Make yourself known. Tell the world your name, age, and how you identify. Post a picture of yourself.
My name’s Adam, and I’m a native Southern Californian living in San Diego for the past 7 years. I’m 31, at least for another week. I identify as transfeminine, queer, and gay. (That means I’m a queer lady who likes queer ladies.) My pronouns are ‘she’ and ‘her’.
Talk about your process of discovery and realization. How did you come to understand yourself to be trans?
—every girl I was ever friends with
I was 28, most of the way through a summer trip to Europe and the first time I’d ever traveled alone for more than a few days.
I spent most of the time in Aachen, a small city in western Germany, where a professor friend had generously helped me establish a home base at the local university. I rented a flat, spent my days inside the department with a grad student whose research I was interested in, went drinking with the locals at night, and backpacked to different countries on the weekends. It was The Life.
I ultimately credit traveling for my realization. I firmly believe that unbeknownst to us, the people and places in our lives silently and benignly emanate patterns of their perceptions, residual representations shaped by ideas of who we are and thus, who we should be. It’s why we often feel like we have to change towns to make a fresh start, even as people make the same trip in reverse for the same reason. And it’s why travel can make us feel like our cutting-edge selves, at least as far as the limitations of living out of a backpack allow.
I honestly can’t tell you the exact series of thoughts, or their wording, that made me acknowledge my own gender variance. It felt like it just happened one day, in one moment. Thinking back, and most likely inserting many convenient falsehoods, this is my best guess:
Near the end of the trip, from this place of both freedom and stability, I was reflecting on the life I was about to return to. I was almost a year out of a long relationship, which I had jumped into right after an even longer relationship. I was affirmably single for the first time in my life, and determined to stay that way for at least a while. I wanted a chance to unpack my baggage before hopping on another flight. I wanted to throw myself against every wall and see what stuck.
It was a non-stop adventure. I had gotten heavily into music festivals, finding them the perfect venue for my loves of socializing, of nature, of psychedelics, and my new focus on self-discovery and expression. I had started dressing up as what I called a “dappercat”: blending a cat mask with a vest and tie, partially to subvert the anything-but-normativity culture at such gatherings, but also creating a fun character that could roam freely, drop silently into groups, wander out of conversations at a moment’s notice, or stick around and quip sarcastically.
Why do I like doing that? I thought. Well, the cat mask provided me with both a way to instigate shenanigans, and a safe buffer from them. (Masks are empowering in that regard.) The formal attire was less a declaration of maleness, and more a way to look both above and in control of my surroundings, coolly removed from the grungy kids in Baja pullovers and fuzzy coats. Despite the gendered aspects of the clothing, the playful trickster-spirit it allowed me to evoke was something much more androgynous.
It’s not like I didn’t know about gender variance. I had been jerking off to trans porn for over a decade, the unfavorable reactions of my girlfriends over the years making me sure it was a shameful paraphilia. Trans was something other people were, transitioning was something other people did. I just had a weird fetish thing, probably.
It’s really funny how long we can go without questioning something.
But once I had provided myself with the thought that maaaybe gender was a slider, and maaaybe that slider was something I could control for me, the last keystone crumbled and the straining dam collapsed.
That would explain…
Pieces of long-forgotten errata started clicking into place, like a magic door assembling itself from scraps of rubbish.
Always sitting to pee as a kid, because I didn’t like touching my genitals. That time as a teen I found a box of old stockings and bras in the closet, put them on, and got off, robotically replacing them afterwards with no clue why I did it. The overtly feminine gestures that I only reigned in after bullying from the neighborhood kids. How every best friend I’d ever had save for one had been a girl. All of the goddamn shemale* porn.
Each of these things, individually, meant next to nothing, despite bothering me for years, but here was suddenly a unified theory that made a disturbing amount of sense.
Do I want to be a feminine boy… or a masculine girl?
Ironically, I had just started to love my body. I finally looked good, after being a pudgy, pale homeschooled kid, then a young adult fat from depression in an abusive relationship, then a college kid on a slacker diet of food-court lunches, Monster and all-nighters.
But in my year of freedom, I had been running, dancing, hiking, climbing, walking—and it showed. Part of that self-love process was accepting that I was never going to be like other men, whose heads and hands seemed incomprehensibly larger than mine and whose values diverged from mine on almost every axis, save for the few more sensitive guys I befriended in college. Sensitivity was strength, I’d decided, especially after my lifelong comfort around women started paying dividends in the dating world. Beta male, indeed.
And that was the crux of it: my masculine form, I realized later, was only valuable to me insomuch as it allowed me to possess femininity, to have access to soft skin and breasts, to become entwined with a woman until our individual selves disappeared in a blur of codependency. Making myself stay single had inadvertently prevented me from doing that anymore, though I still spent way more time going on dates than doing most other things.
I never let myself be alone. I existed only in relation to others. I derived no sense of power from my body that felt intrinsic.
I went home that night and shaved off my beard, without fully understanding why. I spent the next day on /r/asktransgender, typing up my life story.
But it would still be over a year before I started calling myself trans.
* Shemale, tranny, and similar terms are highly offensive slurs, and used only by other trans people in the context of reclamation, or referring to the industries and cultures that market us as sensationalized and expendable commodities