Making the best choices we can make with what we have

As more and more people find themselves aware of the existence of transgender people like myself and particularly of transgender children, I keep seeing a particular comment appearing again and again across various blogs, online newspaper and magazine comments, TV / Radio call ins, Twitter… everywhere. The particulars and the person changes each time but the story is incredibly consistent.

It goes something like this: “When I was (childhood/teen age) I did (gender nonconforming actions x, y and z) and I wanted to be / thought I was the opposite sex! If my parents had thought I was transgender, I could have ended up transitioning but as I am now happily cisgender that clearly would have been a mistake! I am worried that trans kids/teens/people in general (or trans kid/teen/person mentioned in article) could be making a terrible mistake like I would have done if I’d known about trans people when I was younger!”
After telling this story, the commenter will usually suggest that parents shouldn’t allow children to socially transition and/or that puberty blockers and hormone replacement shouldn’t be given to under eighteens and/or argue that no one should transition at all.

I do not in the slightest doubt that a great number of people have had “cross gender experiences” or have had fantasies of being or becoming another gender. However, I do think there is a lot wrong with the argument that these commenters are putting forward.

The main problem that I see with this argument is a conflation between the writer’s current lack of desire to transition with the idea that had they transitioned earlier in their life that would have been a mistake. From the fact that someone is cisgender now having not transitioned, it does not follow that transitioning at an earlier point in their life would have been wrong for them then. Just as it doesn’t necessarily follow from the fact that I am a happily transgender man now having transitioned at age nineteen that it was a “mistake” on my part to remain closeted about my gender identity aged ten – and I say that in full knowledge that going through a hormonally female puberty has made permanent and irreparable changes to my body.

As strange as it might sound, I can think back to past, closeted versions of myself and understand that he/I made the very best decisions he/I could with the information he/I had available. Those decisions have had effects that I regret – both physical and mental effects that cannot be undone – but I cannot say that my past self made any kind of “mistake” in making those decisions.
If there had been the much higher levels of cultural awareness of trans people that there are now, possibly my parents would have known much earlier that their eldest child was a transgender boy, maybe I would even have been able to attend secondary school as a young man who looked like a young man instead of one who looked like an awkward, androgynous young woman. Who knows? That’s not what happened and if it had happened, I wouldn’t be the same person as I am now.

The same is fundamentally true of all those commenters. We can’t know how things would have gone for them, because that isn’t what happened. Maybe they would have spent some time living as another gender before growing up to be cisgender adults. Maybe they would have spent no time living as another gender as children but become crossdressers in their teens or discovered drag. And maybe they would have grown up to be trans adults.
Yeah, I’m saying it. The fact that someone grew up to be cisgender when never really given an option doesn’t mean they might not have grown up to be trans if given that choice. And it would not necessarily have been “a terrible mistake”.

There’s this idea a lot of people, both transgender and cisgender, have that one should only transition socially or medically if that’s the only choice you could make that involves staying alive. What this essentially means is that many people believe that if living in your birth gender doesn’t hurt or only hurts a little bit or hurts quite a lot but you can live with it, you should keep living as your birth gender. I’m going to call bullshit here. If you think living as another gender or spending some time dressed as another gender or privately considering yourself to be a different gender than your birth gender will make you happier than not doing anything, you have every right to do those things. Whether you’ve got one life or there’s an afterlife or reincarnation, you’re here now and you deserve to be happy. If something might make you happier and it’s not hurting anyone else – go for it. You might like it and continue or not like it and stop. Both are okay outcomes and you’ll have learnt something about yourself. This is why I don’t think it would have been a mistake if any of those commenters had explored their gender as kids/teens – if it made them happier that would have been great, if it didn’t they could change their minds. Neither outcome would be wrong.

Growing up to be trans is not a worse or better outcome than growing up to be cis, just a different outcome. I’m sure we can all recognise choices that we’ve made in the past that have shaped who we are – choices we might have chosen differently and would be very different people if we had. Think of what subjects you choose to study at school/college/University – those can change your options for future careers. There are choices I could have made which would have opened up doors to becoming a research scientist by now. I closed those doors when choosing not to study science subjects at A level. I could, in theory, do a whole lot of work now and open those doors again if I wanted to but it would be difficult. I view choosing what gender to live in for a time as quite similar.

No matter how long you’ve been living in a gender, you always have the opportunity to choose to live as a different gender for a time – whether that time is an hour or the rest of your life. Even if hormones (whether from your gonads or from medical treatment) have made changes to your body, even if you’ve had surgery on gendering body parts, no matter what your sex chromosomes are – the choice is always open to you.

If you don’t want to choose to change how you live your life genderwise or how you consider yourself today, for whatever reason from “I’m happy right now” to “I want to wait until I move out” to “Maybe someday but I’m not ready yet”, you can choose to keep living the way you are. That’s okay. If you want to change, you can and that’s okay too. Maybe you’ll change back, maybe you won’t but it won’t ever be a “mistake” if you’re making the best choice you can make for you based on all the information you have.

It really is just like everything else. We’ve all got things we did in the past that we wish we hadn’t done, but if we think back and have some sympathy for the person we were we can see that we did the best we could with what we had.

I know that a lot of people struggle with “choice” language around transition but remember that emotions and thoughts and feelings and desires are all information available to you when you make choices. That choice can be as simple (or difficult) as what to wear today or as diffiult (or simple) as the choice to come out as trans. Make the best choice you can taking into account your thoughts and feelings and desires and any other information you need and I can’t promise you’ll never regret anything or you’ll never change your mind but I know you’ll not make the wrong choice for you as you are right then.

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10 thoughts on “Making the best choices we can make with what we have

  1. Ooooh, good point that these stories assume growing up cis should be the ideal and being trans is a fate to be avoided. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

    I struggle with it a lot because if someone had offered me, at age 11, the option to make puberty not happen, I would have grabbed it with both hands and saved myself a huge amount of pain. But everyone around me told me puberty was inevitable so I suffered through it. And along with the pain, it meant I was capable of having xCLP, which is something I’m eternally grateful for. And my life would have followed such a different path that would I still even be recognisable as me? Eventually I just have to wrap everything up in a box marked “the past is done with” and move on.

  2. The “my parents might have made me trans” argument really annoys me. It is said with no understanding of how difficult a trans childhood is (when adults and other kids are insensitive to it) and how much pain trans kids go through either trying to hide being trans or being picked on for being gender non-conforming. Also, they don’t understand the difference between puberty blockers and SRS. Ignorant people!

    • You’re quite right. What always gets me is the assumption that (despite the commenter’s own unwillingness to accept trans children) their parents would have embraced a trans child and allowed them to socially transition.

      Many parents don’t. Trans teens and young adults are at massively high risk of being disowned and even becoming homeless because their parents won’t accept them and even the most supportive parents of trans children often begin by trying to hide or minimise or even “cure” their child’s gender before coming round to the idea that they have to accept the child G-d gave them and this child, whether for a few years or forever, is trans.

      Never mind, that the vast, vast majority of people simply would not be able to afford puberty blockers (even here in the UK they are not available on the NHS and parents have had to fly to the US to get treatment for their child).
      If I’d told my parents aged ten that I was a boy and I wanted to grow up to be a man, I’d likely still have had to live through my first “female” puberty – just blaming my parents for it instead of G-d. But like Nick says above, the past is done with. We’ve got to where we are and there’s little point wondering where else we might have been by now if we’d journeyed differently.

  3. There is a huge difference between someone doing a few things that are outside the typical expected gender role (e.g., the boy who likes to cook or takes up sewing or the girl who plays sports or wears only boys’ clothes) and someone who is transgender. The absolute certainty that I was male was something that was so deeply a part of me and that never went away. It’s internal; it’s driven; it’s not a phase or simple non-conforming behavior. I don’t know how to explain this well, but that huge divide between my experience and the descriptions of a whim “I wanted to be a fire truck” is what gets me when I read those comments. There is no way those two things can be equated.

    • I agree that those experiences are very different and that it feels dreadfully belittling when someone insists that their experience is the same as yours whilst clearly having no idea what your experience was like.

      Trans people (and indeed cis people) being a massively mixed bunch though, it is true that some people who never really had that childhood yearning and may or may not have crossed gender lines in play do grow up to be trans. And some people who do have that yearning as a child do grow up to be happily cis. I want to live in a world where this is okay and accepted, where spending a small or large amount of time in ones life living as a different gender is not unusual.

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