jane heenan is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Nevada since 2002.  jane identifies as queer, and jane’s pronouns are they/them/their. jane made changes in their relationships, day-to-day appearance and legal documents starting in the mid-1990s.

How do I know if I’m transgender?
Why is it so important how someone identifies?
The question, “Am I transgender?” seems to require a clear and unwavering answer because of our society’s blind worship of the binary system of sex/gender.  This system says that there are two and only two ways for persons to identify and express – male or female, woman or man – and because of these beliefs, everyone is immediately labeled “boy” or “girl” at birth.  

It can seem like everyone “knows” who they are – clearly and unambiguously – all the time.  The deeper truth is that we are all growing and changing as living beings.  Growth and change in how we identify and express ourselves in sex/gender happens even for persons who believe clearly that they are a “man” or a “woman” – though very few persons are consciously connected with this truth.

Our socialization into this binary consciousness structures all of our understandings – internal and external.  We grow up believing it is a “law of nature” that everyone identifies and expresses themselves as girl or boy.  

Some basics
There are no tests to determine whether a person is transgender.  Notherapist or doctor can confirm your identity.  The truth is that no one else can tell you who you are.  

Other persons can be with you, providing an important external perspective, acting maybe like a mirror to you.  And yet only you can say you who are.  

Trust yourself, talk openly to persons you love and who love you, and experiment with making changes.  In time, with more information and the support of others whatever doubt you may be experiencing will resolve – whether you decide to make changes in your sex/gender expression or not.

How society influences identity
One of the most difficult dynamics in coming to understand whether I am transgender is the deafening silence regarding sex/gender diversity which dominates most families, schools, work places, worship communities and other social groups.  Confusingly, in seemingly “safe” spaces such as gay and lesbian groups or centers, there may be little or no understanding or conversation about transgender persons.  Even among transgender persons a hierarchical “in-group/out-group” dynamic can persist, stifling experimentation and growth.  

Also, commonly held attitudes and beliefs – such as saying it is “just a phase” or the belief that transgender persons are just doing drag – cause shame and make talking more difficult.  If you are not talking regularly with persons who understand sex/gender diversity, it can be almost impossible to know whether you are transgender because we learn a great deal about ourselves through honest and non-shaming dialog.

Some questions to help you be clearer:
*  When I am with myself in a quiet way, what seems most true about me?
*  Do I feel comfortable with how persons treat me and with what is expected of me?
*  What risks have I taken to experiment with making changes in my sex/gender expression (for example, talking to others openly, or wearing clothes in public settings that are associated in my culture with the sex/gender expression I am considering transitioning to)?
*  Have I read or done other research to better understand what is typically included in transitioning?
*  Do I have contact with a group of transgender-identified persons?
*  Who offers me honest support in my life, and have I been willing to talk with them openly?

In the end, the only way to “know” I am transgender is to come to a consistent self-understanding that I am transgender – and the journey to a consistent self-understanding of myself is a complex journey indeed!  This is true for everyone, not just for persons considering changing their sex/gender expression.  Also, for some persons, a clear sense of “This is who I am” remains elusive, and the best they can know is, “This is who I am not.”  By trusting yourself, through experimenting with taking risks, and in dialog with caring and knowledgeable others, you will find your way.

Disclaimer:  While jane heenan is a licensed professional therapist in Nevada since 2002, the answers in “Ask A Sex/Gender Therapist” are not in any way to be understood as providing therapeutic advice.  If you are interested in counseling, please contact jane directly at jheenan@genderjusticenv.org.

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