Earlier this week, I recorded a couple episodes of Allison Kilkenny's "Citizen Radio" podcast to chat about this week in news and whatnot. During the first of two episodes, I answered a listener's question about whether or not they're trans, how they know they're trans or not, and whether or not they're trans enough. I think the whole thing turned out pretty okay, but I was caught a tiny bit off-guard by it and wound up doing a little on-the-spot self-reflection about my own experiences. Check out that episode (linked above) for the question and answer if you'd like. I'm going to try to elaborate on that a little bit below.
To be completely honest,"How do I know I'm trans?" is a really, really difficult question to answer, and it might not be something that ever becomes totally apparent.
It's not something anyone but the individual can answer, and without a point of reference for what it feels like to be trans or cis (all we know is who we are), that's really tough to gauge. It's a difficult thing to pin down, as so many of the questions and answers we must all ask ourselves (and others will almost certainly ask) are so totally subjective and challenging to put into words. Sloppily or inarticulately phrased explanations result in over-simplified messages like "trapped in the wrong body" or "a man/woman's brain" or whatever. While it's clear to trans folks what someone saying those things may mean ("there was dissonance between my physical and mental states" and "I believe there's a biological and not cultural component at play here"), some anti-trans individuals and overzealous Devil's advocates see those phrases as a set of points to debunk. All the while, most of us are just trying to figure out who we are and live our lives. It's exhausting.
Some of the questions I asked myself and others asked me are ones I don't think I completely have the answers to yet and may never fully land on them. For instance, "So, what does it mean to feel like a woman?" is a really common one, and I don't even know where to begin with it. For one, I tend to avoid saying that I "feel like" a woman; I just am a woman, if that makes sense (plus, whenever someone says "feel like a woman," I just can't stop thinking about that Shania Twain song, and oh crap it's in my head again right now...). The truth is that you don't have to have an answer to that (or "feel like a man" or "feel like you're non-binary," etc.). Others have tried to answer it, and yeah, it's really subjective. Reading some of the explanations (like this and this), I'm not sure I 100% would describe my experience totally in line with any of them. The same goes for people who have tried to answer "How do I know whether or not I'm trans?" (such as here, here, here, and here).
The truth is that if you're waiting around to find someone who experienced things exactly like you did, you're going to be waiting forever. You're your own person, and who you are, what you do, and what you look like is completely up to you.
"How do I know transitioning/coming out as trans/etc. is the right thing to do?" You don't.
How do you know that anything is the right thing to do? Self-doubt is a natural part of existence. Think about every decision you've ever made in your life without a clear answer. Relationships, careers, education, housing, and well... life. Almost certainly, you've made a few bad decisions in the past, a few things you wish you would have done differently, a few bad haircuts and a couple of missed opportunities. That's life.
It's damn near impossible to be 100% certain of anything, much less something as complicated as your existence and identity. Don't sweat it if you don't have all the answers. There is no test that can tell you who you are or what you should do.
Many argue that trans people are inauthentic, trying to be something they're not. I reject that for a number of reasons, but mostly because I know that if there's one group that's taken the time to really reflect on who they are, it's trans people. It's easy to skip over some of life's existential questions when your first instincts about who you are line up with what everyone else around you is saying. It's harder when that's not the case.
"So, I think I'm trans and think I want to transition. What do I do next?" Whatever makes you happy.
There's no one "right" way to be a man, woman, something else altogether. While there are certain steps a lot of people take (for instance: setting up an appointment with a trans-friendly therapist to talk through things, look into local support groups for trans folks, etc.) when coming to terms with who they are, you're no less authentic if you don't do them.
There are some resources that cover the basics that you might want to check out (here, here, here, and here), but remember that it's your life. What matters is that you feel happy with who you are. Maybe you go to a few meetings with a gender therapist and think to yourself, "Hrm... maybe I'm not trans." Maybe you start hormones and feel less comfortable with who you are. Or maybe you do one of these things and things just feel right. Whatever happens, there's no shame in trying to better understand who you are and what makes you happy.
These are just my own personal opinions on this topic informed by my own experience as a trans woman. I know, I know, a lot of it is very much just "do what you need to do to feel happy," but that's a lot of it. There's no single authoritative voice when it comes to being trans, and anyone who says otherwise is full of crap. Just be you and do what you think is best. That's what matters.