By Benjamin Germany
“You’re transgender? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
This is a question often posed to transgender people upon coming out, whether it’s our best friend, our neighbor, or even our own parents who ask. They ask because they feel betrayed, because of course you should have shared with them this long-kept dark secret that’s been brewing inside of you, always on the tip of your tongue since you were but a wee little tot. Right? Well, not always. A surprisingly large number of trans people don’t realize they’re trans until they’re teenagers or adults. I certainly didn’t.
It wasn’t until I realized I was a boy at the ripe age of 22 that past feelings and behaviors began to make sense. For example, I was preparing a cosplay of a male fictional character that had a stubbled chin (it should be noted all of my cosplays and Halloween costumes have been male characters.) Following online tutorials, I contoured my face in a more masculine way, put on a short wig, and took a look at myself. A lightning bolt shot right through me. Even though I was covered in makeup, I felt like I was looking at my own true face for the first time.
As I gazed into my own reflection, I had flashes of moments in the past where I fleetingly imagined what I would look like with a beard, or a flat chest, or a deeper voice. Everything began to make sense: my refusal to play with baby dolls as a child, heroes like Spider-Man and Iron Man feeling so much closer to me than Barbie ever did. I remembered my parents remarking how I’d cry or freeze up when they put me in dresses. I remembered the discomfort I felt with feminine things in general.
There was always an innate unease about me as a child that I didn’t voice, because I didn’t have the vocabulary available to put words to my feelings. It was only about five years ago that I began to see trans people in the media, and even then they were framed as a curiosity or a cruel joke. I didn’t know that transitioning was possible, so I didn’t know my own body and mind could be anything other than Female. I pushed it aside. I felt, for lack of a better phrase, “stuck this way.”
So, for fifteen years, I pushed my feelings deep down and out of sight. I wore skirts. I painted my nails. I did my hair and my makeup. Don’t get me wrong, these things can be fun, but the positive reinforcement from people who said “You look lovely! What a nice, pretty, delicate young lady!” felt like they were complimenting an ill-fitting jacket that I had thrown on to shield myself from the cold. “Don’t you know this is just a coat? Can you see me inside it? I am more than this jacket; it doesn’t even fit me right!” Still, I had no words to convey my anxiety. It’s no wonder my family and friends never suspected I could be trans. I didn’t even know it myself.
For years I labeled myself a tomboy. “One of the guys” was a label that I cherished. Until middle school. Fifth grade in Alabama was a time of unease unlike anything I’d experienced before. Puberty had hit me before we could watch “the video”, and I got my period. I told my mother I thought I was dying. She told me I was a woman now, and it was normal for all girls. Afterward, I still felt like I was dying. This wasn’t me, it wasn’t right. “Of course it was right,” I argued myself. “This happens to every girl.” For years on end, I battled my own mind, examining my changing body in the mirror, utterly horrified by what was happening. The stress became so overwhelming, I began cutting. I didn’t know why, but I hated my own skin. The only thing that caused me to stop was the absolute terror of being caught-worse, questioned as to why I was doing it in the first place, because I didn’t have an answer. There were no words to my feelings.
That’s why I was very lucky that day I prepared the cosplay, decided to dress like a boy, and examine my face…but wait. I wasn’t dressing “like a boy.” I was a boy. That revelation brought me to my knees in a wave of relief and tears. I had words. “I am a boy.” In the days following, I clumsily navigated google as I typed in phrases like, “Help I think I’m a boy”, and “I don’t feel like a girl, what am I?” Eventually I found my voice and began narrowing searches down until I found an entire community of people like me. Transgender… There was a word! It fit like a puzzle piece. It was perfect, it was me, and I was whole.
Now, I’m 25 years old, a year on hormone therapy, happily engaged, and I’m never putting that ill-fitting coat back on. I am Benjamin. And I am transgender.
If youre inspired by Benjamin’s story and want to support trans healthcare, please consider donating to his surgery fund here!