Words can have a powerful effect on how a person can understand or accept an idea. When I first started learning about transgender concepts and terms, I cringed at the use of cis and trans because my first thoughts were of isomers and that just brought back bad memories of organic chemistry. How can gender be described in such cold terms?
As I started to accept my trans* identity more and started down the path of physical transitioning, I became afraid that in transitioning I would lose my sense of self, that I would lose the identity that has built up in the years of my life. I feared that my past life was false and that I would not know the person at the other end of transitioning, and I walked a path of self destruction and grasped for a way out of that. Of course, I turn to science for comfort, and I saw cis-/trans- as a powerful metaphor for my incorporating my trans* identity into the rest of me.
Isomers have the same molecular formula but differ in how they are arranged in 3D space, where the bonds are rotated to form the more stable molecule. I needed to see that I was still the same person, that all the parts that made “me” are still there and genuine. Gender transitioning is just my rearranging things to move into a more stable sense of self.
Being transgender, female to male, is an identity that I have reluctantly accepted. Being Tran is an identity of which I did not feel worthy. Being Tran(s) is the intertwined journey of accepting my transgender identity and becoming a son in the Tran family.
I don’t understand gender. I truly don’t. In a very Taoist way, the more I try to grasp the concept, the further away I am from achieving a solid definition. To date, no definitive studies have identified any necessary and sufficient criteria in brain morphology or neurodevelopmental for the mind/body incongruency. I can only trust in the empirical evidence as I observe both my mind and body becoming healthier as I transition and accept this part of me. Only when I started testosterone therapy did I feel any connection to my body. Moreover, the perpetual presence of the ADHD noise and the fog of depression in my brain lifted like killing off the background processes that slow down a computer.
Acceptance has been very difficult for me because I still tease through a lot of misandry that arose from the lack of many positive male role models and a deprecation of female roles in the culture in which I was raised. Thus, in a similar vein to internalized homophobia, I also had a sense of self hatred that deterred me from exploring my FTM identity. The struggle with coming to terms with being transgender was almost as hard as the one I had with bipolar disorder, which dominated much of my teens and twenties. What made it easier was the compressed timeline made possible by my experience with handling my bipolar disorder–I processed things relatively quickly.
With becoming a man, I finally found my spot in the mosaic of the Tran family. I had attempted to fit into a different spot that was very similar in shape and size, and it worked for a while. Over time though, that ill-fitting piece pushed against the others and stressed the integrity of itself and the entire mosaic. I never saw myself as a daughter and resented not being born a son. I removed my piece and distanced myself from my family. Now I see myself as a son and heir to my father’s values and am slowly reconnecting those emotional threads and investment.
Being a son of the Tran family has always been who I am and is a foundational identity upon which others were built. Thinking back, I believe that my family has always seen me as such but could not reconcile the body with the spirit, which consequently was repressed in favor of the more concrete body. I have raged against having to “discover” this identity which should have been so fundamental, but in retrospect, the sequence of events and outcomes has established a stronger and more stable Tran(s) self and a better person in a best of all possible worlds.