Real men don’t cry.

Women are sensitive flowers.

Boys play with trucks.

Girls play with dolls.

In this world, we try to gender everyone. If we don’t fit into little boxes, then something is supposedly wrong with us. I hear all the time about stories of transgender people who are automatically gendered by how they acted as a child. This transgender person knew very young that they were a girl, because they loved the color pink. She hated trucks, and loved to play with Polly Pockets. This transgender person knew very young that they were a boy. They played with army men. They were rough-and-tumble, and they never cried because real men don’t cry.

Dominick  in my brother's hand-me-down clothing, with a big smile on my face

These things don’t make you a trans person. Feeling like you were born in the wrong gender is what may make you a trans person. Not wanting to conform to the gender you were assigned at birth may also make you transgender. Sure, these experiences are valid, but they are not the only experiences. What about those of us who fall somewhere in between when it comes to colors, interests, and gendered toys?

Gender can be messy. It is not always black and white.

I identify as a man. I am a transgender man. I identify that way because I see my trans identity as an integral part of me. In my mind, I am male. That is how I see myself, but because my gender identity when I was a child was not so clear-cut to others who are not me, some people believe my gender transition is a lie.

I am not confused. I know who I am. I am Dominick. I am a man. I have never wavered from that in the 12 years since I first came out as trans. I have always maintained that I feel like a man who was born into a body identified as female, when I was born.

I should note right now that if a person is confused or falls somewhere between genders on the gender spectrum that is okay. That is not my experience, but no one should be judged for that. I digress.

Gender is a social construct, so if the doctor said I was a female, I grew up with the expectation that I would want to do female things.

I did some of those things. I really loved the colors pink and purple, especially when I was really little. I also really liked to play with dolls. I always wanted to have kids, and playing with dolls was a way to act that out. My mother started collecting dolls for me, when I was little. I was not allowed to play with them, and they came from all over the world. I would organize them on my shelves, and stare at them wondering what life was like in the country or region where they came from. I had dolls from Ireland, Alaska, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, I believe, and many other places.

The first doll I really enjoyed playing with was my Cabbage Patch doll. I named him Daniel.

I also liked the Carebears and Popples, and I had stuffed animals to denote that. I really loved She—Ra, and I used to dress up as her, when I was little. I also really enjoyed playing with My Little Ponies. I even had a birthday cake my grandma decorated in the MLP theme. This was followed by the year I had a train cake, just like my older brother.

I really like trains now, but not so much as a kid. I didn’t understand how cool train sets were, and I’m sure I would have liked them, because I really liked things with remote controls. Instead, I preferred matchbox cars. I would play with my father’s collection, when he was not home. They would sit on his dresser, and I would sit, for hours, in his room, driving them around the bed, the dressers, and the floor.

My brother had a huge collection of cars, and in the summer, we would sit on the porch and drive them around. I absolutely loved this part of my summer. I also loved to play sports, and I always convinced my grandfather to play kickball, T-ball, or baseball, any time I was at his house or he was at ours. I loved playing on the swing set. I could swing for hours. One of my favorite games was drive-thru. I would ride my Cabbage Patch big wheel through the drive-thru we set up in the driveway, before going in to my grandparent’s house to style my grandfather’s hair, which he let me do endlessly. I would use curlers, barrettes, or other beauty shop accoutrements.

Dominick in full dress at a ballet recital in 1987.

I was a child who played with toys and had fun. I was a child who used their imagination.

On one of the last phone calls I had with my mother, several years ago, she told me I could not be transgender because when I was growing up I did not act like other transgender people.

No, I didn’t. I acted like myself. I’m a transgender man who played with dolls, and that’s okay.