Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You were not an egg

Against a popular metaphor and meme in online transgender culture.

There is a popular new metaphor on trans twitter. It's really terrible and a gateway to essentialist thinking about transgender experience. The idea of it is that there are certain behaviors trans people manifest before they become aware of themselves as trans. That these behaviors are "obvious" as an expression of gender feelings, but were often explained away at the time as meaning something else. A common addition to the egg metaphor is that, since the unconscious trans person cannot see these acts for what they are, they should just be told what they mean. Trans people, it says, can spot these 'eggs' in the wild and help them 'hatch'. Some even boast about how many eggs they have hatched, a gross and self-serving view that denies the people being discussed any actual agency in their own journey.

Today #eggmode emerged, an hashtag where these narratives are shared gleefully. I believe that this hashtag, already presented as a must-read for any questioning individual, can push harmful essentialist views on vulnerable individuals. It is not simply a space where trans people share their own experiences, but a very open attempt to mark certain behaviors as Trans Indicators.

Any trans person who reads the hashtag will find some things that correspond to their own experiences. They will find a lot of things that mean nothing to them. But also, they will find things that they did actually do, but which they personally do not feel had anything to do with their transness. This is  to be expected, because any attempt to universalize trans experience is doomed to fail.

Lets talk about a trans experience that is common, but not universal: that the trans people you first encountered (the ones who supposedly help you 'hatch') had very essentialist views about what made them trans. You didn't relate to them. You maybe even felt that you weren't actually really trans because of this, and that you had no place in these spaces. Some delayed their transition by years because of people like this. #eggmode threatens to put hundreds of these demoralizing narratives right in the face of those they can harm most.

#eggmode represents a very particular kind of trans experience. It is, significantly, also the kind cis people expect us to have if we are to be Real. There must have been signs! You must have done This Thing, or at least had some undefinable gut feeling. But we all know that this is not what legitimizes trans identity, and that many people have never shown the slightest sign of being at odds with their assigned gender, until they realized that they actually were.

Cis people, especially parents of trans people, love to use the life stories of those who Always Knew, or who did things that in retrospect appear as evidence of transness, against those who fail to fit these molds. Perhaps this has made us internalize a desire for a fitting narrative. But we should recognize this desire as harmful to our siblings. We should not wish to perpetuate an exclusionary view of transgender experience.

And what of non-binary people? They are harmed most of all by this. For them this is not simply a story that doesn't fit, but a sign pointing away from their destination. A trans woman may believe she is hatching an 'egg', but may in fact be putting new obstacles in someone's place. And they may never know this, if they hold on to the idea that there are 'tells' to someone's gender feelings.

Please do not inflict a COGIATI of the 2010s on the transgender community. We have just barely begun to heal from it and harmful nonsense like it. For the past few years we have spread the important message that there is no right way to be trans, that you are not fake. Why would we now destroy this?

The egg metaphor should be recognized as no different from the idea of "baby trans" - the infantilization of those who have just begun a very personal journey. It casts them as ignorant of the hard facts of transness, facts which you are glad to tell them (these 'facts' are often garbage like The Inherent Evil Of Trans Men). We should not want to use the egg metaphor.

Protect your trans siblings

Defend our spaces from essentialism


  1. Thank you for writing this. I know it's a year and a half later, but I can't agree with this enough. So many of my trans friends use the egg metaphor, and all I can do is shake my head. So because someone is expressing feminine traits, they're trans? Maybe that's the case for some (myself included), but certainly not all. So again, thank you. Great read.

  2. I was an egg, but I still think it's futile to project that onto someone else. you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.