There are trans people who from the minute they could talk knew they were born in the wrong body. Jazz Jennings and Nicole Mains come to mind. While I’ve identified with being trans for about two years, it’s clear I’ve been living it my entire life, and I could have gotten there sooner with the right support network.
Growing up I had vague ideas I was different, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what I was feeling, so I kept it to myself. For the most part not identifying with my assigned sex didn’t matter much. I’d play with either Barbies or my brother’s action figures, run around outside, eat sugary breakfast cereal, and hang out with the neighbors. I had a hopeless crush on my best friend, which she never reciprocated because her family was super Christian, but it didn’t seem to matter if I was a girl or a boy (except for maybe during our all-girl slumber parties), because she probably wouldn’t have been able to date me anyway. It wasn’t until I became sexually aware at the age of fifteen (admittedly pretty late) where my gender became relevant, and the first thing I did to celebrate this newfound sexual identity, besides masturbate, was starve myself.
The message coming from my mother growing up was pretty clear: if you couldn’t be gorgeous (I wasn’t), then you had to be skinny. It was better to be both, but you still had to be skinny, and since I’d become sexually aware, I had put together how that rationalization fit into the big picture–in other words–how to find people to have sex and fall in love with. So I starved myself, and I had my mother’s support.
At first being on a diet was a way to fit in, but then but something happened while I was losing weight; my hips and ass were shrinking, and I was holding onto that “boyish” look. And I liked it. I really liked it. At the time, I thought all girls wanted to look like boys, so I didn’t venture past that rationale or put any other significance to it. I starved and exercised to such extremes I lost my menstrual cycle, and my mother finally had to take me into the doctor.
During my appointment, there was no mention of an eating disorder, which added to my confusion, and no one asked me if I wanted my period back. I didn’t, but I didn’t think I had a choice. I was put on birth control, but despite this setback, I continued the disordered eating for a while. However, I wasn’t having the same results–my hips and ass were flushing out. I was developing larger breasts.
Around this time I asked my first girlfriend to go out with me. In many ways being sexually active with either gender makes me feel queer, but specifically with her I noticed for the first time, in full crystal clarity, that I didn’t want to be a girl. I wanted to be a boy, and I wanted to be a boy with her. We were sixteen-years old, so there weren’t a lot of resources to explore this part of myself, and though I was making more mental connections, I reasoned my confusion was unexplainable. Everyone told me I was a lesbian, and there wasn’t much I was going to do about it.
After my girlfriend and I broke up–mostly due to my mom being controlling and horrible–I slipped into drinking, and eventually begged my mom for therapy. She denied there was anything wrong with me–what sort of teenager lies about needing a therapist?–but after months and months of me begging, she finally acquiesced. Before my appointment she said, “I talked to [the therapist] about your situation, and she thinks she can have you fixed up in three sessions.”
Three sessions. Right….
Later in life I would be diagnosed with a slew of disorders, and eventually I would be properly diagnosed as bipolar, after suffering from an episode of mania so severe it ruined my relationship at the time, made me drop out of school, and forced me to move back in with my parents. It took something like that for my mom to realize that I wasn’t just an “under-overachiever”, and that I had actual mental health problems.
While I was dealing with mental health issues, and trying not to hit rock bottom again, it was hard for me to say, “I’m trans,” because I was still dealing with, “I’m bipolar, and sometimes I’m crazy.” Eventually I got there, but this isn’t a story about that.
Looking back at my life, I sometimes think my mom knows she messed up, and I wonder if that’s why I don’t get a lot of heat for currently living with my folks. (They have lots of space, and I do pay rent.) But she still can’t help herself, as our conversation the other day illustrated.
I was talking with her about my amenorrhea when I was younger (because I don’t say the anorexia word with her), and I mentioned I wished the doctor had asked the right questions, and I had been given the care I needed.
She shook her head dismissively. “You were given the best care. What sorts of questions would they ask?”
I blinked at her. “Well, nowadays they may have seen what I was going through, and asked me why I purposely lost my period, instead of thrusting estrogen on me. And maybe I could have started testosterone then, instead of nearly twenty years later. It would have made a big difference in my life, and given me a more stable young adulthood.”
“No. There are no right questions, and they wouldn’t have done anything different today than they did then.”
And that was that.
We all have a journey, difficult in their own ways. I have to remind myself I did the best I could with the resources I had at the time, but it would have been easier to have been given more support. If I couldn’t get the respect I needed, how can I tell a trans teen to get the respect they deserve? I do have hope, however. I think kids now have a better chance than they did, because there’s more information out there than there was when I was a teen, but it’s up to parents to help their kids with their journeys, even if they are scared and uncomfortable. Help show us the path.
But let us walk it.
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