At five years old
I was putting my baby sister’s
I saw her vagina.
I wanted one.
I wanted one.
– Eve Ensler
The Vagina Monologues
I’ve quoted this portion of Eve Ensler’s play because it really sums up the realization I had at a very young age, although I had no sister. I was an only child. Many details surrounding my realization are hazy as they tend to be with early memories, because so many of the details surrounding the event were incomprehensible at that age and therefore, not stored away like other more mature memories.
Also, worth noting, I was a very sick child. I probably would not be alive today if it were not for modern medicine, but I also would likely have clearer memories from my early years had I not been on some pretty hard drugs for quite some time.
In ancient times, the combination of my early illness which I overcame, combined with my non-binary gender, would have made me a great candidate for a shamanistic position within the tribe. Instead, I became an actor. But hey, a storyteller and a shaman were not that different in ancient times. Both were unique and valued positions within a community and they stood outside the typical hunters and gatherers. I am hard wired differently than most people, and it is frequently misunderstood in these modern times.
As I transition, my ability to see things from multiple viewpoints has increased exponentially. Male and female, liberal and conservative, religious and secular, all these things and why they lead to silly conflict that could easily be avoided are becoming as easy for me to read as a Dick and Jane story.
If only my own inner conflicts were as easy to decipher.
The human mind does not grasp the concept of gender until 3-5 years old. Most trans people realize they are different during this window of time, although a fair percentage learn later, around puberty, and a few learn even later still. The vast majority make the discovery before the age of eighteen. The amazing thing is in spite of this realization most remain closeted. It is as if, as soon as they know they are different, they also realize that their difference will not easily be accepted by the society around them. Typically, a society that has already told them time and again that they are a boy or a girl and nothing in between. Even 3-5 year olds come to this rather complex conclusion.
Perhaps society has become so large, global even, that the collective hive is more important than the individual who is unique. Perhaps that is a good thing in many cases. We can’t have people who disagree with the meaning of traffic lights and one way streets on our roads without increasing the mortality rate of others.
I have a deep respect for religion. It serves a purpose. I am also one who tends to look at things from a secular perspective, especially when it comes to concepts like society and gender, things most people silently agree upon even though they often enough do not realize these very things are completely conceptual. The only reason society is real is because most people agree to live within it. Same goes for gender.
I know some of you are already in disagreement, and that is one of the fun things about having a blog. You can disagree with me all you want, but the post remains. I will appreciate any comments after this post and will respond if further clarification is needed. So much time is spent on the Internet trying to prove yourself right at the expense of others. It can be a delightful waste of time.
Why is gender conceptual? Well, those of you who read this blog regularly already might have a hunch where I am going with this. Gender lives between the ears. I am the gender I think I am, and I am also the gender others think I am. That means I can simultaneously be both male and female within the concept of gender. Physical sex works differently and legal sex works differently too, although legal sex, like gender, is conceptual. Physical sex is based in gonads and chromosomes. Legal sex is based in a societally agreed upon piece of paper. Gender is invisible. One could argue it does not really exist at all, outside the mind. It is both a complex concept, and yet one most of society agreed upon at a very young age without even realizing it. If you see a woman, you gender them female. If you were to learn that they have or had a penis, that they are chromosomally male, it might change your opinion about their gender or it might not. Because gender is a concept, it works on a spectrum even though most people see it in black and white or ones and zeros, which is known as the gender binary. Gender fluidity is a thing, because people can present as they will, or even change their own opinions from day to day or moment to moment about who or what they, or someone else happens to be.
As for religion, I find it to be one of the most useful constructs within society and also one of the most harmful. People like to be right. Religion is yet another place where people can convince themselves of how right and righteous they are. The most adamant are frequently the most polarizing and incorrect in the eyes of others.
And yet, humans have a huge capacity for spirituality. Spirituality as a concept is as important as society or gender, it is one of those things we agree upon often without knowing it. What is spirituality? It is belief in spirits. What are spirits? They are things that exist, but not in a tangible form. Concepts like society and gender are by their very nature, spiritual. They only exist in the mind or the collective knowledge we share. We live in a world based on, from the cornerstone to the roof, intangible spirits that we agree upon in order to construct a society.
Homer Simpson is a spirit, he is intangible and exists only because people agree, therefore reifying him in the process. One could argue the same about God.
Humans have a huge capacity for the spiritual. Any human with an imagination spends part of their time amongst the intangible world of spirits. It both exists and does not exist simultaneously. Memories too, are spiritual in nature.
And that brings this meandering post back to my point. My memories of discovering I am trans are quite vague and hard to put into words.
The moment I remember most, perhaps it was at a babysitter or a family gathering, was innocently catching a glimpse of a baby girl’s diaper being changed and in that moment having my entire understanding of what was real, who I really was, flipped on its head. It was not sexual at all, as that concept came much later for me. It was just the realization that girls were physically different than boys. It wasn’t just a thing people decided to call us, girls were different physically. Not only that, but my brain matched the female physicality rather than the one I had been born with. It was not a decision, it was a realization, an awakening, an awareness that I spent decades learning to cope with and hide before realizing the futility of that endeavor.
At a very young age, I grasped the concept of gender, like humans do but, my realization at the time caused me to feel mentally incongruous with my physicality. The very discovery children tend to have around that age thrust me into realizing how conceptual and spiritual “Reality” really is. At the same time as my peers were realizing their assigned roles, I was awakening to the fact that I was assigned incorrectly and I feared society had little room for people like me, who didn’t fit their suggested mold. I found a respite inside the theatrical community, where the world of spirits could be made real, if only for a finite period of time before returning to their spiritual form once again.
To me, the imaginary is as real as anything else, because society itself is based upon a collective imagination. You may disagree with my gender. That is fine. We are both right. No need to prove yourself right at my expense.