When I Knew I Was a Boy

"the lesbo years"

A while back, Autostraddle did a “When I Knew I Was a Lesbian/Bisexual/Queer/Girl Who Likes Girls” feature. And it was awesome. A lot of women had some really clear moments in time when they knew – they had “gay-iversaries.” Knowing I was a boy was WAY more roundabout for me.

I knew I was a boy when I was three years-old. Then I forgot. Or learned otherwise. By age four, I knew I was at least supposed to be a boy. Then I forgot that, too. Some years later, I knew I was not a stereotypical girl. At 16, I thought I was a lesbian. At 21 I knew I wasn’t.

And it was right around my 22nd birthday that I remembered I was a guy.

So we’ll take a quick jump through time to Sebastian circa 1991. The coolest kid in Montessori. Back then my name was Sarah. My best friend was Nick. I refused to wear pink. I didn’t understand the confusion when I stood in the boys’ line. I didn’t understand why Nick could pee standing up and I couldn’t (despite a few failed attempts). When we played house I was the older brother.

According to my queer studies and developmental psychology courses, children can differentiate between two genders (male and female) from a very young age and actually start to develop their own gender identity by age three or four. I essentially was developing as a typical male, in terms of identity formation. Except of course, I was female assigned at birth, had two X chromosomes, was physically developing as a typical female, and would be entering female puberty in 10 years.

I was a boy who people thought was a girl and I had all this figured out when I was three. But at such an impressionable age, it didn’t take much of people laughing and reminding me I was really a girl for me to get the picture.

Before long, me telling people I was “a boy on the inside” or that I was supposed to be a boy until “the man in my mom’s belly changed his mind at the last minute” were just cute stories about my childhood. My parents assumed I’d be a lesbian and taught me about stereotypes and how I could be “a girl who was like a boy.”

Until I hit puberty, I basically looked like a boy 65% of the time and got kicks out of shocked looks in the girls’ bathroom.

Post-puberty, I embraced my non-conformity and surprisingly moved through adolescence without much more awkwardness than the average teenager, though I was treated for anxiety and dysthymia. At 16, I realized I was attracted to women – my only light bulb moment in any of this; I was watching the scene in But I’m A Cheerleader when they sit Megan down and tell her that not everyone thinks that way about women. I think we both said, “I’m a homosexual” at the same time. It’s funny to look back at that moment (knowing what I know now) as me actually coming out as a heterosexual… my straight-iversary.

I never really identified as a lesbian – I couldn’t explain it, but I didn’t connect with that identity. I just talked about being attracted to women and squirmed when people referred to me with the l word.

When I went to college, I started to really struggle with my lack of a label that fit. I read Ellison’s Invisible Man and was pretty into stripping away the labels/expectations/identities that society and other people imposed on me and getting to my true core, and yet I was really lost and couldn’t quite get to that core. Some dark weeks and parental intervention later, I transferred to a women’s school in Western Mass and felt very much at home.

I was comfortable. I was an androgynous hipster DJ with sceneboy hair who successfully pursued straight girls and secretly thought heterosexual couples were cute.

One day a friend of mine asked me what I thought I was going to be like after college, “you know, when you can’t wear skinny jeans anymore and like settle down.” It really shook me. I couldn’t picture myself in the future at all. It wasn’t just that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life; I couldn’t even imagine what I would look like. I knew I wanted a family and a wife, but I couldn’t imagine my wedding. What would I wear to work? I despised looking “dykey” in a way that I could not yet communicate, but couldn’t escape it when I wore anything but skinny jeans and a tee.

When I was 21, I moved to Seattle for a summer. (Side note: Seattle is amazing. Go there.) I subleased a one-bedroom apartment without cable or Internet. I listened to a lot of KEXP and read a lot of Rumi (the real tenants had an awesome library). I wrote a lot, too. I knew one person in Seattle when I got there. I was in this queer bubble where no one had preconceived notions of who I was or who they wanted me to be. I had a tabula rasa. And I took advantage of it.

I bought my first binder, without being able to communicate why I wanted it. I started compressing my chest and it looked so right that I decided to take it a step further and I cut my hair short. I told my friend I was experimenting with “queering my gender” and we came up with a gender ambiguous name to use when we went out together. I’m not sure if people read me as male very often, but I wasn’t automatically assumed to be female and it felt really good and natural. I got this surge of excitement when someone said “sir” that reminded me of how I felt as a kid when waiters said “buddy” and people told me to use the boys’ bathroom.

So that’s when I knew I wasn’t female. Then I embarked on a three month obsession with the online trans community, watching youtube video after youtube video of trans guys’ physical transitions, silently studying my FTM friends, and learning that there are lots of different ways to be a guy, even to be a trans guy.

Suddenly, I could picture my future. I could picture myself in suits that fit me like they fit men. I pictured myself as a father. As Mr. Barr. For the first time, I had a vision of my future that I identified with, that seemed natural, and that I was excited about. That’s when I remembered I was a guy. And set off to do something about it.

(By the way, I no longer have to be treated for anxiety or dysthymia. How’s that for a feel-good ending?)

Profile photo of Sebastian

Sebastian has written 16 articles for us.

59 Comments

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    I don’t really know any trans people, and while I’ve wanted to be a good ally, I never really understood the trans experience– I respected people’s right to be trans, but I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it felt or why someone would feel that. This article makes it a lot clearer to me. Thank you for sharing your story, Sebastian!

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      hey, just wanted to point out, you said “i don’t know any trans people” but you may know people who have transitioned and just don’t talk about it. think about it this way: you don’t know any people who identify as trans. there are a lot of people with a trans history who don’t talk about our transitions. i feel my transition is more of a piece of my medical history rather than my identity, so i don’t mention it to people.

      just the other day, a friend confided in me that she had transitioned as a child. i had no idea! and i’m trans myself! so you don’t always know if someone in your life has transitioned

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    Thank you very very much. I’ve been trying to read a lot more about trans people and issues and this was really good and useful. I really appreciate you sharing this.

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    Wow.. this entire– pair of articles? series? I hope so– is so courageous. Thank you for sharing your stories, as well as your personal photos. I’m really happy for you, it sounds like things are working out well!

    Sidenote: aaah, Seattle.

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    This is AMAZING, my love. I am so glad you are in my life and are sharing your point of view with the whole world. Also, thanks for the picture shout-out…even though I look super pale.
    <3

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    Thank you so much Sebastian! This article was so interesting and intimate: I learned so many things. I have always been profoundly interested in all the topics concerning gender identity, but I struggled to find truthful accounts of first-hand experiences.

    I am so glad your long journey has brought you to (re)discover who you are and I wish you so much luck for the future!

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    Sebastian, thank you so very much for this article. I’ve read some bits and pieces about trans issues online, but somehow I’ve never read about how anyone comes to realise their identity, it seems to be a kind of prequel to the blogs and stuff, if you see what I mean! (nb. not assuming everyone’s story is the same here). Anyway, really interesting and enlightening THANKS!

    ps. cute photos, love how happy & comfortable you look in the last one

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    I had a similar experience. When I was three or four, I insisted my name was Mike, and (according to my mother) would get super pissed if anyone referred to me by my birth name. By the time I entered elementary school I had forgotten all about it, though. There were times when I still felt like Mike, but as I had very accepting parents that let me be my own special butterfly, I kinda just rationalized that I was a little weird and that was that. Eventually I figured out what I had forgotten, but I picked a way more suitable name. I’m definitely not a Mike.

    This is a great piece; I’m so glad you’re writing for Autostraddle so I can read more of your amazing stuff.

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    thanks for sharing this sebastian. i can relate to so much. i remember when i was 3 years old and i realized i didn’t have a penis and i asked my parents what happened? then at 5 i rejected my birth name in favor of a more masculine one. now 20 years later i am finally who i was always meant to be (and i just booked my bottom surgery so i will finally have my penis i always wanted in 6 months! yay!)

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    you have to stop wearing skinny jeans at some point?

    regardless, this was awesome, I know it probably wasn’t as smooth as a mental process you’ve written it to be but yours is really such casually a relatable written point of view and I suuper appreciate being able to familiarise myself with more trans experiences

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    “I’m not sure if people read me as male very often, but I wasn’t automatically assumed to be female and it felt really good and natural. I got this surge of excitement when someone said “sir” that reminded me of how I felt as a kid when waiters said “buddy” and people told me to use the boys’ bathroom.”

    Amazing. Thanks for this.

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    sebastian-

    this is a fantastic, wonderful, moving story that you’ve been telling here on autostraddle. i love it. i feel like i know you from somewhere, but that’s beside the point. the main point is, thanks for sharing.

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    Thanks for this. When I was little my father told me the French language has such things as masculine and feminine words. I thought this meant men could only say the masculine words, and women could only say the feminine words. I wondered how French people functioned with that insanity. I later learned this was a grammatical concept rather than a human one, but since that time I got the same impression of nuttiness from most gender-related things. I never understood where this way of doing things came from, so I’m always interested to hear how others are getting along.

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    Sebastian, thank you for this really well-written, honest and accessible account of your experience. It’s great you’ve found a happy ending to this chapter in your life, hope the next is just as rewarding :)

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    Thank-you for this!

    Actually, I’m writing a story with a trans character in it, and I think I might not totally fail at describing their experience now.

    So thanks again!

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    This article reminds me of when I was growing up, I am the youngest of 4 I have 3 older brothers and I always wanted to do everything they do and do it better.

    I thought boys were cooler than girls… later on I realized girls – we – have a lot more power than boys and when understanding girls ( OURSELVES )and why we are who we are… trans, bi, lesbian or anything we consider ourselves to be and accepting who we are that’s what should matter to us.

    Be open about your sexuality girls!!!

    BE PROUD – NOT ASHAMED!!! AND YOU WILL SEE HOW MUCH HAPPIER YOU AND YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WILL BE.

    PEACE
    L
    Miami’s L Word
    http://twitter.com/ Miamis_L_Word

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    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story. I’m still smiling. Truth be told, it’s a lot like my own story- especially the “forgetting” part (i was about four when i started insisting that i was a boy, but i forgot about it until a few years ago and things really started to sink in).

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    Thank you for being so honest and open and oh so HELPFUL by sharing this. I went from being a person who didn’t *get* transexxualism(or rather, didn’t want to) to identifying genderqueer, and it has been quite a journey…I love it when people transition successfully and share. It is enlightening, and heartwarming, and it makes those of us struggling feel a lot better knowing we are not alone. Thanks again.

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    Hey, I’ve enjoyed reading your articles on here… I’m wondering if you could point me to other similarly intelligent trans websites/blogs. I haven’t been able to find much aside from Kate Bornstein and Ivan Coyote and I thought you (all) might have some advice.

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    this was so awesome, sebastian. i can definitely relate to the forgetting-and-remembering process. even though sometimes i didn’t want to remember, heh. thank you for reminding me that a happy ending is possible :]

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    Wow, very familiar stuff, except I’m transitioning the other way. And I definitely remember the point where I finally envisioned myself as the correct gender, and the fog lifted and I could actually see a future for myself. Got kinda emotional reading your account of the same.

    *hugs* Thank you so much for sharing this, Sebastian.

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    Absolutely loved this. Teared up just a little. Thank you so much for sharing your words and your photos…ALL of your haircuts are cute, but you definitely look the most confident and happy in the last.

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    Beautiful article. I wish finding yourself were that easy for others… (wait, that wasn’t really easy for you, but you made it sound like it was). Building this kind of retroactive roadmap of discovery is a good exercise, I might try it out myself. Thanks for writing.

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    Thank you so much for posting this. A lot of your experiences resonate with me, because I’ve been going through something similar recently. Thank you for being so open with your experiences, and best of luck to you in all you pursue.

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