The Transitive Property: Reflections on a Transgender Childhood

May 9, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

The Transitive Property: Reflections on a Transgender ChildhoodI loved reading as a kid. The English major within me is a bit ashamed to say this, but my favorite books are still the books I read from when I was 11 or 12. There’s something really magical about that love of reading as a child, when you did it for the sake of doing it, when there were no papers to write or no class discussion to prepare for. Those were the days before I was trained to critically deconstruct everything I read, and I could completely lose myself in the narrative and the characters. I miss those days.

But after some more reflection, I didn’t just read because I loved it. I never met anyone transgender until I reached college, so when I was younger, I desperately looked for somebody like me in the books I read, the movies and TV shows I watched. I was always interested in narratives where girls disguised themselves as boys and ran away to find adventure, about girls who wanted to be princes and knights, about girls who didn’t quite fit into pink and dresses, about girls who were too restless to wait around for the boy to save them so they took matters into their own hands. And I guess one good thing about being born female meant that I could feed into my obsession of Disney princess movies without shame — my parents thought that I identified with the female main characters, but in reality, my two-year-old self (and I admit, still my 22-year-old self) wanted to be the prince that saves the hot princess and lives happily ever after with her. I didn’t know quite how to articulate it at the time, but that’s what I believed, deep down.

Though I came close, I never could find myself in those brave heroines or the gallant princes that I discovered during my reading and watching excursions. As a result, I led a lonely childhood, a childhood where I thought I was completely alone, because there were no other kids like me, not in the people I met in real life or my imagination. I thought children like me did not exist, that I was a freak — it was a feeling that sat long with me and defined my childhood, and the residue of that loneliness still haunts me today.

Things are getting better, though. LGB kids are coming out younger and younger, because there are more representations of themselves in the media — while I had to dig into the deep recesses of my local library to find some obscure lesbian teen novel published 10 years ago, LGB kids are seeing themselves in the mainstream. Glee, for example, with its same-sex couples, would not have existed when I was in high school. It’s empowering to see this pattern emerging in films, television shows and books.

However, as all things trans are, there are literally no trans representations in media. I wonder if things would have turned out differently if my 12-year-old self had picked up a book that had a trans character — I wonder if I would have realized things sooner. There are very few films and television shows that contain transgender characters, and not many of them focus on the young trans person’s experience. Only in the last couple years has there been young adult fiction published that involves transgender characters. What non-gender-conforming kids need right now is somebody to show them that they’re not alone, somebody they could relate to on a basic level. I didn’t have that. I wish I did.

I suppose I should have higher goals for myself, like becoming the next Nabokov or Woolf, or securing myself a place in the literary canon. But I’ll admit that my greatest aspiration is to write that book I would’ve loved to have read when I was 12 years old — because if I had had something like that when I was younger, if I had seen myself in the books I read or the movies I watched — it probably would have saved me a couple years of grief. The fact that children like me were not present in the media I consumed does not mean that children like me didn’t exist — they do. I was one.

I suppose it’s a good thing that I was lonely, that in my continual failure to find someone like myself, I gained a level of self-awareness that a lot of kids my age didn’t have. But at the same time, I would have given anything to feel a little less lonely. But as I’m looking forward to my future, I realize this is my chance to change things for that young kid who resembles my 12-year-old self, looking for somebody to relate to. Here’s my chance to make it a little easier for them. And that’s what I’m going to do.


Have an idea for Cristopher’s book? Email Cristopher at [email protected]

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