Most narratives around transition reproduce this notion of “rebirth/starting anew.” I internalised this until I found myself to be a person without a past; which in turn caused some dysphoria. I needed ways to reconcile with my past, bridge enough to it to be a whole person complete with a childhood.
Disclaimer: my experience should not be presumed universal. Your mileage may vary, severing all ties from the past may be just the thing for you in which case: go you! You do you.
The “rebirth/starting anew” narrative is cisnormative. It flows along side FTM/MTF (vs say trans man/woman, man/woman of trans experience) language. It implies at some point I was “really” female, I died (morbid), then something happened, (I’m no fan of litmus tests for trans/gnc people) and *poof* I was male.
Things that helped:
Resuming childhood hobbies
Reframing transition related surgeries as reconstructions
Realising there is no such thing as gendered socialisation
Realising I had masculine/male privilege all along
Somewhere along the way of believing this narrative, I convinced myself “new me” shouldn’t like or do the same things as “old me.” Part of it was thinking some of these interests were the result of my “female socialisation” (see part 3 for why I no longer frame my childhood that way), so I felt compelled to revisit interests I had either wanted to explore younger but couldn’t or hadn’t liked. e.g. I always wanted to play the drums, but my parents favoured orchestra instruments. I also took up rock climbing and weight lifting, which bullies and the likes had driven me away from pursuing growing up.
There’s nothing wrong with taking up new hobbies. But it added to the feeling of having become a “new” person thus being without a past when I cut myself off from activities that constituted big chunks of who I was outside of school/work and family.
I grew up with dogs. The year I began my medical process, I once again lived somewhere I could have a dog. It was such a pleasure and among many other benefits, it lead to something I didn’t realise I needed until then: things that bridged life prior to transition with life following transition. I grew up a dog person, and once again, I was a dog owner.
It can seem mundane, but training my dog alone (because I’d learn from going to classes with a prior dog), once again chatting with fellow dog owners at the dog park, etc. it was amazing in the present in and of itself but also tied in with some of the best moments in my past. Few people care about the gender or sexuality of the dog owner. They’re asking about the dog’s age, breed/mix, if the dog’s been neutered/spade, so on. It was some of the few times both during my childhood and then again at the height of visibility as a trans person that no one was focusing on my gender. The attention was where it belonged, on the dogs, and how they enrich our lives.
I picked back up my childhood martial art and resumed playing piano. Not only was it amazing to bring some of the best part of my past into my present, but both offered great resilience in those moments when life gets overwhelming. Creating and practising art is top notch to distract a worry and dysphoria riddled mind. Time passes, doing something fun, and over time, it helps to realise we can do some stuff, have fun, and (at least in my personal case, your mileage may vary) have not had our body/gender be front and centre of mind nor, I suspect, that of others, at least not in a gendered way.
I’ve had chest reconstruction rather than top surgery. While technically the same, the nuance in language became more significant as I got further surgeries. People typically discuss genital reconstructions as “artifice” that don’t change who we “really” are. They centre them on the surgeon’s work. But by emphasising that they are reconstruction, I focus on the flesh that makes up my current bodily configuration as having always been a part of me. I’m the constant.
Neither my chest or genitals were created out of thin air, they aren’t artifice. They are made of flesh as old as the rest of me. Framing surgical interventions as reconstruction of what was already there helped me embody these body parts as real, more than “good enough”, or vile ways that some people would have me think of them as “approximation” of varying merit (esp when it comes to genital reconstruction.) I always had all the parts that make me up now. Some other parts were discarded all together, not unlike my wisdom teeth, head hair and perhaps one day my appendix and/or gall bladder. Some parts were remolded/modified, as my fur and facial hair are constantly, and eye balls might be via laser down the line. But all these permutations are just as much me as any other form I may have had or take in the future. My surgeons are pretty great, but their work depends on our existence, not the other way around.
Socialisation depends a lot on ethnoculture, class, etc but gender wise, the messages are rendered to all. I’m white and have lived most of my life on Turtle Island/North America. My socialisation included messages of men as emotionally more stoic, needing to be physically bigger/stronger, that while women can (and many do) work, if a guy is part of a family larger than himself and pets, the core of his contribution to the family unit centres around being an income earner. I learnt that masculinity was valued, independently of maleness. I wasn’t aware I’d learnt this until I looked back with some distance, which will be picked up below.
I was surrounded by the messages that femininity was equated to smaller bodies, ergo there was much social pressure around for women to be thinner/smaller (which in turn can lead to unhealthy/self-harming behaviour in efforts to conform to these expectations.) I remember in my early teens priding myself in having no urge whatsoever to strive for a petite figure, but instead wanting to bulk up. Even before I had a solid and confident sense of self as male, I didn’t register femmephobic messages as pertaining to me (while being critical of those messages, but that’s another conversation for another time and place.)
It’s because socialisation is shared across genders that some cishet women claim they “aren’t like other women” and don’t have numerous female friends and cishet guys have every idea what the cishet women are on about. Again the relationship to such messages may differ for each of us (regardless of medical history or particular gender), but within a culture, esp for those of us from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, the messages were pretty equally distributed, and who picks up on which messages as applying to them varies widely for numerous reasons (including race, class, ability, etc.)
I grew up a tomboy/butch queer. I went through some of the worse humanity has to offer to a gender creative child. White centric cultures can be punishing towards trans and gender non conforming people. No privilege there. But here’s the message I received: Gender non conformity is the worse, often means you’re queer so here’s a side of queerphobia on top of it. Here’s what I wasn’t told: masculinity is, in and of itself, something that debases an individual. That’s because transphobia is patriarchal by design.
Pop culture is filled with pop feminist stories of women who cast aside a bit of femininity to accomplish great things. Masculinity is privileged regardless of who performs it. It’s not allowed for all to access it because patriarchy values it and thus wants to limit who, when and how it is utilised. But by virtue of identifying with it, however much or little I was able to access it at any given moment, I was internalising its positive attributes and by extension, valuing my love and embodiment of it.
Feminine people often internalise the negative attributes given to femininity, regardless of whether or not they are able and willing to express this part of them. Trans women get the double whammy message of “gender non conformity is horrible, probably means you’re queer, so here’s a side of queerphobia” simultaneously with “femininity is awful, women are less than why debase yourself by gravitating towards that sub-par gender?!?”
Transmisogyny is transphobia meets femmephobia meets misogyny on steroids.
I want all its components and the awful sum of its parts eradicated. I don’t claim my masculine privilege as an endorsement of cishet sexism and transmisogynoire. But with hindsight, I can own that the gender expression I gravitate(d) towards, the attributes, hobbies and style that I primarily enjoy(ed) (without denying my feminine side) are valued in and of themselves. This benefited me, even in the thick of dealing with transphobia and sexism thrown my way by virtue of my former bodily configuration.
It was difficult to get there but awesome to realise I didn’t die thus I wasn’t new. I didn’t become male when I began the medical process; I’ve always had masculine privilege because socialisation doesn’t depend on gender.
[header image description: bridge in Southern Iceland bridging the part of the island made of the European continental plate with the part of the island made of the North American continent plate. Small icebergs are floating underneath it heading towards the Atlantic ocean. This is original photography.]