, I asked myself, “If I could magically wake up and be seen and treated as a woman, would I?” When I realized that I would, that gave me a huge puzzle piece. We’ll worry about consequences and acting on these feelings later. But right now, you need to know what makes you happy.
If you don’t automatically picture yourself presenting as a different gender, that doesn’t mean you aren’t trans. Some trans people never change their presentation. But consider your fantasy again. Would it change if you thought of yourself as a different gender? How? Is that a change you might like?
What do the people who know you think?
This part is tricky. It involves putting yourself out there and coming out in a way. Also, even close friends don’t see everything that happens inside your head. Coming out showed me how even those closest to me saw me differently than I saw myself. So take others’ thoughts with a grain of salt. Nobody else should decide what, when, where, why, or how you should proceed in your self-reflection and journey.
But let’s say there’s someone who you’d trust with your life. Who sometimes knows you better than yourself. Maybe they’re a little ahead of you in life and know what’s coming around the bend. You should consider bringing them on board. It’s good life advice in general. Let them help you condense your thoughts and feelings and then hear what they have to say.
Are there things that make you feel doubtful or afraid?
Most trans people have times where they doubt themselves. Even the most secure of us worry that we’ve made a mistake sometimes. As a rule of thumb, if you have strong feelings, sleep on them. Give them a day or two to subside. If they stick around, see where those doubts are coming from. If they don’t, let them go.
If there are things that make you afraid or unsure of yourself, you should try to examine them. Are they as big a deal as they seem? Will they always be that way? And would it be more constructive if you thought about them another way? Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend in need: with compassion and patience.
It’s worth noting that cis people never have to defend their gender. Being cis is the norm, so they don’t question themselves. Yet many people expect trans folks to agonize over their identity to be 100% certain. Screw that. I give you permission to not be totally sure right now. Or ever. Learn to embrace who you are in the moment, and the future you will do the same as time goes on.
What would you like to try doing?
There’s a fable of a hiker who got lost on a mountain and didn’t know where they were. So they decided to go the one direction they knew: up. It wasn’t until they got to the summit that they could look back and see where they were when they got lost and where to go next.For many of us, solidifying whether or not we are trans is a similar process. We take steps in one direction until we can see more clearly. Take baby steps. Buy new underwear. Shave somewhere new. Put on makeup (btw, mascera makes a great temporary beard). Stuff, bind, pack, tuck, or dress up in the mirror by yourself. Reclaim your body. Pick a new name. Try new pronouns. Experiment, and have fun! If you feel comfortable on your own, maybe show off to a trusted friend.
Each step along the way can make your heart feel like it’s in freefall. Challenge yourself, but take your time. Think back to the hiking metaphor. Find a meadow on the mountain and stick around for a while. If you like that, go visit a new meadow and see how that feels. You can always turn back, and nothing has to be permanent or in any order.
Some advice from an old trans lady: enjoy the excitement. Learning who you are and what makes you happy is pure magic. Take pictures, keep a journal, and share the ride with people you can trust.
What are the costs of coming out as trans?
Keep in mind that being openly trans can come at a high cost. Trans folks live at a high risk of poverty and violence. We put up with everything from micro-aggressions to full-blown discrimination in employment and housing. The stress of living in a world that wasn’t built for you sticks with you 24/7 and wears on you over time.
You may lose friends and family if you come out. If you depend on financial assistance from a relative, that support may depend on their reaction. Employers and coworkers may change how they treat you. Also remember that a new gender presentation comes with new expectations and forms of sexism.
Medical transition can become expensive, too. Therapists, endocrinologists, hormones, and blood draws add up quickly. Opting for surgery is a whole other world. Health insurance is getting better at covering these treatments, but not everyone has access to insurance. Hormones also come with emotional side effects and affect fertility, but we’ll talk about those in a couple other posts.
We don’t want to scare you, but these are real concerns. We want you to be smart, make informed decisions, and be as safe as you can. Which leads to a similar question.
What are the costs of not coming out?
There are legitimate reasons to choose not to come out, and everyone needs to take their own path in their own time. But make no mistake, once you’ve realized that you are trans, you will have to make choices. Changing nothing is still a choice, and it comes with its own disadvantages.
Keeping a secret can take a massive toll on a person. And as someone’s life starts to take shape around a family, job, or social standing, it becomes harder and harder to make changes. Being out can give you more time living authentically, more people viewing you the way you want, improved mental health, the ability to outwardly transition, and other huge bonuses. One of the biggest? The relief of letting go.
Sometimes sticking to what you’re already doing is the wisest choice. But it’s a mistake to believe the passive choice doesn’t also come with risks. You’re no longer choosing between taking a chance or not. You get to decide which chance is worth taking.
Who are you now?
After all these hard questions—and the many more these will stir up—you’ll have a much broader picture of who you are. I can’t promise it will be clearer. It likely won’t be easier. I hope you can give yourself permission to feel and be what you need.
Keep working through these investigations until you feel like you know something. That learning process will continue for the rest of your life. Eventually you’ll decide on if you meet the first part of the trans definition and if you want to agree to the second one.
By Noel Arthur Heimpel, via Tumblr
Educate yourself, review your past, and look toward the future to find what makes you happy. Listen to your gut and pay attention to what feelings stick with you. Get people you trust (especially if they are also trans) to help you sort through your fears and make smart decisions—one choice at a time. And for the love of Laverne Cox, embrace each new discovery and every small victory.
No matter what you learn, this is the start of something beautiful: You.