When I’m presenting material on Transgender Diversity, one of the most common questions I’m asked is “what is it like being transgender ?”
It’s a really tough question to answer in a Q and A session or a TED talk. I’m not saying this is perfect, but the following is my current way of explaining it.
Thanks for asking, we can all see you’re a beautiful, confident woman. Assured in your femininity. You take pride in your appearance. Everything about you tells the people around you and society your gender which confirms your identity, But now, just for a moment, imagine you have woken up and when you look at your body, it’s unquestionably male. But you still have the same memories as before. You will be treated as a man by society and must now try to act as a man in order to integrate and do the things society expects of you.
Worse still. You are now required to do this for the rest of your life.
Every time you get dressed, you’re reminded of this difference. You know yourself to be and who you appear to be are in complete contrast. Increasingly, the emotional stress increases as you are forced to be who you are not.
Welcome to being Transgender.
Speaking personally for a moment. Growing up. I knew I was a girl, but everybody treated me as a boy, so I thought I must be wrong. I worked hard at fitting in. Really hard. SO SO hard. But the harder I tried, the more extreme those differences between my appearance and feelings became. I tried to keep my gender identity a secret, not because I thought what I was doing was wrong, but because I feared how I would be treated for being different. For so long, gender seemed to be a big “insider joke” which everyone else got and I didn’t.
But it’s not the same for all people. Emma told me “I knew, right from the get go – it just didn’t matter, I was just too young to know to hide it, or even what “it” should be. Growing up, there were even days when I just wanted to dance in circles in the sunshine. I didn’t need a label for that, other than “free”. I guess I think the same about my gender. I just want to be free.”
That’s what it’s like, or at least it should be like, to be transgender, or for that matter, any other minority. Just being free. Now that’s a good label. Being me, being free.