I was never a typical boy, but neither was I noteworthily atypical, at least not in a gendered sense. While I was not the most stereotypical of boys, my actions and interests fell well within what is considered to be the ‘reasonable range’ of male behaviour. I might point out that my actions and interests also fell within what is considered (at least by modernist definitions) to be the ‘reasonable range’ of female behaviour, but as nobody considered me to be a girl, no one took note of this fact. I did engage in traditionally masculine play, it’s true: action figures, train sets, toy guns and the like; but at the same time, I also engaged in traditionally feminine play: I was especially fond of a line of toys called “Kitty Surprise,” with which I played with equal frequency. I watched Spider-Man, but also Sailor Moon. Thus, we see that there is a certain degree of selection bias built into the perceptions of the adults in my life: they saw that I was born male and my behaviour did not directly contradict this, so they interpreted it as ‘boyishness;’ had I been born female, this exact same behaviour would have been interpreted as ‘girlishness.’
Unlike many trans women, I at no point (at least to my recollection) asserted that I was a girl, or desired to wear an expressly female costume at Halloween. I recall crying when I was told, at around the age of five or so, that I was physically incapable of ever giving birth, though I can’t recall whether I did so because I particularly wanted to give birth, or because I felt that this made me physiologically less important. There were a number of occasions when I did look at femininity with envious eyes, though these were mostly limited to occasions when my sister was allowed to do something but I was not because said activity “wasn’t for boys.” My parents were better about this than most, but still, as you might imagine, unresponsive to my desire to be placed in Brownies*.
In my formative years, I did not identify especially closely with any female characters on television; I attribute this mainly to the fact that I was nerdy, and ‘nerdy’ media, at least in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, suffered a serious dearth of relatable female characters. Even what remains my all-time favourite television show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, in spite of its extremely progressive (for the time) gender politics, featured only two main female characters, both of them in ‘care-giving’ professions. Regardless of gender, a nerdy (and, as it turned out, somewhat autistic) child can be forgiven for taking far more interest in the cool-sounding techno-babble-spouting gadgeteer-genius with the golden hairband across his face and his super-strong, super-intelligent android buddy. Of course, later on when the series went in to reruns, and I was introduced to the character of Tasha Yar (who, sadly, had been killed-off before I was consciously aware of the series), I immediately found myself taking after her as well**; in fact, while Geordi and Data remained my favourites, Lt. Yar was the first time that I perceived what I later realized was what I wanted to be: someone neutral in their gender presentation but still, undeniably, a woman. Indeed, I had absolutely no trouble adopting what might be called ‘female role models’ once suitable ones were introduced. Others followed Tasha Yar: Cam Jansen, Sailor Mercury; Seven of Nine. All of the people that I wanted, in a way that I was not yet truly prepared to acknowledge to myself, to be like.
If there was any realm in which my feminine character was particularly noteworthy, than it was in terms of my interactions with other children. The neighbourhood in which I lived when I was very young was (initially) quite well-stocked with other kids. While I had both male and female friends amongst this group (or, more realistically, one male friend*** and one female friend), when it came time to organize ourselves into teams for large games (which we always did along gender lines, because they were the most obvious) I would always play for the girls’ team. Later on, when I was in elementary school, I found myself playing mainly with other girls, starting on the very first day of Nursery School. Of course, my ‘best friend’ was a boy whom we shall call T., but in retrospect it seems likely that he was ‘promoted’ to the level of my best friend by adults in authority, who took steps to ensure that I would have what they viewed as ‘essential’ male contact****. In the full light of reality, my single best friend was probably a girl named Hillary, with whom I played tag almost every recess. Unfortunately, she moved away when I was in grade two and I never saw her again. I cannot even count the number of occasions when I was invited to some girl’s birthday party, only to find that I was the only boy there. I walked to school each day in the company of girls, once again the only boy present*****. Given all of this, it is hardly surprising that a great many of my friends apparently ended-up thinking of me as one of them; On one memorable occasion, I was at my friend K.’s house, and found that she had a sign on the door to her bedroom reading “No Boys Allowed.” She told me that I could come in anyways, because I didn’t really ‘count’ insofar as she was concerned.
None of this though, I need to stress, is of itself indicative of transgenderism on my part; it could easily be explained away as a somewhat effeminate boy caught in overly restrictive gender roles. But it’s easy to see how the idea could arise that I was, in some sense, “really” a girl. And when this inevitably did happen, I found that the idea frightened me.
* They offered to put me in “Cubs” as the male alternative. Not only did Cubs have ugly uniforms and lame songs, I lost all interest after finding out that real-life Boy Scouts did not behave in any way resembling that of Young Indiana Jones.
**It was only much later that I noticed that most of the episodes with her sucked, but that wasn’t the character’s fault.
***I recall vowing that I would marry the male friend when I grew up. This was not due to any sort of androphillic attraction, however, but rather because, at the age of three, I didn’t yet appreciate the difference between romantic and friendly love.
****Don’t get me wrong; I liked T., but he was an odd duck: mathematically gifted, possessed of an eidetic memory…and the emotional maturity of a two year old. Our friendship never felt like an equal partnership; he was emotionally dependent upon my favour, essentially worshipped the ground I walked on, and treated my every opinion like dogma.
*****Except not; not only was I transgendered, but so was one of my sister’s friends. In point of fact, he was the only boy present.