By Gabriel Coppersan
Identity can seem like a big, scary word. And it can feel even scarier when identity is no longer just a word but something essential about your life that you’re calling into question. That’s how I felt.
Before coming out (and of course, picking out a name) comes the all-important question: How do you know you’re transgender?
And the related question: How do you know the difference between exploring your identity because it’s a developmental stage all humans go through, and identifying as transgender?
The truth is that there’s no single answer. While neither I nor anyone else can give you a definite answer, I can try to guide you through the process based on my experience, which may help you draw your own conclusions.
Here’s a list of things to ask yourself during your period of questioning, many of which you may want to use as a starting point to your journey.
1. Do you feel uncomfortable with yourself in a major, fundamental way?
I don’t believe that you need to have physical dysphoria (i.e., feeling like you’re in the wrong body) to identify as, and be considered, transgender. However, a major signpost for me was feeling an acute sense of discomfort with myself.
When I looked inside myself and thought of past situations that made me feel strange, many of the things that came up were very basic and fundamental scenarios: being referred to by my birth name, being addressed by pronouns I didn’t identify with (she/her), and feeling like I didn’t own my body.
This question may not yield the same answer for everyone, but it is a helpful point of reference for thinking about what the realization of a trans identity might look (and feel) like.
2. Have you tried experimenting outside of your assigned gender at birth?
Some people love shopping for drastically different clothes at many times during their life, getting statement haircuts on the regular, and wearing performative accessories and makeup on a regular basis. None of this means you are transgender, nor does it necessarily mean you’re questioning your identity. Personal appearance is, well, personal.
That said, a helpful sign for me was the relief I felt when I began experimenting with new ways of presenting my gender to the world through my physical appearance. Most of us take gender for granted; we wear dresses if we’re assigned female at birth, or think that liking sports is the key to masculinity. Clothes and behaviors get assigned genders, just as people do at birth.
So I invite you to think about experimenting with these coded behaviors, clothing, habits, modes of body language and more. See how you feel. Be curious.
Maybe you feel that you might be transgender, but you don’t know for sure. You can start by experimenting with the way you look, such as getting a different haircut, and go shopping to try on new clothes. If you’re used to wearing dresses, try t-shirts and blue jeans and see how you feel wearing them. Feel free to mix and match clothing; transgender is an umbrella term for many gender identities, including genders that aren’t binary—so you don’t need to completely identify as the opposite of whatever gender you were assigned at birth! This sense of acceptance and inclusion can be scary—but it’s actually very liberating.
3. How do you see yourself in five years?
This may seem like a very broad question, one that is applicable to everyone. But to me, it serves a purpose within the context of trans identity. Think about it this way: are you able to see a future with how you currently present to the world? I certainly couldn’t see a future for myself as a miserable woman after graduating college, and my misery and total discomfort with myself were most of what drove me to transition in the first place.
Not everyone’s story is the same, nor does someone need to feel completely miserable in the gender they were assigned at birth to want to transition. But thinking about the potential evolution of your identity will give you some hints as to how comfortable you feel as the person you are.
4. Have you seen or heard about other stories of transgender people?
If you’ve gone through the previous questions and are still not sure, it’s good to look at narratives of transgender people and see if any of their experiences relate to yours.
When I first started out, I watched YouTube videos of Skylar Kergil from beginning to end. After watching (and living vicariously) through his videos, not only did I discover that we had similar struggles but that it was possible to live a happy life as my authentic self.
If you’re curious to hear me talk more about these questions, particularly in context of my own journey, check out my YouTube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-kRxXowVLps
Have any other advice you give someone who is still questioning their gender identity? Let us know in your own article! Write to us at email@example.com.
Gabriel Coppersan is a transgender man who started his medical transition at the age of 22, just after graduating from Hunter College with a BA in Psychology. He started his blog, Dear Cis People, with the original intention of just voicing thoughts about issues and experience that are relevant in the transgender community. After writing just a few posts, Gabriel started blogging more seriously, as readers began reaching out.
Aside from writing, Gabriel makes videos on his YouTube channel about his personal transition and life updates, along with coverage of transgender topics, and issues related to mental health.