What Being a Trans Kid Is Actually Like

Michelle O'Toole

By Michelle O'Toole

Age ?: I am in my cot, my nappy is full of shit. My mother is standing over me. I didn’t know any words at the time, but if I did, I would have been thinking, “why aren’t you helping me?” This is not the kind of first memory you want to form the basis of your existence, which is why most people shouldn’t remember this far back.

Age 3: Preschool. One of the boys is wearing a shirt and tie, in a room full of tiny humans wearing what you expect they would. I don’t remember ever seeing somebody my age wearing that stuff. Ties were for grown ups. I have no idea why this is my second memory. This probably should have been cut from the final draft.

Age 4: Fully realize the difference between boys and girls. At first I assume that there must have been a mistake somewhere because I was clearly supposed to be a girl. Upon meeting boys at my school, I assume that all boys secretly feel they should have been girls like I do. This theory would quickly be destroyed when I see boys wind milling their penises in the toilets.

Age 5: I am sat on a mat in my first classroom, next to a boy called Brendan. I am talking to him about testicles, much to his distress. At some point previous, I remember my mother telling me about my genitals, and what they were for, and I am repeating what she said to me because I am trying to understand why I have this genital set up. Our teacher stops us because a boy whose name I have forgotten was refusing to share his blocks. She gives a long speech about the importance of sharing. When she lets us get back to playing, I over hear the boy still refuse to share his blocks. I turn around to Brendan and continue talking to him about testicles. I spend the rest of my school life being hated by most because I am a pretty fucking weird kid.

Age 6: I realize that boys love being boys and girls love being girls. I wish I would wake up as a girl; that this was all a bad dream and I would be the girl that I was supposed to be. However, I think to myself just as much that I am clearly not a girl because I wear trousers, my room is blue, my mother told me that men have testicles and I like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In spite of these ‘obvious signals’ that I am actually a boy, I cannot stop thinking about how girls were lucky because they are girls. I have no way of explaining why I feel like this. During this time, it was illegal for teachers to talk about LGBT issues in a positive light, this law would ensure that my youth would be spent in a constant state of existential discomfort, self hatred and above all else, fear.

Age 7: In the playground, a boy told us that he would rather wear dresses. We laughed, I realized that I could never tell anyone about how I feel, because the correct response for a boy wanting to be a girl is to laugh at them. I realize two things at once: that I will never, ever be a girl no matter how I feel, and that if anyone ever found out about how I felt, my life would be over and I would be in a lot of trouble.

Age 9: The local library fills a bus full of books and drives to our school. I jump on and discover a book about a little boy who turns into a girl over night. In the book, the boy hates being a girl because he was no longer allowed to do his favorite things. I don’t understand how this book could portray this miracle like it is a bad thing. I become even more obsessed with the idea of waking up one day and being a girl.

Age 10: I am crying. Children have discovered that I liked The Animals of Farthing Wood. The show was about a bunch of animals who vowed to not eat each other long enough to find a new place to live after humans destroyed their home. It was the first show I had ever seen that had characters die, and made me feel things I had never felt before. However, because it was about animals that didn’t know ninjitsu, it was a girl thing and I must be a girl. Even other girls are joining in. Other girls?….what the….I am a boy…why am I thinking….

Age 11: I try on a skirt for the first time. I don’t know why I did it. It feels weird. I look in the mirror in my parents’ room. I look like a girl. I am a girl. I take the skirt off and try to forget this ever happened. I fail, and turn to trying on skirts whenever I can.

Age 11: My mother makes me join a swimming club. I hate it. I don’t like my body; everything about it feels painful in my head. Now it is on display. The other children mock me because I am fat. I hate who I am. I hate my body for being male. I hate my body for being fat. I hate Wednesday nights at the pool.

Age 11: I now have to use a changing room with the ‘other’ boys. They are all so at peace with themselves. They actually like being boys. They don’t wish that parts of them would fall off. Even the geeky boys that like Dungeons & Dragons are at peace with themselves. I get punched by boys with nicknames like “Pigeon” and “Lurch”. I get a reputation for crying a lot.

Age 11: I fall in love with video games. This is very much a boy’s activity. Maybe this means that I am a boy. Thank god.

Age 12: For the first time in my life, I have a several friends. We eat lunch by a tree on the school field. I make them laugh; I am a silly boy. I can make this work. “Girls aren’t silly,” I think to myself, not realizing that girls can be silly, but are told not to by society in every way possible. I believe that if I am silly and funny, I will learn to like who I am, I will learn to love what my body is and I will finally stop with this “I am a girl” bullshit.

Age 12: I dream of being a girl for the sixth night in a row.

Age 13. My body is starting to change. Everything gets worse. My hair starts to grow and my voice begins to change. I realize that I am becoming a man, and I will be a man for the rest of my life. I am scared of the future.

Age 15: My family finally gets dial up internet at home, and the second thing I search for on AltaVista (after Pokemon pictures) is “Why do I want to be a girl”. I discover a neon pink website run by someone called Penelope. He is a man from America who is sexually aroused by underwear and high heels. I close Internet Explorer, and spend the next several months terrified of becoming Penelope.

Age 16: I hear that coming out as bisexual is a thing. Suddenly it all makes sense, all of this must mean that I am bisexual. I immediately come out to most of my friends. It was exciting, not only was I interesting, I wasn’t a Penelope. Being bisexual is much, much better than being the freaky fuck that I thought I was. Maybe I can shed this girl stuff by looking at naked guys?

Age 16: I am at a party. I am drunk. Boys are punching me. They have heard that I am bisexual. I wake up and see my face covered in bruises and some of my hair has been shaved off. I walk out of the house and sit in a shop, unsure of what to do. The manager asks me to leave, I beg him to let me use his phone. I tell my Dad that I got attacked; he takes me to a barber’s. They shave my head. We never speak of it again.

Age 18: I start at university. I am placed in a house with five male students. They are socially conservative, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and racist. I have problems with their views. We get drunk and I would scream at them, mainly because if they knew about my secret collection of women’s clothing, my life at uni would become utter hell. I was secretly trying to quell this existential pain with the “stuff” of socially constructed femininity. It doesn’t work for long; I am kidding myself.

Age 19: Somehow, a fellow student makes a joke about how I have a secret drawer full of dresses, as if this was some ridiculous idea that cannot possibly be true. I try to laugh along. I hate myself. I am a freak. I always will be. I throw out everything from my actual secret drawer.

Age 19: I see a trans woman for the first time. She isn’t wearing fishnets or anything that could be some kind of fetish. She is wearing clothes that were popular at the time (remember boho chic? Thank fuck that isn’t a thing anymore). I go home and spend the night swinging between utter confusion and intense self-hatred.

Age 20: I carve out a niche for myself. I am the heavy metal dude. I create a personality based entirely on ‘male’ interests. Maybe this will work this time. Maybe I can have a normal life if I just stick rigidly to these ‘male’ things. I don’t realize that there are just as many women who love these ‘male’ things because every message from the world told me so.

Age 21: I graduate. The pictures from the day will become a seminal part of my family’s photo albums. I will be documented in my family history as a man, forever. Subsequently, I realize that my life as a man has begun. The idea that I am a deviant freak has been thoroughly cemented by toxic gender roles, toxic gendered bullshit, toxic misogyny, and a complete lack of education about trans people. I will be carrying around a huge bag of rocks made out of self-loathing and fear of being rejected for the rest of my life, and if I ever hoped to have a normal life, I must suppress this girl stuff forever.

I failed. I came out six years later.

27 years too late.


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