In this week’s edition of the Ask a Gender Therapist Video Q&A Series I answer the question:
How Do I Know If I’m Transgender?
Note: This video was originally made in 2014, and I’ve learned a lot since then as a gender therapist. There are some phrases and terms I used in the video that I wanted to revise, so I did so in the transcript below (March 2016)
Ask a Gender Therapist: How Do I Know If I’m Transgender?
Hello, this is Dara Hoffman-Fox—back again with another episode of “Ask a Gender Therapist.” This is a video series where I do my best to answer your transgender questions from the perspective of a gender therapist.
Well, today’s question is a conglomeration of many questions I have received and it pretty much goes like this:
Hey Dara, how do I know if I’m transgender?
I get this question from people of all ages from all across the world, from all different sorts of backgrounds. So instead of reading all the individual questions, I figure this definitely means this is a question that a lot of people have on their minds (and so I’ll do my best to answer it here).
The first thing I want to talk about is the question of “How do I know I’m transgender?” being very, very big in and of itself and breaking it down in bits and pieces.
Let’s talk about how, if someone is even asking themselves that question it probably means, at the very least, they are probably not “cisgender” (i.e. feeling like their assigned-gender-at-birth matches their actual gender identity). Figuring out how intense and persistent that feeling is would be the next step towards figuring out of they are “transgender.”
But remember, “transgender” can be a wide spectrum, as well as it being up to you if you even want to use that term to describe your experience!
So let’s start off over here (left hand on far left side of the screen)—this is someone’s assigned gender at birth, their “biological sex”. If someone is asking themselves “Am I transgender?” more than likely it means you are not feeling aligned with your exact biological sex and your assigned gender at birth. You’re feeling somewhere maybe over here (right hand an inch away from left hand), or over here (hands six inches apart), maybe even over here! (hands two feet apart).
You can also feel like you fit nowhere on that spectrum, on more than one place on it, all over it… The options are literally endless.
So you can see what I’m talking about is that the discomfort you’re feeling about your assigned gender at birth and, basically, the assigned gender role expectations that you’re having—your discomfort with that can vary. It can be small, it can be very wide.
And so one thing to keep in mind is you don’t necessarily have to have a very specific idea of what it means to be transgender. It’s something that can go across the spectrum and you can feel freedom to explore that.
But at least you know for the most part there’s something going on with you in this moment that has to do with your exact gender role, and the gender expectations that are placed upon you at this moment.
The next thing that might be helpful is to think a little bit about the discomfort that you’re feeling with your current gender or your current gender role. Is the discomfort coming from a place where you are uncomfortable with certain gender expectations that are being put upon you? That it feels like you’re being not your true self because of that? Is there, to a certain extent, a way that you express your gender and you feel like you’re “acting,” you feel like you’re being a “fake” or a “fraud”? It doesn’t feel like your true self?
Another way to ask yourself about your discomfort is how comfortable are you with the gender pronouns that people use for you? For example, if somebody perceives you as a “he” and you’re always being called “he,” how does that feel to you? Do you recognize that at times, more often than not, you really don’t like being called “he”? So that’s something to take into consideration when it comes to how uncomfortable that makes you.
That can also pertain to your name; maybe you have a very masculine or very feminine name and for much of your life it just hasn’t fit well for you. So that’s another question to ask yourself about your discomfort.
Go ahead and continue to check in with yourself about your discomfort when it comes to your body. Does it feel like your physical body matches the gender that you can tell you are in your brain? That’s of course a huge question to ask yourself and it can take a lot of time and a lot of patience to be able to figure out the answers to—well, all of these questions, actually.
And because these questions can be difficult to explore, so I am going to suggest that you find someone to talk to out loud about this once you do feel comfortable with somebody.
For instance, a gender therapist would be a great person to talk to about this. But if you can find a trusted friend, a trusted family member, even someone who’s on the internet that you can start exploring these questions with, that can really get you a long way.
It can be scary to do that at first. Because once you actually start talking about it, it makes it more real. But you’ll get to your answers a lot more quickly than if you just keep it inside your head. That will drive you nuts anyway.
The next thing I am going to suggest is that you do your research. One way you can do your research is to read other stories about people who are transgender. This could be on the internet, this can be books, this could be people you talk to in chat rooms or in support groups… The more you can hear about different transgender experiences, the more likely you are to be able to connect with one of those and say “Ah ha! That is my story, therefore, yes—I do feel I am transgender.” This can really go a long way to verbalizing the feelings you’re having inside, when you hear somebody else say them out loud and put words to it. It can be a very meaningful experience to finally feel like there is an answer for you.
Another way you can do research is doing some reading. A couple suggestions I have for you is to check out Matt Kailey’s blog and that’s Tranifesto.com. He has been writing this blog for years and he answers questions from readers. And he has covered the topic of “Am I transgender?,” “What type of transgender person am I?,” “Am I gender fluid?” and all sorts of articles about that. So all you have to do is go to that blog and on the right side of the page there’s categories you can click on to be able to find more information about this.
Another suggestion I have is that you check out a book called My Gender Workbook and it’s by Kate Bornstein. This is a favorite of a lot of my clients. I have suggested this book to them. Once they have worked through it they feel like they have a much stronger idea of what gender is in the first place as well as their own gender identity.
So, there’s a lot of other resources out there but those are a couple of my favorites.
I think one of the hardest parts about the process of answering the question of whether or not you’re transgender is that, if the answer is yes, then more likely than not, that means you are having to admit something to yourself and then eventually to others that is a really big deal.
It’s a life changer, and there are going to be challenges ahead. So having to take a lot of time to figure out the answer to that question makes total sense.
So give yourself a little bit of a break, if it takes you a while to really figure out the answer. Because chances are that it is going to be something that is going to be significant change in your life. Of course there’s going to be amazing changes in your life from finally being able to finally be who you really are. But it’s understandable that the reality is that some of those changes are going to be difficult.
I want to be sure to mention that in reality, it is so hard to be 100% certain about something about ourselves. So also keep that in mind that at this point, the closer you can get to 100% is great.
But just remember—let’s say you do come to the conclusion that you are transgender and it is to the extent that you’re going to need to transition medically, which means you need to go visit a gender therapist, and a physician, and eventually maybe a surgeon…You’re going to be going through this process in which its going to feel like people are now putting you in the spotlight and are almost trying to get you to prove to them “Hey, are you really transgender?”
Now, in reality, I’m hoping that is not your experience. That is definitely the experience I try to not put my clients through. But it could still be there even if the person or professional you are talking to doesn’t make you feel like that. You are having to explain things. You’re having to go through it again and again and you could be going through that with every person you end up coming out to, over and over. “This is why I know I’m transgender…”
If anything, it could maybe help solidify that for you. But at the same time I have definitely seen where it has caused doubts to rise up in the heads of my clients. And again, this is perfectly normal—there is nothing wrong with that happening as long as you keep returning back to your truth and where you want to take that. That’s what really counts in the end.
Well, that’s it for this segment. Like I said, this is a huge question and I’m sure I only touched the very surface of it, but I hope at least it can give you a start on what to do.