Has living as a gender that is different from the one assigned to you at birth made you more satisfied or less satisfied with your life?
That is the topline question from the first representative survey of trans people in the United States, released in March of this year by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The answers formed the main headline the Post ran about the survey:
|A lot more satisfied
|Somewhat more satisfied
|Somewhat less satisfied
|A lot less satisfied
In general I like this survey. I’ve got a number of thoughts about it, but I wanted to start by answering this question for myself: has living as a gender that is different from the one assigned to me at birth made me less satisfied or more satisfied with my life? I would have to say a lot more satisfied.
The biggest reason is that it helped me to find love. In 1996 I met up with some friends to watch the New York City Pride Parade. There was one friend of a friend who I had met at a party the year before. We lived near each other in Brooklyn and our mutual friend had already tried to get us together. Her reaction was “that annoying guy who went to Chicago?” and mine was that I didn’t remember her.
When I went to the parade, I wore make-up, jewelry and women’s clothes. She and I rode the subway back to Brooklyn, and we exchanged phone numbers. One thing led to another, and we’ve pretty much been together ever since. We’ve been married for almost 24 years and have a kid who’s now all grown up.
When this woman first met me, she saw me as just some annoying guy. When she spent time with me as a woman, she was more impressed and opened up to me more, and then I noticed her. Would she have been interested in getting to know me better without meeting me as a woman? It’s impossible to know – she says that maybe just seeing me at the Pride Parade would have been enough – but I had had limited success in dating up to that point.
In more superficial terms: when I was little, I admired a lot of things that girls wore (dresses, tights, barrettes) and things that they got to do together (dance, cartwheels, jump rope). I was told that I couldn’t take part in those things, and it all felt very arbitrary to me. By the time I felt comfortable enough to physically present as a woman in public I was too old for cartwheels and little-girl dresses, but I’ve been able to participate in some age-appropriate feminine practices, which has made me more satisfied with my life.
A bit less superficially: when I first started trying girlish things, I had been told very clearly that it was inappropriate, so I kept it secret for years and lived in shame. When I was in my twenties I decided to come out of the closet, but for many years afterwards I was afraid of being shunned or discriminated against, so I still avoided talking about my gender expression to some people. For just the past ten years I have been out to more people in my life, and that has made me much more satisfied.
There are also downsides to living as a woman, as most people who have done it will tell you, and downsides to living as two different genders over time. Owning two wardrobes, or a wardrobe and a half, is expensive. I have sometimes wanted to grow a beard or moustache, but I’ve felt that growing any kind of facial hair is not consistent with the feminine presentation I want.
I have no evidence that anyone has discriminated against me for being trans, but it may have happened. I have been denied services because people saw me as not trans enough, or not the right kind of trans. But overall I feel that living as a woman has made me a lot more satisfied with my life.
You may be able to tell just from reading this that I found some of the words chosen by the Washington Post and KFF researchers to be problematic. I’ve got a lot more to say about this, starting with the political context of this question, but I felt that it would be best to start by focusing on this question and what it means to me.