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5 lessons I’ve learned from my transition so far

TL;DR — I’m really, really trans, I spend a long time with the preamble, and then I share a bunch of things I’ve gleaned from my journey up until now.

I started writing this at the beginning of the month so it seems fitting to share it at the end. Pride month has come and gone, with the same flurry of rainbow storefronts, obligatory Pride march selfies and buckets of glitter it always brings. But this year was special — it marked the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the historical turning point where queers of all kinds rallied back against a police raid on a gay bar, sending reverberations throughout the community for the decade to come. 

This year has also been special for me. I’ve been out as queer in some capacity for the last six years. It’s been a pretty big part of my life, with both my extracurricular and academic passions in high school and at Stanford orbiting around this identity. But this is the first year I’m going to San Francisco Pride. And this will be the first year I come out in an official, public statement.

It’s crazy how hard it is to miss something that’s never been a part of your life, but once you get a taste of it, you can’t miss it enough. This was my experience of first dipping my toes into the realm of gender non-conformity as a first-year. I was waiting, yearning for high school to be over so I could be a new me. I started college with they/them pronouns, painted my nails and started wearing makeup. I grew my hair out, cut it, dyed it, grew it out again, dyed it some more. I tucked for the first time. I got my ears pierced. I wore a skirt for the first time. Then a bra, a dress. I don’t always wear these things, not because I don’t like them, but because I’m scared. Even at Stanford, expressing yourself authentically, especially if it goes against societal conventions, can be terrifying.

A few disclaimers: gender non-conformity isn’t a slippery slope. It isn’t always linear. And you don’t have to wear feminine clothes as an AMAB (assigned-male-at-birth) person to explore gender. But it was this way for me. Some might say I’m reinforcing stereotypes and have had a conventional transition. But I’d push back. There were a lot of times when I thought I’d messed up since I did something against the grain. That’s what I want to talk about.

But let me get something out of the way first: I’m transgender. I identify as a trans girl and use she/her and they/them pronouns. If that confuses you, don’t let it. People can use any pronouns they want, no matter how they identify. I’m still going by Bobby for now (same spelling), but that might change. Bear with me, I don’t have everything figured out, and doubt I ever will.

For the remainder of this piece — which is already longer than anything I’ve ever said publicly about my queerness — I want to share five things I’ve learned during my transition up to this point. What I discuss is mainly derived from my experience as a binary-leaning trans person, but the term “trans” also applies to non-binary folks, folks who also have unique experiences and struggles. Nonetheless, I think some of this may apply to my non-binary friends too. So, no matter your identity, take notes. I think what I’m saying is pretty important.

  1. Not everyone always knows they’re trans. There’s this narrative in the GNC (gender non-conforming) community that you knew from the moment you had consciousness that you were in the wrong body, and you expressed this loudly to your family. That you always liked to dress in a gender non-conforming manner, had mostly friends of the “other” gender and liked to do things not typical of a boy or girl. This stereotype is often wrong. While it may hold a kernel of truth for some trans people, it is a narrative that is harmfully championed by the cisgender community to make them feel more comfortable with trans people. If they were always that way, were born that way, then they can’t help it. But this isn’t always true, and for those whom these things don’t ring a bell, don’t worry, it didn’t all resonate with me. You’re not any less of a trans person.
  2. Transitioning can be a trial and error process. It can be messy. Not every transition looks the same. And there is never really an end. As a first-year I grew my hair out, but something felt off. I saw a boy with long, girly (whatever that means) hair, and not a girl with long hair as I’d wanted. So I chopped it off, at the time not realizing that the incongruence wasn’t with the long hair but with my body. After I started hormones and began expressing myself more femininely, I tried growing my hair out again. It’s going better this time around. The point is to allow yourself to experience things, allow yourself to explore. Sometimes you don’t always know what you want until you’ve tried it. But it’s okay to try something and decide it’s not for you. You can come back to it later, if you’d like. That’s the whole point of experimenting. And don’t worry about what other people have done and in what order they’ve done it. You will know what and when something feels right to you, and that doesn’t ever have to end.
  3. Gender dysphoria. Wow I have a lot I could say about these words — how they’re a construct perpetuated by cisgender capitalists to force trans people into a diagnostic box that medical insurers arbitrarily require. But let’s stick to this, and it’s a very important point: you don’t have to have gender dysphoria to be trans. There. I said it. Many in the trans community would disagree with me. But in my experience, gender dysphoria comes in a rainbow of forms, just like queer identities. Some people experience it at some times and not others. Some experience it in particular body parts intensely, but elsewhere not at all. Some people get social dysphoria, like when someone misgenders you. Some people (like me) experience more gender euphoria, feelings of elation when expressing yourself congruently with your conception of your gender. It is truly a vast and complicated feeling. But not a requirement to be trans. Remember, being trans is simply having a gender identity that does not match that which you were assigned at birth. And anyone who says otherwise defines our community with a prerequisite of distress and pain that current definitions of gender dysphoria constrict us to. So maybe we should fix the definition, or maybe we should get rid of the term altogether. But at the end of the day, the only thing necessary to be trans is for you to say so yourself.
  4. You can be transgender and be gay. You can be trans and be bi. You can be trans and be ace, pan, aro, any sexual orientation under the sun. And that does not invalidate your gender identity. Sexual orientation and gender are like cousins — they’re related, but not at all the same. They often travel together, but not always. But they definitely don’t determine each other. I conflated my sexual orientation with my gender for a long time. In other words, I knew I was queer, but I just thought I was bi, nothing more. And sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the two, so difficult that I’ve personally found it easier working with one at a time. Now that I’ve accepted I’m trans, I’ve started to question my sexual orientation again. And that’s okay.
  5. Your gender expression and your gender identity are separate things. I think cisgender people can get very confused when they see a trans woman with hairy legs. But isn’t it okay for cisgender women to have hairy legs? Just like cis people, trans people can be butch, femme, both, neither, or something else entirely. In fact, I’ve found that trans people are more likely to express themselves in a gender non-conforming manner because they’ve already had to challenge the gender binary by being who they are. Moreover, for some people gender expression can be a helpful avenue through which to explore identity. Even though gender expression and gender identity are different, like gender identity and sexual orientation, they’re also peripherally related. All of this plays into passing — having people think you are your affirmed gender identity (often assuming you’re cis) because your gender expression “matches” in the traditional, binary sense. You don’t have to pass as a trans person, nor do you have to want to. And you’re not any less trans because of it.

There’s so much more I could say. I suppose I’ll save that for another essay. I know some of this might seem weird, may come as a surprise and can even be jarring. Some of you might disagree with what I’ve said. But this is my experience, my takeaways and my opinions. Contact me if you want to talk further. 

If there’s one thing you remember from this article, remember this: trans-ness is a vast, diverse world with no barrier to entry and no requirements. Ever ask yourself if you’re trans enough? Me too. But if you’re asking that question, then you probably already know the answer.

Bobby Radecki (she/they) ’20

Contact Bobby Radecki at bradecki ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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