Reader Q&A: Is it Okay I Haven’t Known I Was Trans “Since I Was Little”?

Welcome to the another installment of READER Q&A on the | Transgender Education & Resources website.

This is a regularly featured segment in which I share with you conversations I’ve had with readers (as well as watchers of my YouTube series ASK A GENDER THERAPIST) in which they ask questions and I do my best to answer them.

Let’s get to the question…

Hi Dara,

I’m a female-bodied 20-year-old and I identify as gender-fluid. However, I only realized this fairly recently (about three and a half months ago). I’ve done a lot of research about the various transgender experiences out there, and one common theme is that they “knew since they were little”.

I always felt that something was off, especially when it came to relating to “other girls” but I didn’t make the connection that it had to do with my own gender discomfort until much later in life, when I finally learned that gender fluidity existed.

Now that I’ve owned my identity, I experience body dysphoria, although I hadn’t before (only social and mental, in retrospect). I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure if my “transness” is the result of the “power of suggestion,” so to speak, or legitimate self-knowledge that it took me a little while longer to arrive at. Any advice?


Dear GJ,

This is a great question, and one that I have heard from many others as well. I’d like to take some time to walk with you through this to see if I can provide any helpful insight into what you are trying to figure out.Before we begin, I wanted to mention that I can tell you are a very insightful person, and this has played a big part in helping you come to your conclusions about your gender identity.I also can see how that insightfulness is leading you down this other path of questions, regarding what it means to have come to these realizations “later in life” than it seems like others have. So, it makes sense that you are continuing to explore the deeper layers of what is going on here.

Now, what I want to do first is look at your concern that it seems like most others “knew since they were little” that they were transgender.

A couple of months ago I did an informal survey of a wide range of self-identified transgender folks. The question was, “About how old were you when you can first remember having wonderings about your gender identity?” The question was for both binary and non-binary folks to answer.

Although the answers varied widely, especially depending on how old the respondents were as well as how they identified (binary vs. non-binary, especially), I began to notice a pattern.

Much of the timeline went something like this:

First – For as long as they could remember they have felt like they were “different.”

Next – In their younger years they would experiment (even if they didn’t know why) with behaviors and activities that would be seen as not aligning with their assigned-gender-at-birth.

Next – If anyone was aware of them doing this, it was oftentimes discouraged, which was very confusing to them.

Next – Puberty hits and social and/or physical discomfort escalates, oftentimes with a lot of intensity. It can be incredibly difficult to feel this way and not understand why, so repression of these feelings oftentimes occurs and/or trying to conform in exaggerated ways (i.e. “hyper-masculinize” or “hyper-feminize”) to the gender they were assigned.

Next – At some point they learn that there is such a thing as not being totally aligned with your assigned-gender-at-birth. They may finally feel like they are not alone and that there is hope.

Next – Depending on their situation they might act upon this new knowledge right away and make changes in their life to align with their true gender identity, or it might take a while before they are able and ready to do so.

Now, take a look at what you said in your message:

>> I always felt that something was off, especially when it came to relating to “other girls.”

Even if you didn’t have the words for it, you did indeed recognize that there was something going on with you. And, like I mentioned about the survey results, this is what was very commonly reported by others as well.

It’s possible that you have heard others saying, “I knew I was transgender since I was very young,” thinking that they actually knew what the word transgender meant, and that they were able to apply that to themselves at that young of an age.

More than likely they are applying their present-day knowledge of what it means to be transgender to the feelings their child-self was experiencing.

There’s something else I noticed in the survey that speaks to your experience as well. This process of discovering one’s true gender identity is, at least currently, a bit more complicated for those who end up identifying as non-binary. There isn’t as much information out there about what it means to be non-binary, not to mention there are fewer examples of persons you might encounter in your life who identify that way (including in the media).

Therefore non-binary identities can take longer to discover as even being something that exists, let alone finding information about it, let alone others who feel the same way.

Let’s bring this point in when looking at your next concern:

>>I experience body dysphoria, although I hadn’t before (only social and mental, in retrospect).

Everyone is different, when it comes to what layers of gender dysphoria they struggle with and at what times. As we already established, you are an insightful, self-aware person, so it would make sense that you noticed the social and mental distress before the physical.

Also keep in the mind being genderfluid means that there is a wide variety of body dysphoria that you are experiencing. You’re having to analyze every part of your physical body that, for many, have “maleness” or “femaleness” attached to it, and you’re coming up with your own personal and unique combination that isn’t necessarily dictated by gender.

It’s human nature to go through stages of realization, when it comes to self-discovery. So it’s totally normal that you would only now be recognizing body dysphoria.

It can be extremely difficult to connect with one’s body when there has been a disconnect that you haven’t known the root of. Now that you are owning your genderfluid identity, you are finally ready to be honest with how you feel about your body.

Don’t hurry it, you can take the time to continue to explore how you feel, and be able to ride through the doubts one day at a time.

I know in a lot of ways this can all sound very daunting to have to figure out. It can feel very confusing at times, especially because non-binary identities are only now beginning to get attention.

But you just being yourself is changing this world and the “old ways” in which people have been thinking about gender. There are more and more people every day discovering what it means to be non-binary, and you are one of them!

Your experience is going to help someone else down the road, so thank you for letting me answer this question on this website. Hundreds of people are going to end up reading this and saying, “Hey, that’s the same thing I was wondering about!” 🙂

Hope this has been able to help. Best of luck to you GJ!


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  • Mxtrmeike13

    April 3, 2015 at 12:28 PM Reply

    GJ, your experiences sound a lot like my own. I worried for about two years (and I’ve been actively exploring my gender and/or transitioning for 4-5 years now) regarding not having always known I was trans, and feeling like I wasn’t “trans enough.” Now I know that there is no such thing as being “trans enough,” and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is policing your gender — just like society polices the genders of trans people at large.

    I guess I’m trying to relate that to your concerns about worrying whether your being trans is a result of the power of suggestion or not. What I was trying to say is that I worried the same exact thing when I first started thinking about my gender and non-conformity. I eventually came to the conclusion that all of that didn’t matter; what did matter was that something felt strongly amiss with (in my case) my body, and whatever steps I needed to take to alleviate that was completely okay.

    Thanks for your great question, both that (and Dara’s response) really resonated with me! =]

  • Emma

    April 3, 2015 at 3:41 PM Reply

    I get this question a lot too (as Dara would know since they are emails she forwards to me) and I believe a good deal of weight behind the question has a lot to deal with where the world is today, compared to where it was when we were children. We look around at transgender/non-binary children today and can see them so clearly for what they are, but had they been born in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, or even 90’s, these children would have experienced the same degree of confusion that I, GJ, and others experienced because no one would have really understood them. The more we unravel what gender actually is, where it comes from, how it develops as an identity ages, and how many ways it can be express (which I believe is infinite in nature), the more we are beginning to see our children in a different light. The more we see them in a different light the more we recognize certain patterns and traits that make them different; that give them the label transgender/non-binary.
    Because we are seeing children identifying or being identified as trans/non-binary at such an early age, hearing stories about others “knowing since they were a kid” kind of has a negative impact on adults who are struggling with gender dysphoria. It begins to drive a thought into our minds that goes something like: “I didn’t know I was trans/non-binary the way that these kids today are, so maybe I’m wrong?” but that thought fails to take into consideration the deep seeded societal pressures that were present (and still are to a lesser degree) when we were children.
    We were almost assuredly just like the trans/non-binary children we see today, but instead of people noticing it and doing something proactive, it was purposely ignored and policed. We were conditioned to be more like the boy or a girl we were supposed to be either by our parents, our family, our friends, or the media. We were met with confusion and reprimanding rather than questioning and acceptance like children today are (not all of them, of course).
    Par Example: My wife and I have been re-watching every season of “Friends” on Netflix (THE preeminent show of the late 90’s early 2000’s), and you wouldn’t believe the amount of gender policing that existed in that show. At the time it was just seen as humor (and it does still have some potential for humor) but those same jokes in today’s shows would be easily painted as homophobic or transphobic. I cannot count the number of times the group of friends verbalizes a suspicion that Chandler might be gay (in a shaming way) because he exhibits non-cismale personality characteristics. In all reality, Chandler is probably non-binary or gender fluid, but do you think any of them ever recognize that or verbalize that suspicion? No, because it wasn’t even on the radar back then.
    So, all in all, just because you didn’t know you were transgender as a child, doesn’t mean that you only knowing that something was different about you as a child is any less valid. Were you born today, the chances of realizing what’s going on inside of you would be much higher, simply because our visibility has increased.

  • Robyn Jane Sheppard

    April 15, 2015 at 1:01 PM Reply

    You also need to realize that the reason so many of us hold to the “I’ve known since I was little” model is because that’s one of the “signs” looked for under the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Healthcare). And until very recently, unless that’s what you told your therapist, you weren’t considered a “real” trans* person. Not being considered “real” pretty much meant no hormones or appropriate medications and certainly no surgery. On top of which, even when being trans* was considered a mental illness, you were considered even crazier than the rest of us.

    You know who you are better than anyone else.

    Much love,
    Aunty Robyn
    (Who didn’t realize her condition even had a name until her late 50s.)

  • Erik

    December 21, 2015 at 6:58 AM Reply

    There are so many stories like this, where people didn’t realize until later. If you want to read a collection of trans voices that upsets the traditional “I knew since I was little” trajectory, check out “Trans/Portraits: Voices from Transgender Communities.” I highly, HIGHLY recommend it!

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