If you ever want to annoy a trans woman and watch her go all arson two on you, go ahead and refer to her past as, “when you were a man”. I can virtually guarantee that that if you do (and last sentence aside, I really don’t recommend it), you are going to walk away shaking your head and muttering, “Fuck… gotta remember never to do that again.” Yeah, trans people are a little sensitive on that whole “used to be” business. Let’s talk about that for a minute.
Before I launch in, all trans people are well aware of what gender we represented ourselves as prior to transition. We were treated as such, all our documentation corroborated this, and we generally made all the right moves to represent proudly until the whole house of cards came tumbling down. We hardly ever come across an old picture where we are standing proud in a military uniform, wearing a spiffy tux, or holding our infant child with the hospital lights gleaming off our bald pates, where we say, “Wait a minute…who the hell is that?” We continue to hold on to little pieces of our pasts, like our Boy Scout ‘Ethics’ merit badge we had to doctor all that paperwork and forge a few signatures to earn, or the garters we slipped off the leg of our prom date while green with envy.
It’s true; some of us tend to disavow these things, even with photographic evidence, even though they really for sure happened. Some mitigate the past by referring to their old name as a different person, and even going so far as to call their past identity a walking lie. I try not to do this because looking at say, 2001 me, I can feel me looking back from the past with an imploring, “I’m really trying here you know” look. That’s just not right. I might be a little embarrassed by past me in a beard and cascade of chest hair bursting through my shirt, but I did something about all that, so it’s cool. C-ya old me, and wouldn’t want to be ya. We’ll just hope ‘The Big Crunch’ doesn’t happen and I don’t have to live this in reverse because that would just be moldy bananas.
Since we are all on the same page that we used to live life in the other gender, you know, the whole reason for this transition business, why the hissy fit when someone brings it up? There are a few things going on here to be quite honest. On a very visceral level based on the thought process that morphed ‘sex change’ into ‘gender confirmation’, many trans have difficulty with the idea that even though they didn’t look right, and may not still for that matter, it doesn’t change that they have always felt they were their post transition gender, even if they managed to forget about it for years at a time. There is a world of difference between appearing male and actually being male; the former a role and the latter innate identity.
One of the foundations of this is the understanding that even coming to this realization, the overpowering necessity to do something about it, and an honest life led hereafter, we know that some mystical transubstantiation did not actually occur. Transition, at its very best, is hormonal, cosmetic, and behavioral in nature. It brings us into alignment, as close as possible anyway, with our inner gender identities, but it’s not the same as the Blue Fairy turning us from a wooden marionette to a living, breathing girl. The danger the “used to be” statements presents is that it’s far too easy to tack on “and still really are”. Trans people hate that.
Groups opposed to trans seem to enjoy making this case that essentially leaves transsexuals as some kind of super cross-dressers. Doing this implies license to treat us legally and socially as oddly behaving males. All the enormous efforts undertaken then to live as an authentic and honest life as possible and at every conceivable expense can then be framed as being ‘batshit crazy’, because seriously, why on earth would dudes want to do any of this? It’s a stance that reeks of genetic exclusivity, basely solely on a strand that in terms of gender, codes for genitalia differentiation and gamete formation. It’s hanging a hat on a very general genetic statement along the lines of, “individuals with these genes indicate a potential or predisposition for male identity”. I’m very sure that people with a genetic predisposition for, let’s say diabetes, would not care for social or legal ramifications tied to this, even if they exhibited several of the warning signs. Predisposed to male identity is not the same as having it.
Feeling forced into a choice of being categorized always and forever male or female, trans people are very clear, no matter what symptoms manifested in the past. Many or most of us have always felt this way anyway and simply covered up any outward sign of it, so it feels honest to say that I may have lived as a male in the past, but no longer do. What matters is now, and we ask not to have that confused by what was or what appeared to be.