I wanted to share a few stories of my childhood so that people would be able to know a little bit about the struggles that transgender children go through. I want people to see how damaging it is was to me having to live my childhood without hope of growing up happy. I hope that it would help make the world a place where transgender children can dream.
For as long as I could remember, I have always looked up to my sister. She was smart, pretty, super capable. She could do anything and everything. All of her decisions were correct and she could do no wrong. She was only a year older than me but even as a toddler I wanted to do everything she did. I wanted to be with her, I wanted to follow her and I wanted to be just like her. I remember when we were getting our first Halloween costumes, my sister picked out a Smurfette costume and instinctively I declared that I wanted to be Smurfette also. My mother suggested one of the other more “gender appropriate” costumes but I would have none of it, I wanted to be just like my sister. Eventually my mother relented and got me a Smurfette costume, just like my sister’s. When it came time to wear our costumes was when I realized what I have done. In my blind want to be just like my sister I have broken one of the hard-societal rules of gender. That was my earliest memory of feeling the shame that comes with growing up transgender.
Societal gender roles are deeply embedded in everything we do. Girls are supposed to wear dresses. Boys don’t cry. Girls play with pink toys. Boys play sports. These cues are everywhere in TV, professional sports, music, books.
When I was in grade school, my grandmother was making a dress for my sister. The dress was a light pastel orange with ribbons. My sister was out so my grandmother asked me to put it on so that she could make the final adjustments of the dress as needed. I protested. While I wanted to be a girl and I thought the dress was pretty, I felt a deep sense of shame about wanting to be pretty. My mother and grandmother pleaded with me to put on the dress so they could work on it more.
I dare didn’t express myself femininely. Being a Korean American Immigrant, I was already so different than anyone else at school or in the neighborhood. I was being teased for being different, and I couldn’t give anyone any more reasons to pick on me. I suppressed my feelings and I hid this side of myself.
We eventually struck a compromise and I let my grandmother drape the dress in front of me to get the measurements she needed. I secretly wished that the dress was really for me. It hurt to want… It hurt to hope…
I went to middle school in Korea. The school I went to had separate uniforms for boys and girls. Not only that, they had special hair cut requirements. All the boys were required to have buzzcuts… I was starting to go through puberty. My voice was about to change. I lived between genders as much as I could when I was a child, but now that was over. I remember walking into the barbershop, the sound of the trimmers going through my hair. It was a bit of a relief to get the haircut honestly. Girls don’t have buzz cuts, girls have long pretty hair I told myself. I was trying to purge myself of all hopes of being feminine. I would never be a girl now that I am going through hormones and this would be the end of it and I could give up on my hopes and dreams.
If I could, I would want to go back and tell this version of myself that it is okay to hope, and it is okay to dream. I would want to tell myself that there is nothing wrong with who I am. That I am not alone.
I would show myself that I would grow up to be a beautiful, strong, amazing professional transgender woman.
And I would want to tell myself that I don’t have to suffer and that I would be loved.