“So How Does Someone Know if They’re Transgender?”

“So How Does Someone Know if They’re Transgender?”

When deciding what to blog about today I asked myself, “What is it that most people ask me when they find out I’m a gender therapist?”

Although the questions tend to be many and far-reaching, the one that comes up the most seems to be:

“So how does someone know if they are transgender?”

The more I thought about it the more I realized this isn’t just a small-talk question that’s asked of me at BBQ’s, counseling conferences, or family reunions. It’s asked time after time in my office by the parents and partners of those who are transitioning. And it’s something that most of my transgender clients have even asked themselves. Especially at the beginning of their journey when they first find out that there’s such a word that exists, and that it just might help explain how they’ve been feeling all of their life.

The Story of “David” and His Dad

To quickly get to the heart of this question I want to share a story of a session I had with a 19-year-old who was transitioning to male (we’ll call him David) and his father.

Note: I’ll be using the pronoun “she” in this example when quoting David’s dad. He said he wasn’t ready to address David as “he” yet, something David said he could understand and was okay with giving him time to adjust to.

The questions and concerns that David’s father expressed are ones that I’ve heard repeatedly from parents who are new to the world of what it means to be transgender, as well as those who are fully aware of what it means to be trans but have the expected “parental concern” kick in.

“But she never seemed all that ‘guy-ish’ when she was growing up. Where did this come from?”

“Maybe she’s really just a lesbian?”

“What if she starts hormone therapy and it turns out she was wrong? Can everything be reversed?”

“I’ve heard that the brain doesn’t develop fully until a person turns twenty-five. So doesn’t that mean she can’t know yet if this is truly what she wants?”

“She’s tried on so many other identities. Isn’t this just another one?”

David’s answers were similar to what I’ve heard from other clients as well.

“Going through puberty was awful, because I was developing in the wrong direction. But I didn’t know that at the time, so I tried extra hard to become that since that’s what everyone else was doing. I was hoping my feelings would change over time, but they didn’t.”

“I wondered if I was a lesbian too, so I identified as that for a while so I could get away with dressing and acting more ‘butchy.’ But that didn’t feel right to me either.”

“The percentage of people who begin hormone therapy and then decide to reverse it is extremely small. This isn’t something I want to do ‘just for fun,’ it’s the step I need to take to resolve my Gender Dysphoria.”

“This has been a part of me as long as I can remember, since I was a kid. So my mind has always been like this, it’s not going to change when I’m twenty-five.”

“I know I changed identities a lot, I think that’s normal for teens. The reason I know this isn’t one that I’m going to ‘change my mind’ about is because I didn’t decide or chose to be male – this is who I am. I am deciding to do something about it.”

We go back and forth for a while with the questions and comments from dad and the responses from David. The feelings on both parts range from awkwardness to frustration, disappointment to hurt.

Eventually I posed this question to David: “Knowing that your dad will more than likely never be able to truly understand what it is that you are experiencing, what is it that he can do?”

David said to his dad, “I want you to trust me.”

Trusting One’s Self First

This is what it all boils down to. Taking the word of someone who is transgender when they say they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Don’t you think they’ve asked themselves, “How can I really know?” more than a few times before being able to trust their own selves that the answer is, “Because I know”?

As humans we are given the gift of intuition, and yet we’re also taught to doubt it. So we seek evidence to prove that what we are sensing about ourselves is true – to prove it to ourselves first, and then to everyone else next.

I remember spending seven years, from ages 23 to 30, trying to decide whether or not I was gay. I finally had to put aside logic and reason and, when I went with what my gut had been telling me, I realized that this is how I had felt since I was eight years old.

The process someone goes through to come to the realization that they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual tend to be the classic examples of these sorts of discoveries. This is due to it being so “not okay” in our society to be these things and therefore these truths about one’s self are repressed for any number of years (we could add being polyamorous, kinky, or trans* to this list as well).

However, I am going to bet that every person who reads this blog has had an experience like this or, if you haven’t yet, you will.

That Sneaky Suspicion…

Have you ever started in one career field and realized you were meant for another? Did you marry someone and get divorced? Did you find someone else who was a better fit for you? Have you ever joined a group, organization, or church and eventually realize that you didn’t truly belong there? Have you ever found yourself pretending to be someone else, without even knowing it until later? Have you taken on a role in your life that didn’t end up fitting who you really are?

Think about what it was like when you began to have that sneaky suspicion that you should be doing something else, that you should be somewhere else, or that you should even be someone else than you’d been taught to believe you should be. Did you have doubts? Were you afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to let others know what you were thinking about? Did you have to lose something in the process of being true to yourself? Did you feel the relief that eventually comes from breaking free of something that doesn’t suit you, and moving more towards what feels “right?”

If you can answer yes to any of these questions it means you can relate to what someone goes through who is trying to figure out if they are transgender. We always encounter resistance as we venture on the journey to discover our authentic selves. It’s part of the adventure and should be expected.

However, we can all do our part in reducing a large portion of the external resistance those who are transgender encounter during their journey. It’s hard enough to realize that you do not identify with the gender you were assigned at birth. To then have a society which doubts, fears, and condemns you for being this way is inexcusable.

Homework Assignment

Increase your compassion for those who are transgender by reflecting on the questions presented above. Come up with one or two examples of times in your life when someone has asked you, “How do you know you want to do such and such?” and you have responded, “Because I know. Trust me.” Remember that this is the same experience someone who is transgender is going through – having to learn to trust themselves, and then asking those around them to trust them as well.

Further reading: “Gender is Different” by Julia Serano

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23 Comments
  • Zoe Ellen Brain

    July 8, 2013 at 8:34 PM Reply

    One account:

    Imagine yourself as a small child. Your body, apart from those bits normally concealed by your undies is sexually ambiguous. And the hidden bits don’t do anything anyway – they don’t really bug you. But you know what Dad looks like – that thick, hanging thing. In your dreams, you have one too, but it’s always gone when you wake up. You get used to it.

    You start growing up. You hit puberty, your breasts start to grow and are extremely painful. One morning you wake up and your bottom sheet (normally blue) is bright red and your legs and hands and face are blood smeared. You knew this would happen eventually, but you thought that your head would change at the same time – that you’d no longer feel like a boy. Instead you’re more a boy and kinda scared. But you know that if you act like a boy, you’ll get a talking-to from your parents. You sit and bear all the reminders (more frequent now that you bleed and have things on your chest) to act like a lady, wondering when you’ll feel like a lady and when someone will tell you how to act like a lady. It’s hard work looking at everyone and cataloging their actions, working out how women are meant to behave. And it feels so wrong when you do that stuff.

    Around about the same time, you realise, rather suddenly, that when what’s happening to you finishes, IT LOOKS REALLY GOOD! Not to put too fine a point on it, you Like Girls. Well that explains everything then. You’re a Lesbian. You guess all lesbians feel like they’re really boys in disguise – that’s why they like other girls right? Because they’re only sort-of girls? It’s normal for a lesbian to hate wearing a bra – because it makes her chest shape all wrong. It’s normal for a lesbian to feel embarrassed and hate her body below the waist. And above.

    Then the real test comes: You’ve never really had any romantic attachment before. For some reason it has always felt wrong and you’ve avoided it. Sure sometimes you take special care, go out wearing a shirt and tie, bind the chest and uh. something in the trousers. It feels good but as soon as you start talking to someone, your voice gives you away as a pretender, a wannabe.

    But someone comes along, someone that you could talk to forever, hold forever. She’s a beautiful woman and God, you Want her. She’s keen on you too and before you know wht’s happening, you’re lying, naked, warm and relaxed in a mutual embrace. But even in ecstasy (and that’s hard enough), you can’t fully suppress the screaming in your head. Your body is wrong.

    Is there any way to fix it? Whose idea is this anyway? Making you walk around for your entire life with the wrong shaped body. Why do people look at you and say “Yeah, right” when you say that you’re a guy?

    You find out that there is hormones and surgery. In the first, you’re lucky: In a hormone fight, Testosterone wins. In the second, not so good, they can fix your chest such that it’s flat, they can remove the parts that make you bleed (though that’ll stop anyway with T), but you’ll never have the penis that you can feel.

    Once you consent to going through puberty again, you’re on your way to becoming the guy you’ve always been – and it’s only a few years too late. But there’s a problem. People you love, people you work with, people you socialise with. They were all dependent on having a daughter, a sister, a female colleague, a female friend. I mean you had a female name right? Even though you never acted like a daughter, a sister, a girl, a woman. Somehow the fact that you were badged, when you were barely self aware is meant to define you forever. They reject you. They know your body will never be complete enough to reproduce and so they condemn you to be a girl forever. They’ll never accept you as anything but.

    There is hope though, some people, even if they don’t really understand what it’s like for the head to say something different to the genitals, care. And you’ll go on in life and meet people that never knew you as a wannabe girl. They’ll just see, and work with and share with the man you are. You’ll care a bit more about women too – people you work and live with – because once, you faced the same challenges as they do. For you it was harder – you weren’t wired for it, most of them are. They always could bear to look in the mirror, they always felt right when someone they loved loved them, they always woke up with all the right bits attached, all the right clothes in the wardrobe. Now, so do you.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      July 9, 2013 at 7:46 PM Reply

      So grateful to you for posting this – only voices like yours and others who are trans can truly convey the experience of what it’s like to be transgender in today’s world.

    • Solveig

      October 13, 2013 at 10:44 AM Reply

      As I sit here, with tears welling in my eyes, I wish that I could express how close to how I have always felt your words are. Reverse the situation, change the pronouns… view the world from behind the eyes of what everyone believes to be a boy… and you have me. trapped in a body that simply isn’t right. was never right.
      It took me 30+ years to finally begin to do something about it, and even though the road isn’t an easy one, I am glad that I’ve finally begun to walk it.

      • Dara Hoffman-Fox

        October 13, 2013 at 6:38 PM Reply

        Thank you for joining the conversation. I’m happy you were able to find connection here!

  • Ashley

    July 9, 2013 at 6:45 AM Reply

    So true; ZOE. It sure is wierd how different people from all walks of life share your account. Consenting to go through puberty again, is dead on.

  • Ashley

    July 9, 2013 at 6:49 AM Reply

    I left a response to Further reading: “Gender is Different” by Julia Serano
    http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2013/07/gender-is-different.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+WhippingGirl+%28Whipping+Girl%29

    which is:

    Observing what the past has presented to our society, and to what you have mentioned; I have come to the conclusion we will never TRULY know what gender is; and that we will separate into
    extreme individualism that will kill any progress of finding
    the truth.

    The past has presented many criticisms, prejudisms, and racism
    because a particular person did not meet their ‘version’ of what is
    right. They treated the individual poorly because the individual
    did not ‘fit in the box’ and then they label the individual a term
    with demeaning value.

    This is no different with gender. It won’t matter about ableism,
    atheism, religion, race, creed, etc. It comes down to the bare
    fact the people are either evil, stupid, in a hurry and not
    listening, or just not informed or interested.

    That is sad.

    I didn’t understand how women were anxious to be rid of labels
    that classified them as feminine or ‘girly’. I spent my entire
    life trying to WIN that position; for I am mtf (male to female).

    I am confused by that. I am equally confused by Malcolm X who
    did not want white people to be in his march because ‘they
    can’t possibly understand what the black man is going through’.

    I am also insulted. It was still about the man and his patriarch
    world. Women were extra. I am insulted because I know human
    suffering regardless if I was beaten near death on a cross or
    whipped in a cotton field. I am part of the melting pot and it
    affects me when I am left out because someone else is comparing
    his/her pain as if it is a trophy. That is more pride getting
    in the way. I can feel and bleed just like they can. Thus,
    I should have equal say on gender or any topic.

    I guess I am confused with people and life. I want to be labeled
    as a woman. Nothing more. I don’t want other people to confuse
    the issue to the extreme where we wake up one day and find that
    NOT ONE person has a group or idea to identify with. That we
    somehow are so chaotic because we are against gender and all signs
    of grouping together for any purpose or identity.

    Benjamin Standards 6th edition still shows that the doctors and
    lawyers who debase the trans community by making us ‘conform’
    to their procedures to determine if we are ‘real’; do not know what
    gender dysphoria truly is. They might as well be on the Galactica
    with their Cylon detector. Crude and silly. So to quote a ftm
    when telling his dad about his gender; “I want you to trust me”.
    That is what it boils down to.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      July 9, 2013 at 7:51 PM Reply

      Your voice is essential to hear Ashley, I am glad you are putting it out there! You deserve to be heard.

  • transiteration

    July 11, 2013 at 5:39 PM Reply

    A couple weeks after I came out to my mom we had a conversation. She said that me transitioning scared her, but if that was how I felt, and for so long, it wasn’t her place to tell me not to do it. She said she had been reading blogs online and understood more how I felt. I’m really glad you have a blog like this because it helps everyone understand everyone. I think it is also a good thing for trans* people to understand how to help other people understand them. I was wondering if you could also post homework for trans* people. I like the ideas in the homework part of your post but it seems more geared to other.

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      July 11, 2013 at 7:29 PM Reply

      Thanks for your comment. When I first began the blog I actually did consider putting in homework for trans* people as well, but wasn’t sure if I felt I had the right to do so, since I am cisgender. What do you think?

      • transiteration

        July 12, 2013 at 11:40 PM Reply

        I guess I didn’t really think about the fact that you’re cisgender. Personally, I feel that you have more than enough experience, sympathy and understanding of trans* people that it could be really helpful for you to put homework down for us too. However. I can understand why you’d have reservations. I think since you’ve made it clear that you don’t believe to know exactly what it’s like to be a trans* person and that you are accepting of people’s insights even if they differ from your own. By the extremely respectful and considerate way you word your posts, I can’t see how any homework would be offensive. My vote’s for yes!

        • Dara Hoffman-Fox

          July 13, 2013 at 10:44 AM Reply

          Yes, being respectful and considerate are tops on my list of things to keep in mind while blogging, so I’m glad to hear that is the impression you are getting. 🙂 I’ll definitely give it a try and see how others respond – thank you again for the encouragement and the idea!

  • Dara Hoffman-Fox

    July 11, 2013 at 7:26 PM Reply

    Came across this article today, I recommend it for more “Additional Reading”: http://bitchmagazine.org/post/believe-me%E2%80%94my-daughter-is-transgender.

  • Gina

    July 19, 2013 at 8:25 AM Reply

    I would like to comment on understanding an acceptance. An the major part trust plays ! I have had a relative easy time in my transisition due to my age. I am at an age where I don’t give a flying fxxx what society. family, or so called friends think!!! I have lived my whole life for others an now it it my time. My biggest difficulty in the beggining was me. “Am I really TG”? I so doubted myself an didn’t know. I cleaned out my closet an dresser so many times you would not believe. Thank the Gods I just packed it away , and didn’t throw it away !!! I suppose in the back of my mind “my gut feeling” that I was running from who I really was. Througb a lot of soul searching an therapy I KNEW I was right. I was Tg ! I don’t feel like people can truly understand what we go through on a daily basis. They are not TG an have no idea as to whag its like. Just like I can’t understand what its like to a Dr. All I want people to do is accept me for who I am an trust me in the journey I have undertaken ! It takes a lot to come to the realization that you are TG. However when you come to that realization of who you are really meant, an are comfortable in your true mind…….THERE IS NO GREATER FEELING IN THE WORLD !

  • Alex

    February 7, 2014 at 10:14 PM Reply

    It is rely hard to come out to your parents when your still a teenager because your scared what if they don’t know how to talk to you any more or just completely don’t understand your desires. This page has made me start crying about the story. Right now I’m a 14 year old boy who wants to be a girl but the worse part is that i like girls i may not be able to ever find someone who be ok with a transgender and is ok and loves a lesbian, i want to be a lesbian sigh.

    • darahoffmanfox

      February 9, 2014 at 3:23 PM Reply

      I can tell you are in a difficult time of your life right now and I can totally understand why! What you need most right now is support and encouragement to get you through to when you are ready to make those difficult changes in your life. Find even one trusted person in your life you can turn to, as well as the amazing community online that would be happy to be of help to you. You are not alone! Hugs sweetie.

  • Karen oneill

    May 23, 2014 at 6:41 PM Reply

    Hi, I’m a woman but I still live as a male , everyday kills me to deny who I really am , I’m 64 now it’s too late for me to be me ,my hope is in my next life I will be me .thank you ..

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      May 26, 2014 at 6:15 PM Reply

      Best wishes to you sweetie…

    • EverThoThweetClaritha

      March 9, 2016 at 11:26 PM Reply

      It is never too late to be one’s true self and anything worth ever doing at all is better done late than not at all. Also, what if you find out at the start of your next life that you cannot do what you want as early as you had hoped unless you demonstrated in your past life a solid commitment to doing what you want to do the next go-around? I mean, there may be some rules involved to ensure that we improve and progress in the way we do things with each new life so that we don’t squander the efforts of the Reincarnating Agents.

  • Gee

    February 4, 2015 at 2:51 AM Reply

    I’m now in my 40s and I’ve only recently started talking to a counsellor about my gender, but it’s something that’s been on my mind for most of my life.

    It turns out that ‘gender-fluid’ seems to be the term that best describes me at the moment, although while I’m now far more aware of when my ‘inside’ is getting set to move along the spectrum, I’m also noticing that when my time in the feminine zone feels like it’s lessening, I’m feeling more and more disappointed to be heading back to the masculine which also happens to be the inside feeling that matches my outside. Increasingly, I’m finding that these days it’s not long before I’m moving back along to the feminine – it’s here that I feel most comfortable and where I project much more happiness and openness so much so it seems people seem to like me better when I’m in the feminine zone.

    Currently, I try to express the feminine by softening my male appearance and incorporating some nuances in my clothes that could be ‘middle of the road’ so that I don’t excite any comment. It helps me get through a mainstream day feeling right on the inside and showing a little bit of that outside.

    But I’m becoming more aware that this is not enough and I think this feeling may well intensify over time – something that I find both exciting and scary as I understand the sort of conversations that may need to happen one day.

    But, I’ve made a start on trying to live the life that best matches who I am. When I went to the counsellor, it felt both amazing and frightening talking to someone out loud about how I feel – after all it was the first time I’d done it in such a direct way. Now I’m planning on taking a plunge and bringing a really good friend into my confidence. Deep breaths and baby steps… 🙂

  • I just don't know...

    July 30, 2015 at 3:22 PM Reply

    Hello I’m a 13 year old male, I have been confused with my gender since a very young age and it is only now I have started to figure out myself , I realise my feminine side Is more overpowering then my masculine side I now realise that I hang out with girls not boys I look at more know to be feminine colours like pink and purple, i have told my mum about this and I’ve been to the doctors about it ever since then my mum has shown no advancment in my situation and I don’t know what to do can you help me?

    • Dara Hoffman-Fox

      August 1, 2015 at 1:21 PM Reply

      Go ahead and send me a message through the CONTACT ME page on this website.

      http://darahoffmanfox.com/contact/

      Due to the heavy volume of emails I receive I am limited to the amount of personalized help I can offer. I do try to answer all of them in some fashion, usually within 3-4 weeks. Thanks! 🙂

  • Wendy Ann Gwynn

    January 2, 2016 at 11:11 PM Reply

    I think it is much harder sorting all of this out at 66. I would very much like to change my gender presentation to female with the assistance of hormones, not really concerned about sex at my age. Just concerned about being who I feel like I should be. My one deathly fear is appearance. I’m only 5’8″ but I feel so bad about how I look. It’s sooooo male.
    I just can’t get past the fear that I will just look like a freak of nature or something.

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