I always knew I was different. That sentence alone isn't quite right. Perhaps I could extend it to this: I always knew I was different from the other girls. You may think you know that story, but that is not my story, either. I never itched to jump out of my frilly socks or my fancy Sunday dresses with matching gloves and tilted hat. I loved Barbie dolls and nail polish just as much as I loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and fetching pink worms out of dirty puddles. Perhaps a more truthful statement is: I am always different.
Transgender is an umbrella term that describes a range of gender-variant identities, but as the word enters our everyday lexicon through celebrity figures like Chaz Bono, Laverne Cox, and Janet Mock, we are becoming a known identity category. People who were born in the wrong body and trapped, we decided to take our gender into our own hands and determine its route. Transgender narratives have been reiterated time and time again as a trip from one end of the gender spectrum to the other—female to male (FTM) or male to female (MTF).
But if we acknowledge only that particular narrative as The Transgender Narrative, we leave a lot of people out. There are transgender people who do not take hormones or have surgeries for various reasons, two of them being access (money and health insurance) and desire (not all transgender people want to take hormones or have surgery).
I've had so many people—people who I've just met or never met—ask me things like "So are you going to go all the way? Do the full transition?" And they are asking me about my genitals (bottom surgery): Am I going to complete my transition and become a real, true-blue dick-in-the-pants man?
After this, I remind myself that these questions aren't consciously rude or ignorant (even though I'd never ask a stranger, "How big is your penis?" or "What size are your labia?" "Tubes tied?" "Testicles all there?"). They wonder how I could be happy in my "incomplete" FTM transitioning state?
Here is the issue: In order to medically transition, many people are encouraged to produce a linear narrative, one that begins with a life of wrong-bodiedness and ends with a life of right-bodiedness achieved through medical and legal processes. In this way, the medical-industrial complex has been useful to those of us who wish to (and can afford to) determine our own gender, but it has also asked that we learn to shape our bodies into men OR women.
When I started hormones, my doctor asked me a series of questions, one being "How long have you felt trapped in the wrong body?" I lied and said high school. To which she responded, "That's a red flag because usually people have felt this way their whole life." But I've never felt trapped in the wrong body. I believe I was born in the right body and it was my decision to change. And I may choose to change again.
Transgender people can traverse the gender binary and still leave the binary itself intact. But we who have been so harmed by this male/female gender dichotomy (a binary that usually values masculinity and maleness over femininity and femaleness—and transgender people are not the only people negatively affected by this) have an obligation to continually challenge that binary, even if we find a place for ourselves in it.
I challenge myself as I challenge you, the reader, to understand the radical potential of the trans* in transgender. I am trans*. Transformation. I am change. Or, I am always different, and that doesn't signify confusion. I know who I am today, and I hope that tomorrow I will find myself different. I hope that who I am today does not become all that I can ever be.
Transgender describes many different kinds of people: gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, monogamous, working-class, wealthy, educated, country folk, city folk... We come in all ways, and we must not forsake that complexity for the seduction of sameness. Our sameness will not protect us.
As transgender people become more visible, we will begin to see more of ourselves reflected in popular culture. We will find more boxes to choose from on medical and state forms, Facebook and Grindr (male, trans*, MTF, genderqueer, boi...). We might discover mass renovations to public architectures—perhaps male, female, and all-gender bathrooms will become the new normal. Perhaps these changes will make it easier for people like me to feel at home not just in my body, but out in the world as well. But securing a place for myself and others like me is not enough. Trans* movements must show the world how it, too, can embrace difference and become different (in all ways) always.
Kai M. Green is a writer, scholar, poet, filmmaker, prison abolitionist, feminist, and whatever else it takes to make a way toward a new and more just world. Follow Kai on Twitter @Kai_MG.