Answering a question I’ve received from a surprising number of people.
Since coming out a lot of people I know have asked how I knew I was trans, so it must be a common curiosity. The complete answer is, of course, both beyond my own understanding and also kinda messy, but here is a sort of metaphor to illustrate the symbolic process I went through.
Imagine two empty fish bowls. Fill one with everything masculine, the other with everything feminine — everything, from clothes to roles to attributes, all possible gendered things are separated out. Now smash them both on the floor and mix it all together so you can’t tell which thing came from which bowl.
Now from that mess collect everything you like, everything that feels good. This is a process of experimentation, since you can’t just think about it. Thinking only gets you so far. To know something you have to actually try it out, embody it, feel it. For example, you can think about the Grand Canyon, but until you’ve seen it with your own eyes you don’t really know what it is — and even then you only know a bit. Real knowledge often requires real experience.
This process is inherently transgressive, of course, since you’re ignoring gender boundaries just by considering all possible things, let alone involving yourself in them. You’ll need to be ready to break social mores — ideally in a safe place with supportive people around you.
As you collect things you like and reject those you don’t, take a look at what you’ve got. If you had to re-sort your preferences, which bowl would they go in? For me it turns out most of them were feminine. It takes some radical honesty to recognize that, at least it did for me. You can collect and collect, but at some point you have to step back and see the pattern. That big recognition was the moment for me.
My process isn’t typical and I speak only for myself. Some people know at a very young age, but for me it was a longer process — no doubt lengthened in part because it was not safe for me to be trans when I was younger. To protect myself I had to hide. Or perhaps I changed over time, I don’t know and don’t care much either way.
Overall, though, it is just that simple: after consideration and experimentation it seems embodying the feminine is my nature as well as my preference, and so it makes sense to understand myself as trans. The practical parts of that process were years-long in some cases and involved a lot of discomfort and disillusionment in the most literal sense, but overall that was the journey.