For many people, the sex you were assigned at birth does not match your gender identity or the gender you feel represents your truest self. This misalignment can affect the ways you interact with the world and the ways it interacts with you. You may choose to transition, the process of changing the way you present and interact with others to match your gender identity.
Determining if and how you want to transition can be difficult. We sat down with Brooke Guinan and Manuel Rodriguez to answer some questions you may have as you explore Gender-Affirming Care. Brooke is a firefighter in the NYC area who uses She and They pronouns. They have explored the world as male and female but ultimately landed in a gender identity beyond the binary. Manuel is an LGBTQ Services Navigator for SMYAL and MoCo Reconnect, a local organization that supports, empowers, and educates LGBTQ youth in Washington, DC. Manuel identifies with He/They/Él pronouns and whose experiences have led him to find his truest self as an advocate and leader for LGBTQ youth.
How you determine whether or not your gender identity matches your assigned sex is different for everyone. It can be influenced by the society, culture, and traditions you are born into.
For Manuel, being assigned female in a traditional Catholic Latinx family while being raised in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, created multiple barriers to connecting with his gender identity. He explains, “For me, it was very difficult because I never felt congruent with the gender ideas or norms that were put on me as far as what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a girl in society. Growing up I always pushed against those norms, and, because of the environment I was in, I wasn't seen as something that was good, right, or healthy or normal, because it fell outside of what was being taught to me.”
Both Brooke and Manuel were misidentified early in life because of a lack of understanding of the differences between gender and sexual orientation. Brooke explains, “It was a big deal that I wanted to play with Barbie dolls or that I wanted to hang out with girls. So it seems very much, looking back, that my traditionally masculine actions were overlooked in favor of my [feminine] actions, which transgressed my gendered assignment. I was called gay for the first time in fifth grade and it was the first time I heard the word even though I wasn't really doing anything physical. So basically I came to understand gay at that age as being a boy who was girly, being a boy who did the girly things.”
People of varying gender identities pursue Gender-Affirming Care to become their truest selves. This includes people who identify as non-binary, transgender, gender-fluid, or genderqueer. Everyone has their own reasons for pursuing Gender-Affirming Care and different options for treatment depending on what they want to change. While society has framed gender to be within a binary, including transition, there are options for both binary and non-binary transition using gender-affirming care.
Brooke explains that she pursued Gender-Affirming Care though she never experienced gender dysphoria. They explain, “As far as I'm concerned, I don't have gender dysphoria, the world does.” In her twenties, she medically transitioned into female but later realized that this was still not her truest self. “I don't really necessarily regret any of my surgeries. I think that, if anything, the fact that my body is now traditionally female in those ways actually freed me up to not feel the pressure to have to identify as female so harshly, and allowed me to identify as more non-binary, but not female, in some weird roundabout way that made sense for me, even though my body is traditionally female now.”
Advice For Those Thinking About Gender-Affirming Care
If you’ve thought about transitioning, medically or socially, you may be feeling scared, lonely, or unsure about how your life will change afterward. These are normal feelings and you’re not alone.
Both Brooke and Manuel said that finding community and friends was vital to their transition. Manuel explains, “I think first and foremost, connect with somebody who you trust. Having at least one person as a support, whether that's somebody you're really close to, or somebody you're familiar with who you know has similar experiences or understands. I think that is really important to be able to start a dialogue.”
If you are considering gender-affirming care, Brooke’s advice is to make sure you’ve spent time finding who you are and doing the research. She explains, “Question everything, do your own research. Don't let anyone else be the one who defines you, make sure that you're the one who defines yourself. I think in the end, when I started defining myself by my own standards, and when I started identifying in ways that felt authentic to me, that's honestly when people were most proud of me.”
If you do decide to pursue gender-affirming care, know that you do not have to go it alone. Manuel advises, “Make sure that when you do go into a provider’s space if you don't feel comfortable doing that on your own, bring somebody that you trust. I did that a lot when I was first starting and going into spaces I would go with people who I felt safe with, that I knew were gonna be supports and allies if something went wrong, or if the provider was treating me in a way that wasn't respectful of my identity or my humanity, especially if you're somebody who doesn't feel that comfortable speaking out or saying something in the moment.”
If you are a young person and you’re looking to find an organization that can help you find skill-building, resources, or someone to talk to, SMYAL is available for anyone in the DMV. From housing to mental health resources, SMYAL aims to build young leaders who can advocate and succeed in today’s world.
Finally, when you are ready to talk to a healthcare provider, find a health center with specialty training and a commitment to serving everyone. PPMW is committed to providing high-quality Gender-Affirming Care to all people. All our staff has been trained to work with trans and gender-nonconforming individuals with processes and paperwork that are meant to be inclusive and respectful to your identity. You can learn more about PPMW’s gender-affirming services here.