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June 4, 2006 1:29 AM   Subscribe

I think I might be a transsexual.

I'm biologically male, at least, early 20s, lifelong "pansexual" (a clumsy and irritating term, but more pedantically accurate than "bisexual"), engaged to marry a pan/omni/bi/whateversexual woman. And mentally, emotionally, what-have-you, I feel like a slightly-tomboyish girl with a dick.

I've always been very feminine, even as a small child: I learned to pee standing up but continued to sit, in emulation of my big sister, and talked my mother into painting my nails at every opportunity (to my father's chagrin). At the age when boys are terrified of girl-cooties, my entire kindergarten social circle was female (I had little crushes on them—but I had little crushes on the boys, too). My ever-chagrined father had to stop me from carrying a purse. I preferred Nancy Drew to the Hardy Boys, Barbies to G.I. Joes—I'll spare you my whole life story; you can probably figure out the rest.

I relate to others in a very typically-female way, and relate to women with uncommon empathy; I have and have had countless friends treat me like "one of the girls," above and beyond the gay-best-friend paradigm; I find women's fashion infinitely more interesting and appealing than men's. I'm frequently mistaken for female on message boards and the like, and apparently my short fiction and poetry "read like a woman's," whatever that means.

I doubt most of that was necessary; let me cut to the cliché: I suspect that I am, and have always been, a woman trapped in a man's body. This is what I am Asking MetaFilter:

1) Is there a way to know for sure, one way or the other?
2) Is transgenderism something you even can wonder about, or is it an "If you have to ask, you're not" kind of thing?
3) All the resources I can find are aimed towards people who've already figured things out; can you point me at information geared towards people in my position?

I'll post answers to important counter-questions through jessamyn, if she doesn't mind, and you can contact me by email at askmefi.genderwhat@gmail.com if you'd like to discourse privately. Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
1) I don't think there's any way to know for certain until you've gotten your feet wet. I can't think of many trans people who sat down and carefully thought, "Right, given the events of my past and my current emotional state, I am definitely transsexual. Yep, it's [another sex] for me!" and then ran for/away from the dresses. There are any number of successful transsexual women and men out there, but their pre-transition symptoms range from a mild discomfort in their day-to-day interactions to a crippling fear of leaving the house or even being looked at. And the problem with that is that these symptoms also apply to any number of other conditions.

The only thing you can really do is take a hard look at yourself and your future and ask yourself, "What do I want?"

You will have a vagina. When you reach down to wash or to pleasure yourself, you will find a vagina. When your partner wants to pleasure you, they will find a vagina. When you pull on tight trousers or funky Daisy Duke hotpants, there will be no lump. Do you want this? Do you want breasts?

The way you think may change. Before I started on HRT my mind was a chaotic, unstable place. I found it hard to think straight. I lost myself in agoraphobia and depression. I used to cut myself for control. Once I was on HRT my mind stabilised. My sense of direction got worse but I gained an ability to multi-task. And so on.

Becoming female isn't only an internal thing, or a bodily thing. People will relate to you as a woman. Do you want this?

In twenty years' time, who do you want to be?

These are very hard questions to answer, and you shouldn't expect to be able to answer them completely until you've experimented.

2) A lot of people will tell you that all transsexuals know at age 5. This is a load of crap. It's true that a lot of transsexual kids have the persistent feeling that something is wrong all the while they're growing up, and others will have asked, "Mummy, why aren't I a girl?" while they were still in the cot, but a lot of transsexuals don't start to feel seriously wrong in themselves until puberty or even later.

3) To be honest, you need a forum. If you can find a local trans support forum you'll find a lot of people in all stages of transition, from the not-sures to the supermodels. Chatting to a wide variety of transsexuals will help you place your experiences and feelings in context, and may help you to work out what to do with yourself.

They should also be able to recommend local trans-friendly clubs and social spaces where you can mix physically, and maybe try and feminise yourself a bit and try to socialise as a woman. You shouldn't worry about not looking or sounding particularly womanly in this context, because trans people are usually used to this sort of thing and can relate to the manliest of people as women, and vice versa. If you're chatting away to people who're treating you as a woman and then the barman comes up and says, "What're you having, mate?" and you feel crushed, that's a big clue.

My answer's going to fizzle out at this point, and I'm sorry for leaving you with more questions, but the only real suggestion out there is to experiment. A psychiatrist may help you explore your feelings in more detail, but unless you can find one with lots of experience with trans people they may do more harm than good.

*fizzles out*
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:46 AM on June 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


The only thing I'd add is that you can be as feminine as you like without transitioning and becoming societally and physically female. That's not to say that you're not transsexual - not at all - but from your question it seems a little as if you're assuming that your femininity automatically bars you from remaining male while retaining all the feminine traits that make you who you are.

Certainly, I'd say that the process of transition can be an extremely expensive, painful and emotionally fraught one, and I'd advise caution until you're sure you're not just following societal norms and assuming that feminine people have to relate and be related to as female, and that males can't wear feminine clothing, relate as 'one of the girls' and so on without hormones and surgery.

In the end, if I had to make a generalised statement, I'd be inclined to say that if you absolutely cannot get through life being treated and regarding yourself as male, then you're probably transsexual. If you just find your personality and innate traits at odds with societal expectations of behaviour associated with your physical sex, you're probably not. In that case, though, there's nothing stopping you from inhabiting a more between-genders social role, or moving between gender expressions in different social environments as you choose.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:07 AM on June 4, 2006


Honestly, you just sound gay. My advise to you is simple and, I promise you, earnest, and if you don't like it and/or disagree, I fully recommend you (and others) just skip over it:

I do not think you are transsexual, per se, I think you are a more feminine than average gay man. Do not marry this woman in expectation that you will have a normal heterosexual relationship, it will not work. Or go ahead, if sex outside will not be an issue, because I think you will eventually stray*. You could easily get a sex change, and it may even look somewhat convincing, but your dating/love life will not be as satisfactory than just living as a homosexual. There are not enough straight men comfortable with having a serious relationship with a transsexual.

So my advice to you is to take the (difficult) masculine route and hit the gym, etc, so you can date gay men. No matter what you choose it sounds like you will be making annoying and uncomfortable compromises, but I think that's your best route.

My knowledge on the subject is strictly from about 5 or 6 popular science books, so YMMV. You know you better than me, but you asked.

*Perhaps you and she just want to be friends with (tax) benefits?
posted by dgaicun at 3:35 AM on June 4, 2006


dgaicun, I'm not usually one to respond to other people's answers on AskMefi, but you're making a ridiculous number of assumptions and your advice that the poster throw away what is presumably a loving relationship and repress the feminine parts of himself sounds actively harmful and actually slightly nightmarish.

First up, your automatic association of femininity in a man with homosexuality is just childish and simplistic. Next, the poster's soon-to-be-wife clearly knows him, and therefore is rather unlikely to be expecting a 'normal' relationship if 'normal' is taken to mean 'with a big, brute manlyman'. Finally, is 'normal' really more valuable a thing than 'loving' or 'happy'? It sounds rather arbitrary to me.

My advice to the poster stands: explore gender roles, discuss this with your SO (who, by your description of her as pansexual, I assume is likely to be open to the idea of whatever gender presentation you settle on), talk to both transsexual and nonstandard-gendered people, but don't let people tell you that your feminine traits mean you have to be gay, or straight, or male or female. They mean nothing more than what they are - parts of you which help define who you are, but which do not force you to conform to any societal expectations of behaviour associated with femininity in biological males.
posted by terpsichoria at 3:56 AM on June 4, 2006


I don't understand where you are coming from, dgaicun; there isn't anything in the question to indicate a lack of physical sexual desire for the questioner's female partner, which would seem to be a prerequisite for the "gay" thing.
posted by Justinian at 3:57 AM on June 4, 2006


Well, I think the original poster will easily see that dgaicun is expressing the same 50s-era views as the "popular science" books mentioned in the post, so we probably don't need to belabor that point. :)

Personally (as a female who's fine with my own body but who's very committed to and involved with trans rights just on principle), I think that right now we're on the verge of a sea change in terms of how society-in-general understands the gender spectrum. I think it's a great time to be asking these questions of yourself, and I agree with ArmyOfKittens and terpsichoria that the process is by no means black and white (and by no means something you have to hurry up and "decide" now).

In practical terms, Camp Trans is where you'll find probably the broadest and most vibrant trans community there currently is. So if you can get there this August, it could be invaluable to be in a trans + trans-allies community where everyone is welcome and many people are at the same stage you are (questioning and exploring rather than necessarily committed to a given path).
posted by allterrainbrain at 4:33 AM on June 4, 2006


Do you have any views of what it means to be a woman that aren't horribly reductive stereotypes? You want to be one because you find their fashion more interesting and you liked Barbies more than GI Joes?
It's odd how people that are more progressive sexually often have weird antediluvian views on what makes a woman.
I've known a couple of trans folk, both male and female, that have started transitions. The ones that saw it through to completion were the ones who were suffering as their birth gender to the point of personal harm (depression, cutting, substance abuse, etc.). The one that I knew who thought she was a man trapped in a woman's body because she liked short hair and tank tops started the transition then backed out of it (causing mucch consternation among her friends and coworkers, who had started calling her by another name until she decided she didn't want to be a guy anymore).
There's more to being a woman than painted nails and panties and it sounds like a lot of the character traits that you have are present in both gay and straight men so long as you ditch the frocks-and-cooking view on gender roles.
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 AM on June 4, 2006


I second terpsichoria....but it seems you are putting a lot of "have to" labels on yourself....other peoples labels....other peoples ideas about sexual orientation....

you don't have to do anything but be yourself and live the life you imagine for yourself....if that leads to changing gender by clothing or surgery, think hard about the latter, then follow that path...

it sounds like you have a lot of great friends and stable relationships....talk with them about this if it feels comfortable...

all the best....
posted by jamie939 at 7:46 AM on June 4, 2006


MeTa. If dgaicun wants to derail, he can go troll in the grey.
posted by holgate at 7:52 AM on June 4, 2006


Is it possible that you're transgender/genderqueer or otherwise have a gender identity that isn't "the norm" but don't want to transition? Transgender and genderqueer identities are something you could read up on, and even if you are transsexual, that kind of reading could give you a lot of tools for thinking about gender identity and sexuality.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:28 AM on June 4, 2006


Possibly useful info and links in this previous AskMe thread.
posted by mediareport at 8:28 AM on June 4, 2006


I'm a woman. I never had or wanted a barbie, I only carry a purse because I don't like putting a lot of things into my pockets, I don't wear skirts, I don't think I have that much empathy, I don't have that many female friends, and I have a deep-seated hatred of nail polish (it makes my nails feel like they're suffocating).

Is there something else that makes you think you might be a woman besides all the things you listed?
posted by footnote at 9:19 AM on June 4, 2006


I think this is probably a very poor forum for this question. It will attract a lot of armchair theorists with no personal experience and no particular education on the topic (like myself, just as a quick example - I really have no clue) and you've left so much information out that anything anyone responds will be purely speculative.

Transgender is a really broad category. At the least extreme it could mean private crossdressing and feminizing sexual behavior with a heterosexual partner. At the extreme end of the spectrum, you are talking about gender reassignment surgery and a lifetime on hormones (and serious social acceptance issues depending on how well you pass and how out you are).

If you are feeling curious but are basically happy with life (i.e. having a dick, being with a woman) I'd say, find a transgender forum to ask this question on and talk to your fiance about experimenting with private crossdressing and feminizing sex. If this is a big serious issue, maybe you have always secretly been miserable having a man's body, partner doesn't know, whatever, this could be really serious and you probably need the counselling of a pro with specific experience and certainly need to get your partner involved in your exploration.

I googled "am I transgender" and this site seemed to have a lot of good info. There is an article at the last link on the page called "Am I Transgender" but it is really more about "what is transgender."
posted by nanojath at 9:27 AM on June 4, 2006


follow up from the OP

Some brief clarifications, I think. In trying to be brief (ha!), my initial question was kind of a mess.

dgiacun: I'm no more gay than I am straight. Read the Wikipedia article I linked: that's me to a T. My fiancée's the same, and I emphasize: we are intensely physically attracted to each other and deeply in love. I don't feel like a gay man deep down; I feel like an omnisexual woman. I think, anyway. Hence the AskMe.

klangklangston: I apologize if I offended you with my simplification of gender issues. I admit to using shallow and obvious examples as a shortcut, hoping "Barbies over G.I. Joes" would stand for something a little more complex, and threw in what I hoped were indications of a deeper mental and emotional femininity. You've misunderstood me quite completely, but that's probably my fault for being unclear.

footnote: See my response to klangklangston, and let me reiterate that I'm using vague references to stereotypes to stand in for deeper feelings I can't really articulate. I just feel more like a woman than a man. The examples I raised aren't what make me feel so, they're just evidence, or illustrations, if you will. To turn it around: absent all those qualities and your innate biology, what makes you feel like a woman?

On the whole, everyone has been very insightful and a load of help already; thanks to you all.
posted by jessamyn at 9:30 AM on June 4, 2006


here's a thought: maybe talk to some transgendered people and see if what they say strikes any deep chords with you. I'm no shrink, but one thing is obvious-this isn't something to take lightly.
posted by jonmc at 9:57 AM on June 4, 2006


I've had a friend choose to transition and go on to do so (quite happily) and a family member make the choice and then realize it wasn't for her (hella interesting saga) and all I can say -- all I feel is responsible to say is this:

Find a well reputed physchiatric profession who specializes in trans-issues and go through a couple sessions and examine with and without their guidance your own state.

Maybe you'll find you are trans, maybe you'll find you aren't. If you find you are, this person will be necessary to the process anyhow.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 11:10 AM on June 4, 2006


professional.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 11:10 AM on June 4, 2006


The answer to this question is, to some degree just a matter of choice. A lot of biologically female folk have spent a lot of energy freeing themselves of the "typically female" trappings like purses, barbies, etc. I wouldn't necessarily link all of that stuff with biological womanhood. Your father's own heavy hand in your upbringing is one example of how gender identity is installed in us by society to large degree. Your father may have had little or no success with you, but he's just one shaping influence.

My only point is that increasingly, there is no way of being which is more "male" or "female" than another. It's all somewhat arbitrary. I know that The System is still pretty firmly ingrained, but I'd suggest looking ahead and incorporating the progressive view of gender (that it's socially constructed) in your identity quest.

Be who you want to be. Decide which gender that is later. Or never.
posted by scarabic at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2006 [2 favorites]


I was just discussing this with terpsichoria and suddenly remembered the name of the book I forgot to mention in my previous comment!

True Selves (if that Amazon link doesn't work, the ISBN's 0787967025) is basically a big book of formative experiences. It has its flaws, but it collects together a lot of first-person accounts and may help you put your experiences into context. Many years ago I spent a tearful afternoon in the university library reading that book, and decided right there and then that I wasn't putting up with another minute of this, damn it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:22 AM on June 4, 2006


I'd suggest finding a trans-friendly therapist with whom to talk about gender dysmorphia issues.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 11:45 AM on June 4, 2006


1) Is there a way to know for sure, one way or the other?
2) Is transgenderism something you even can wonder about, or is it an "If you have to ask, you're not" kind of thing?
3) All the resources I can find are aimed towards people who've already figured things out; can you point me at information geared towards people in my position?


Maybe? Sometimes? You can absolutely wonder and question. This is normal, even to those who are absolutely sure and go forward with surgical transitioning. There are lots and lots of resources for you to read with lots of different perspectives. I'll post some titles when I get home and can look at my bookshelf.

As for being transgender, are you seeking a better label for yourself that rings more true? Or do you want to physically transition to a female body (hormones, surgery, both?) If you do identify as transsexual, most people will assume that your ultimate goal is surgery. (See responses above.)

You sound a lot more comfortable with your body and sexuality than most of the transsexuals I've known (who generally feel/felt that their genitalia had, to some extent, betrayed their emotional identity.) Doesn't mean that these groups/resources won't be helpful, but you might want to supplement by also looking into genderqueer groups for another perspective.
posted by desuetude at 12:36 PM on June 4, 2006


I worry that if you do anything irreversible, you may make yourself, not more like the people you identify with, but less.

A number of women I've discussed this with, straight and LB and even T, tell me they must struggle within themselves not to regard some transsexuals the way black people look at vaudeville performers in blackface --with a mixture of anger, contempt and pity.

It sounds to me like you are loved and accepted, please be careful not to mess up a good thing.
posted by jamjam at 12:44 PM on June 4, 2006


A close friend of mine went through a long period of questioning whether to transition before making the decision to stay male. He spoke very well of Patrick Califia in discussions of gender identity so I thought I'd pass that along.

There is some reason to work towards making a decision fairly quickly, in that the younger you are when you transition, generally the more likely it is you will be able to "pass" as having been born female, if that's what you want to do. But a rash decision to transition before you're sure and before you're ready could have dire consequences. That's why I highly recommend you get yourself to a good therapist with experience in these issues - preferably a specialist. In the UK, I believe you must live as a woman for two years and undergo intensive therapy before you can be accepted as a candidate for gender reassignment surgery.

Good luck to you. Gender reassignment is not an easy road to say the least - sometimes I think that transexuals are the last group that it's acceptable to be prejudiced against in even fairly enlightened social circles. It seems to me that if you can come to terms with identifying as male, you'll be in for a much easier life. Of course, "easy" isn't everything, but it's worth some serious consideration.
posted by hazyjane at 1:50 PM on June 4, 2006


Stop trying to find labels to fit into.

It reminds me of cultural identity problems some people seem to have. A child grows up in the only chinese family in an all white town, so she feels as if she doesn't fit. She builds up some complex identity based on labels she has received from the outside world, Chinese-Canadian (or whatever..). Then she goes to Hong Kong (maybe she lived there till she was three or something) and finds out that she definitely does not fit there. Then it is "oh no, who am I?!?!?". She's the same person she always was, obviously.

Having gotten that far, what exactly are you worried about? It seems obvious that you and your SO can play any roles you feel like, whenever you feel like it. So, no angst there (and congratulations, by the way, finding someone who will accept you for who you are is the hard part). Are you worried about the way you present yourself to the rest of the world? Is this because you are polyamorous? Are you worried about presenting yourself professionally at work?
posted by Chuckles at 1:58 PM on June 4, 2006 [3 favorites]


My knowledge is much more related to intersex than transexuality, but there are some web references that I have that you might find interesting/useful.

PBS ran a show called "Sex Unknown" about intersex. On the website, they have a section of reader stories, many of which are in fact about transsexuals rather than intersex people. You may find some of these stories interesting/helpful.

This story is about an intersex person's experience with transitioning. She had a lot of ambiguity about her gender. You might find her story a useful addition to all the "I've known since I was 4" type stories.
posted by carmen at 1:59 PM on June 4, 2006


I had a friend in college who identified as both or in-between genders. S/he is a bit awkward to talk about, but otherwise there were no big issues. S/he was rather ambiguously sexy, and though I have a guess, we don't know what gender s/he started as. Your question, and how you seemed pretty happy with your body, makes me wonder if a similar solution would work for you.

Have you tried passing as a woman? It might make you happy to be able to switch between gender appearances or you might prefer to look ambiguous. If you start being dissatisfied with ever appearing male, that would be the time to consider switching genders, whether that involves hormones and surgery or not.
posted by Margalo Epps at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2006


Eddie Izzard dresses up as a woman all the time. He describes himsef as a "male lesbian".
posted by talitha_kumi at 1:48 AM on June 5, 2006


Are you actually uncomfortable with your male body, your penis, your male sexuality?

Unless you feel that discomfort, physically and emotionally, I don't see how you can be 'trapped in a male body' and even begin considering a sex change -- as opposed to being simply free to be what you like to be and be with whomever you like to be, and just play with that and enjoy it. If you do enjoy all that already, and are happy with it, then what is the problem?

You don't even talk about the physicality of what you're considering here, you just talk of 'feeling like a woman', but what exactly does that mean? You turned the question around in the followup, but to answer it you'd need to narrow it down a lot more. You can ask 'how does it feel to have an orgasm as a woman' and even there you'd still get different answers, as well as things in common; or ask about social and cultural experiences more common to women than men, and, ditto; but there's no way you can ask such an impossibly vague and generic 'what makes you feel like a woman', and leave it at that. There is no such thing as an all-encompassing universal 'feels like a woman' factor, except to advertisers who thrive on stereotypes for target marketing.

Instead, ask yourself, what makes you feel like you? How much of your idea of yourself relies on your gender? How much of it depends on your assumptions on what you're supposed to be like as a man, or other people's assumptions? How do you relate to your body as it is?

There's a huge difference between a) notions about what being a man vs. being a woman mean to you and how you relate to those notions, to b) actually contemplating transexuality. Goes without saying you should definitely make that distinction for yourself before you even start to think of something as drastic as surgery or hormone therapy.
posted by funambulist at 5:10 AM on June 5, 2006


And, er, basically what terpsichoria already said.
posted by funambulist at 5:15 AM on June 5, 2006


Eddie Izzard dresses up as a woman all the time. He describes himsef as a "male lesbian"

Eddie Izzard is a transvestite (i.e., he simply likes to dress in woman's clothes) and is a heterosexual. Different thing.
posted by desuetude at 6:12 AM on June 5, 2006


OK...I am a transsexual, just for the record.

The confusion, anger, depression, sadness has a name: Gender Dysphoria.
After a good solid course of therapy with a GOOD gender therapist(few and far between), most of us start taking a low dose of estrogen, and then we feel better; I did/do.
In other words: it's a brain thing.
We trannies(I use the term like the word 'queer')are still way on the outside of most cultural experience and wildly diverse, so we get subjected to lots of armchair theories. We threaten the binary notion of gender which, oddly enough, threatens some gay men and lesbians as much as your garden variety hetero human or right-wing nut case.

I have many Female-to-male TS friends who rejoice at the relief they get from taking testosterone in the same way I get relief from estrogen...we are mirror opposites and totally get each other.

Now....to further confuse things:
Some Gay men are Drag Queens..not transgendered
Some Gay men are Crossdressers..arguably a little TG
Some Lesbians are Drag Kings
Some TS's are attracted the sex that's "socially appropriate" liked women, now like guys, etc...
LOTS of TS's identify as Gay or lesbian after transition, both males and females.
Choosing "gay" may not be easier but it's sure less expensive...!
Some people are born Intersexed, and just choose the one that feels right, or simply present as whatever they feel like.
Some TS's like me may never have SRS, i:e "the operation"
Some TS's like me may live as guys for years before getting it
I could go on...
Dear anonymous...lots of good resources..email me or go here to start...and JUST to start...http://www.annelawrence.com/
Darya
posted by divadarya at 1:48 PM on January 3, 2007


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