During the summers my dad used to grow tomatoes out behind our house on the Oregon Coast. It wasn’t really the ideal climate for growing tomatoes, but he had figured out how to do it in a greenhouse. Calling it a greenhouse I guess is a little bit of a stretch since it really was just a box made out of recycled plywood, green fiberglass, and clear plastic. But during the summer you could reach into that box and pull out the most amazing tomatoes your mouth has ever tasted.
One summer afternoon, I guess my mom had sent dad and I to the back yard to pick some fresh veggies (including tomatoes) from the garden for dinner. I remember that I had a few questions that I had been thinking about over a long period of time and really wanted to know what my dad thought. More importantly, if he felt the same way as me. Did he ever wish he had been born as a girl instead of a boy?
Now the thing is that my parents both had always taught me to not be afraid to ask questions. As a matter of fact, I seem to remember my parents getting a call from one frustrated substitute teacher at my little elementary school one day complaining about how much I had disturbed the class that day by asking so many questions. I guess this particular sub thought that maybe I was doing it to be disrespectful or disruptive on purpose – but I wasn’t. I think my regular teachers were kinda used to this from me. I just asked a lot of questions until I understood things. They were polite on the phone and then took me aside and said, “don’t ever let anyone tell you it’s not okay to ask questions, alright?”
But this was different, I knew that these kinds of questions were sensitive. When it came to things related to “sex” or gender I knew I had to tread carefully around most people or be seen as weird. So as we were walking down to the tomato house that day I finally got the courage to ask.
“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a girl? Or if it would be better if you were born a girl?”, I said.
“Not really. I think in many ways it’s harder to be a girl Matt. Giving birth for example is very hard and painful.”
“Yeah. So you’ve never wished you were born one,” I asked.
“No. We’re very fortunate to have been born boys. It’s good to be a man.”
“Yeah. You’re right. Thanks dad.”
Among all the other questions I asked as a child – all the little conversations I had about the world, and why people behaved the way they did, and why things worked the way they did I’m sure this conversation didn’t raise any alarms in my dad’s mind. After all, it was exactly the kind of question that a kid like me would ask. But it was a little piece of information that I would think about for some period of months as I tried to figure out what was wrong with me. Maybe my dad was right, maybe I was lucky to be born a boy after all. Maybe all girls really wanted to be boys or something, I wondered.
This was only one of many short conversations I’d have with both adults and peers growing up. Getting little pieces of information, trying to figure out if anyone else out there was like me; Feeling like they should have been born a girl and feeling bad about it.
One evening probably a year or so later, I was sleeping over at a friend’s house and his mom came to read us a story and tuck us in. My friend (her son) had fallen asleep while she was reading, but I was still awake. I had this burning question that I wanted to ask her. For whatever reason with this particular person I felt safe asking what I needed to know. Was she glad she was born a girl? And did she wish that she hadn’t had to give birth?
Her answer was that yes, she was glad she was born a girl, and that she felt that having children was a wonderful experience. She said she loved her kids (and me too) and that while, yes, it was very painful, that it also was a very beautiful experience too. The conversation was age appropriate, and she wasn’t negative about boys at all, nor did she say she was glad she wasn’t born a man. I just realized after that conversation that, like my dad and others I had talked to, she seemed to be happy with who she was and didn’t feel like she should have been born any other way. And I knew that I didn’t feel that way.
There were others. As I got older I would ask the occasional question to one of my friends about how they felt about their gender, and the answer was always the same. They seemed to feel comfortable. I remember asking a couple of close girl friends in my early teens questions about what it was like to ‘be a girl’ and got a weird look or two. “It’s normal,” was the answer. During puberty I wondered, “what’s it like to have breasts?”. “I donno. It’s normal,” was the response. Not an answer that really helped me.
I longed to find someone that seemed to feel like they had wires crossed inside their head too. But pretty much every example I had in those around me seemed to verify that everyone was pretty comfortable with the body they had been given, with the gender they were assigned, and many were even glad they were born the way they were.
Now, I don’t want at all to suggest that if you have a kid who asks questions about this that that makes them trans. It absolutely doesn’t. If you’ve asked these questions, or wondered about what it might be like to be born the other sex you should know that it’s perfectly normal. You are not transgender just because you are curiuos about what it might be like to be the opposite sex, or because you saw the movie Freaky Friday and you thought that would be so cool if it happened in real life. It would be – but being transgender is not like that. Perhaps this common curiosity that we all have about the opposite sex is why my questions didn’t raise red flags with adults and peers around me (so far as I know.) But for me, my questions weren’t purely curiosity. It was just a tiny tip of the iceberg of something much more significant going on inside my mind as I tried to figure out what had gone wrong with me. Something I both desperately wanted to figure out, and desperately wanted to hide from others in case they thought I was a freak.
Nobody I spoke to ever confessed to me that they felt that they actually felt like they were the other sex, or like they felt like their body was wrong. And so I felt like I was the only person in the world that had these feelings. All the more reason to put it out of my mind, and try and not think about it – and just try to be the best person (and Christian) I could be, and be grateful for what I had.
And I was. I was grateful for what I had. And I don’t want to take any of that for granted. I had an amazing family, an incredible group of friends (who are still to this day), and so many good people in my community. The vast majority of whom had no idea of the deeper thought processes behind my questions. But this isn’t something that I could get out of my head through willpower, or prayer, or willful ignorance. If you are transgender, you know it.