Transmissions: How do you tell you are transgender?

  • by Gwendolyn Ann Smith
  • Wednesday August 10, 2022
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Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith

If one goes looking, they can find plenty of online quizzes and tests that will supposedly tell them just how transgender they are. Many of them, like the somewhat infamous Combined Gender Identity and Transsexuality Inventory, or COGATI, test that many early 2000s-era trans people subjected themselves to, are full of stereotypes of feminism and masculinity, and are as scientific as rubbing a dandelion flower under your chin to tell if you like butter.

They'll typically only tell you the answer you expect to hear.

There's an easier way to get an answer, however, and that can be determined in just one question: have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a gender different from what you are right now?

If so, yes, you may well be transgender. Congratulations. Someone will be along shortly with your flag.

Now I'm being a bit reductive, you might say, and you are right. A brief, passing notion may not be the same. There are certainly plenty of other reasons that might cause a person to ponder such.

Yet if you have found yourself wondering that more than a few times, if perhaps you've looked at trans people with some envy, wishing you could transition, but deciding something insurmountable is in your way — such as your current appearance — then I may have some news for you.

This is not the thought process of a non-transgender person.

I was very fortunate, given the time and place I grew up, to hear about trans lives. There really wasn't much out there that I could get at the time, however, and that scarcity certainly delayed my transition by a decade or so.

Even today, where information is relatively easy to come across, not everyone may be able to process it for themselves for some time, due to any number of reasons. Some may live a great deal of their lives before the realization dawns on them that they, too, may be transgender.

That is OK.

It is very healthy, as a human, to re-assess based on new information. When we touch a hot stove, we quickly learn that this is a painful behavior — and that we shouldn't do that in the future.

There is a difference, of course, between knowing you may be transgender and acting on that knowledge. You may not currently be in a place where you can: you may be living with parents who won't be supportive, or in a state that is actively trying to ban trans lives. I'm not advocating you take a risk you aren't able to take right now, and I feel it worth noting that having to hold off on a transition, or even detransition given unwelcoming circumstances, is a perfectly valid step you may have to take. There's no shame in doing what you have to do to survive.

Heck, not all of us even want to transition in a traditional sense; we just want to find our own path. That's just as valid.

By the same token, as we learn more about our feelings, our sense of self, and about our gender identity, we may also find ourselves reconsidering how this plays out in our lives.

This brings me to one other important note: if you can, well, there is also no shame in experimenting.

To be human is to be in a state of constant change. We age throughout our entire lives, going from babies to children to teens to adults, and so on. Our interests change over the years, as to our values and knowledge. We change.

Our understanding of our gender may change over our lives as well. You may find it easier to present in one way now, but wish to try something else. You may, down the line, decide that it isn't for you and try something else. This is a path of learning.

The thing is this: people are trans and come to their trans-ness in many different ways. There is no one, true way to be transgender.

We have come out of all sorts of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. Heck, we have existed in apparently all or most times and locations. We're not some new notion that has sprung up in the last decade or so, but a long-lasting part of society, and we have approached our trans natures in any number of ways.

Yours, too, might be unique — like something we have yet to imagine.

Finally, and this is the key: keep your horizons open. Consider that there are possibilities, and that it is never, ever too late to explore them.

Again, I learned about myself when there was only one digit to my age, but I was also keenly aware that there was nothing I could do about it at that time. A decade or so later, I started to learn, and a couple years after that, I transitioned.

Some started earlier than I. Many transitioned much later than I. I have known tweens and I have known octogenarians who have started on this journey. There's no age that is too late.

Finally, too: there is no body that will limit you. Your height, your genitals, your secondary sexual characteristics, your body in any way — none of these need define you. Indeed, bodies tend to come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, regardless of gender identity.

If you've read this far, and if this has made you think, then once again I am compelled to say: congratulations, you may well be transgender. It's a hell of a journey.

Gwen Smith isn't going to tell you what to do; she will only offer suggestions. You can find her at

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