Trans communities pass down a narrative of self that essentially says that you were trapped in the wrong body, or something felt wrong, or that you have extreme gender dysphoria if you wish to wear the trans label. Your becoming, your transition from cis to trans, comes down to a sense of self that is rooted in your entire personal history. That somehow unless you have a rooted sense of non-cisness you are not trans enough, or worse, you are the wrong sort of trans. We rely on the testimony of others to frame our trans selves, yet in doing so is there the potential for overlocking someone else’s idea of self onto our own?
The root of this comes from medicalised gatekeeping, where a standardised version of gender and gender dysphoria kept all but a few out of the medical pathway. Indeed, once it became common knowledge that in order to get treatment you must have a particular narrative those seeking medical care started to co-opt that narrative for themselves, regardless of how accurate it was. Overlocking of identity became stitched into the trans experience, and the trapped in the wrong body arc was the story that opened many doors. This is not to say that such a narrative does not apply to a great many trans people, rather, that narrative is one of many valid ones, not just the singular narrative.
It matters, because aside from healthcare, the fact that gender is viewed as singular, be it assigned at birth or deviating away from assigned at birth, assumes that a person does not experience a gender journey throughout their lives. Sexuality has journeyed from innate to born this way to spectrum to personal narrative over the last hundred years, and there is nothing to say that as a concept gender will not undergo the same sociological process. We assume much about everyone around us, especially that a personal understanding gender will be fixed regardless of biology, yet the reality is that most folk go through a process of understanding themselves that is rarely fixed from the age of three.
This is why we need all the narratives, all the testimonies, not just those that fit the overlocked medicalised version of being trans. Why is that we assume that someone who transitions at 18 cannot morph into a different gender shape at 40 or 60? Both in law and within the trans community there is a worry that gender transitions could be perceived as a fad, a momentary thing that someone experiences, and if they are not locked into that for the rest of their lives then surely they must be faking it. This is a reductive view, as it assumes that we all have a fixed and rigid sense of gender identity, be it cisnormative or trans.
Personally, I am very much rooted in my womanhood, yet the more I engage with non-binary identities and non-European voices the more I am opening up to academically breaking out of the fixed approach to gender. Sexuality and gender are two different aspects of self, yet while we are more readily able to see sexuality as fluid across a person’s lifetime, with gender we remain resolute that it must be fixed and immovable. The fear and consternation this line of reasoning evokes is palpable because many intellectual battles have been fought to move the conversation towards this perspective. Yet, what if is simply the most expedient because it opened the most doors?
We discuss and celebrate a certain type of trans identities because they are the easiest for us to dissect and relate to. It is easier to empathise with someone who says they were born in the wrong body that to someone who has a more fluid approach to gender, or who says they want to transition simply because they want to transition. It is no less a personal truth to explore and meander than it is to be rock solidly certain in your gender identity. You might know from age four, or you might come out at age eighty four. Personal truth, personal narrative, are as unique as each member of the trans community, and overlocked ideas of what is the right or wrong way to be trans are poisonous precisely because they make cardinal assumptions about self and identity.
There is no one way to experience gender, indeed, there are as many gender identities are there are people alive today. No two people experience gender in the same manner, and each of us has a lived experience unique and truthful to ourselves. That the medical profession desires a uniform code to diagnose by is a central problem because it assumes that all trans folk should have a similar narrative arc. That does not mean that the trans community should uphold that narrative any more than it should reinforce and police it. Bodies are bodies, complex, wonderful, frustrating, just as our minds are. No narrative will ever completely overlock another, and I think it is time that the trans community acknowledges this. To be trans is to be similar, but different from all the other trans folk out there, and we not should force folk to conform to our ideals just because that is what shaped our own lives.