Founder’s Note: When I first started HelloFlo, my ambitions were small. I wanted an easy way to simplify periods. Since starting this journey almost 2 years ago, my business and mission have changed significantly. The reason is that I heard from you – the HelloFlo community. This community is diverse. There are 10 year old girls writing into Dr. Flo, 42 year old women entering peri-menopause, and single fathers trying to connect with their daughters. And there’s another group in this community that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention – women and men, boys and girls, who are transgender and living in bodies that don’t always feel right to them.
One person like that is a young man named Cal. I was first introduced to him about a month ago and wanted to be able to provide a place for him to tell his story. As a 42 year-old cis woman, I am the first to admit I don’t know much about the experience of transgender youth and adults. But I believe it’s my responsibility to learn. I hope you’ll join me on this journey and welcome Cal into your life and into our community.
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful woman with a beautiful name, but most of the time I just like to call her Mom. On a lovely summer night in 1996, this beautiful woman was looking beautiful in a very different way than usual, because she was, well, giving birth to me (thanks Mom).
After what I can only imagine was several hours of pain and yelling and sweating, a baby was born. The doctor picked me up, looked between my legs and shouted, “Congratulations! It’s a girl!” My mom probably cried, a) because she just spent 10+ hours in excruciating agony, and b) because she finally had the little girl she’d always wanted.
Or so she thought.
When a baby is born in a hospital, a doctor will often follow this routine. And a lot of the time, that doctor will be right. For example, if a baby with a penis is born, and the doctor shouts, “Congratulations! It’s a boy!” and that baby grows up, lives, and identifies as a man, then he is cisgender. The gender the doctor assigned him at birth matches the gender with which he identifies. Most people in the world are cis.
But sometimes, the doctor is wrong. If that baby with a penis were to live and identify as a woman, then she would be transgender. The gender the doctor assigned her at birth does NOT match the gender with which she identifies.
Society has this belief that a person’s sex determines their gender, but that isn’t the case. To put it simply, a person’s sex is what’s between their legs, while their gender is what’s between their ears. Their sex is their genitals, while their gender is their mind: how they perceive themselves and the world. When it comes to me, I was assigned female at birth, but I identify as a man.
I had a feeling I was trans for a long time, but I tried to ignore those thoughts because I thought it’d make my life easier. But the summer before my senior year, I found myself at a crossroads. In less than a year I’d be starting college, and amidst the questions about what major I’ll pursue, or what job I’ll have, one question kept sneaking up on me: Can I really spend the next 70 years of my life being perceived as a girl? And once I stopped ignoring that question, stopped attempting to think about anything and everything else, the answer, I finally found, was no. I had to live my life authentically and unapologetically. I had to start being who I really am.
I think it is important to stress that gender is an identity. Someone’s gender doesn’t “become real” when they start hormones, or get a specific surgery. A person’s gender is validated when they say who they are. I am a man. I know I am because I say I am. I don’t have to act a certain way, or change my body to prove my gender to the world. My identity is enough.
That being said, many trans people don’t feel comfortable in their bodies. They experience a sensation called gender dysphoria: intense anxiety caused by having (or not having) certain body parts. Although someone may feel confident in their gender identity, they may wish to make changes to their body to feel more at ease—to help alleviate the dysphoria.
I personally started Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) about two months ago, because I want my body to feel like it is actually mine. I didn’t start HRT so people would believe I’m a guy—I’d already been living socially as a dude for 6 months at that point—I started HRT for myself. I started it because I knew that it would make me happier. That isn’t the case for every transperson, but it was the case for me.
It is also worth mentioning that while some people identify as boys, and some people identify as girls, some people don’t identify as either. Here in the west, society views gender as a binary. You’re either a boy or a girl, that’s it. But since gender is based on identity, not on physical characteristics, there’s actually a lot more room outside those two boxes. Some people identify in between “boy” and “girl,” and some people don’t identify with those labels at all. Some identities that exist outside the boy-girl binary include genderqueer, genderfluid, and agender. That list is by no means exhaustive.
I think we’re making a lot of progress when it comes to how we treat and think about trans people. Many schools and institutions are introducing “everybody bathrooms,” which is awesome because lots of transpeople avoid using public restrooms due to the anxiety they cause. If you identify as a man or a woman, but don’t look like society’s expectation foryour gender, going to the bathroom can result in getting yelled at in the best scenario, and getting beat up or even killed in the worst. And if you don’t identify as a man or a woman, where are you supposed to go? You’re forced to pick between two labels you don’t connect with.
That’s why gender neutral bathrooms are important. They keep people safe—both physically and mentally.
Obviously we’re making more progress than just restrooms. This year, I came out to my entire school in a speech. Honestly, five years ago, I don’t know if that would have been possible. Attitudes are changing. Some people have asked me why I gave a speech—why am I so dramatic—but I think coming out is a revolutionary act. I think, if someone feels comfortable, they should be out, because it humanizes our community. So many people try to flatten our stories, or to alienate us, and being out thwarts those efforts. It gives us dimension, and humanity. I think that’s important.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.