As a trans person, there is often pressure on us to explain exactly why we are how we are. I have a philosophical objection to this pressure, but at the same time, I think it’s natural to want to explore who we are.
But the thing is, lives are complicated. I can come up with lots of different stories of my life that point in completely different directions on the “why” question. So I’m going to do a little series of stories, all of which are from my life, all of which are true, and all of which are things which either I, or someone close to me, has thought might be a relevant causal factor in my trans identity. And then I’m going to discuss how I feel about those stories.
My dad’s family runs to boys. My paternal grandparents had three sons, one surviving daughter and one very delicate daughter that died in infancy. In the next generation are nine natal grandsons, two natal granddaughters and me. The generation after (so far) is three boys. Everyone in the family, male or female, tends to have fairly strong features, and be quite tall.
There’s also a tendency to Asperger’s in that side of the family: two of the youngest boys of the family have formal diagnoses, and there are definite autistic spectrum traits in other members, who probably grew up at a time when autism was less readily diagnosed. Autistic spectrum conditions are traditionally male-linked. It’s been suggested that autistic spectrum traits are inherited from the father’s side of the family, and that other family members often have lower level traits. I don’t remember my paternal grandfather, but from descriptions, it sounds as if he himself might have had Asperger’s.
I was always good at maths and sciences, and a lot less good at socialising. I’m quite clumsy. I can be slightly obsessive or repetitive with my interests. As far as I know I don’t meet autistic diagnostic criteria, but I used to think I might. I do have a history of anxiety and depressive disorders, which commonly exist both with Asperger’s and with trans identities. It has also been suggested by Simon Baron-Cohen that there’s a link between Asperger’s and FTM identity, on the basis of Asperger’s being an “extreme male brain”.
About this story
This story comes from things my dad has said to me, but phrased in my own words and with some additions regarding things I’ve come across which can be linked in to this narrative. It is a story that suggests my trans identity is rooted in innate (if rather unspecified) biological factors.
The fact that there are more males than females in my paternal family is entirely explicable through statistical chance, and I don’t believe it has anything to do with anything. I do believe autistic spectrum conditions run in my paternal family, and that I’ve ended up with some traits at the very mild end of the spectrum. I do not believe I have an “extreme male brain”. Anyway, autism is neither necessary nor sufficient to be trans masculine.
I was very good at sciences and maths, but chose to study the humanities and social sciences in higher education because I was equally good at those, and liked them better. I’ve never been particularly interested in engineering, or trucks, or anything like that. I’m terrible at sports.
There are a lot of advantages to this kind of narrative. It allows me to imply that my gender identity is linked to some sort of biological condition, perhaps a genetic factor. That fends off the possibility of me being blamed, or punished, for being different. It implies that in some way I am ‘really’ male. These narratives sound scientific, and rational. They support the case for medical intervention because they promote a biomedical cause. When I was about eighteen or nineteen, I thought this was the only way to understand being trans. Nowadays I do not find this sort of narrative useful to myself. I will come on to other possible narratives in my next posts.