Why I Was Not Born In the Wrong Body


Identity is central to trans people.

Or is it?

When we say “I was born in the wrong body” what is this “I” being referred to? And is this identity something that exists separately from the flux of ions that is our neuronal activity? Separate from the atomic flows which constitute our bodies?

But whatever it is, surely it was not the fully-developed-self-reflective-autobiographical consciousness that was born in the wrong body. Because that consciousness was not born but rather grown. Grown in the social matrix of our environment, our learning history, our socialization, etc.

And what exactly is this conscious identity we speak of when we talk about being trapped in the wrong body? Does it really exist or is it an illusion? But of course illusions themselves really exist. But they exist as illusions. But who is getting tricked? Perhaps the “who” being tricked is the trick itself! The trick is continuously created by the process of getting tricked. Until something goes wrong…

There is a real possibility we will never be able to think about this stuff sensibly, in the same way it’s almost impossible to visually imagine 12 dimensions in hyperspace. We are in the end left with metaphors. But that’s not so bad. In fact it’s quite great because metaphor is the fundamental building block of cognition anyway. So that actually puts us in a great position to think about consciousness. Consciousness is an illusion. That’s the metaphor. Or at least one metaphor. Another is puppets. Another is Dennett’s “web of narratives” metaphor i.e. his “multiple drafts” theory. Another powerful metaphor is software running on hardware.

Anyway, what we might mean by “trapped in the wrong body” is that the body I desire to have is different from the body that I grew up in (but what does it mean to grow up “in” a body?) And it’s different in a way that is fundamentally gendered. My ideal body would have never suffered so much testosterone exposure. It would have never presented itself to doctors in a way that made them declare “It’s a boy!”

Ideally my body would have taken a much different journey. But insofar as my current consciousness would be radically different if my history of embodiment was radically different, is it not a wish for death to wish for a different body? If I did not have my trans history I would literally be a different person. If I truly wished to be that different person, I am wishing for the end of my current self. And thus could my “ideal” body really by ideal if I would need to die to realize it?

I am probably one of the luckier trans folks who actually does not wish to be a different person. Although there are of course things about myself I would change in a heartbeat, I am content with the person I am. Not content in the sense that I have no room to grow and be a better person. I am not perfect by any means. But content in the sense of not wishing to be a radically different person.

If I was “born a girl” – would I have become a philosopher? Given how sexist the field of philosophy is (not to mention the society itself), it’s unlikely. Yet my primary identity is that of “philosopher”. Before “woman”, I am a philosopher. Before “trans”, I am a philosopher. Being a philosopher is more predictive of my behavior and thought than any other trait. It’s fundamental to who I am and how I operate. This is the self I am content with. It is likely that if I rewound the tape of my life and started fresh with a new embodiment that I would not be who I am today.

And the person I am today is largely is a happy and well-adjusted person. I have had my share of difficulties. But I consider myself to be a lucky person. If I was Christian I would say, I am “blessed”. Yes, indeed. I am quite blessed to be alive. I am 30 years old and I am looking forward to the next 70 years of health, happiness, love, and knowledge. I look forward to growing into myself as a woman, as a trans woman, as a philosopher.

Although I am no longer an academic philosopher, I am still very much concerned with making contributions to philosophical conversation. This blog is a testament to that. And it goes beyond merely continuing my academic training. My academic training did not teach my to be a blogger. That was a passion I developed even before grad school. And it was always carried on independently of my academic research. And I always believed the blogging I did was just as important or even more important than the academic papers I wrote, especially since those papers ended up being read by almost no one whereas my blog saw a wide audience. So here’s to being a philosopher!


Filed under Gender studies, philosophy of mind, Trans studies

7 responses to “Why I Was Not Born In the Wrong Body

  1. Lee Anne Leland

    By dwelling on the past we ignore our present and future. If I were not trans my wife and I never would have met. If I were not trans I never would have_______…Fill in the blank with any of the experiences that made me who I am today. And if my body and self had been aligned which gender would I be?
    No. Despite all the pain, suffering and confusion I experienced over the past 65 years I would not have it any other way. Because if I were not trans I would not exist. Someone else would. But not me.


  2. I’ve had almost this same conversation – that I identify as a philosopher and a writer more deeply than I do as anything to do with gender. Trying to compare those two levels of my identity has been really confusing – I know with such certainty that those things are Who I Am, but when it comes to labeling myself with a gendered term, I can’t understand what it would mean to feel one way or the other about it. I’ve spent a lot of effort trying to deconstruct gender into constituent parts and delineate my feelings based on those, but nothing I can do with that comes out to an integer value. It feels like Zeno’s Paradox – every time I work out an answer to something about myself, there’s another little piece left over, and another, and another, each smaller and yet significant. And so maleness remains, as in my life as in our language, the default answer.


  3. Interesting, personal and self-reflective perspective. Academic influence aside, it offers a lot to ponder. I find the “wrong body” conversation problematic for many reasons. Perhaps top of that list is, it sets one up to believe there’s something broken going on, when that might not be the case. Glad to hear you don’t have that experience being content with the person you are…

    I wonder, given my experience whether all of us specifically choose to have experiences we have in the phenomenal world, yes, including trans-ness and all with that comes with that – for the variety of experience, for the adventure of it, and as a way of perhaps demonstrating to others a potentially new dimension to what it means to be human, to be alive, to freely express, to discover. If that were the case, that we choose ahead of coming “in”, then, who are we? What are we?

    I believe one would then have to also ask: how do some of us find their personally-chosen experience so deeply painful?

    Lots to ponder here…..glad someone pointed me to this one.


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  5. Sophie

    I’d like to hazard an explanation for why “born in the wrong body” is such a strong metaphor. The question of what the “I” we feel like we are actually is, is an interesting one. And we can learn a lot about our experience of it from the way we talk about it.

    Am I just the totality of my bodily functions? In one sense yes. But the way we often talk about the experience of “I” doesn’t map on to this. We feel like have bodies rather than that we are our bodies. Studies have shown that we actually tend to feel like we exist inside our bodies, specifically just behind our eyes.
    We also feel like we have a degree of agency that we don’t attribute to our body as a whole. If I decided to stop feeding myself most people would feel justified in blaming me and trying to persuade me to change my ‘mind’ in a way that they would not if my body stopped producing red blood cells. In such a scenario we would likely feel victim to our failing body.
    As such there is a distinct difference between the way we experience our body and our conscious experience itself.

    The ‘I” that we identify as synonymous with has much more to do with our state of mind than it does our chromosomes, which we have no conscious experience of, or our bodies more generally which we feel in some sense separate from.

    Whether or not this (dualism) is a philosophically sound way to talk about the self is much debated, but it is undeniable that this is the experience of self that most of us have. It is therefore unsurprising that “born in the wrong body” is such a powerful metaphor for a lot of people. The idea that the body is merely a vessel in which the mind exists seems to be a universal experience.
    So when “I” say ” ‘I’ am a woman” it is the mind that takes priority over the body, and the body therefore that is taken to be “wrong”.


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  7. I know I am late the the game, but I thought I would post a comment anyway.

    Rachel, I have many similar thoughts to you as you expressed in this post. My take is different from yours of course, but the key agreement is without all that has happen to me over the course of living in the only body I have ever lived in I would not have become the woman I am today.

    I wrote a post on the topic on my transgender blog.



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