Change Your Gender, Change Your World, Part 1

When I was born, they looked at me and said
what a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy.
And when you were born, they looked at you and said,
what a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl.

We've got these chains that hang around our necks,
people want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath.
-Ed Robertson

From the moment we are born (or even earlier thanks to ultrasounds), we are given labels and we are told how to identify.  Other people, be it doctors or our parents, give us our pronouns and we are expected to live with them for the rest of our lives.

But labels, like clothes, don't necessarily always fit, if they ever did at all.  So many concepts are binary and black and white (or pink and blue).  People are left handed or right handed.  People are gay or straight.  People are boys or girls.  And that is how we think the world is, even if it doesn't feel exactly right.  

And then something magical happens.  We meet someone who is ambidextrous and can write with BOTH hands!  We meet someone who is bisexual who likes boys AND girls!  Suddenly the world becomes a little bigger.  There are more possibilities than we thought there were.  We start to see that limits and labels are arbitrary and imaginary.  What if... what if I want to wear girl clothes even though I am a boy?  

We can do anything if we're not held down, held back, or forced into a box that never fit us in the first place.

I can't remember not wanting to wear "girl clothes".  I remember trying on my mom's heels, longing to wear the beautiful lingerie that I saw in catalogs or on a department store mannequin.  "Borrowing" my sisters' dresses.  I knew this was simply who I was, that this wasn't a phase, it wasn't something I would ever grow out of (and thank goodness I didn't because I heart all of this).  I also knew that most boys didn't try on a dress whenever they had a chance, but I never thought there was anything wrong with what I wanted to wear.

Although I never thought it was wrong, I knew I was... unique.  I felt that there HAD to be other boys who dressed up and daydreamed the same way that I did, but I was going to have to keep this side of me a secret for the rest of my life.  Imagine how stunned I was when I first heard the word 'crossdresser'.  I was perhaps around twelve years old when this first popped into my vocabulary where I learned that a crossdresser was a boy who liked to wear girl clothes, at least that's how it was defined to me.

Suddenly, the world became a little bigger.  I was comforted in learning this word.  Although I didn't think there was anything wrong with me, having a word for someone like myself somehow... normalized who I was.  It was amazing to find out there were so many others like me that there was a word for us.  I was a crossdresser!  Yay!

Over the years I learned the words 'transvestite' and 'transsexual' and it was explained to me that transvestite was a more... eloquent word for crossdresser.  A transsexual (as it was thought of at the time) was someone who had procedures done to change their gender. 

Of course these words have become antiquated.  You don't need to have any procedure, legal, hormone, or surgical, done to change your gender.  You don't need estrogen or HRT or have gender affirmation surgery to be the gender you are.  

Even after learning of this word, I still kept who I was to myself.  Telling anyone that you liked to wear dresses was an effective, traumatic, and quick way to be ostracized by your school, family, and friends.  I would be a sissy (of course, some of us WANT to be a sissy but I digress).  I wasn't the toughest boy in the school to begin with and had my share of bullies as it was, someone finding out about my wardrobe preferences would have been the end of me.

I kept the word crossdresser close to my heart for years.  When I started college, the internet was a relatively new thing.  I visited the campus library and searched the magic word using a dial-up modem.  I wanted to learn more about who I was.  Why I was who I was (if there even was an explanation).  I wanted confirmation that yes, there were others like me.  A few keystrokes later and my world changed again.  The search results provided me with more about crossdressing than I ever could have imagined.  These days a google search yields similar results to what I saw all those years ago.  What I mean is that crossdressing was, and still is, very much portrayed as a fetish, kinky, and sexual.  

This wasn't who I was.  This wasn't erotic to me.  But... that's seemingly what crossdressing was.  

I thought I was a crossdresser... but maybe I wasn't.  It's funny, I used to think that I found the word that was right for me... but all of a sudden I had my doubts.  If crossdressing was a fetish, but it wasn't a fetish for me, then.. who was I?  When I was younger I didn't fit in because I was a boy that wore girl clothes, but in college I didn't feel like I was a crossdresser because this wasn't sexual to me.

So, back to the start of learning who I was.

The problem was that crossdressing was really the most appropriate word for who I was.  I reluctantly identified as such, although I continued to do so privately.  
It wasn't much later when I met a girl and we started to date.  The relationship began to get serious and I felt I needed to come out to her.  Long story short, I came out but I avoided using the word 'crossdresser' for as long as I could.  Crossdressing was perceived to be sexual, and again, this wasn't kinky to me.  I assured her that what I wore, who I was, wasn't at all a fetish.  I tried to distance myself from any perception of kink.  

And this explanation and all its nuances was how I came out to two other girls I dated, one I am fortunate to be married to.  "Crossdressing without the kink" was how I looked at myself.  Not that there's anything with crossdressing as a fetish (or indeed, most fetishes), I just wanted to be understood (as much as one can understand someone like myself).  I was a crossdresser, but a crossdresser with a caveat.

Buuuuut things change.  For a long, long time, my crossdressing was mainly lingerie.  When I was younger I borrowed a dress when I had a chance, but once I started to buy my own clothes, it was almost always lingerie, panties, stockings, bras, and the occasional pair of heels.  One night, with my wife beside me, I crossed the line from lingerie to makeup and a dress.  It was an awakening.  It was like a new part of my life beginning.  Again, the world became a little bigger. 

And more beautiful.

It wasn't long until I adopted a femme name (spoiler alert, it's Hannah).  Looking in a mirror and calling myself by my boy name just didn't feel right.  A year or so later I felt ready to venture out into the real world and I never looked back.  At this point, I had been keeping a blog for a couple of years where I would post  a lot about gender and identity and different ways people identify.  The familiar, conflicting feelings and thoughts about the word crossdresser still lingered and bounced around in my head and heart.  By now I knew that all of *this* was more than just clothes.  Hannah was who I was, or more specifically, an aspect of myself... an identity.  I started to gravitate to what I call The T Word.  Perhaps identifying as transgender was a better fit.

But it wasn't as easy or as natural as I thought it would be.  I chatted with a transgender friend about my misgivings and hesitations about identifying as trans.  Was it okay to identify as transgender if transitioning or living full time wasn't right for me?  Was I diminishing what being transgender meant?  Was I, for lack of a better phrase, appropriating an identity that is so important and sacred to so many people?  My friend explained that transgender is an umbrella term.  It means anything or anyone that does not fit the traditional gender norms.  Well, that was certainly me.  I didn't fit BOY or GIRL.  I was both, I was neither, sometimes at the same time.  I started to become more comfortable with the word and eventually identified as transgender.

However, like crossdresser, identifying as transgender also came with caveats and clarification, if the conversation warranted.  I would sometimes need to explain what being transgender meant to me, specifically that I wasn't going to transition.  I liked BOTH of my gender identities.  As I continued on with my journey I put a finer point on my gender identity and settled on 'bi-gender'.  It's the most appropriate and fitting, even though it's not a well known term, even within the transgender community.  The pattern of clarifying who I was still struts on.

So, what causes a shift in identification?  Well, it's usually not one moment.  Sure, it can be a sudden bolt of reflection, but it's likely a series of small changes and small events.  All of these steps make up our journey, from one milestone to another.  What can be helpful is knowing what different terms generally mean.  I don't think there will ever be a universal consensus on what the words transgender and crossdress mean to everyone.  For some, transgender will always mean hormones, for others, crossdressing will always be kinky.  Even our own community has disagreements on what all of these words mean.  

My point is that identity, especially gender identity, is different and sacred from person to person.  We as individuals have to decide what feels right for us.  We can't let others define who we are.  I've let that happen far too often.  I've been called a fetishist when I identified as a crossdresser.  I've been told I am not *really* transgender because I am not full time.  I've been told that people can't be bi-gender.  I've been told I am not a boy, I am not a girl.  I've been called a pervert and a freak and confused.  I am not these things.  I know who I am.  I don't think anyone on Earth is more reflective, has searched their soul, has looked into their heart than someone who doesn't fit the traditional norms of boy or girl.

After decades of wondering who and what I am, I feel I am at the end of my journey when it comes to how I identify.  I feel at peace and comfortable identifying as a trans person.  I have a better understanding of all the nuances and possibilities of gender... and of myself.

Love, Hannah


  • Jeri

    After reading one of your earlier pieces, I settled on bigender, but found many medical forms don’t leave that as an option. So, I’m now putting down trans, male to female. I’m okay with it but not certain, as you, that it perfectly describes me.

  • Amber Lloyd

    I loved reading this as it resonated so much with my trans person life.

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