Okay, what is what like? What is it like being a transgender woman? I am not talking about what’s it like to live as a woman who’s sex assigned at birth doesn’t match her gender identity, but that internal sense or feeling of my being a woman. It is possible that it is no different than ciswomen. You want to know the truth of the matter? I don’t have a clue.
So, I am not talking about the why are people trans*. Or, how they might have become so. There is some evidence presented in peer reviewed research of genetic influences, hormonal impacts, and brains scans. I find none of these studies definite. Putting them all together give a strong inclination to accept that being trans* is an innate phenomenon. A social cause is not so well established; actually not established at all. However, I believe that there may be social inputs to how and when a person recognizes that they are trans*. This does not explain very well those who know from a very young age. Hardly enough time to have an understanding of social influences. It is possible that these could be influencing them subconsciously, as the brain is a powerful biological product.
I do worry how this kind of knowledge may be used as the basis for a test to determine if someone is trans* or not. Will it be used to exclude someone getting access to transgender care, or if the religious right and other bigoted conservatives will use it to force someone into conversion therapy to “cure” them. Having said that however, I do not believe that ethically carried out research should be censured. The free exchange of ideas, including science, is one of the foundations of modern society.
Okay, does it matter what the causal influences are to being a trans* person? It certainly does to some. But, this transgender woman doesn’t care. Hence, why I cannot explain the why or how I am one. Does it matter to the ways I live my life? I don’t believe so. Would I even like to know my causal influences? Not really. I am generally a very curious person, but in this case I would find it futile. So, when I ask, “why?” I will respond in a typical motherly† way, “because I say so.” Sure, I am free to ask it again, but I am pretty sure I will give myself the same answer.
I also kind of take on the attitude that I don’t give a damn. Like I said it doesn’t matter to me when it comes to living my life. In a way I am just going along for the ride (more truth to this than I am saying—this is not my philosophy blog, however). Does this mean I have no control. To be honest, I certainly feel like I do, and strongly at that. And, I do manage to make choices and give direction to my life for whatever reason(s), as nobody else is doing this for me. Yes, I get advice, but the ultimate choice is up to me.
I tend to look at my life as an adventure, anyway. This can be a way to reframe‡ stressful situations that can turn anxiety or nervousness into excitement. This reframes how the emotional reaction to an event can be accessed in a more positive manner and result it more positive feelings.^ It reframes the negative interpretation of feeling nervous to a more positive interpretation of excitement. This in turn can tone down the emotional reaction in the first place, thus reducing the stress the event is causing me.
Okay, back on topic. So, I don’t really get why I am a woman. It just appears that that is what I am despite being assigned male at birth. As mentioned the feeling of my gender identity is probably no different than cispeople. Ask them about their gender, and you may just get a blank face, shrugging of the shoulders, or “I never thought about before” as answers. So, if they can’t explain their own sense of gender, why should transgender persons be asked to do so, either by others or most likely by themselves.
This I feel is an important point. It is one way transgender persons are treated differently socially. “I will only accept you if you can explain what makes you think your a woman (my own case).” This goes beyond the fight for equal rights for the trans* population. How would you even enforce people to not ask this type of question without creating an oppressive society, which only spurs on violence. In this case it could be violence against transgender persons. This illustrates that there is much more to being socially equal than just laws outlawing discrimination.
Please don’t get me wrong in the case of the transgender individual that they are being internally transphobic. It may be this, but it could be just a curious nature, or desire to better understand themselves. I don’t want to imply it is wrong for an individual to inquire about themselves in this way. But, being asked this by another seems inherently problematic. I see an exception to this in one transgender person to another in hopes to find the questioned person’s answer(s) helpful to themselves, perhaps in context of a support group or a discussion among friends. Otherwise I see it as rude and intrusive to inquire in this way.
It is interesting that I was led to question my own wondering on what it is like being a transwoman, by wondering exactly this about non-binary (including transfeminine and transmasculine varieties), transgender males, agender or other gender non-conforming persons. How did these individuals feel as trans* individuals? What did these individuals think about themselves as a transgender person? It was then that it dawned on me that I did not even know the answers for myself.
This kind of questioning really ramped up when I joined some tele-trans* support groups, and had more contact with these other kinds of trans* persons. Before I could only read what others wrote about themselves and the few non-binary (mainly genderfluid or questioning) persons I chatted with online (although that was not the primary discussion topic with people at the social media sites I used to be a member of). I guess I could have ponder this questioning about myself. But, back then I was mainly focus on transitioning, so that type of thing remained in the background. When I join the tele-groups my transitioning was well on the way with the social part completed as fully as possible and my legal transition in progress.
To get back to my own personal situation I felt I had no clue on how these other people might answer this question, and did not and do not feel comfortable asking them (see above). But, it dawned on me after some determine effort to answer the question about myself I couldn’t honestly answer it. I was mystified, maybe a bit troubled. Soon however, I choose to just accept that I had no answer to give myself, and that in all practicality it didn’t matter either. As nobody else has asked this about me, I feel satisfied with my current approach. And, in the future if I am asked, I will either say, “to be honest I don’t care,” or if it is not a trans* person themselves, “Sorry, none of your business how I feel in this manner.”
The last time I approached this question about myself it was in the context of getting into bed and getting comfy for my night’s sleep. I laid there, and realized that I often bask in my femininity° at this time. I decided I would try to feel like I was a man. The absolute answer was I couldn’t. I found it completely impossible. My final answer is I am just a woman, no other reply is necessary.
† I am not myself a mother, and I do not wish to be one (of course, not in a biological way as that is impossible). However, it is certainly possible that I picked up plenty of social clues as to how mothers (certainly not all mothers) act. My own mom being a prime example, as I heard this answer often enough.
‡ This is part of the cognitive behavioral toolbox. In more formal settings this is done in cognitive behavioral therapy, but has widen in its application far afield. It is taught at mental health programs, which is less formal than actual therapy. There are now many self-help books and apps that allow the reader/user to learn and apply these tools. Reframing is the main tool I use, and I have used it effectively against some of my dysphorias,
^ I follow Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, who views emotional states to be an initial step towards experiencing a feeling. Emotions can remain unconscious and hence never experienced as a feeling, but still influences a person’s thoughts and behaviors. In this scenario feelings are the conscious output of emotions. They can be affected by cognitive measures (see previous note), where emotions cannot, directly at least, respond to cognitive rethinking without the influence of feelings.
° I am currently working on a post about “My Deepening Femininity.” There I go more into to this bedtime behavior.
[Note – I have used trans* almost exclusively throughout this post. Sam Killermann advocates for its use as an umbrella term standing for all transgender and gender non-conforming persons in his book, The Social Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, and I often find it adequate in my own writing.