“When did you start transition?” The most commonly asked question and misunderstanding
When people find out I am trans they usually ask “when did you start transition?” The answer to that question is much more complicated than people realize. If society never told those of us who are transgendered that anything was wrong with who we are, I don’t believe anyone would need to go through surgeries, hormones or other treatments to change our bodies and appearance. I was fine with my body and who I was until society started putting me in their categories. Such as, I should not want to play with certain toys because I had a vagina and I should want to play with baby dolls because I had a vagina. That I had to get in this group or that group because of my genitalia even if that is not the group I related to at all. Transition, to me, starts when society shows us where we are supposed to neatly fit and some of us realize we just don’t fit there; when we feel that society is telling us there is something wrong with us and then we begin the struggle to figure out how and where we can fit. I began my transition when I was four or five. While playing with other kids, I changed my name and told them I was Matt Dillon. I dressed like the good sheriff and told them that was who I was. This was not a phase, I constantly used boy’s names whenever I could as a kid in any play situation I could, and was always the guy who would rescue the girl. I was desperately trying to tell others who I was in a way that a four or five year old can communicate. Asking when you started transition is like asking someone “when did you decide that you were gay?” People do not just decide these things one day; we go through a process of figuring out how to be who we are in a society that in many ways does not allow room for our diversity. Then we have to figure out how to communicate who we are.
Transition does not begin when we start medical treatment. Transition begins when we are struggling to find a way to fit in a society that does not make room for those of us who are not at one end or the other of the gender spectrum. If we don’t fit on the ends of that scale it makes people uncomfortable, therefore they do all they can to pressure us to conform and fit into what is more comfortable for them. This causes many transgendered people to sink into depression and withdraw. Tragically, 47% of transgendered individuals have attempted suicide due to this pressure. No other minority in the world has as high percentage of a depression and attempted suicide rate. To hold ones head up and walk through this world when everywhere we turn people and society are telling us “you do not fit” is very challenging. I believe this societal pressure also slows down the process we go through of totally discovering who we are. Most young people go through life discovering themselves without constantly being told they are wrong and don’t fit. Of course all young people go through times of not fitting in, but it isn’t the day to day experiences of not fitting in that transgendered people experience.
Things are changing, but it is slow. Even though science has proven that gender is a spectrum or a continuum, it takes a time for that knowledge to change the hearts and minds of people who have been brainwashed for so many years that there are only two types of gender and all of the proper behavior that comes with each of those.
Here are just a few places where you can learn more about the gender spectrum:
One of my partners said to me “it was probably easier for you because you were an athlete, a jock.” In some ways yes, I had a place, I could be tough and it was sometimes celebrated. It was also the most constant reminder that people put me in a box that I did not feel was mine nor where I fit. In competition they had gender categories and I had to be in a female category because of what they perceived was in my pants even though they had not seen what was in or not in my pants. They did not test my chromosomes or my hormones levels. These people thought I could only compete in a category with other people who they thought had vulvas. I guarantee that the vulva’s did not all look alike, nor were our hormone levels all the same and now that we know there are over 60 variations of chromosomes I am sure those were not all alike either. I did not fit well into the group they put me with. When I was put in women’s groups in sports I was constantly told back off, you are too much, too aggressive. I was also told consistently “Wow you are so strong for a girl.” I hated that! I could not seem to get away from the reminders in the world of athletics, especially in competition, that I was different and I was never what they understood me to be. When I announced that I was officially transitioning one friend and a fellow high ranking martial arts instructor who is female, said “you should not transition because you will not be as special and as big of a fish as you are as a male martial artist.”
Yes, much of my fame as a martial artist has been due to the fact that I was born with a vulva.
My own instructor would feature me in demonstrations and shows because it was so phenomenal what I could do as a “girl.” This got me on the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” show, the Discovery Channel and more. Most people never knew how hard that was for me inside. Why couldn’t they just understand that I was good? Why did they need to constantly say I was amazing for a “girl?” Even though it was very difficult and I did not like being put in a category, I always chose to look at the positive and I am glad that I could walk that journey and hopefully help show the world that one’s athletic performance, strength, persistence and drive is not a due to one’s genitalia. All of this attention was due to the fact that I was not just what they called a “girl” but an exception to all of what they knew as “girl” made it harder for me to say what I really felt inside. How could I explain to them that, no, I am really not a girl? I didn’t feel like a girl and never had. I felt like I was playing a part in a movie and that almost no one really got who I was. It was a very lonely place to be because people were so SET in their perceptions.
I am proud that I feel I have walked a journey in the world of sports and martial arts that has hopefully paved a better way for women. I am proud I have shown that people born with a vulva can do more than those born with penises ever realized or understood and, and even more than many born with vulvas thought. I have had many women walk up to me and tell me I have inspired them that they can do more than they had previously believed and that is a positive that I can keep. I do have a unique understanding for what many women face all the time. Perceptions they face because of the load of crap our society feeds us about gender and gender roles. Because of this experience, I will always be a guy who lives and works to help empower women and break those archaic perceptions of gender and gender roles. I also have to be myself and gender is about how we are in our hearts and minds. Science has also proven through mapping the minds of transgendered people that our minds are wired and work the way of the gender we feel we are inside. Which is no surprise to me; because I have always known that my mind is wired on the male side of the gender spectrum.
My experience has taught me so much. I feel at times that I played a part in a movie and in order to do what I loved, I could not fully and openly be myself. I also know that walking that journey has made me, in the long run, a better man with much more understanding for all who face discrimination, societal pressure and who are struggling for the right and freedom to be openly and fully who they are. I don’t show emotion easily and as I am writing this there are tears streaming down my face because I have never really talked about what was going on inside of me while being the famous martial arts champion, expert and master teacher. It was bitter sweet. Many thought I was great; I had it all. I was talented and yet I was struggling for the strength to be fully true to who I am. I was always concerned what would they think if they knew? Would knowing take away my career, friends, and support? Where would I fit? Here is one of the ironic things about my relationship with my soul mate, the martial arts, on one hand I believe it saved my life. Coming from the totally fucked up childhood as I did, I found the martial arts at six years old and it gave me something healthy to put the boundless energy I had into and it gave me an alternative and more healthy family to be a part of. I also used it as an escape and a way out from my fucked up family life. In doing that I put all of my identity into it and into what I accomplished and therefore became a crazy overachiever, while at the same time not feeling understood or that I could be who I truly was. Finally, I decided I could not hide any longer and I feel more at peace inside then I ever have before. I also was finally secure enough to realize that those who really cared about me would want me to be happy even if they did not fully understand and I was willing to risk losing some people that I cared about to be true to who I am.
The best gift we can give those we care about, those who we call friends is the freedom to walk whatever their journey is and even if we don’t fully understand it be supportive. Give them the freedom to be true to their hearts and do not expect people to live a lie or hide a part of themselves just to make yourself more comfortable.
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