7 min read

If being trans was a choice, I'd still choose it

It’s existing in a transphobic society that is painful. Being trans itself is not. Being trans – to me at least – is joy. 
If being trans was a choice, I'd still choose it
'damn tired transsexuals just wanna nap' t-shirt design by Silas Denver.
Hello! Welcome to Genderbent, a newsletter about gender, transmasculinity, and mental illness by journalist Quinn Rhodes.

[CW: suicide, depression, transphobia, mention of a BDSM scene]

A little over four years ago, I was lying over my girlfriend's lap when they called me a good boy. They had been spanking me, but the words made me cry far more than the impact play. On the sofa in my living room, those two words made me confront something both they and I had been skirting around for several months: my gender. 

After months of their teasing and gentle encouragement, in December 2019 I finally admitted that I wasn’t sure if I was cis. For the last year, I’d been keeping a list on the notes app in my phone of things that sparked confusing feelings about gender, but at the time, that didn’t feel like enough to call myself trans. It had felt like I’d be appropriating language that couldn’t possibly describe my silly little feelings.

I was wrong; I am trans. And I wonder if what was holding me back was fear of how good it might feel. I didn’t believe it was possible to be this happy. 

In order to convince people in positions of power that we deserve basic human rights, we tell people that being trans is not a choice. To an extent I agree: I do not think my transness is something I could change about myself – nor is it something that I want to change, even if I could. My transness doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels inherent, integral to who I am. 

I understand why people say transness is not a choice when people accuse trans women in particular of “pretending” to be trans for the (supposed) advantages in women’s sports or to gain access to women’s changing rooms. Yet the rhetoric we use to convince people that we are not mentally ill or lying about our genders makes me uncomfortable. “Being trans is not a choice,” we say. “No one would voluntarily opt into the bigotry and anti-trans bias we have to face every day if they had a choice.”

But why do we have to imply that no one would choose if transness if it was a choice?

It is exhausting to exist in the world as a trans person right now. The states in the US and provinces in Canada are proposing (and, in some cases, passing) laws that stop trans people from using bathrooms, playing sports, existing in public, and accessing life-saving healthcare. In the UK, our Prime Minister thinks that outing trans kids to their parents is the best safe-guarding policy. There are days when it’s so overwhelming shit I don’t know how to keep going. 

And yet if you offered me the chance to wake up tomorrow as a cis woman, I wouldn’t take it. As many times as I’ve wished for a factory-installed dick, when I close my eyes I picture myself with top surgery scars. I love my transness. If it was a choice, I would still choose it. 

I wish we didn’t have to frame our certainty in who we are around the pain we have to endure to be ourselves. I hate that we have to justify our genders by pointing out that no one would choose the discrimination, the hate crimes, and the struggle for healthcare and basic human rights if we weren’t really trans. Because guess what? We deserve those rights even if it is a choice

If transness is not a choice, if I was “born this way”, I worry it implies there is something in our genetic make-up that makes us trans. And I have no interest in researchers trying to find what “makes” us trans, any more than I’m interested in so-called “therapy” to make me stop being trans. 

If you went digging through my DNA, you might be able to find something that “proves” I am trans – but I’m far too cynical to think the next step would be anything other than trying to turn off the double-helix twist of genetic code. People would justify this by pointing out how much trans people struggle, not understanding that it’s existing in a transphobic society that is painful. 

Being trans itself is not. Being trans – to me at least – is joy

Four years ago, I cried in my girlfriend’s lap because I gave myself permission, for the first time, to think of myself as trans. I let myself imagine what it would be like, and it felt scary. Not because of the slurs I’d have yelled at me or the pain of my parents deadnaming me or the struggle to start testosterone that made me want to peel my own skin off. I was scared of how good it might feel. 

I do not believe anyone should get to dictate another person’s gender, and nor do I believe that transness is something that we should gate-keep. So if you feel you need permission, like I did, please take this as that permission: if you want to be trans, you can just be trans.

No one can stop you. I’m not saying that it will be easy, but there isn’t a test you have to pass. There aren’t strict rules about how your transness needs to look. You get to decide how to describe your gender, you get to pick your pronouns, you get to choose what feels good to you. (This doesn’t mean these things are optional in terms of other people respecting them, of course.)

The permission to claim my transness allowed me to question not only the expectations others had for my life, but also the expectations I was clinging to. In exploring my gender, I was able to question the other ideas about myself that I was holding on to so tightly that they were hurting me. I found that I’m stronger than I thought, but also that I value my softness. I discovered that I am a person who I can choose to love, to forgive, to be kind to. 

I don’t know if I could have done that without my transness; I cannot peel them apart. To me, it sometimes doesn’t make any sense why someone wouldn’t choose to be trans. I love myself more than I thought was possible. I am happier than I feel I should be allowed. Whether or not being trans is a choice, being trans has helped me make choices I wouldn’t have even realised were available to me otherwise. 

So if being trans is a choice, it is a choice I would make every single time. 

Artwork by @drawn.in.the.fog.
Links to what I've been writing, reading, and generally getting excited about recently.
  • Your Fat Friend is in cinemas across the UK now! ✨ The documentary charts fat activist and author Aubrey Gordon's journey from anonymous blogger to New York Times best seller. It's an incredible film about fatness, family, and the messy feelings we hold about our bodies. I went to a screening a few weeks ago – followed by a Q&A with Gordon and the director, Jeanie Finlay – and I cried so much. It's beautiful and powerful and I can't recommend going to see it more highly.
  • I finally listened to the You're Wrong About episode about the New York Time's transphobia with Tuck Woodstock. About half an hour into the 90 minute long episode, I realised this was a mistake. It's an incredible conversation and so important, but it's not for trans people. If you're cis, I would urge you to please please go listen to this episode. "When you have the power to create the rules, you get to decide what neutral is."
  • Ben Hunte's reporting on the NHS Rainbow Badge scheme being secretly shut down by the UK Government is important and also terrifying. The theme of this year's LGBT History Month is medicine, so the funding cuts to a scheme aiming to make queer people feel safer accessing healthcare feel especially horrific. "The Rainbow Badge scheme is the most vanilla scheme ever, it’s just about basic healthcare and recognition of health inequalities for LGBTQ people."
  • I was grateful for Freddy McConnell's piece highlighting the mind-fuck of politicians and journalists suddenly deciding that transphobic "jokes" are unacceptable. (Though it hurts that a cis woman's pain is unpalatable in a way trans people's never seems to be.) "Our humanity should not be debatable in any civilised forum. [...] For many years, trans people have been forced to cope with this cruel and destabilising reality, and it has been nothing short of a living hell."
  • On a lighter note, I read and loved The Borrow A Boyfriend Club* by Page Powars. Determined to make sure no one at his new school has any doubt that he's a boy, Noah attempts to join the exclusive Borrow a Boyfriend Club – and queer adventures ensue. (I wasn't expecting this book to be so gay, which was a delightful surprise.) I wish my teenage self had been able to read books with trans guy protagonists, but I'm so glad they exist today.
  • Finally, a reminder that there's no pride in genocide:
*Book titles marked with an * are affiliate links, so if you click through and buy a copy then I get a small commission at no cost to you.