The term “transtrender” is a form of gatekeeping that harms the trans community. It’s sinister that transgender people have used this word to marginalize other folks.
I’ve been told, more times than I could possibly count, that my identity as transgender is invalid — that with the increasingly visible transgender rights movement, I’ve hopped on a bandwagon in an attempt to be special. A “transtrender,” I’ve been called, due to the supposedly “trendy” nature of transness nowadays.
I’ve written before about the problematic nature of this label. The term “transtrender” is a form of gatekeeping that harms the trans community, which is why I think it’s particularly sinister that some transgender people have used this word to marginalize other folks in the community.
Beyond being harmful, the word “transtrender” is meaningless – because it incorrectly suggests that trans people who aren’t born this way are invalid, rather than accepting that we all arrive at our trans identities in different and equally valid ways, even in ways we might have chosen.
I recognize that my entrance into transness was absolutely and undeniably informed by the visibility of transgender people in the media. I can’t actually argue that, in every possible scenario, I arrive at my trans identity regardless of what I’ve seen on television. In fact, I’m not sure if or when I would’ve realized I was transgender without hearing the stories of other trans people first.
I think we can agree that it’s hard to imagine a life for yourself that you’ve never seen lived. It’s hard to pursue a possibility that you don’t know exists.
My first “Aha!” moment was when I was watching a television show in which an androgynous character (a world-renowned scientist, no less) perplexed everyone around them with their ambiguous gender presentation. Despite their colleagues’ most offensive and sincere efforts to “figure out” the gender of this person, they couldn’t.
I hadn’t yet heard words like “non-binary” and “genderqueer,” but what I did understand in that moment was that possibilities outside of cis femininity existed for me –and from then on, I was enchanted.
Up until that point, my gender expression and embodied experiences were mostly stereotypical and it didn’t necessarily trouble me. I definitely felt like an outcast among other girls, but I was by no means suffering deeply because of it.
I started to explore gender fluidity and, eventually, trans identity, because someone illustrated another possibility for me — one that fit and felt better to me. I eagerly began consuming more and more trans media, particularly on platforms like YouTube. For the first time, instead of taking the girlhood that was imposed on me, I asked myself, “But what if there’s more than this? What do I want?”
With every small step I took (chest-binding, new haircuts, new clothes), my confidence in this transition grew. But as I came to know myself, my gender dysphoria grew, too. As the outside world demanded that I perform womanhood, I painfully and passionately railed against it. Holding that grief and discomfort was its own kind of suffering, one that I hadn’t known before.
What I wanted was now something I needed, as the remnants of my assigned gender began to aggressively constrain me like a cage I couldn’t break out of.
From there, I made the decision to pursue a hormonal transition — which did, in fact, help me feel even more at home in my body. Surgery is now on the horizon — something I initially didn’t expect, but know now that I can’t be whole without. (But there are plenty of transgender people who don’t need it or can’t access it — and I believe with my whole heart that they’re just as valid, too.)
As my body and identity have changed, my joy has evolved. I finally understand that some part of me had always been longing for something — it was some kind of tension that I held in my body — but I couldn’t before place what it was. Somehow, my transition brought me that sense of completion. I’ll never know, though, if I would’ve found it someplace else.
Would any of this have happened in a world where transgender and genderfluid people were less visible? In which I had never encountered these images, these stories? I can’t say for sure.
In fact, I’m pretty certain that there’s a parallel universe in which I am resigned to womanhood, going through all the motions expected of me, and while I’m not necessarily as happy and comfortable as I am now, I’m by no means coming undone.
I don’t think I could’ve desired something that I didn’t know. You can’t call something your favorite food if you’ve never tasted it; you can’t fall in love with a person you’ve never, ever known. Sometimes to truly know something about yourself, you have to tangle with it, experience it in some way first.
Some trans people could imagine it all from the start, like a recurring dream that visits them every night, buried somewhere deep in their consciousness. But for me, my transition had to be tangible before I could understand it, chase it, meet it.
Maybe in that way, I am a “transtrender” — transitioning not because of fate, but by chance, accidentally. A transition of circumstance; not because it was written in the stars since the dawn of time, but because those stars happened to align one night. Not because it was meant to happen, but because I saw it and was drawn to it. Not because I was wired this way, but because I made a choice.
And I did make a choice. I’ve made many choices these last five years of transition, not a single one of which I regret.
I’ll never know exactly why I am transgender, though when I imagine that androgynous scientist on the flickering television screen, I can perfectly recall the delight and curiosity I felt. Whether the choreography of my gender was carefully scripted or improvised, I’m the most “me” I’ve ever been.
Call it whatever you’d like; I know that it’s right.