(CW: references to suicide & harm coming to trans people)
I haven't done an ordered list type thing yet, and I finally found something probably maybe kinda worth listing: five things that encouraged me to accept myself and begin transitioning, and give things that kept me from accepting myself and my gender dissonance for that much longer.
I want to end on positive notes, so I'm going to start with the negatives.
So, here are five things that kept me from accepting being trans for so much of my life:
5] "Lesbians Are Hot"
One of the things that stumped me for the longest time was that I could feel a sense of rightness when I saw lesbians together (I mean, just socially - I'm not talking about het-male-centric lesbian porn). It would make me smile in a way that seeing heterosexual couples - even ones I know and love - just never did.
When I would vocalise this, I'd get responses from men saying "dude, lesbians are hot!". The obsession with "lesbian" porn, and the sexualisation of lesbian couples were the key thing.
Being told and even shown that it was "normal" as a "straight guy" to obsess over lesbian relationships really, really didn't help me.
4] "She's a MAN, man!"
Trans women are the butt of so many jokes in (especially slightly older) movies that it's hard not to internalise the disrespect and mockery that movies and TV shows.
From Naked Gun to Austin Powers to Ace Ventura, movies when I was growing up taught me that trans women were punchlines, and the idea of even beginning to accept that I might have to transition in order to be happy and comfortable in my life meant dealing with "being" this kind of joke - or moving past it and realising it was completely wrong.
3] "So, the thing is..."
Beyond talking to doctors, taking hormones, potentially having surgeries and learning to function in society as a member of a hugely marginalised and disrespected group, what terrified me was coming out.
The idea of telling people scared me so much that even when I began to suspect I might be trans, I didn't tell anyone - even other trans people I'd come to know. Despite knowing full well that many - even most - of my friends were totally accepting of LGBT people, telling them filled me with dread.
I can't even begin to imagine what this would be like for people whose friendship circles are so different to my own. But I can be sure I've seen the outcomes - people who vanish entirely when they transition, and cut off all contact with past friends and family.
2] "...found dead."
When it wasn't trans women being a joke, trans people generally mostly seemed to make the media when one of us is killed, either by direct violent action, or taking our own lives due the way society treats us and what we're forced to deal with.
"Could I cope with this?" stuck in my head so much. Would I become another statistic?
What I really needed to do back then was think about it the reverse way - that hiding my feelings was making me so deeply unhappy that I didn't even need to transition to become a suicide risk.
Gender dissonance and my own mind was doing that for me.
1] "Who'd want to be a woman?"
A friend of mine when I came out to her said something which to me perfectly vocalised everything many other women hadn't told me so clearly until that point.
She didn't understand why anyone would 'voluntarily' choose to be (well, present as / be treated as) a woman.
The systemic sexism, being a second-class citizen, being unsafe in a way you generally aren't as a man... in order to transition, even beyond the problems of actually doing so, I knew that at best I would be binning much of the insane amount of privilege I held as a cis, het, white male.
It was the last thing I had to deal with before I finally decided I had to do it. The last thing on my mind. The final hurdle. "Can I deal with the treatment and experiences that I see my female friends dealing with on a daily basis?"
I thought of every time my partner came home in tears because of some horribly sexist, objectifying experience in public, or at work.
Empathising with it would be one thing - dealing with it happening to you would be something entirely different, and it scared the fuck out of me before I even began to realise what it actually feels like to be objectified and made to feel unsafe like this.
And now: five things that helped me.
5] Female Friends
I've had plenty of female friends throughout my life. I was always more comfortable around girls than "other" boys, and this remained true into adulthood. That isn't to say I don't have great friendships with men, but there was something fundamentally different with my female friends.
It took me a long time to recognise just what that was, but it meant that in many cases, being in the company of women I would sometimes, when comfortable, let my guard down more. I would drop the carefully-constructed facade of manliness & machismo, and just act like me.
The more time I spent in the company of women, without any men around, the more I began to notice how differently I felt, and in some cases how differently I behaved.
4] Laws Changing
As useful as personal support is, when I began to hear about legal changes being made in my own country to recognise trans peoples' rights, it was hard not to take that as a sign that maybe it wasn't "so bad" to be trans after all.
From gender markers on passports to shifts in the gatekeeping surrounding hormone therapy, little bits of news trickling in made it feel less scary.
"Maybe I could do this..."
3] Cara Delevingne & Non-Stop Pop
Weird, I know. But I think most of us have had something like this.
For me, a weirdly positive factor in the year or two leading up to my transition beginning was Cara Delevingne's character as the pop-station DJ in Grand Theft Auto V, a game I was playing a lot of.
It wasn't specifically to do with trans or even gender issues in this case, but her character playing up the general stance of "stop pretending you don't like this pop music", "you aren't too cool for this" and "just be yourself".
It wasn't a single cut scene, a single moment, or a single line - but when you spend hours and hours in a video game, hearing these kind of messages repeated have an impact.
And when that message is "oh fuck it, you're listening to this station by choice - stop pretending you don't secretly dig jamming out to Lady Gaga and Madison Avenue"... that's what sticks with you.
I still love rock and punk and big beat as much as I ever did, but realising I had been "playing" a person I wasn't, and deciding that person wouldn't like girly things like pop music? That had a surprisingly big impact.
2] Video Games
Friggin' video games. Before I accepted anything about my gender identity, I played as female characters. In RPGs, in The Sims, in random action games that deigned to give us female protagonists... these all mattered.
If I wasn't able to keep playing female characters on my own time, it would have been that much harder for me to accept that there's a reason I always gravitated toward playing women in games.
The experiences may not always have been directly useful to me, but when you're given the choice to be anyone you want to be... it's often worth paying attention to just who you choose to be and why.
1] Transition Blogs & Trans Visibility
This almost seems too obvious to mention, but it's so important it's at number one, just so it's the last thing I write in this post.
Reading trans blogs, from the most train-of-thought "things I noticed during HRT" tumblrs to amazing writers far more eloquent than I'll ever be, these mattered so much to me. I began sneakily reading them late at night, still with an irrational fear I'd be caught. "What is like being trans?"
I told myself it was curiosity, but it was often as simple as seeing how closely my own experiences and feelings matched up to the trans people whose work I was reading.
Certainly, not every trans person experiences the same things, but when you read enough transition blogs or interviews with trans people about their experiences, as a trans-person-in-denial, you can't help but go "oh yeah, I do feel like that as well..."
Realising the deep overlap? That made it impossible for me to deny it any longer.
But I wouldn't have read these blogs were it not for the very visible, publicly trans people I saw increasingly as the years passed. No matter what you think of them personally, as we get more and more people publicly transitioning, or becoming (even minor) celebrities after transitioning, without hiding the fact of being trans, we make progress.
As more and more trans people just do what they do and do it in public, we move further and further away from trans people as monsters or as the butt of jokes in crass movies, and instead to being seen as what we really are: people like anyone else, working normal jobs and living normal lives, with strengths and weaknesses like anyone else.