How old was I when I knew I was trans? I can’t give you a simple answer, because this question can mean a lot of different things. I’ve gotten similar questions about my childhood from a number of people, from those who knew me growing up and those who didn’t. Perhaps some parents are trying to understand their kids better by hearing about the childhood experience of a trans nonbinary person.
I know what the narrative is supposed to be: I should have called myself a boy as a child. I should have rejected girls’ clothing, toys, and friendship. I should have jumped on any sign that a person could be transgender and said that was me. Um, apparently I didn’t do that. My mom even told me I showed very few signs of any trans gender identity as I was growing up.
So how did I go from a child who was just trying to fit in to an adult writing a trans blog on the internet? Let me attempt to remember. This post is all about how old were you when you knew you were trans.
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I grew up in the 90’s and didn’t really find out about trans people until after I left for college. Finding the words to describe my identity didn’t change or create my identity, but it allowed me to think about and understand parts of myself I ignored or dissociated away from previously. Understanding that I’m not the only one who feels this way about having a nonbinary gender and being able to talk about it makes me more grounded, confident, and present in my life. So what was my life like before I had ever heard the word “nonbinary?”
Let me set the scene. Dido’s White Flag plays over the radio on a sweltering New Jersey evening as I drive home past horse farms, fireflies, and the one country store. I will go down with this ship. I won’t put my hands up, and surrender. I sing along. I turn onto a one-lane barely paved road and shift from first into second, no higher, to climb the hill. And when we meet (I’m sure we will) all that was there…will be there still.
Years before I had my drivers license, I rode my bike up and down the steep road. Before I was allowed to bike down the road, I biked in the driveway or garage. My first bike was a purple girl’s bike that I was infatuated with, except for one issue. When I sat on it, both of my feet didn’t reach the ground. I couldn’t ride it. It was too big. My dad bought me a smaller bike, eventually, a bright pink one with streamers coming out of both handlebars. I swung my leg over and took off across the grass, overjoyed to be riding a bike by myself.
How is this relevant to my gender identity? It’s not particularly. But this is the kind of stuff I thought about as a kid. It never occurred to me to think whether I was a boy or a girl or something else. I assumed I was a girl because everyone told me so. I wasn’t particularly happy with that. I was happy with my body before puberty, I guess, or at least I didn’t think about it much. No, that’s not true. I would look at myself in the mirror in my gymnastics leotard and see my round belly stick out, my hips curved strangely, my ribs showing slightly, however I angled my body it didn’t look right. There was nothing wrong with my body as a ten-year-old. The disconnect I felt came from my mind.
I was embarrassed when my chest started growing. It was uncomfortable both mentally and physically and I ignored it. I was horrified when I found out periods took up one week out of every month. I mean, one whole week?? Horrified. But did I hate my body changing more than other children-who-were-probably-girls did? Yes, probably, looking back. But I had no idea at the time because I never discussed this stuff with my peers. I didn’t make friends easily, and especially not with girls who were trying to be popular. I was the anti-popular in some social circles.
These are the anecdotes I pull out when I’m trying to prove I was trans as a kid. That part is true. But I also enjoyed dressing up in princess ball gowns, wearing makeup, wearing tight jeans and a low-cut top as a teen, showing that I could make my body look good. I told a friend in my twenties that dressing up to go out dancing feels like wearing drag to me.
I started calling myself nonbinary around age 28. I came out more widely as trans and nonbinary around age 30. I bought my first men’s shirt in a Goodwill around age 27. I was uncomfortable with being a girl by age 5 (but didn’t tell anyone). I can’t remember all of what happened in between with regard to my gender identity. The thing about dissociation, is, you don’t always remember what you were thinking.
I have always been me. From my favorite Paul Simon song, after changes we are more or less the same—after changing we are more or less the same. I’ve changed a lot: my name, my expression, the words I use to describe myself, who and what I care about. But I have a core part that has never changed. It contains the aspect of me I could not describe when I was younger, perhaps including being trans. I couldn’t answer, how old were you when you knew you were trans. That repression has affected me and I am still healing from the repercussions today.
I am happy to call myself nonbinary today. That label may not work for me for the rest of my life, but it has brought understanding I was sorely lacking before. If I had a child, I would provide them with age-appropriate information about LGBTQ+ identities. I do not believe this will change a child’s identity, but it may allow them to understand and express themself earlier than I had the opportunity to.
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