Every one of us is unique, so it makes sense that, for those of us who are trans or nonbinary, the ways in which we come to the realisation that our gender differs from the one we were assigned at birth, varies from person to person.
Whether the realisation that we are transgender evolves over a lifetime, it hits us seemingly out of the blue – or our experience lies somewhere in between: it is essential to remember that while every experience may be different, each one is valid.
It is perhaps unsurprising then, that for some clinicians, who may not be used to working with trans individuals, the various paths down which we might travel to get to our destination can lead to confusion. This is especially true when an individual’s realisation is at the more seemingly sudden end of the spectrum.
I have worked with thousands of gender diverse individuals and one theme that comes out time and again is that realising your gender is like flicking on a switch. The light comes on and lights up that part of your very being, so you see yourself as you truly are. Once this realisation happens, being free to act on those feelings – should you choose to do so – is essential. Crucially, whether you choose to do anything or not, it should be your choice, and yours alone.
If we are lucky to live in an enlightened environment and we are free to explore our gender, then coming out, at least in more recent years is more likely to occur at a younger age. But for older generations, and those who are not so fortunate, the sad truth is that all too often our acceptance of who we truly are is guided by those around us.
And it is easy to understand why. When we are young we rely heavily on our parents or guardians for guidance. If they are uneducated about gender diversity and this manifests as a lack of support or worse transphobia, we may be inclined to hide that part of ourselves, to push it deep down and hope that it goes away.
As we grow into adulthood and leave the family home, many of us continue to repress these feelings because we have learned to do so and we are afraid of the implications, what might happen if the world knew our truth. And this doesn’t even touch on the internalised shame we may feel that might impact how willing we are to look inside ourselves and ask those difficult questions.
So, instead, we focus on building a life in the image that meets the expectations of others, rather than being true to ourselves. We focus on the basics, keeping food in the cupboards, a roof over our heads, maintaining our relationships and playing the role of friend or parent. Some people are so adept at living this alternate reality that they are able to completely shut off that part of them that might result in rejection, ridicule, scorn.
So when an individual talks of a sudden realisation, it is rarely the case that they are entirely new to the concept that they are gender diverse. Unpicking the realisation often brings forth memories of multiple moments in time when that realisation began to surface but was ignored or actively squashed, out of fear, inconvenience, self-doubt.
My advice to any healthcare professionals who are met with an individual who has suddenly come to the realisation that they are trans is simple: Ask yourself a simple question: have they only just realised or is this more a case of them having finally acknowledged and accepted a truth that was always there, it was just too big to set free.
It is not our role as to question an individual’s experiences, it is our role to help them to live as comfortably as possible with who they are, as and when they decide the timing is right for them.