The Catalyst: When Being Transgender is Brought Into Conscious Awareness

Say you’re visiting a foreign city and you’ve been sightseeing all day. So many things to do and see, you’ve been going nonstop. Suddenly you see a menu hanging outside the door of a restaurant with a picture of the most delicious looking pasta you’ve ever seen. Suddenly aware of how hungry you are, you exclaim to your companion, “I’m STARVING!!” The two of you quickly agree to go inside the restaurant for a meal and begin pouring over the menu to see what other options are available.

Despite the common phrase, “Stop talking about that! You’re making me hungry!”, nothing but time and lack of food can actually make someone hungry. Did the picture on the menu actually create the existence of hunger? No, of course not. You were hungry because you had been active and had not eaten in a while. The menu simply made you aware of your hunger; it was the catalyst.

Such is the same with anything that sparks a transgender person’s “AHA” moment. Unless the person is someone who was insistent about their gender identity from early childhood, many individuals can name what it was that brought their being transgender into conscious awareness. For some, this is a person; either the person understands about gender identity and could explain it to them in a way that made sense, or the person had experience themselves with gender nonconformity. Often times this person will be significant to the transgender individual’s journey because of the help they provided in coming to understand themselves. Sadly, for some loved ones the person who was the catalyst becomes the person who is blamed for influencing the transgender individual. However, no one becomes transgender just because their friend is or because someone explains the notion of being transgender. One is either transgender or not; nothing another person can say or do can change it.

I will say that another person can influence the journey, or the transition, of the transgender individual. Influences by other people can either speed up or slow down the transition process. However, the transition is more an intervention to the state of being transgender and is not necessarily a good thing to be avoided. Read more about the separation of these two concepts in my blog post “What Are You Going to Do About it?

Other means by which someone may be triggered into understanding themselves and their true gender identity are often mainstream media, books, and of course, the internet. I’ve heard some parents lament the existence of the internet, feeling certain if it did not exist their child would never have learned about this and would therefore not be transgender. I have to gently remind them that their child would still be transgender, but they may not be consciously aware of it or know what options are available for it until much later. (Again, this is not necessarily a good thing. For those who feel the need to transition, early medical intervention can be very beneficial. For those who identify as nonbinary or under the trans* umbrella, they may come to understand their gender identity and how to ask others to respect it much earlier than they might otherwise have.) A catalyst is not causal; it does not cause the existence of something. It simply allows for awareness that something exists. In many ways, the catalyst has an extremely important job and is an essential part of the process. Just as that menu was the catalyst to help you recognize (and do something about) your hunger before you were collapsing from low blood sugar in the middle of a foreign town square, such is the case with something triggering awareness of being transgender. Transgender people may be grateful to the person or thing that brought this into their conscious awareness; maybe someday their loved ones will be too.

Do you think a catalyst can be causal?

If you are transgender, do you remember your catalyst? What was it?

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I had two catalysts – one was hearing at age 11 a news story about Christine Jorgensen – that gave me an awareness and a vocabulary – long before the Internet. I didn’t know much about how to transition. The second catalyst was turning age 50. My partner and I turned 50 within two weeks if each other, and soon after she had a diagnosis of breast cancer. I was suddenly aware of time running out for both of us. Those aren’t specific individual persons, but events instead. I guess events can be catalysts.

  2. I agree that catalysts are not causal in that they don’t create something that wasn’t already there, only awareness of a preexisting condition. But catalysts can also bring about a change that becomes a catalyst itself, like a waterfall.

    Great post, and food for thought.

  3. I’m 63 and didn’t seek an answer I was 59. I’d known since earliest memory that I totally identified with females and female interests. For me, the problem was listening to all the hate about trans people being perverts – who is willing to acknowledge they’re trans with that unilateral assumption. I remember being transfixed by the Christine Jorgensen press as a child and remember thinking quite clearly that I wished I could do what she did and with her courage. My aha moment came when I heard Jenna Talackova’s story. That caused so much internal emotional release prompted me to use the Internet to finally see how clearly I was transgender. There was so little information about transgender when I was growing up and all of it was negative, so I hid for six decades. Of course after acknowledging you’re trans comes dealing with it. That’s a lot harder when you’re my age.

  4. I remember crying myself to sleep when I was at least 7 years old wanting to be a girl but I never acted on it until I was twelve or thirteen. It was in seventh grade in a Catholic junior high school (1961) and we had initiation. For initiation we had to wear our father’s shirt backwards, a skort, one high heel shoe and one low heel shoe. Something clicked when I looked into the mirror.
    From that day on I crossdressed in secret until I went to a support group when I was 51 and transitioned at 59.

  5. For me, it was a trans woman. At the time I identified as a cis straight female, and had had some disturbingly sexual thoughts about women… “Disturbing” only because I didn’t “want to be a lesbian.” Life has a funny way of making you eat your words, though– and after my transfeminine girlfriend came out of the closet (literally– she put a wig on), a weird thing stirred in me that felt like Smaug had been asleep. That was three years ago… Actually almost four, now, and I am in a poly relationship with two women, one of them trans, and I have my first appointment to start on the road to HRT next month. Big big world ahead!

  6. Not sure I really have a catalyst. I never felt comfortable in my skin, so as a kid I used to wish all the time to become whatever animal was my favorite at the time. Sometime around puberty, that wish switched from becoming an animal to becoming a girl. Only when I look back I can see how much stronger and more powerful that wish was over those before it, because of the truth behind it. But at the time it just felt like another variation on the same old wish. It was a slow, gradual shift from thinking it just a simple wish like all the others to realizing that it was more than a wish, more than simply wanting to turn into a girl, but that I was a honestly was a girl despite what my body was saying. It was only probably a year or two for that realization to hit, but the shift was so gradual there is no way to pinpoint an “aha!” moment.

  7. Eddie Izzard and Gigi gorgeous.


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