As is the nature of words, language evolves, morphs, grows, contracts, twists, and ever-changes as society itself evolves. When we strictly attach ourselves to the language of the past, we are bound to find ourselves stuck in the past. I have often come across people bemoaning that “transsexual” is no longer completely synonymous with “transgender,” some clinging to themselves as “transier than thou” because their definition of trans aligns more with the words we used in the past.
Words like transsexual and transvestite are not wrong, per se, but they do not apply to all of us. Therefore, they have been narrowed down from umbrella terms to the individual pieces, parts, and experiences of the community they actually are. The issue here is not that anybody is being erased for their identity. Rather, more people are being validated and let in under the umbrella from the deluge that is cisgender prejudice. I know many trans people who do feel that they were born in the wrong body — but I also know many who do not.
“Born in the wrong body” is a phrase that absolutely sends my skin crawling, particularly when it comes from cis people trying to educate other cis people on the trans experience. While many trans folks feel that they were born in the wrong body (i.e., they’re born male/female but wish their sexual characteristics were traditionally female/male), other trans folks and I have long felt that this concept is reductive and induces shame. There are legitimate reasons to dislike aspects of the body we are born in, and that’s all okay — dysphoria is a beast of an ailment — but the idea that our bodies are “wrong” and we all have to “fix” ourselves ultimately hurts the trans community more than it helps us, and inversely demands explanation when educating others about nonbinary trans folks and those who don’t fit on either side of the binary.
Personally, there are days that I feel I was born in the wrong body, certainly. Especially as surgeries loom closer, I absolutely find myself wishing I’d been born in a way that didn’t require me to transition. That said, I wouldn’t trade my trans experience for anything. Being trans is hard, but it’s hugely shaped who I am as a person with impacts on my compassion toward others and understanding of gender as a whole. I do not like parts of my body, but I wasn’t born in the wrong body at all.
As part of an individual trans person’s experience, there is no problem with identifying as being born in the wrong body, but as a default narrative, it invokes shame and an imperative to change where, often, there is nothing to change at all. When we dictate that transness means moving from one sexual binary to the other, we exclude many people who don’t transition in a way that is stereotypical or commonly understood by the cis masses.
With trans women particularly, there is a certain amount of visceral reaction from the cis public when they don’t wish to undergo genital reconstructive surgery to make a neo-vagina. The same shame often goes for trans men, sometimes from each other but particularly from the gay community toward gay trans men due to cis gay male eurotophobia (fear of vaginas). In my experience, shaming of trans men for not possessing a phallus is less common than shaming trans women for having one because phalloplasty and metoidioplasty are more complicated and risky procedures than traditional vaginoplasty or colon/perineal-grafted vaginoplasties. That restriction of access translates, for trans men, to less social pressure to go and have a penis surgically created, whereas, for trans women, not getting a vaginoplasty is often seen as lazy or somehow evidence of her being an agent of the patriarchy invading upon women’s spaces.
Trans men, in a similar vein, face undue pressure to have a mastectomy to be seen as validly trans because, while no surgery is easy, it’s fairly straightforward and often seen as a rite of passage. Trans men who don’t have mastectomies are more often isolated from the community, shamed, and misgendered, whether it arises out of choice, lack of insurance, or if having surgery would constitute an excessive risk to their health. In an inverse social condition, trans women are somewhat less pressured to have top surgery given that hormone replacement therapy tends to provide breast growth. To be clear, this is not a one-size-fits-all statement — I have seen trans men shaming other trans men for not having bottom dysphoria, so there are always exceptions to the “rule.”
What I am getting here is that social pressures to get surgery comes from all sides, but particularly from those who refuse to see us as our genders until we undergo some “concrete” changes to our bodies. This is extremely damaging and backward thinking that can absolutely result in a trans person going too far with their medical transition in a way that cannot be reversed. I believe that this is largely where the ex-trans community comes from — people who are nonbinary or otherwise fall outside the binary but were duped into believing that gender and sex are binary experiences and, essentially, that being trans means going from a 1 to a 0, or visa versa. If social pressure to completely transition from traditionally female/male to male/female were lesser, then a lot of people may be saved the pain of realizing too late that they acted in favor of being socially accepted and not what was best for them personally.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to be trans, and certainly no one-size-fits-all path to medical transition. What works for one may not work for another. And even if you do undergo every transition surgery under the sun, that still doesn’t necessarily mean that you were “born in the wrong body.” It’s just such a shameful way to wrap one’s mind around transgender lives, the implication being that trans people are wrong and cis people are inherently right. I reject this notion and say that I was born in the right body despite my fairly straightforward and traditional medical transition as a trans woman.
There are certainly days I wish I were born cis, but lamenting that fact is a lesson in futility. Focusing on what could have been and not what is my reality can drive one mad. Yes, I intend to change my body in many ways surgically, but it is so necessary to learn to love your body in the meantime, even when it makes us dysphoric. Being assigned male at birth has given me a perspective on life I am sure I wouldn’t have otherwise. Being raised in a queerphobic and religious household, the cis alternate-universe version of me would likely have upheld those broken beliefs and never forced my family to change their hearts for the better. Had I not been born trans, I likely wouldn’t be the same compassionate, artistic, and loving person I am today. I would never have needed to look inward at myself and contextualize who I am against a world in which I am other. I value my life experience, even though it’s hard.
I was not born in the wrong body at all. I was merely born in a body that needs redecorating in order to suit my needs. A fresh coat of paint here, a wall smashed down there — it doesn’t mean that the bones I’m working with are inherently wrong. I don’t get the option of rehousing my brain, so, one way or another, I will always seek to find a way to make sure that the body I was born in is the right one. Because otherwise, I feel stuck and left to hate myself, hate my body for what it is and the shape of its curves. Learning to love me here and now is hugely about making sure that I don’t still hate my body after transitioning. If I can’t learn to love what is, while acknowledging that I can change things for the better, I feel likely to fall into the trap of the never-ending transition — one in which I would never be happy no matter what I nip, or what I tuck, and what I have reshaped into a newer version of me.
If being born in the wrong body is your narrative, I respect it, but it’s not one that sits well with me or many other trans folks.
Cis people ought to remove “born in the wrong body” language from their vocabulary.