I'm left-handed. I don't know why; I suppose there's something about the way my brain is wired that makes me more comfortable taking a pen or a knife in my left hand than in my right. I've never been called a devil-worshipper or a communist like some left-handers, but my woodwork teacher used to call me "awkward" as if I was only using my left hand to disrupt his classroom. Sometimes I struggle with tools that were designed to be used in the right hand; right-handers tease me for my clumsiness, although I'm sure they'd fare even worse with tools designed for the left hand.
The only outward difference between my hands is that the nails of my left hand grow longer because I have less chance to bite them. There's no other visible sign that my left hand is better suited to most tasks; even so, most people take my word for it. No-one suggests I prefer my left hand because some incident in my childhood convinced me that my right hand had less value. No-one asks me how I can possibly call myself left-handed when I use scissors with my right hand. No-one suggests that it would make my life far simpler if I could just try using my right hand the way everyone else does.
I've not been so lucky when I talk about my gender. When I say that I'm a guy on the inside, people ask how I can possibly know or what exactly is making me believe this. For me, it's very similar to the way I know that my left hand is surer than my right: it just feels more natural.
Being left-handed can be a useful analogy for the difference between cis and trans. Lefties make up around ten percent of the population, so most people will have a left-handed friend or family member that they can keep in mind during discussions; although that doesn't always mean they understand the challenges we face. A right-hander may well watch a left-handed colleague writing, and not even register the special strategies we need to learn in order to write from left to right. It isn't part of their experience, so it simply passes them by.
The analogy works best when people are willing to grant that being left-handed isn't an impairment in itself - it's only the poor fit between us and the right-handed world that makes us appear awkward and clumsy. By the same token, being trans only becomes a problem when people insist on evaluating us according to their cis standards. Embrace the variation and make allowance for it, and many of the problems vanish.
When I first met the analogy between being left-handed and being trans, I worried because it wasn't a perfect fit. I can't remember a time when I didn't know I was left-handed, but I recall very clearly the twisted path of experiment, temptation, denial and halting acceptance that led me to say I'm a guy on the inside. On the other hand, when I watch my child drawing with a pencil in each hand, I realize that there probably was a time when I was still discovering my hand preference; it was just so long ago that I've forgotten it.
Other aspects of the analogy fit perfectly, and even help me to explain myself a little more clearly. Take scissors, for example. Using children's scissors left-handed when they were designed to be used right-handed usually ended with me tearing whatever I was trying to cut. Left-handed scissors were a rarity, so learning how to use scissors right-handed was the best compromise I could make. As I grew up, the habit stuck with me; now, even when I have a pair of left-handed scissors, my first instinct is to take them in my right hand.
Something similar is the answer to that ever-repeated question, "But how can you be a guy when you...?" I was brought up as a girl, and although a lot of the teaching didn't stick, some of it did. And I've consciously chosen, when the situation demanded, the best compromise I could find between my identity and my female body. I sleep with straight men because I'm not convinced I could attract gay men. I gave birth to a child because I knew I could never father one.
In the ways that cis people and institutions so often treat trans people, I can see a parallel to the frustrations of a world made by right-handers for right-handers. The medical system that demands I justify my maleness by telling the appropriate story is harsher than the everyday frustrations of cheque books and phone boxes that require absurd contortions to use left-handed, but it's a difference of degree rather than kind. In both cases, it's obvious the system wasn't designed with my needs in mind.
My needs often go unrecognized because my differences are all on the inside. Unless people can accept my explanation of how I am, all they can see is me behaving in strange and counter-productive ways. Taking a tool that was clearly supposed to be used right-handed and trying to use it with my left hand. Dressing in men's clothes that look weird and don't always fit well. It's hardly surprising that some people wonder in exasperation why I can't just be sensible.
But to me, this is the most sensible course to take. If I tried to follow the advice, I would only succeed in moving the battleground from the world to my mind. I'd spend half my time trying to do things that felt uncomfortable and unnatural and the other half feeling guilty and frustrated that I was making so little progress. What's more, I would get no credit for trying, because no-one would be able to tell that I was making any effort at all.
When I was a child, I used to try writing right-handed every so often, just to see if it was really as hard as I remembered. Invariably, I would work painfully slowly and produce a nearly illegible scrawl. The results of trying to be a woman haven't been any less messy.
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