148) “How did you know you were trans?” Part 2 – The Invisible Girl

Once upon a time, one warm spring morning, a little baby human was born.  “It’s a boy!” went up the cry.  Then, a bunch of things happened.

Despite a thousand different clues during that indicated otherwise, that little boy grew up believing he was a little boy growing up.  Those thousand different clues deserve their time to be explored, but that’s a whole lifetime of memories.  Perhaps another time….

In the end, despite their many hints and suggestions and “weird feelings” and strange experiences, those thousand different clues were not enough to crack that child’s egg, you might say.

50 years passed.  And he tried his best to be a good boy.

I’m not saying he succeeded all that well.  But, he tried; that’s true.

* * * * *

By last summer, 2022, that little baby had become me. After my half-century birthday, I had been doing a lot of self-reflecting, and I was embarking on a truly rare adventure — a SWEET holiday, in a little cottage nestled in the woods on the side of a quiet lake, almost entirely by myself, for three weeks. A humble place, no bells and whistles.  No internet connection, no phone, and complete freedom to do whatever I wanted.


So of course, I went foraging, canoeing, smoked some weed, had some sweet fires, hung out in Nature, watched sunsets, star-gazed, read great books, played chess against my computer, and did a bunch of writing while listening to my fav tunes.  It was exactly as heavenly as one would hope Heaven would be.

And then … [dramatic pause] … I got bored.  At least, it felt like boredom.  But remember, I had been basically by myself in the woods for about a week and a half at this point.  I was pretty self-attuned. 

So I realized that no, it wasn’t “boredom”.   I still enjoyed Nature, writing, chess, the whole nine yards.  But underneath all that, there was this Ache, and as I felt into that Ache, I started to see how pretty much everything I was doing, indeed everything I had always been doing, was to cover over this Ache.  

It felt deeper than my old friend, depression.  It was like, Soul Depression, depression that ran so deep it had become my very bones.

….hmmm….I need a solution….

This is probably because you just need some new music. And maybe a bottle of some Irish Cream Liqueur? 


Off I go to the nearest town, on a Quest for a liquor store and a coffeeshop with wifi….

* * * * *

6 hours pass

* * * * *

Okay, back at the cottage! Got a big cup of coffee & a bottle of O’Casey’s Irish Cream, and about 100 hours of new music.

THIS will change everything.

* * * * *

Hours pass.  Still pretty bored.   Drunk though, at least.  Wheeeee…..

* * * * *

The next day, well, let’s say the next afternoon and we’ll just pass over the morning like THAT never happened — I’m coming back from a long forage, and I’m going to fry up some onions, garlic, eggs & wild chanterelles for breakfast. 

Totally happy, if mildly hung over.

I start puttering around in the kitchen, and think, well, that music wasn’t doing it for me.  What else did I download?

Or yeah…lol…a bunch of YouTube playlists about “boosting your mood” and “making yourself confident” and stuff.   Kind of a shot in the dark but…sure, let’s do it.

Let’s see….  Which one?  — [scanning…] —

“Girl Power Songs:  a playlist that make you feel self-confidence”.

That sounds like fun, hahaha….

[scanning the playlist] — Cool, I don’t think I know a single one of these songs. 

(In retrospect, I realize how hilarious that fact is. But it’s true; I discovered Jessie J for the first time ever in my life that day.  Where had I been for like, a decade?  Well, not listening to this!]

The first song was abcdefu, by Gayle.   I burst out laughing as soon as it started.

“Fuck you, and your mom, and your sister, and your job

And your broke-ass car, and that shit you call art.

Fuck you, and your friends, that I’ll never see again,

Everybody but your dog, you can all fuck off.”

“YES!!  This is exactly what I needed.  Hahahaha, fuck you!”

Then, quickly, the “Girl Power” nature of these songs sunk in.

It’s hard to describe what I was experiencing, exactly.  A lot of ‘strange’ feelings were coming up.  I was thinking, at first, about how these types of songs, for the most part, didn’t exist for the girls of my youth, and certainly not for the generations prior (with some exceptions, of course, but nothing close to the same scale or magnitude of pro-feminist messaging in popular music). 

All this validation about the shit that girls go through has become so normative now it’s literally the lyrics in a playlist of Girl Power pop songs that pretty much everybody knows.  It’s so mainstream that it’s cliché.

(Although, misogyny is also still very mainstream.)

I felt that oh-so-familiar feeling of empathy, compassion, righteous anger on the behalf of people being harmed.  That feeling of ally-ship.  After all, being a feminist is something I would proudly have said for many, many, many years now.  So, I was feeling feminist-ally-energy….right?

Then, several songs later, it hit Maggie Lindemann’s song, Pretty Girl. And…something clicked inside.

She sings,

“I’m more than just a picture
I’m a daughter and a sister
Sometimes it’s hard for me to show
That I’m more than just a rumor
Or a song on your computer
There’s more to me than people know

Some days I’m broke, some days I’m rich
Some days I’m nice, some days I can be a bitch
Some days I’m strong, some days I quit
I don’t let it show, but I’ve been through some shit

I can swear, I can joke
I say what’s on my mind
If I drink, if I smoke
I keep up with the guys
And you see me holding up my middle finger to the world
Fuck your ribbons and your pearls
‘Cause I’m not just a pretty girl”

* * * * *

I was having “feelings,” and I wasn’t sure what they were all about.  I had had similar feelings before with music, many times over my life, when songs would “hit me” in a way that felt different and weird and…like I didn’t know how to make sense of it. 

Specifically, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, one of the girl anthems from my youth.  Shania Twain, Man I Feel Like A Woman.  Jewel…like, almost everything that she sang made me feel this way.  The Spice Girls.  Beyoncé.  Sarah Harmer.

Usually, I have interpreted this feeling as some blend of empathy and, I admit, attraction.  The empathy part was strong in Pretty Girl – the line about “I’m more than just a picture; I’m a daughter and a sister…”, made me of course immediately think of my daughters and my sisters, and yes, how shitty it is for girls to grow up in a world of the male gaze, in which they are objects first, people second (and often a distant second). 

And so, when interpreting these “weird feelings” that popped up now and then over my life when listening to music, it was easy to explain them away.  Feelings of ally-ship, feminism, and general attraction to women, blended together into “feelings”.

That had always sufficed as an explanation before.

But this time, sitting in this little cottage by myself, deeply reflective, very attuned….I realized that wasn’t it.  The feeling I had with these songs wasn’t just empathy, and it certainly wasn’t coming from a place of ‘attraction’.  It was more direct, somehow.  Rather than the sense of “I feel, from my perspective over here, what you’re going through”, the feeling was more of immediate kinship, of being in the shit together, being members of the same club. In this case, womanhood. 

Which I know doesn’t make sense, you might say.  I grew up as a boy, not a girl.  I can hardly claim to “identify” with the objectification that girls grow up with.  To suggest so would even offend some people who feel that trans women are laying claim to womanhood in a way that threatens or erases or crowds-out cis women’s womanhood.  This fits into the whole inflammatory narrative about ‘radical trans activists’ with their ‘trans agenda’….

But, speaking for myself and not for any particular activist or counter-activist or whatever, I’m not claiming to know what it’s like to grow up as a girl.  All I’m claiming is that I know what it’s like to grow up as a girl who everybody believed was a boy, so she tried her best to “be” a boy. 

My experience of invisible girl/womanhood, doesn’t erase a cis woman’s experience of girl/womanhood, any more than others’ experiences can somehow erase my own; it just doesn’t make sense.  My experience is my experience, and that includes the genuine, heartfelt experience of identity.

(Which is why, no, you cannot “identify” like an attack helicopter.  I suppose if someone GENUINELY, in a heartfelt way, identified like that, and was content to sit around in a hangar, not moving, not eating, not talking, until someone climbed inside them and tried to fly…then sure, I guess?  But everyone else making “I identify as an attack helicopter” jokes, or thinking that this is somehow an intelligent refutation of trans people’s experience, are missing the whole point of “identity”.  You cannot just imagine yourself to be anything, and poof, that’s your identity.  This basically means that the person is displaying how little they understand about what they are having opinions about.  Or, they do, and they’re just being an asshole.)

In any case, whether I can fully explain this or not, this beyond-empathy, “identity” feeling IS how I felt.  It’s how I have felt countless times in my life, but didn’t know what it was. 

In my experience, this feeling of “not fitting” in your apparent gender, is buried so deep in your heart that no matter what you try, you can never fully get rid of it.  All you can do is turn away from it and deny it, and therefore, suffer.  Or, embrace it, and therefore, heal.

* * * * *

I remember the thought crossing my mind before the song, Pretty Girl, ended that there was something else in the song that was activating feelings. 

(I feel SUPER embarrassed to talk about this.  But…well, it’s true, and it was a big part of this whole experience.  So, if this is true for me, I imagine it’s true for at least some other people too.)

It took a sec, but then I knew — singing “I’m not just a pretty girl”, also, of course, implies that you ARE a girl (and a pretty one, at that!).

Uh oh….

This was ‘that moment’ when trans people would say the cracks in my egg became undeniable.  Whatever was inside that shell was coming out, sooner or later.

Then, the next song began, Daya singing about how she doesn’t want to just “sit still look pretty.” 

And I’m melting………

I didn’t even know why, at the time.  But yes, for sure, I could not logic-away the Inner Knowing that all my life, the notion of being a strong boy, handsome boy, attractive man, “Dan the man”, etc., always left me so cold and…weird….

But being a pretty girl?  

***I am a puddle***

I feel kind of silly admitting all this to whoever may read this.  For many reasons. Not the least of which being that at a philosophical-value level, I reject the bullshit patriarchy-and-capitalism-infused beauty norms that dominate our society and have warped our perceptions of beauty to what they are today.  I think they are unhealthy; I applaud beauty-diversity.  And all that stuff.

Nevertheless, society’s programming IS in me, like with everyone, and the desire to feel “attractive”?  I mean, of course, right?

You know, as a guy, I mostly didn’t care to “look good”.  I would rather have looked “authentically casual”.  I’m sure students can remember me as a prof, strolling into a 3-tiered giant room, with 2000+ students, with my jeans and untucked shirt, and 20 year-old backpack, addressing them like we were all a group of friends, and doing my best to teach psychology the same way I’d have a conversation around a campfire. 

I hoped so, anyway.  I wanted to, if anything, look like I wasn’t trying to look like anything in particular. Just “authentic”. (Which is so funny now, my emphasis on authenticity, when all that time I was repressing the deepest schism in my entire psyche, to myself.)

In fact, when I did dress up, it made me feel uncomfortable, like I was trying to be somebody I wasn’t, or trying to impress people or whatever.  So, most of the time, “Dan” didn’t exactly look his best.  And didn’t so much want to. 

So, wanting to be a pretty girl?  No, Dan definitely didn’t want that!!

But Clara?  At least, a little bit, kinda sorta someday…maybe?

I remember in Firefly, the episode where Kailee, the cute-as-a-button farm-girl mechanic on the spaceship, has the opportunity to go to a fancy ball wearing a pretty pink dress, and she is giddy with delight about how pretty she feels.


* * * * *

And you know, it doesn’t matter if a person is whatever age, because the ‘parts’ of our psyche, especially those that are unhealed, or that have been repressed/denied/suppressed — those parts can be any age.  But most commonly, they are quite “young”.  This is why, when people are triggered or angry, or even joyful, they regress to acting out their emotions like a toddler or a little kid, and with about as much self-control.  (Ever seen someone punch a door?  Or break down bawling in an argument?  Or get totally irrational and scream at you before they stomp away and slam the door?  Or lose their freaking minds when their fav team wins The Big Game?)

This is why, in the coming-out experience, there are often bursts and periods of youthful exuberance and silliness and being maybe a little over-the-top or unhinged. 

Kind of like teenagers, right?

(It is then interesting to consider the additional factor of hormonal changes, which is a part of many although by no means all, trans people’s experience.  I think it becomes quite easy to understand that, even though a person might be of any age, they are still going through a lot of things, physically and emotionally and socially and intellectually, that are like adolescence.)

It’s wild.  I’m glad I have a lot more self-control and awareness now, AND that my 2nd adolescence is grounded in a healthy Self.  But still, it’s wild. 

Happy Cows

On the farm when I was a kid, I remember in about March or April, when the cows would be let out of the barn after the coldest months of winter.  They’d be a little tentative at first, taking their first steps back outside.  But then, OH MY GOD, if you’ve never seen cows leaping and kicking up their heels and running around like a bunch of crazed kids at a 6-year-old’s birthday party, then believe me, this deserves to go on your Bucket List.  It is truly a joy to behold. 

If you’ve suppressed your true gender for many years, and now you’re letting it out, I would HOPE you’ll have some happy-cow-moments!!!  You dance in your wildness!  You celebrate!  You LOVE your beautiful self!  You explore, and play, and reinvent and experiment, however much you want!

So…wanting to be pretty?  Hell yes.  Absolutely I do. 

(There was, I admit, one day while rollerblading in a sweeeeeet little sundress, when I caught my reflection in a store window and …..  well…..  yes, I felt damn amazing.)

* * * * *

By the time that playlist ended, I knew “something had shifted”, although being trans had not even once crossed my mind as part of this experience.  I figured it was like, a “feminine energy” that I had repressed. 

So like a good little psychologist, I went back to the coffee shop the next day and started refreshing my knowledge on Jung’s theories of the anima and animus. 


About 20 minutes in, I was absolutely certain I was on the wrong track.  I didn’t need to “understand” any more things, to work out what was going on.  (Let alone through Jung’s archaic lens.)  Because it wasn’t my analytical, intellectual mind that necessarily could figure out the answer.  What this “feminine energy” was, lay below the conceptual; it was direct, experiential, embodied.

So how can I …feel … this feminine energy more clearly? What does that even mean?

To be continued…

P.S. I am not ashamed to admit that it was this playlist of girl power songs that, for whatever reason, cracked me open. Music is powerful, for one thing. But for another, I am reminded of the Zen stories of deep realization, which are commonly triggered by something seemingly random — a bird that sings at exactly that moment; or a sudden shout; or the smell of a flower or sound of a bell. Or a sneeze. The catalyst can be anything, when the mind is ripe for transformation.

So for me, it was a pop song.

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