On Being “Sure”

One of the first things that comes to most loved ones’ minds when told about someone’s transgender identity or plans to transition is “Are you sure??” In fact, this is often a question many of my pre-transition clients are asking themselves; “Am I sure??”. The question is worth asking, but the answer may not be a simple “yes” or “no”.

Most people are pretty darn sure of their gender identity. Cisgender and transgender alike, most are pretty darn sure. What confounds things is that only transgender people have to navigate through having a brain gender identity that differs from their birth sex, and having to first understand and then explain this to others. Still, most are pretty darn sure. Remember, gender identity is different than making the decision to transition. Often times, knowing one’s gender identity is the “easy” part. Pursuing a life to align one’s gender presentation with one’s brain gender identity? Now that’s the more challenging part.

So, “Are you sure?”. If you are a loved one who finds yourself asking this question, try to clarify what you are asking about. Are you asking about your loved one’s gender identity or plans to transition? If you separate the two, you may find more confidence in the first than the latter. If your loved one is sure of their (trans)gender identity, asking if they are sure about their transition may contribute to fears and anxieties surrounding this “decision”. Instead, ask “How can I help? What’s the first step?”.

Many clients I’ve met with who are contemplating transition have said to me, “I want to be 100% sure”.  My clients tend to be intelligent, high-functioning individuals who are used to doing things well, and they want this to be no exception. They research, they inquire, they ruminate, they agonize, they weigh the risks and benefits ad nauseum. After all this, they are still “not sure”. Why? Because there ARE risks, and because the process isn’t easy. Therefore, anxiety about this huge undertaking can be interpreted as not being “sure”. Again, not so much about the gender identity- if I can bring them back to that aspect of themselves instead of just the “decision” to transition, they are much more sure about their gender identity. A good example might be left-handedness. People are born left-handed, no? It used to be lefties were encouraged to use their right hands until it became habit. Gender identity is similar in that it is inborn.  It can be stifled to present differently, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the person. And what gender one presents as is far more pervasive than which hand is dominant!

One of my clients, a happy and insightful trans man, made mention to not feeling completely sure until AFTER he had transitioned. I later contacted him to write a little blurb for this blog post, and he delivered beautifully. Here is what he had to say:

“To be honest I wasn’t 100% sure about transitioning until I was already pretty far into it. One day about 4 years in I looked in the mirror and for the first time in my life I recognized myself. I don’t think you can ever be 100% sure about anything in life, any decision, any path…it’s all educated guesses wrapped up in a hope for happiness.”

Isn’t this the case for most things? We make huge decisions all the time that will affect the rest of our lives: where to live, where to go to school, the career path to follow, to marry or not to marry, if yes who to marry, to have kids or not have kids, if yes how many, etc. Yet these decisions typically aren’t as agonized over as much or as misunderstood as gender transition.

I’m reluctant to compare gender transition to getting married, but the analogy really sticks in my mind. How many people are “sure” when they get married that they will be with the other person “forever”? Of the couples who eventually divorce, if you could ask them “but were you SURE when you got married?”, most of them would unequivocally say “yes”. Some may argue that gender transition is a more “serious” decision than getting married, but is it? Marriages often result in children, who are thereby affected by a divorce if it were to occur. If a capable individual decides to get married, they get married. However, if a capable individual decides to go through gender transition, the issue of being “sure” is one they will have to answer over and over again. I guess it’s because other people can understand marriage, but have a harder time wrapping their brains around gender transition. However, this should not matter when it comes to others and their decisions about their own lives. Not to mention the rate of transgender individuals later “changing their minds” about transition is FAR, FAR less than the current rate of successful vs. unsuccessful marriages!

I suppose feeling more at ease with one’s decision comes down to trust. If your loved one is telling you who they are what they have decided to do, trust them. If you are transgender and have decided to transition, trust yourself. If the person making this decision is of sound judgment and mind, there is no real reason to think this is an irrational decision that will ever be regretted. Additionally, if one has come to the decision to transition, it has not come lightly. Many transgender people agonize about the decision to transition long after one’s true gender identity has become consciously aware.

Perhaps being “sure” is an evolutionary process, and one that can only happen after the first step. I do know that trusting yourself is a good idea… of that I am sure. 😉

For those of you how have transitioned, how “sure” did you feel before? After?

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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. How sure was I before transitioning? As I was led to the OR (under my own power) it was all the attendant could do to keep me from running toward the OR doors.

  2. my daughter was sure at age 3…now a full 8 years later, she’s still sure…so i wonder, are those who are allowed, and supported in being who they are at such an early age more able to be ‘sure’ than others?

    a friend of mine said she knew at an early age but she was not supported or allowed to be who she was and for years she went through thinking that maybe she was a gay man…but that wasn’t quite right either…then, later in life she found the strength – and funds – to finally be who she always knew herself to be.

    i think every trans-person is as sure of who they are as is every cis-person…but my view is colored by my experiences with my friends…and now my daughter…

    but i think “are you sure?” is definitely the wrong question to ask…as the writer states…a better one is ‘how can i help?’ or even “yay for you!”

  3. Reblogged this on Pasupatidasi's Blog and commented:
    check this out…and if you do, please leave your thoughts in the comments…i am curious about how many trans-folk there are that ‘weren’t sure’

  4. Love, love, love this!

    True Colors, Inc.
    30 Arbor Street, Suite 201A
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    (860) 232-0050

    True Colors works to create a world where youth of all genders and orientations are valued and affirmed. Our programs include one-on-one and group mentoring; school based youth advocacy and leadership development; the production of the largest LGBTQIA youth conference in the country; professional cultural competency training; and the management of a state wide task force focused on the needs of LGBTQI youth in out-of-home care.

    • Thank you, Robin! I can’t wait to explore your website. 🙂

  5. “Not to mention the rate of transgender individuals later “changing their minds” about transition is FAR, FAR less than the current rate of successful vs. unsuccessful marriages!”

    Thank you for always giving me something to think about! I learn something new in each of your posts about how to be compassionate and supportive to my trans brothers and sisters. love love love! -Ali

  6. Thank you so much for this post.

  7. At the age of 5, I realized that I was different. I wasn’t interested in doing girl things and through my minds eye, I was a boy. It was in the 1st grade that I felt this attraction toward my teacher who was female. I didn’t understand it and I never spoke about it. The first traumatizing experience I had was when my breasts began to develop. I absolutely hated it and did everything I could to flatten them. I guess I can say I had my first binder when I was 8yrs old. I endured all of the name calling growing up from tomboy to dyke and worst. Feeling like I had no choice, I lived most of my life as a gay female. I was never truly happy and always expressed to my friends that I was a male trapped in a female body. At the age of 57, I decided I no longer live with the pain and unhappiness. I began my journey of transition and I haven’t looked back. I have no regrets for not doing it at a younger age because I feel my decision came when It was supposed to.

  8. Darlene, Thank you for this post. I am struggling with this particular subject right now myself. I’m sure of my gender but not so sure about what to do about it. My biggest fear is that I will regret NOT transitioning.

    • There is a far greater chance of you regretting not transitioning than regretting doing it!! If there’s anything I can do to help let me know.

  9. There were hints as a child. I *knew* my gender identity at 15, but had no support and a LOT of fear, that was 1988. 26 years later, I’m in the middle of transition, and I know again. I have lost people to do this, I’ll lose my savings, and I am currently losing my marriage over it. Still, it is something I know I *must* do. The only other option was unacceptable.

    • Thank you, Anna, for your comment. The fear holds so many people back, as is understandable. Thank you for sharing your story. Best of luck to you!

  10. Reblogged this on godnowwhat and commented:
    This was one of my favorite posts by Darlene. It came to my email on the perfect day because this is what I had been thinking about for the past few days prior, and losing some sleep over, and feeling anxiety over. Thank you Darlene for this (easy to read) blog today.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and it was timely for you. 🙂 Thanks for re-blogging!

  11. I was probably in the 90% range when I started transitioning, as far as how sure I was. Problem is, it’s that 10% that stops so many people, and I probably wouldn’t have been an exception to that. Because it’s true–we’re often not 100% sure about any decision we make, yet make them we do. The further I get into my transition the more comfortable I feel with myself, even while recognizing that 10%. And that’s all I ever wanted, really.

    • “it’s that 10% that stops so many people”, such a good point! What was it that helped you push pass that doubt and do what you really needed to do for yourself?

  12. After reading this blog post, one of my former clients emailed me and said that before he transitioned, “I said to someone ‘I’m sure about being a man, and making my outsides match my insides, but I’m not sure about how people will react.'”
    (Permission given by client to post.)

  13. What is cisgender? I keep reading definitions and still don’t get it.

    • Hi there,
      Here is how I would explain it: Someone who is “cisgender” is someone who was born a certain sex and also has the brain gender identity typically associated with that sex. For example, I was born a natal female and I have the brain gender identity of a female, therefore I am cisgender.
      Hope this helps!

      • But you dress or identify as a man or woman? If called Darlene then I assume you identify as a woman.

        There is a jigsaw puzzle bit still missing.
        You were born a natal female?
        You have the brain gender identity of a female – so …you are just female no? What am I missing? And what is a ‘natal’ female?

      • Yes, having the brain gender identity of a female usually means that one identifies as female, or a woman. Transgender women are female also, so it’s not a simple answer to say I am “just female”.
        Here is a great definition of natal, source t-vox:
        An individual who was believed to be physiologically female at birth (i.e: one sexed as ‘female’ on their original birth certificate).”

  14. Okay thanks Darlene.

  15. I saw your link on WPATH and am glad I clicked on it. Your article offers some good insight into the issue and I am saving it for future clients. For another perspective, one might ask, “Am I 100%sure I want to stay just as I am for the rest of my life?” There are issues either way, and all one can do is be as informed as possible, and go with the best odds for happiness.

    • Thanks, Susan! I’m going to check out your blog, too. 🙂

  16. Being a Mormon made this question, however obliquely addressed, inevitable. Though my Bishop is willing to accept me at face value and encourage others to do likewise, when my relationship with my husband of over 13 years came up he simply couldn’t understand that being sealed in the temple for time and all eternity makes no sense to us. It’s the goal of virtually all members, and its achievement is emphasized for all ages, but I know that it’s not for us because I have a deep conviction that eternal companions can’t be the same gender, period. If I caved in and, after lo, these many years, dragged my aged and physically fragile husband to the temple and were sealed to him, it would be a sham. Though I don’t know if the Church well ever allow transsexual members to be sealed to our opposite-gender spouses, I will hope for this until the day I die. Were I to be sealed to my husband as his wife I would I have to request that this sealing be annulled (a VERY difficult process!) should I someday be allowed to marry a female companion there. It would also be as though I were admitting to God that my spirit isn’t male, after all, and that I hope to spend eternity as a woman were I to be sealed to my husband, and HE accepts that this would be pointless. I know of several fine Mormon couples who were sealed in the temple before one came out as transsexual who are at peace with remaining together in this life because they share a bond neither wants to break, but they’ve come to terms with its being inevitable that they won’t remain married for eternity. In my case, my husband’s much older than I, lives in a nursing home, and isn’t too long for this earth. Our civil marriage will end at death, as will other marriages performed outside of holy temples, and we’re OK with that. We’re best friends and have been for a long time, and look forward to that friendship outlasting our marriage. He knows that after death ends our union I want to pursue a relationship with a woman. At one point he even freed me from our marriage vows to begin doing so now, and while I was sorely tempted, I had to decline. Why? Because under the terms of our civil marriage, my even looking at a woman to lust after her, let alone indulging in physical intimacy, would make adulterers of both her and me, guilty of a sin second only to murder in seriousness, and would cheapen our relationship by making it a mere affair. This is TOTALLY unacceptable, too. It may be that a civil marriage to a woman will be all I’ll be permitted in this life, but I trust in God to recognize this as eternal once or lives end as much as I do His granting me male anatomy someday so my physical and spirit bodies will finally be congruent. I hope this comment helps other Latter-Day Saints and clears up any confusion non-Mormons may have about the issue, too. 🙂

  17. […] to the idea. It might take some time to work through those doubts. You might want to read this and this to get a better understanding of your doubts. Attached […]

  18. […] shared with me about doubt and acceptance that might be helpful for you: The Null HypotheCis and on-being-sure Just a week ago, I was lying in bed, shaking with fear about what it would mean if I really was […]

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