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Ravel: What can change the nature of a man?

Last updated on 28/02/2024

Planescape: Torment was a formative piece of media for me. It features a nameless protagonist, The Nameless One, who has forgotten who he is. He goes on a grand adventure to find himself. Along the way, he meets Dak’kon, a sort of warrior philosopher, and they share the following exchange:

The Nameless One: “Yet I would maintain that we know ourselves by the questions we ask and the ones we do not. If we cease asking questions and accept only what we can perceive…”

Dak`kon: “Then we will cease to know ourselves.” Dak’kon’s voice had changed slightly, become heavier. “Such words have been spoken before. I have heard them and know them.”

Endure. In enduring, grow strong.

When I started coming out, everyone had questions. It was interesting to me what they asked and what they didn’t. My aunt was one of the first people I told. She responded by telling me she loved me, she was happy for me, and asked “Are you ok?”. In my experience, most people ask these two questions first:

  • When did you know?
  • How do you know?

Those are pretty natural questions to ask. Sometimes they’re politely masking a lot of hurt, “How could this happen?”, or betrayal, “Why didn’t you tell me?” Sometimes they’re questions from someone looking for an explanation to something they don’t understand. Sometimes they’re just idle curiosity. Wherever you may be, let me address them both.

So, when did you know?

This might surprise you, but, that’s really, really difficult to answer.

It’s a squishy, wiggly question. When did I know what exactly?

Even if you nail down what exactly you’d like to ask, you have to nail down what it means to know. Did I know why I sang in falsetto? Did I know why I stopped singing the moment I hit puberty? I knew I didn’t like how my voice sounded. I knew I felt good when people called me miss on the phone or at the drive-through. I didn’t know why I felt that way.

Even when I did know some things, I often didn’t have had the words to explain it that I do now. So, these milestones and experiences are through the lens of hindsight and a better vocabulary. When did I know that:

I was different from my peers?

As young as 6 or 7. Most of the boys I was placed with didn’t prefer the company of girls. They didn’t want to play the way I did, they didn’t talk the way I did, and so on.

I had to hide that?

Same age. Kids are brutal man. I also received advice along these lines from well meaning adults in my life.

I couldn’t be happy in the mold I was expected to fit?

Early into my teenage years. Most of us go through an awkward phase in puberty. Mine felt pretty extreme and, as far as I could tell, it never ended. I couldn’t figure out the rules for being a guy. Dressing and grooming were a mystery. Courting made no sense. I just couldn’t figure out how to be.

I wasn’t a CIS man?

Somewhere in my mid-to-late 20s. Being asked why I didn’t disclose the crossdressing in my clearance interviews was a strong signal. The answer, if it still matters, is because I didn’t think of it as crossdressing. Those were my clothes, and they were how I dressed. I wasn’t adopting a different gender; I was embracing mine.

I was a trans woman?

My late 20s or early 30s. Right around the time we were struggling to get pregnant. Certainly by the time my wife started to be visibly pregnant. The thing is though, how I experienced our struggle with fertility and my wife’s pregnancy, that wasn’t new information in the sense that “Oh, I didn’t realize I felt this way”. What was surprising was how extreme my feelings were, and how unable I was to cope with them or keep them bottled up.

So, When did you know?

I think it’s important to point out that I didn’t always know I was trans. Many stories of trans experiences start from the perspective that “I’ve always known.” For a while, I struggled with that because, well, I haven’t always known. Then I saw something in this piece that helped me make sense of that:

[The Benjamin Sex Orientation Scale] reserved access to gender-affirming surgeries for only Type 6 “true transsexuals,” and centered as essential to all trans identities… that they demonstrate clear signs virtually from birth that they were trans. 

I want to repeat that. To receive gender-affirming treatment of any kind, a trans person had to prove exhaustively that they had always known that they were trans.

Doc Impossible of Stained Glass Woman

Some people have known they were trans their whole life. Still, the prevalence of those stories is probably influenced by the fact that people had to say that in order to receive care at all.

I feel like I’ve known something was up for most of my life, just not what. Being different is scary. I didn’t have the words to describe my experiences. When I tried to explore or explain them, I upset the people who I cared about and depended on. It would be a lie to tell you I’ve always known I was trans, though I wish that were true. It took me years to figure that out.

How do you know?

A lot of that’s covered above. There’s a pile of lived experience that tells me “guy” doesn’t fit. I’m not great at it, and when I tried, it made me sad and uncomfortable. Being a girl doesn’t do that. I like it. It feels right, whatever that means. The “rules”, such as they are, are easier to internalize. I understand how I’m expected to act, even if I reject a great many of those expectations as nonsense.

I know because acknowledging I’m a woman is way easier for me than pretending I’m a man. Yes, even though the whole world assumed I was a man. Yes, even though I have to work to be recognized as a woman.

Honestly though, that’s almost never what that question actually is. It’s more often one of the following:

How would *I* know?

Maybe you’re questioning. You’ve had some experiences, or you see yourself in the above story, or a particularly resonant web comic, or a movie:

Did you really think we’d get through a series on being trans without touching on The Matrix?

“No one can tell you you’re trans. You just know it. Through and through. Balls to bone.”

While no one can tell you you’re trans, there are some things you can do to try and figure that out for yourself. These are the things I did, and maybe they will help you or someone you know:

Do some things. See how they make you feel. Spend some time with yourself and your thoughts. Eventually you’ll get it figured out.

Prove It

More often, the question is the above imperative. And I can’t. First, from a purely solipsistic point of view. Everything outside of one’s own mind is uncertain. But more importantly, I can’t; no more than you can prove that you’re a Reds fan or that you truly love the taste of Malört. I’m telling you that “woman” is an accurate representation of my internal experience. You can believe me or not, but you can’t get out a debugger and poke at my internals.

Are You Ok?

Shit is just… demonstrably on fire right now. At the time of writing, trans people are squarely in the political crosshairs. The rhetoric used has been a not great influence on the general public. I believe it’s directly responsible for some truly gnarly personal experiences.

And yet I’m better than I’ve ever been. I’m more engaged with my kid, my hobbies, and my work. My relationship with my wife has never been better. I’m scared and angry in ways I’ve never imagined I would be, but I’m happy in ways I’ve never imagined too.

Next time I’ll talk about how I kinda but not really came out in college.

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