Trans: It Isn’t Simple

Apologies for another lecture, but I’ve been doing training today so my brain is in that mode.

This particular post was sparked by something I saw online today. Someone, I’m pretty sure a cis person, was stating authoritatively that gender identity is fixed by the age of three. I think they were trying to be helpful, trying to say that trans people can’t be “cured”, but it is more complicated than that.

Personally I can’t date knowing that I was trans further back than starting school. I didn’t have much to go on. There were no girls my age near where I lived. We’d only just got a TV. I’d been pretty much on my own. Even so, all that I knew when I started school was that there was something wrong.

I have a friend who didn’t realize that he was trans until he started puberty. I have another who didn’t realize that she was trans until she was middle-aged. Both have since undergone significant medical treatment. They are no less trans than I am. I also know people who have elected not to have medical treatment, but have transitioned socially. They too are trans.

The idea that there are simple and definitive diagnostic tests for being trans was one of the things that held me back from transitioning for around 20 years. I read a lot, and I wasn’t certain that I’d be accepted as a patient, or indeed that transition was right for me. Nowadays we’d say that I was Questioning, but kids these days get to experiment, without having to make irreversible decisions about their lives, which is good.

Insistence on a simple, diagnostic test also plays into the TERF myth that anyone who starts a transition process, and either decides to stop at being non-binary, or back out to their assigned gender, was somehow “misdiagnosed” and has been forced into transition by pro-trans fanatics. Many people need to experiment, and the purpose of treatment should be to find what works for the patient, not to force everyone to follow a particular path. (And certainly not to force people into roles that reinforce the gender binary, unless those roles are what they are comfortable in.)

I know that “it’s complicated” isn’t an easy thing to explain. People tend to prefer easy answers. But sometimes it is an important thing to explain.

3 thoughts on “Trans: It Isn’t Simple

  1. I agree with you that gender identity, amongst other things, is an individual matter, as are things like sexual orientation and whether one is monogamous or polyamorous.

  2. Hi Cheryl, I apologise. I don’t think I misunderstood what you wrote here or disagreed with it. I feel it’s the social framework in which trans is so often viewed from the outside as ‘complicated’ which makes some try to force simple solutions on for fear of digging deeper. I would still say ‘complicated’ suggests a problem in need of untangling by imposing a simplistic system or alternatively steering well clear of it. I would avoid it in favour of something like diverse or varied or different, even unfamiliar perhaps but definitely something to be celebrated. I probably did not express myself well on twitter. Sadly a trap that’s all too easy to fall into given that limited form. Plus my mind was somewhat elsewhere today so I wasn’t giving it full attention.
    I’ve read and agreed with so much of what you’ve written over the years and it was certainly not my intention to fall out with you. All very best. Sarah

    1. Thanks Sarah. I see what you mean about not wanting to put people off, but it is equally important to be honest with them.

      Today I was teaching a group of police cadets. One of the questions they asked was essentially how they could tell what gender someone was so as to use the right words. I had to tell them there is no simple magic trick. You can’t tell by what someone wears, or how they speak or walk, what their gender is. However, like many complex problems you can think your way around it. So my advice was if they were not sure how to address someone, ask. Sit down with them, ask for name and pronouns, ask if there is anything else they need to know.

      It was also part of the course to tell them that we don’t know why people are trans, any more than we know why people are religious, or like certain types of music. But we don’t need to know to treat trans people with respect, and we don’t need to know to understand that doing so makes those people happier and healthier.

      I know that simple narratives can be very powerful, particularly in the media, but in my lifetime I have seen at least three different versions of the one true way to be trans, and all of them leave out vast swathes of the community. So I am very cautious about what stories I tell.

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