Skip to main content

I Stopped Trying To Be a Woman – And I Felt Resurrected, Fully Myself for the First Time

My decision to come out as a trans man was lifechanging. What’s so scary about the possibility of choice when it comes to gender?

Male and female transgender symbol,

I’ve quit jobs, relationships, and even some religious beliefs – but by far the most important thing I ever quit was trying to be a woman.

Four years ago I came out as a trans man. After 28 years of attempting to be a woman and wondering why things had never felt quite right, the mist cleared: the issue was that I’d been trying to be someone I wasn’t. And not just that, but someone I didn’t want to be – playing a role I felt compelled to adhere to by society.

I’m glad I quit being a woman. And I’m intentional about framing my transness as quitting womanhood – as a choice I’ve made. There has been endless debate about whether queer and trans people are born this way, but to transition – either socially or medically – is a choice.

In one way, my internal sense of gender identity was there from the beginning: as a child I remember asking one of the adults in my life about getting a “sex change” (the terminology I’d picked up as a 90s kid). The response I received made it clear that this would be frowned upon – seen as a social failure. So as a result I did what many queer and trans people are forced to do, repressing the idea so deeply it would take two decades to excavate again.

When, in my late 20s, I began to revisit these gender “feelings” it was like trying to recall a dream: remembering vague images and sensations, but not quite being able to piece the whole story together – yet. Gradually, the motifs and themes of my repressed trans history came to the fore. Suppressed feelings have a habit of springing up, like a jack in a box packed with potential energy that will eventually find its way out. Once I’d allowed myself to acknowledge and give space to my sense of gender incongruity, there was no going back. The proverbial ship had sailed.

This was why I’d spent a lifetime enjoying women’s company but never feeling like one of the “girls”. This was why I’d often found myself looking at men’s bodies with jealousy and longing. This was why despite all my efforts at self-love, I had the inescapable sensation of wanting to crawl out of my own skin.

After coming out my transformation was palpable. Not much was different on the outside beyond a boyish haircut and an ever-so-slightly flatter chest (there’s only so much a binder can do when you’ve got an H cup). But on the inside I’d been resurrected. I was showing up fully in my life for the first time. Small moments like having a Starbucks barista call me by my new name in a crowded coffee shop were euphoric. And as one of the lucky few trans people to have accessed medical transition healthcare in the UK, the more my body has masculinised, the more my contentment has grown.

Let me be clear: I love women. My intellectual heroes, political role models and most beloved artists are women. When submitting my deed poll after coming out as trans, I chose a middle name that would honour the women in my family who’ve made me who I am and taught me how to show up in the world with love and strength. I love femme women, butch women, trans women, cis women, and all the women who show the diversity of and push the boundaries of womanhood. But, dear reader, I am not a woman.

To transphobes, I have become the social failure I was warned about as a child. They see me as a quitter, a social abnormality, an abomination even. Because in refusing to have my gender determined by my genitalia I’ve chosen not to accept my fate. And they are correct: compulsory cisgenderism, and therefore compulsory womanhood, is a narrative I’ve rejected. I’m glad I made that choice, and I stand by it. What’s so scary about the possibility of choice or autonomy when it comes to gender? As the David Carrick case shows, men do not need to cosplay as women to cause harm.

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

My guess is that when queer and trans individuals choose not to abide by the rigid rules of cisheterosexuality, it throws into relief just how many people are unhappy adherents to behavioural norms thrusted upon them. Norms they’ve had little or zero personal choice in.

Perhaps it’s a bit like accepting you can’t have your cake and eat it, while someone next to you scoffs down Victoria sponge and loudly smacks their buttercream-laced lips. You can either more rigidly follow and enforce the rules handed down to you, or question what’s so wrong with having your cake and eating it in the first place. I know which one I’d choose.

Jackson King is a freelance journalist

Scroll less and understand more about the subjects you care about with the Guardian's brilliant email newsletters, free to your inbox.