For many, the thought of someone being “born in the wrong body” sounds totally bizarre, like something you would see in a fantasy or science-fiction film. We often hear the idea of trans folks being “trapped” in the wrong body—an image that calls to mind a world that is make-believe, even grotesque. This fascinates me.
I mean no disrespect to my fellow members of the global trans community by calling attention to this observation. I believe I am beautiful—we are all beautiful. I just want to point out how interesting it is that one of the most common phrases we hear people use to describe what it’s like to be transgender to cis folks is an image that seems totally out of this world.
The bottom line is that we’re not out of this world at all. I am human, and we are all human. The reason for prejudice and hate is lack of education, ignorance. We simply don’t have a developed enough cultural vocabulary to talk about identity with sensitivity and flexibility. We tell others we feel out of this world, because really, that’s how it feels.
I was 22 years old when I fell to the kitchen floor of my parents’ home and uttered the words, "I'm trapped in the wrong body." They poured out of my mouth, an uncontrollable current. And despite how freely the words came to me, it felt like my brain had been hiding this information from me all along. I was confused and scared by a statement that felt so true and real. I felt a paradoxical mix of relief but also alienation from myself—I was embarrassed and full of shame about finally understanding my own identity.
I am positive that lack of education is the problem behind transphobia, because I myself wasn’t educated at the time I came out, and I was truly terrified of my realization. I didn't understand what my own statement meant because I had never been educated about gender and identity. I thought I was crazy, really. How can someone be living in the wrong body? My rational brain doubted me: “No, that doesn’t make sense,” I told myself.
Of course, within seconds of my dismissal, my heart caught up with my head, and thoughts, memories, feelings and other intangible elements of my life flashed before my eyes. Suddenly it all made sense. Every question I never asked but which had been lurking within me was answered. Were there others out there who felt the same? Or was I alone? The fear of my own insanity persisted.
But I didn’t run away from my fear. I did research, I self-educated. I learned that I was normal, and that there could be a solution. Within a year, I became comfortable saying, “I am a transgender male.” That same year, I changed my name, shared my preferred pronouns with others, and began hormone replacement therapy. Today I am living life as my authentic self and I’ve found an internal happiness unlike anything I've ever felt before.
Yet I'd be lying if I said that the same thought of being stuck in the wrong body didn't still cross my mind. Now that I have more information and emotional tools at my disposal, however, my feeling of acute entrapment has dissipated and I am far less fearful. Some trans folks say they are grateful to be trans, and don’t see themselves as having been born in the wrong body. It’s different for everyone. Each of us on this earth has a unique relationship to their identity and expression, and for all of us, it’s a process, ongoing and often difficult.
I feel privileged that I'm surrounded by people who love and accept me, friends and family members who support and respect me, who are compassionate and non-judgemental and tell me I’m strong, courageous and inspiring. They applaud my every move, and yet I stand here questioning what it is they see. I think we need more attention given to these kinds of continued difficulties, which is why I’m writing this.
Am I strong? Others seem to think so. They probably see a strong man emerging from a former little girl. They tell me they see relief and admirable self-reflection. They see my head held high as I embrace a shield in the form of a smile. But what they don't see, is the part of me struggling with how difficult it is to reflect back onto them the strength that they seem to perceive in me. Maybe I am strong. But perhaps I refuse to let out my vulnerabilities.
Am I courageous? People tell me I am. They tell me that I am not afraid of what the world has to say. They see that I refuse to live anything but my authentic self. But what they don't see is that I'm frightful of every step I take. I fear being outed in a crowd. I'm scared to know how others perceive me.
Am I inspiring? Those supporting me tell me how much they admire me, that my bravery is an inspiration. They see someone who recognizes each day as a blessing. They see pride and dedication, they envy my ambition. What they don't see is that I face demons who doubt me, who strip me of my motivation and push me towards failure. I feel weak, I feel scared, I feel lonely. Trans or not, it’s important for all of us to feel OK recognizing these paradoxes.
I don't receive compliments well. I often question the kind words that are sent my way. My personality is what it is. I am who I am, and I am human. I can be incredibly present and emotionally distant. I dream big while doubting myself in the process. I wear a mask in order to prevent my emotions from escaping—and yet I challenge the world each day with vulnerability and courage, presenting myself as the man I strive to be. As I push forward, I never look back. I am human, we are all human.
Jude Rilee Nadeau is a 23-year-old transguy who has never failed to dream “too big.” He loves adventure, music and writing, and plans to spend the rest of his life doing these three things. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter: @judeonajourney.