Why you should stop looking for your true self (especially if you’re trans)

Sometimes we stumble over words. Ya know, when they just don’t seem to fit in your mouth and you find yourself wrestling with your tongue to spit it out. I often find myself wrestling with saying I found my ‘true self’ as I transitioned. But, I’m sure I’ve used those words. I’ve used many words in places where other ways of expression didn’t translate. But, this true self narrative never stuck, even when it was in the form of a compliment. I’d hear, ‘You found your true self.’ I guess I never felt like I was a false self.

Recently, I stumbled on a passage from Alice Dreger’s book Galileo’s Middle Finger* where she made it clear to me why I seem to struggle with those words. She said, ‘Some people appear to switch sides, but everyone can rest assured that they didn’t really switch; they just finally got sorted out correctly by having their internal gender realities externalized by transsexual hormone treatments and surgeries. … the comforting narrative of ‘true selves’ is preserved. Everybody really has just one true gender from birth to death, so gender seems ultimately very stable.’ Bingo! Here we are again, attempting to uphold the stability of the gender system. Making sure the transgender experience aligns with that system. I know, I know, at this point I’m sounding like a street preacher but, gosh darn it, I can’t stop.

I wonder why we can’t see the transgender experience as a journey through, around, beside gender. Why does it have to be reduced to solely a story of redemption? Saved by a baptism of hormones and surgeries. The research is trickling in and it’s becoming clear our suffering is tied to social rejection and violence, not just our identities. Yes, many of us have deep struggles with gender but I often wonder if these internal battles are due to external messages.

We are transformers. We are gender warriors. Isn’t that a true self?

When I think of my current self as my true self. I wonder about my future self. As I change will that false fucker show up again? The true self narrative is easy. It makes sense in a black and white (male and female) world. If I was always a ‘male-brained’ person but had a ‘female’ body then now I’m my true self. My gender didn’t change, my body aligned with my internal gender. The system is sound.

Well, sound the alarm. The system is fucked. I aligned my body to social expectations because my mental gender didn’t fit the social label I was given at birth. I gotta say the system needs to go find its ‘true self.’ Hell, the whole ‘true self’ narrative needs to die. You are your true self right now.

My wife brought up a great point. There is a big difference between the phrases ‘your true self’ and ‘being true to yourself.’ I’d have to agree (not just because we’re married), I can say I’ve been true to myself. In this beautiful, complicated journey I’ve continued to seek internal affirmation that I’m going in a direction that feels right for me. Constantly being true to myself.

The transgender person has the incredible power of transcending a system that is the foundation of our culture. The true self narrative diminishes us until we easily fit into that gender system. It grasps at our ankles attempting to pull us into its murky truth. It does that to everyone. Gender wants us to conform. It wants us to fit even if it damages your spirit or just your style. It forces itself on us.

Give up on trying to find yourself true self. Baby, you’re there. Your entire journey is true. Your whole life has been true. Honor it.

You are who you say you are,


*Dreger is a well-known intersex activist and her book is all about activism, the politics behind it and what it takes to create real change.


Photo from


  1. I deeply agree. At age 59, I’ve been on this journey for a little over a year and constantly have to resist binary pressures from my environment (not my husband: He doesn’t label at all.), as well as from within. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not a transman, I’m genderqueer. In essence, I have to live with, what at this time feels like, ambiguity. I empathize, though, with people who assume gender is fixed–that’s what we’ve been told our whole lives. If there were no gender, there’d be no need for ambiguity. I absolutely love the juxtaposition you created: Be true to yourself vs. be your true self. The “true” self is always evolving and changing, no matter how we identify.

    Thank you so much for this insightful post, it’s helped me very much. I feel so supported by your wisdom.

    • Leo Caldwell

      Thank you so much for your kind words. And so happy that you are this journey and have a supportive partner! I hope you’re enjoying the freedom of unbinding from the binary.

  2. You’ve articulated much about this gender journey that I’ve been trying to grapple with and express.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  3. This resonates so much with me, and really clarifies some things I’ve been trying to make sense of about my own gender journey. Thank you for your beautiful insights!

  4. As someone whose absolute purpose on this earth filled with nothing but excruciating despair and unfathomable darkness, I am utterly incapable of agreeing with your article. To be honest, I think you have a huge misconception between conforming yourself to the model society has imposed upon us and being your true self.

    Personally I couldn’t care less about something I loath as much as this detestable society. My idea of wanting my true self has nothing to do with something that shallow. It’s something much deeper than that. My ultimate purpose is to dwell into the deepest depths of my consciousness as if I were an entity deprived from any substantial matter in order to awaken the real self hidden deep down. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it or not, but I am arrogant enough this something noble enough to dedicate my whole life for this.

    I do not wish to accept my current self because it doesn’t make me happy. I don’t think wanting to pursue your true is a bad thing as long as it’s something that shall bring satisfaction or bliss at the end of your journey. What can makes you happier than being able to transcend yourself in order to attain new heights unexplored before? I have shivers on my spine when I think about it thoroughly.

    In my modest case, I have always wanted to be the utter incarnation of something both ethereal and otherworldly. That’s something I shall attain no matter how years I try. I shall conquer even eternity if I have to do this.

    • Leo Caldwell

      Thank you for the food for thought. I appreciate you taking the time! Your pursuit sounds like one that is difficult to reach in a physical world but I wish you the best in it.

Leave a comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that. Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked