NB for readers who have difficulty recognizing irony: I do not mean that these things literally ‘turned me into a transgender person;’ I mean that they are things which helped me along in the process of self-discovery which culminated in my conclusion that I was a woman.
It is a sad fact of life (particularly prior to the proliferation of the Internet) that you are very unlikely to be exposed to the real experiences of transgender people unless you specifically seek them out. At least 90% of what appears in the mainstream media is (at best) greatly distorted and sensationalized, or (at worst) callously mean-spirited devaluation of our lives. This being the case, it is especially difficult for young people who are ‘questioning’ to find answers–or even, very often, to know what the right questions are.
This was certainly the case for me; I didn’t begin transitioning until I was twenty-four years old, largely because I had only the vaguest idea of what actual transgender experience entailed. Most of the websites that I found online were of an older vintage, written by people whose conception of transsexuality was very much rooted in the Harry Benjamin standards of care. I had never been particularly “girly” as a child; I have always been attracted (almost) exclusively to women, I have never felt like a “woman trapped in a man’s body,” and I do not particularly care about whether or not I have a penis. As such, I simply assumed that I wasn’t really trans.
It was only through a series of coincidental happenstances that I found my way to the truth of the matter:
- The Lone Gunmen. This little known and short-lived spin-off of the X-Files had a one-off trans woman character, who was notable in being the first trans woman I had ever seen on television who wasn’t a grotesque caricature (although they did have a few juvenile “she’s really a man!” jokes). In fact, she was so normal that I assumed that she must have represented an idealized view of transgenderism.
- If you could change sexes for a day, would you? I’m not sure who was the first person to ask me this, but my answer was always an unhesitant “yes.” The real question, though, which I refused even to say aloud at the time, was whether I would be willing to change back at the end of the day.
- A Game of You. This was a graphic novel in the Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman, which I just happened to read (in a feat of what I can only describe as ‘Jungian Synchronicity’) right around the same time that I started seriously questioning my gender identity. It prominently features a transsexual character who is rejected by the Gods themselves for her gender identity and ends up dying a horrible death as a direct consequence, only to be accepted by Death herself as the woman she is*. As I was reading it, it occurred to me that the character’s experiences profoundly resonated with me, and triggered me in a way far beyond simple outrage over the unfairness of the character’s situation.
- My ex-girlfriend. As you might imagine, my education as a physicist never entailed that I learn anything about gender theory. As a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in the social sciences and humanities, however, Nominatissima did have a fair bit more knowledge of the subject, and was good enough to explain it to me.
- Zinnia Jones. Of course, back then, Zinnia still identified as a gay man, but her videos helped me realize that gender expression was a fluid and changeable thing.
- Actual transgender people. It was not until I met some real, flesh-and-blood trans*folk that I could finally connect the abstract concept or transgenderism to the lived experiences of actual Human Beings. And, far from the grotesque caricatures and hateful stereotypes of popular culture and conservative psychology, they were actually a lot like me.
*Some people have described this story line as transphobic; I personally think that Gaiman was deliberately problematizing it, but nevertheless, I don’t think I would be capable of reading it again.