Ask Me Anything: ‘How do I know if I’m trans?’

Nana, a trans woman, Place Blanche, Paris, 1963, by Christer Strömholm, from Les amies de Place Blanche, 2012, Aman Iman Editions, Paris. (For my story about this photograph, click here.)

As a trans woman who transitioned quite a while ago, I get this question — sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly — in conversation with someone who is struggling with the conflicts and uncertainties that come with making the transitional choices.

There is, of course, a strong drive to ‘figure it out’, to make sense of it, to categorise the criteria of trans-ness and see how one’s story and feelings align. And, if that alignment isn’t perfect (and it isn’t), then the doubts, then the internal conflict, then the question —

‘How do I know if I’m trans?’

To which I offer two answers: ‘You cannot’ and ‘you already do’. Each answer is to a different question, depending on what you mean by ‘know’.

If by ‘know’ you mean having a solid conclusion based on reasoning your way through a set of trans-qualifying criteria, then you cannot know, because you are not a machine, your life is not a program, and the criteria either don’t exist or aren’t valid[1]. Simply put, gender is not a defined, objective entity; it is a human experience.

As Natalie Reed demonstrates in her very well-reasoned essay, ‘How do I know if I’m trans?’[2], a conclusion cannot be reasoned. In her words —

…you can’t “prove” the existence of a subjective experience…example: “yeah, but how do I know that this coffee is actually as delicious it tastes?”

To bring it home, let’s reframe the question:

‘How do I know this trans feeling I have is really a trans feeling?’

You don’t. And you already do.

So, on to the alternate version of the question ‘How do I know if I’m trans?’ —

If by ‘know’ you mean having enough self-knowledge to make the choices involved in transition (and this, I think, is the more useful question), then the answer is probably ‘you already do’.

Since this cannot be reasoned through, and yet the solution is crucial to your wellbeing, may I suggest a quick experiment —

1. Choose a safe, quite place; sit comfortably, close your eyes.

2. Reflect gently on the uncertainty, doubt, conflict you feel about transition; lightly run through the list. Now respectfully acknowledge those thoughts and feelings, and set them aside for the time being. We don’t need them right now.

3. Clear your mind. Move your awareness into your body[3].
Feel your face, your neck, your arms and your hands, your chest. Feel your belly, your pelvis, your thighs. Your legs and feet.

Now move your awareness back upward into your thighs, your pelvis. Now to your chest, and finally again to your face.

As you move through your body, notice any areas that feel inharmonious.

4. Gently play with your sense of your gender. Imagine yourself dressed as a woman[4], with the physical features and behaviours of a woman. Hold that. It is important to fully visualise yourself here.

Now imagine yourself dressed as a man, with the physical features and behaviours of a man. Feel that; take your time. Fully visualise yourself.

Now slide in-between, dress yourself androgynously, with gender ambiguous features and behaviours[5]. Don’t rush; be that for a time.

Now do all three once more — feel woman, feel man, feel between or beyond those poles. Spend a little time in each state. Feel how you’re drawn toward or away from each.

Do you feel a ‘pull’ toward, or sense of comfort or ‘correctness’ in, one of these states? 
Do any of these states feel discordant, uncomfortable, or ‘push’ you away?

5. Clear your mind. Now imagine yourself five years from now. 
You have made your choices, you have made whatever changes you felt were necessary. You have chosen to live your life as a man. You have the attire, features, behaviours of a man. How does that life feel? Hold that.

Now shift, you have chosen to live your life as a woman. You have the dress, features, behaviours of a woman. How does that life feel? Give that some time.

And now you have chosen instead to live your life in a place intermediate or beyond the spectrum. You have dress, features, behaviours that are androgynous. How’s that? Can you feel that?

Cycle through once more — it’s five years from now, you’ve made your decision and done your work — man…woman…neither. Take a moment in each. Feel your clothes, touch your face, your thighs, hear your voice, express your gestures: man…woman…neither.

Do you feel yourself drawn toward one of these lives? 
Do any of these lives repel you?

6. Kindly let me know if this was helpful.

Trust your gut.

Trust that down deep — under the doubts and fears and all the opinions and cultural influences — within you, you know who you are.

To borrow another quote from Natalie Reed’s essay —

There is absolutely no history you may have that undermines your right to make this choice, would undermine the validity of that choice, or would undermine the gender you assert… To think that you’re trans, to subjectively experience yourself as trans, is exactly what it is to be trans.

What she said.


Special thanks to Michele Shaw, who contributed to this article.

For notes numbered [1–5] click here.

This is part of my Ask Me Anything series. Ask me anything in the comments…

Major monthly financial support is provided by Jayne Tucek, Lis Regula, Beth Adele Long, Maya Stroshane, Stevie Lantalia Metke, and J. Morefield.

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