I came to realize that I’m transgender later in life, after being married for over 20 years, having kids, and establishing my career. While I could never put into words exactly what I was feeling, I always felt different. I learned from a very young age that boys can’t be girls, and boys can’t even have certain things in common with girls, but that didn’t stop me from feeling what I was feeling. So I learned that those feelings were bad, and became ashamed of having them. I spent most of my youth and then my adult life feeling an underlying sense of shame and embarrassment.
More recently, as I’ve learned more about who I am and what I’m dealing with, I’ve come to realize that the messages I received and the intent behind them were well-meaning, but uninformed and misguided. There is an ever increasing body of scientific and medical evidence that being transgender has a biological basis – there’s even evidence that it can be a heritable trait, passed from generation to generation. But even with that knowledge, I still felt shame, as though my being transgender were some kind of personal failing – as if I were somehow not strong enough to overcome it.
It’s taken a long time, a lot of hard work, and help from a variety of places, for me to finally see that being transgender is not a source of shame. In fact it’s the opposite. Pride is a word many people use as an antonym of shame, but for me, that doesn’t quite fit. “Pride” can very easily become something negative, especially when it leads to feelings of superiority or “better than”, and I don’t identify with that. Instead, I have come to recognize being transgender is an honor.
You see, I get to experience something truly unique in the range of human experiences. While I now know that I was never a boy growing up, I was perceived and treated as one. I saw and had formative experiences that many men have, but was processing them with a female brain. I’ve been granted male privilege, but had a feminine perspective. Growing up, when many of my male peers were focused on competition, I was also learning to collaborate. I was able to forge friendships with many of my female peers which the boys couldn’t (and were sometimes envious of). I walked a path between both sides, finding traits and skills from each that I could combine in ways that many others couldn’t.
While this might sound like some kind of superpower, it was offset with plenty of hardship. The things which made me unique also made me different, and separated me from others. I couldn’t figure out what exactly was making me so different, but I knew it was something specific to me, and I felt embarrassed. The times that my femininity was revealed in socially unacceptable ways, I felt a particularly hot shame in not being strong enough to overcome and hide those traits. I lived a strange existence where I had good relationships, but still felt isolated; where I both loved and hated the very things that made me different. If the transgender experience grants superpowers to those it touches, it also demands a heavy cost.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to understand that every single human being has their own struggles, and there’s no way to compare one person’s against another’s. But being transgender has given me the opportunity to see a little more deeply into some of the struggles that are common but unique for both men and women, and has given me some tools to work to heal some of the pain of each. Having male privilege, I’ve been able to use it to ensure that the women of my life are also lifted up, closer to equity. And having a feminine brain (with masculine upbringing), I can help bridge the gender gap and help each side understand the other just a little bit better.
But where I’ve really come to understand being transgender as an honor is in my understanding of myself. In order to address and accept myself, I’ve had to examine every aspect of my life, from my earliest memories, to my biases and prejudices, to the ways I’m most comfortable interacting with the world around me. I have the opportunity to consider how and why I respond to things the ways I do, and to change the parts of me that I’ve found I can improve upon. And by doing so, I now feel more alive, more aware, more present, more complete, and more at peace with myself than I’ve ever felt before. While I don’t think I was a bad person as a man, I know I’m a better person as a woman, but it was making the transition from man to woman which really gave me an understanding and appreciation for my life. I wouldn’t have known this if I weren’t transgender.
And so I confidently and whole-heartedly believe that it is truly an honor to be transgender.