I was asked twice in one week, "When did you first know/realize?" The first time came from my OWL mini-panel and the second time when I went out with co-workers.
The short answer is 10, 12, 16, 19, 36 and 42. That's because I kept burying my feelings through rationalization. I sailed along until about age 10. My gender meta-cognition had not switched on until then. I could only hang out with a single boy at a time and I preferred that someone else was there with me that I could trust. I would easily slip into mental role-play from time to time, and every so often I would see a girl doing something that looked like fun. Like twirl in her new skirt, do cartwheels, pick buttercups, play on the swing, make up stories, etc. I would always make their acquaintance, hoping I could do the same things (I never did learn the cartwheel, and am now really giving my skirt a whirl every Thursday). I never liked it when I was told, "You can't do that. You're a boy."
And yet, I couldn't hang out with boys, because I just didn't feel like I fit in. In fact, the larger the group got, the more anxiety I felt, and I didn't know why. I tried to stay away, yet the very act of disengaging drew the attention of the scruffiest of the boys to seek me out to "beat me up." I was forever on my guard, being put into situations where I had to fight back. It never helped that in my anger of the injustice of it all, my eyes swelled with tears, blurring my vision when I forced to defend myself. My aloofness increased to the point where I would avoid any group of boys at all costs especially the scruffy redheads who had it out for me, by finding new routes home after school that I walked by myself with a stick, ready to swing it at the head of the next boy who could be hiding behind the next bush or short brick wall.
In September of 1975, at a middle school in Michigan, for some strange reason I started asking myself if I was a boy or a girl. I sought clues and as I looked around the room at the lists of who is doing well in what activities, I saw my name consistently listed with the girls. I had bathroom anxiety from the 3rd grade because I couldn't stand being with the boys so bad I would delay too long before going. A few of the girls were starting to bloom, and because their breasts were developing at that age, the class was segregated into boys and girls for sex ed in separate classrooms. I felt so uncomfortable sitting there with all the boys, and because I was never going to have breasts, I was going to forever be forced to be in that group. It was just so unfair!
I thought at the time that if I'm going to have to be a man, I'll be a better man than anyone else in the room, because I think like a girl and I know what they like. I would prove myself to be nice and intelligent and a perfect gentleman, even though I laughed to myself that I was not a man. And so, having a project to occupy my time, I would quell my gender feelings with that pledge.
Then over time, my gender feelings strengthened requiring compromises each time, starting at 12, when I promised myself I would keep my feelings of a phantom vagina to myself and tried to punish the extra erections by using the belt of a slimming machine. At 16 when I found my own secret stash of used girls clothing and believed God would start changing me when I wore girls clothing. At 19, when I allowed myself to be a closet transvestite and I would masturbate until I bled, hoping that would cause it to go back inside. At 36, when the last vestiges of an androgynous frame vanished. At 42 when I stepped outside my conversation during an online chat and vowed I would remain a non-op TS.
When the urge to feminize became overwhelming, I decided to give female hormones a trial run. The test passed. Not only did I not freak out, I felt a sense of blissful calm. My senses were opened to a new sense of color, and the emotions I could barely tag before as they cycled through my mind suddenly became more real.
Finally, at 43, I sought a bigger closet, and discovered the unfettered joy of just being me in a church community. I felt the overwhelming sense of womanhood while sitting in a women's group of 40 or more women. My anxieties which had kept me in check and hamstrung my ability to build friendships ebbed bit by bit.
Now, I am sitting on the threshold of transitioning at work. It's my last step to a fully embraced social transition. From my vantage point, I'm beginning to wonder if I will still need the surgery afterall. Of course, if it were paid for or inexpensive, I wouldn't hesitate. And then again it would also matter if I have a physically intimate relationship.
Hugs and God Bless,