When I was little, my grandmother made me a pink princess costume for Halloween: a little petal pink shift, a darker pink cape that tied with a white grosgrain ribbon and was trimmed with sequins, and a pale pink satin tiara, also trimmed with sequins. I loved it. After Halloween, that costume ended up in my dress up box (a purple box with white hearts), and I played with it all the time.
Until I joined theatre in high school, all of my friends were girls. I played on the playground at recess with girls. I played jump rope. I played with dolls; I even owned a American Girl doll (Addy–at the time, she was the only American Girl doll of color). I wasn’t a tomboy. I’m still one of the least athletic people I know.
I’ve always had rather a little girl persona–bouncy and bubbly, sometimes shy and uncertain, hesitant, giggly. I’ve now barely over five feet tall; with big smiles and lots of dimples, people always thought I was a cute little girl. And, as I grew older, holding onto the cute little girl image was an easy way to get by. I was never particularly talented or charismatic, but I escaped middle school and high school relatively unscathed because I was so inoffensive. The sweet, happy girls generally don’t get picked on, at least not where I went to school.
I even chose to attend a women’s college. I’ve always had strongly feminist beliefs, which, unfortunately, have possibly added to originally seeing the world in a rather strictly binarily gendered sense. My parents gave me subscriptions to magazines like New Moon when I was young, which was a magazine “created for girls, by girls” and “dedicated to helping girls discover and honor their true selves.” Because there’s such emphasis on women versus men, and empowering women because the patriarchal structure has oppressed them, I never really questioned my gender. Not until the past year or so, at least.
In the essay “Mutilating Gender,” Dean Spade writes about not having the type of childhood narrative that those in the medical profession typically expect of trans people. When I read “Mutilating Gender,” the truth of it immediately resonated with me. Despite our very different backgrounds, I could see myself in that essay. Medical professionals are assumed to know more about my gender, and what I want to do with my body, than I do. There is this assumption that the only people who are “really” transgender have spent their entire lives knowing and insisting that they are the “opposite” sex and gender from what they were determined at birth and raised as. Somehow, if I haven’t spent my childhood wearing exclusively “boy clothes,” only playing boy games with boys, and completely rejecting anything that society deems girly, I cannot possibly be trans and must be a woman.
Where is my agency? I deserve the right to self-determine my gender.
There are so many different paths and ways of realizing and understanding and having a trans identity. There is no universal trans experience. Accepting that I happily spent my childhood as a girl, accepting I never really was a tomboy, accepting that I’m not what most people think of when they hear the word “trans,” accepting that most people read me as a woman–none of that should delegitimize who I am and how I view myself. Gender is not static.
Spade, Dean. “Mutilating Gender.” Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. Ed. Maurianne Adams, Warren J. Blumenfeld, Carmelita (Rosie) Castañeda, Heather W. Hackman, Madeline L. Peters, and Ximena Zúñiga, eds. New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis, 2010. 435-441.