If you skipped my bio, I’ll save you 3 minutes. I’m Kasen and I’m trans. (This is where you look at the title of my blog and put it all together.) Yes, I’m transgender and you and I have 34 years of catching up to do. In an attempt to answer the “when/how did you know?” question, I want to walk you through some of my most notable and obvious trans-life moments. We’ve got a lot to cover, so this post is a tad long, hang in there.
1. Stop Treating Me Like a Girl.
I’ve known I was a boy my whole life. In the 1st grade, I remember realizing that others didn’t see me that way. Gender norms and roles were thrust upon me. I hated dolls. I hated dresses and lace. I loved swimming, but couldn’t go shirtless. I was jealous of my brother’s clothes and embarrassed when I was presented as female. I played with the boys on the playground and teased/showed off for the girls. I hated my birth/middle name and the feminine story behind why it’d been given to me. I preferred my gender-neutral camp nickname, Bug.
2. Puberty. Yuck.
Puberty was the WORST. These things started to grow on my chest. I hated my body. I didn’t want to wear a bra, boys don’t wear bras, but the bumps were getting bigger, more visible, and the jiggle made me self conscious. I had to start wearing sports bras. I bought them 1-2 sizes too small so they’d compress my chest as much as possible. The too-tight fabric cut into my skin. It hurt. I started wearing 2 shirts, always. Even in summer. I hated mirrors, pictures, and any reminder that I looked differently to people than I did in my mind. I hunched, rounded my shoulders forward, and crossed my arms to conceal myself.
3. Daily Thoughts
I grew up in a conservative, Christian, middle-class home. I knew I was loved, but I knew it was wrong to tell them I was a boy. I’d lay in bed and wish for giant robot arms to come down from the sky and fix my body. I’d dream about the life I was supposed to have, but every time, I’d wake up disappointed. I’d fantasize about ways to rid my body of my moobs. I envisioned elaborate “kitchen cleaver accidents” where, “oops, the knife just slipped”. A 2016 Cincinnati Children’s Study showed that 42% of trans youth ages 12-22, report self-harming. I never harmed myself, but I spent countless hours thinking about how to cut off that part of me without dying, mutilating myself, or having the ER people sew those parts back on.
4. Middle School vs. Clothes
Middle school sucks for everyone. But I was the chubby “tomboy” with big, round glasses. Sixth grade began the constant clothing battle with my parents. I remember crying at JCPenny when my Dad would pick out and only agree to purchase girls clothing. He’d tell me “what the other girls were wearing”. His money, his rules. I was mortified.
When I’d get grounded at home, the typical “lose your computer and tv” punishment didn’t work on me, so he upped his game. My punishment was being made to wear a dress or jumper to school. Yes, seriously. On days he drove me to school, I’d shamefully enter the school and immediately find the most empty bathroom, quickly changing into my gym clothes before homeroom. One day I forgot socks! But, wearing my ankle-tight zip Adidas windbreaker pants with my low-cut sambas and no socks was 10,000% less humiliating than being seen in a dress.
In the 8th grade, my grades weren’t so great. My parents threatened to send me to an all-girls private school. I was a few D’s away from being a Class of 2002 Pres or Assumption Girl. Every straight boy dreams of spending his days surrounded by Catholic school girls, but I had no intention to endure 4 years of dressing in plaid skirts. I raised my grades enough to “skirt” by and land in a public high school. (pun intended)
5. High School Gender Norms
By high school, I was still fighting my Dad on clothes. He insisted that “Girls Don’t Wear Undershirts”, expecting me to wear a WHITE uniform polo with nothing but a bra underneath. Doing so would have been socially and emotionally devastating! I wanted people to think of me as a guy, so I snuck a t-shirt into my backpack every day and changed on the bus.
Most of my life, I was required to keep long hair. My Dad insisted that “girls should have long hair”. I pleaded with and finally convinced my Mom to let me cut it shorter. My Dad flipped out. My parents fought for weeks. In hindsight, the haircut looked awful, but it was wasn’t down to my shoulder blades and I LOVED it. Grunge was in, so my longer, almost bowl-cut, short hair made me feel more masculine. Sophomore year, I started playing soccer for my HS. I was a good liar by now, always having to hide my true identity. I convinced my Dad to shave the under-part of my hair, “to be cooler for soccer”. (No. I wanted to be like Zachary Ty Bryan from Home Improvement. All the girls thought he was hot. I wanted to be him.)
6. Staying In the Closet
We can save my first coming-out story for another time. The short version is that I slowly and surely tested an identity as “gay” (never lesbian). (Lesbian implies “female”). There were lots of fights with my parents, groundings, and even a religious intervention and an expulsion from the church youth group. I learned to keep my real identity a secret. A few close friends knew my full secret and some really impactful teachers knew I liked girls. Both groups accepted me without shame or judgment. That was important. The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)’s 2015 U.S, Transgender Survey revealed that 82% of trans identifying people have had serious thoughts about killing themselves at some point in their life. I wouldn’t be transparent if I didn’t disclose that I thought about it too. I never made plans or had real intentions, but I imagined how sorry they’d be if I was gone. Family rejection hurts.
My 12th Grade Psychology Teacher let me borrow her DSM-IV (the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Because of that book, I finally had a name for what I was! I self-diagnosed myself with “Gender Identity Disorder.”* This was the moment I realized I was not alone. Other people were trapped in the wrong body too. I was now equipped with a name and standardized criteria to support my identity.
From High School to 32 years old, I publicly identified as “gay”, but knew I actually had a Gender Identity Disorder (the word trans wasn’t widely used or talked about yet). My close friends knew my real identity, but my fear of extreme family rejection kept my truth well-guarded. I told myself that I’d wait until my Grandparents were gone, then I’d transition. But, in the summer of 2017, I just couldn’t carry the secret anymore. I risked everything to come out as trans. I’ll share that journey next time.
Want more but can’t wait? Follow my transition on Instagram @trans.parent_kasen !!
*In 2012, with the 5th Edition of the DSM, “Gender Identity Disorder” was removed as a “disorder” and a new diagnosis, “Gender Dysphoria” was added.
UPDATE: Since this article was originally submitted, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it will remove “gender identity disorder” from its global manual of diagnoses, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). The ICD-11 reclassifies “gender identity disorder” as “gender incongruence,” which will now featured under the sexual health chapter rather than the mental disorders chapter.
Health providers around the world use two sets of guidelines to diagnose patients with medical conditions, the WHO’s ICD and the APA’s DSM. Removing the word “disorder” from both is a major win and validation for the trans community. Often times, this diagnosis serves as a large, expensive, and time-consuming, barrier to the trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming community receiving needed and life-saving medical treatment. (Many insurances do not offer trans-inclusive coverage, or if they do, this diagnostic “disorder” label has been required prior to care).