Again and again, when I listen to trans people talking about their childhoods, I hear things I remember. I remember just being mystified by girls, never understanding why they liked any of the things they did. Being angry every Christmas at the useless, inappropriate, pink presents my grandmother would give me. Crying when I was told I had been asked to be a “flower girl” at my cousin’s wedding. Being hurt when other girls saw me fishing caterpillars or millipedes out of the bushes in the playground and shrieked with disgust. Being followed around the playground by older girls who were taunting me for having a deep voice – their high-pitched sing-song, “Yoooou talk like a booo-ooooy”. (Our kindly GP, on the other hand, God bless him, told me I could be a jazz singer.)
I had some female friends, but I would frequently find myself excluded because their other female friends didn’t like me. I was not popular among mothers, either. I was much more comfortable with the group of boys I was friends with from ages 8 through to the end of primary school. I liked the games they played. They weren’t afraid of bugs and didn’t think I was weird. The difference was so stark. I remember thinking, at age nine or ten, before I had ever heard of trans-anything, that I felt like a boy in a girl’s body. Those words. In sex ed in grade six, someone put a question in the anonymous box about “sex changes”. Almost everybody in the class turned around, and looked at me.
This is not a coming out post.
Puberty hit, and the world changed around me. Though I was still one of the weird kids in high school, and got along okay with the popular boys but never the popular girls, I found a space to exist in which wasn’t as constrained by gender. I was a goth, and that was what was strange about me and my clothing, not its gender non-conformity, even though I was still wearing baggy pants and oversize t-shirts.
I remember the only other girl in my first year of high school who wore pants instead of a school dress. Christine, with the very short hair. We were 13. Now I’m 28, and I go to work in jeans and t-shirt most days with short hair and no makeup, and it’s simply not an issue. I’ve never even identified as queer, because I feel very strongly that there should be space for women like me in the world. Overwhelmingly, there is.
We gender little girls so much more aggressively than we do women. I didn’t change. I still don’t have very many female friends, and those I do tend to mostly have male friends as well. But as an adult this is barely worthy of comment, while as a child it marks you out as a mutant. Kids are shitty. I hated being a little girl, and with every method of resistance open to me, I refused to be one. I am surprised, sometimes, by how comfortable I am being a woman. But I didn’t change. I am no more gender conforming now than I was as a child – it just doesn’t matter anymore.
Why am I writing this? I suppose because I’ve never seen anybody who isn’t trans describe having a childhood like mine. I wonder how many people who grow up feeling like that become (remain?) trans, and how many, like me, feel the mould loosen around them and become comfortable as adults. Is it 50/50? 10/90? 90/10? I have no idea.
I spoke to the woman who runs the gender clinic at the children’s hospital recently, and she said they see a lot of kids pre-puberty now. I wonder, if I was growing up now, would I have gone? If I had told my mother how I felt, or if she had googled my social problems, would we have wound up there? I don’t remember feeling the kind of intense distress that drives so many trans kids to suicide, so probably not, I suppose.
If I had googled how I felt at age ten, like I’m sure a lot of kids are doing now, would I have found my way to tumblr and assumed I was going to transition as an adult? I suppose I would have – I don’t remember having any expectation that I would ever feel differently, or feeling any greater affinity for the grownup trappings of womanhood than the fluffy pink bullshit of girlhood.
I was lucky, I’m certain, to have a feminist mother and to grow up being read books with titles like “The Tough Princess”. There was space in my house for a girl like me, just not in the world outside. Trans kids kill themselves at a rate of knots, even in 2015. The mould constricting me as a kid gave out, eventually, but clearly that doesn’t happen for everybody – the world I find plenty of space in as an adult continues to crush and suffocate others. So I guess what I want to say is this. If you know a gender non-conforming kid, or especially a gender non-conforming teenager: make space. Make space.