"A crossdresser is a man who likes to wear women's clothes."
This off-hand comment by a friend absolutely turned my world upside down. It was like... finding out that fairies were real. I was young, probably around twelve years old. It was the first time I had ever heard the word, the first time I learned there was a term for someone like myself. It was confirmation that there were others like me. I was, and will always be, a man (in the physical, binary sense of course) that likes to wear "women's clothes" (of course, clothes have no gender, but you know what I mean).
As I got older it wasn't uncommon for boys my age to show each other issues of Playboy that they had stolen from their older brothers. I would be shown pictures of pretty women and although I would think that the women were beautiful... I would also be painfully jealous of the lingerie they were wearing.
I came out to my wife when we were dating. By that time I was very comfortable and secure in who I was. Although I wore panties whenever I could and had drawers of beautiful lingerie, I still never felt conflicted about who I was. Of course I wondered at different points in my life if transitioning was right for me. Of course I wondered if I was in denial about my gender. I would take long and honest looks at who I was (and often in talks with various therapists I've seen over the years) but still I remained "a man that liked to wear women's clothes".
After my wife and I married, I started to tiptoe a little into "proper clothes". I still wore lingerie but dresses and heels started to take up room in my closet. My wife helped me pick out a wig and did my makeup. And I loved it. It felt right. Now, to be clear, although it felt right, I never thought the person looking back at me in my mirror was the "real me". Yes, I loved the dresses and heels and jewelry (I still do), but I was still secure and comfortable and happy "as a boy".
At the time, I was fairly active on different websites and crossdressing forums and I needed a name, a femme name, and I found one that felt like me. My confidence grew. I was ready to make the strut from my living room out into the real world. Perhaps it wasn't the real world, but perhaps a better way to describe it was discovering "her world".
Walking out the door in stilettos is waaaay different from walking out the door in sneakers. In my heels and my dress and wig I am going to experience different things, see different people, have different interactions than I do when "he" shuffles out the door.
Hannah started to... well, establish a life for herself. She had friends, a growing section of my closet, a website, and soon a new and deeper perspective on gender. One thing Hannah and her friends talk about is identity and our journey... the journey that brought us to where we were and the journey we were still taking. Some of my friends talked about transitioning, HRT, and living full-time. Some of my friends identified as transgender after identifying as a crossdresser for most of their lives. I started to associate "transgender" with transitioning, just as I associated "crossdresser" as wearing clothes that weren't... well, meant for one's assigned gender at birth.
My perspective on gender again started to evolve.
As my femme world grew and became more meaningful, I started to feel that all of *this* was more about just clothes. Hannah had friends who knew only HER, not HIM. Hannah had her own email address, her own... life. Identifying as a crossdresser didn't fit quite right anymore. If crossdressing was about clothes, well, THIS was MORE than clothes. I started to wonder if I would feel more comfortable identifying as transgender but what held me back was that I felt that identifying as transgender was deeply tied to a more permanent change. A transition.
I chatted with another girl like myself and explained my hesitation. She was so kind and patient and explained that "the T word" was a very broad term that describes someone who associated themselves with clothes and pronouns and more that were different than the ones they were assigned to at birth. This very inclusive perspective helped me make the shift from identifying as a crossdresser to identifying as transgender.
This change, this evolution, was a natural and gradual process for me. It felt right. Experience, growth, and maturity led me to this part of my journey. These are the same things that can impact your own journey, your own identity.
In my experience, this new identity was a result of what felt right to me. But other things can lead one to a different identity, namely feeling uncomfortable, anxious, and perhaps angry about being assigned a gender at birth that wasn't right.
Parents of transgender children often have experiences where their child would insist, often at a very young age, that they were a girl, not a boy. They become moody, sad, and even angry whenever anymore calls them a boy or that Santa brings toy trucks instead of princess dolls on Christmas. Some transgender teenagers talk about the... fear of their body developing in a way that feels wrong when it comes to their identity. A transgender boy may be horrified when they start developing breasts or menstruating. A transgender girl might want to shave their legs and body hair more than anything in the world. They are terrified of their body. They may even hate it.
And that's simply no way to live.
They may not yet be at a point in their life or their journey where they feel they would be happier, calmer, more themselves if they adopted different pronouns or a new wardrobe. Sometimes at first it's all about feeling they have the wrong body. Oftentimes they hate their physical appearance. Something is "wrong" but they are not sure WHAT. They know they are unhappy but not sure what would stop these feelings of sadness and confusion.
And then something... clicks.
They realize they are a different gender than what everyone else thinks or sees. They realize they would be calmer if their parents, their friends, or their teachers could call them "her" instead of "him". It's a moment of clarity. It's a moment their world turns inside out... but in a way, their world starts to come together. The pieces begin to fit. A lightbulb goes off. They are a girl. They are not a boy.
Different experiences shape our lives and identity. We meet different people on our journey and we learn from them. This is exactly what representation at any age is important. If you spend ten years of your childhood hating who you are and feeling something isn't quite right it will make those years a nightmare. When someone learns that they are not alone, there are others like them, then a new part of their life begins.
Of course, representation should be there at every point in our lives. Learning who we are doesn't only happen in our formative years. It can and often does happen later in our lives. Some of us don't put the puzzle pieces together until well into our adulthood.
As I previously mentioned, 'transgender' can be quite broad and can cover quite a bit of territory... and quite a few nuances. I believe that those who identify as a crossdresser, those who do drag, those who are non-binary, those who live full-time, those who who have, are, or will transition all belong under the transgender umbrella. There's room for everyone. These days I feel the term 'bi-gender' is the most accurate description of myself (if I NEED to describe myself). I have HIS life, I have HER life. HIS side of the same closet that is shared with HER. Two separate lives with very little overlap. Is this the end of my journey? Yes, I think so. Although I have moved beyond thinking that 'transgender' means transitioning, it's still a common belief among the rest of the world that 'the T word' means a permanent change.
We are all on different journeys and we all took different paths to get where we are. Some of our adventures were fraught with danger and fear and storms. Others were more or less uneventful. We stop and rest and re-evaluate at different points along the way. Some of us may be close to the end, but of course, some of us are unsure how far we have to go. We may feel alone on our paths, and in many ways this is indeed true. Our adventure is mainly our own, but like a butterfly moving its wings, what we do, how we feel, how we identify can impact someone else in our lives. The next part of this series will focus on how others may react to us as our gender identity evolves.