Trans* Men and the Erasure of Childhood Femininity

Reblogging this because I totally feel like this about my childhood too. I’m not a trans* man, but I frequently feel pressured to redact parts of my childhood to fit the “correct narrative”, to prove that I really am trans* or at least not provide information that could be used to invalidate my identity. This is an awesome post!

Reblogged from The Rainbow Hub

By Michael Young

Gender identity is far more complex than what you wear or what hobbies you partake in. It is more complicated than how you wear your hair or the toys that you played with as a child. Many trans* men proudly proclaim that they never liked dresses, they always kept their hair short, they were a ‘tom boy’. They keep anything ‘feminine’ close to their chest, secret and hidden lest someone clutch it and hold it aloft as ‘proof’ that they are not trans* enough.

This is my confession: in many ways, I was not a typically masculine child. My parents granted me the freedom to express myself without fear or judgement. I loved the Power Rangers and Polly Pocketequally. I had long, flowing blond hair and perpetually scabby knees. I dabbled in make-up, played dress-up and skateboarded too fast down steep hills like I had some kind of death wish.

These things are not what make me a man. Equally, they do not make me less of one.

The hardest part of coming out, for me, was not pronouns or family or work. It was the pressure to disconnect myself from certain aspects of my childhood, the person that I had once been (and still am, in many ways). To edit myself – talk about my eighth birthday and leave out the fairy castle cake, paint my experiences in blue rather than pink or purple. It was the sudden revelation that I could not talk about my first boyfriend, or any boyfriend, without it feeling somehow socially unacceptable, without someone double-taking or their smile freezing on their face.

I felt ashamed of the ballet class I took when I was five, the dress I wore to my prom, the snapshots on the walls that damned me for my ‘girlhood’. Like somehow, if I was a ‘real man’, I wouldn’t have or shouldn’t have partaken in these things. I erased whole sections of my childhood, consciously locked them away and didn’t talk about them for fear of being judged. Of being told I wasn’t really trans*, that my interests or hobbies or the way I looked took away my credibility.

I would never tell a cis boy that he can’t do ballet, or play with make-up, or dress up in pink. I would never tell him that those things mean he’s not a ‘real’ boy. Yet I still felt the shame associated with that, and still judged myself by those arbitrary standards.

Many of us boast about hating dresses from an early age, or about wanting to be Spiderman for Halloween like that somehow validates our masculinity. Like we have to dress up our childhood as a stereotypical boyhood in order to be real, or to be taken seriously. But if we liked to knit, or our favourite colour was pink, or we went to prom in a dress, that’s okay. It doesn’t define us. We can talk about that without being less of a man. It doesn’t make us fake, it doesn’t invalidate our gender, and it isn’t shameful.

We are not born knowing that the colour pink is for girls and that the colour blue is for boys. Gender isn’t formed by what you wear, what you do, what you like or how you express yourself. Gender is what’s inside you, and no one can define that but yourself. No matter what you looked like or how you expressed yourself as a child. My name is Michael, and I am a man who had a fairy castle cake for my eighth birthday. And I’m okay with that.


4 thoughts on “Trans* Men and the Erasure of Childhood Femininity

  1. I liked sewing, when I was a kid (I still do), but then I was also into Meccano, building things, baking cakes, fixing VCRs, all sorts of things. There’s no point in concealing anything about yourself as a kid. Everyone grows up to be themselves, and when they’re kids they do things that interest them.
    I was 31 before I accepted myself (a few weeks ago). I guess that, on some level, I presumed that liking to build things with Meccano meant that I was a boy.

    It’s probably quite an easy trap to fall into, by qualifying your status as trans by saying I hate sports and love needlework so I’m a transwoman, or saying I love engineering and computer programming so I’m a cis-man (or transman). Being trans isn’t about the hobbies you had as a kid. We need to stop using hobbies as some kind of proof of our transgendered feelings. Instead, everyone needs to educate themselves a bit better about what transgendered really means.

    That’s my two-cents on that one anyways.

    • yeah, I totally agree with you. But I don’t think people will stop falling into the trap until cis people start understanding gender differently than they do now and stop constantly putting every trans person they meet on trial about their gender and demanding we “prove ourselves” to them to their satisfaction.

      Sometimes you can’t give someone an entire run down of gender 101 when they find out that your trans* and so instead we end up relying on reductive, cissexist narratives to explain ourselves because thats the only way the other person can understand it at all. Because their idea of gender is too small to include us, but we don’t have the time to expand it and so we end up shrinking ourselves to fit instead. Of course, if we keep playing into their beliefs about gender with the way we tell our stories (by falling into traps like this one) then what’s going to make them change the way they think about gender?

      I’d like to think I’ve never fallen into this trap, but I can’t say for sure, I know I feel the pressure to do so and I always make a concious effort not to because I want people to really understand what being trans* means and just how complex gender is.

      • I found Julia Serano’s distinction of “subconscious sex” from “gender identity” helpful for this. Often, gender roles and gender stereotypes are caught up in what we think of as “gender identity”, so it’s helpful to have “subconscious sex” on the side as an innate understanding of what our physical sex “should” be. As in, if you were entirely dissociated from your physical body, and had no memory of any sexual characteristics of that body, what form of body would you imagine yourself to have?

        It confused me for a while a few years ago when I first met a trans woman who is a tomboy. I thought, “Why transition, then?” The answer is obvious, in retrospect: being a woman isn’t about wearing a dress, baking cookies, and decorating your bedroom with purple shimmering drapery. I, for one, happen to do all three—but that’s not why I transitioned.

  2. Pingback: Further ramblings on invisibility & erasure &c. | In theory

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