‘How can you identify as a woman when you don’t have the right genitalia’ was the question posed by a woman during a recent radio phone about transgender individuals. It is an understandable and commonly asked question of those who are trans. It is also one of the ‘what makes a woman/man?’ questions that cis-gendered people rarely ask but trans people ask themselves all the time, which makes them pretty well qualified to provide an answer …
So what do you think with? Your genetalia or your brain? The answer is of course your brain (despite what some may say!). It is your brain which creates and sustains your self identity - who you see yourself as - your behaviours, likes, emotions and the way you present, take in and respond to the world around you. Your genetalia have very little effect on this, whatever you have and whether they are present or not.
Now evolution has led to male and female brains developing slightly differently, especially in utero, to provide characteristics and behaviours that are matched to the distinct role each has in their natural and social environments and in producing and bringing up offspring. This applies throughout the animal kingdom as witnessed in David Attenborough’s documentaries… ‘The stags rut…and the female protects her offspring by…’
But this differentiation is not rigid and nature likes to, nay has to, mix things up. So sometimes it creates, in humans at least, individuals whose brains have been wired differently including, in my case, for the opposite gender to their physical sex.
What this means is that although physically I was deemed a male, the image my brain has of me – my self image - is of a female. Asked to describe the inner me I will describe a woman, a woman who has a sense of a vagina and other female specific bits of anatomy, even when these were not present. This is not consciously created but subconsciously and has been tested repeatedly while I have been under hypnosis (i.e when communicating with my subconscious). It has never failed - there is no male me inside my brain! So as far as I’m concerned, I am just a female – and that’s it. The result of this is that when I looked at myself in the mirror prior to transitioning I saw a stranger – someone who I didn’t relate to, who wasn’t me, but with whom I had to live. Now I have transitioned I see a person who is me and who I do relate to and who I feel confident in presenting to the world.
And the way I think and behave are very much female while I struggle to understand and fit in with male thinking and behaviours despite being brought up and living as a male for many years. This is not nurture, but definitely nature. I was sent away to all male boarding schools as a child, rarely saw my mother and even less of my sister and only came to meet females properly as I approached my twenties. So I had no-one to learn from. I then went into mechanical engineering followed by IT both very male dominated professions. And yet my female nature comes out in the smallest of details – the way I sit, my body language or the way I converse and interact with people – to the point that people I now meet just accept I’m female.
In short I see myself as a woman, I think like a woman and I act and behave like a woman – all totally naturally – and now I have transitioned the world sees me and responds to me as a woman without question, which, for me, is totally liberating. But this was true even while I had my male genitals.
So whoever picked me up when I was born, looked between my legs and said ‘it’s a boy’ got it wrong. They were looking at wrong parts of my body, because the parts used solely to procreate and excrete waste do not define me as a person. If they’d looked into my brain, which is also part of my biology and which does define me, they’d have gone ‘it’s a girl’ … and my life would have been a whole lot simpler and happier!
And if you want to understand what it is like to be trans imagine looking at yourself naked in the mirror one day and seeing someone who is the opposite sex standing there. Imagine looking down and seeing that, while it was still you inside your head, that now really was your body. And then imagine trying to live in that body for an extended period of time in a world where everyone treats you as if you were that the gender associated with that body, demands you behave in accordance with that gender and thinks you strange if you deviate away from that. Imagine what you would have to change, the confusion and conflicts you’d have and how uncomfortable you’d feel. Hard to imagine? It’s even harder to do and almost impossible to sustain, but that’s what it’s like to be trans.