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 Pocket equally. 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.