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Thinking about your gender

Here’s a take I see fairly regularly in online trans discourse: “If you think a lot about your gender, you’re trans”.

I’ve been considering this for a while, and more and more I think this take is not only unhelpful and wrong, but actively harmful. There are cis people who want to unpack their relationship with their gender, and that’s good, not something to discourage.

I can see where this sentiment comes from: many trans people do think a lot about their gender (it’s almost a defining characteristic!). If you do, it might be a strong indicator that you’re trans, or that it’s worth considering whether a transition would make you happier – but it’s not an absolute guarantee, and that nuance is often lost in the noise.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my gender in the last few years. I discovered it wasn’t quite right, I’m making some changes, and I’m much happier now. This is good.

In another timeline, I might have done the same thinking, decided “male” was okay, made some different changes, and been happier in a different way. That would be okay too!

When I was first thinking about gender, I had plenty of trans experiences to compare myself with. I think it’s great that so many people feel comfortable sharing their feelings about this topic, and want to share their story with the community. But those experiences were dominated by people who’d made major, disruptive changes to their life (especially people who’d transitioned from one binary gender to the other).

I also wanted to get some different stories – to talk to cis people who’d gone through similar questioning to me, and decided against major changes. What did their life look like? Why did they decide not to transition? What was their relationship with gender? And so on.

That was much harder to find.

I do have some cis friends who’ve done deep introspection of their gender, and in doing so they became more sure that they were cis. I think they’d all agree the process was worthwhile – it gave them a better understanding of their gender, and how it affects them. But if they ever talk about this on the Internet, people tell them, “You’re trans, you just haven’t realised it yet”.

This is unhelpful, and it’s frustrating and upsetting to be told that you’re not a good judge of your own self. If you’re trans, you’d be upset if somebody told you “you’re not trans, you’re actually the gender assigned at birth”. The same is surely true in the other direction.

Gender is complicated. The relationship between our gender, our bodies, and our sense of self is complicated. How we fit into the social expectations of our gender is complicated. More people should be able to explore it, to understand it, to find things that make them happy. Trans people don’t have an exclusive claim to introspection about gender.

Everyone should have the space to think about their gender and their relationship with it. We should do things to make that exploration safer and easier, not unsafe or unpleasant.

Cis people are allowed to think about their gender too.

This post was originally a thread on Twitter.