Last spring, several months before questioning my gender became an active part of my daily life, a meme scrolled across my Twitter feed and shattered my world:
I cannot overstate just how rattled I was after seeing this image. At the top of my mountain of denial, a few pebbles began to shake loose. Over the next few months, they slowly began to roll downhill, picking up speed and mass as they traveled. Soon, it became an avalanche. This meme wasn’t The One Thing That Made Me Realize, because there was no One Thing That Made Me Realize, but I cannot deny the impact that this silly JPG has had on my life.
The thing that fascinates me the most about this particular meme is that I wasn’t its intended audience — not yet, anyway. After all, memes operate on several levels of implicit understanding; not just on understanding the format of the meme, but on its expression of in-group/out-group language and belief. In other words, you have to be in on the joke to “get it.”
The intended joke here is that these four “galaxy brain” panels represent a pretty common progression for transwomen as they begin to accept their true selves and join the community. “Destroy Capitalism” doesn’t seem like it belongs at the very top, but that incongruity is the punchline. And it’s backed up by some truth — the trans community is fairly anti-capitalist, in part because we often bear the brunt of capitalism's worst qualities. Ergo, many trans people find themselves moving far to the left as they transition.
(Part of the joke is also, like, seriously, fuck capitalism. Burn it down forever.)
I wasn’t the intended audience for this meme because while I’ve been on the “Destroy Capitalism” bandwagon for several years, I had never seen the progression in those first three panels before.
“I wish I was a girl” is a feeling that I am intimately familiar with — it’s a wish that has lived inside my heart since childhood — but the next two panels were new to me. “I can just be a girl” and “I always was a girl.” Wait — really? Is that a real progression of understanding and not just a joke? Is that what being trans is?
Huh. I always thought there was more to it than that.
So I went on with my day, trying really hard not to think any more about that meme or what it might mean about me. Eventually, I was able to push it into the Denial Corner where all my other gender feelings were stuck. I only remembered the meme again when a trans friend of mine tweeted out a link to one of the many trans meme subreddits. “One of my friends found this helpful when she was going through her egg phase,” she wrote. At this point, I was actively questioning my gender and I couldn’t bookmark the link fast enough.
But I still had to figure out what my trans friend meant by “egg.” Turns out, egg is trans community slang for someone who is trans but either doesn’t realize it yet or is in denial about it. Accepting that you are trans is “cracking your egg,” because it starts the process of coming out of your shell and transforming into the beautiful or handsome human that you were always meant to be.
There is, admittedly, some controversy over “egg culture.” Some trans people find the idea inherently problematic — not all people who exhibit signs of gender non-conformity are “eggs,” and regardless, telling everyone who is questioning that they are trans and should transition is gross at best and actively harmful at worst.
The counter-argument is something akin to The Null HypotheCis; since being cisgendered is the default state in our culture, and since most people don’t even think about being trans as a likely potential alternative, a little bit of pressure from the trans side of things is necessary in order to counteract the tide of bullshit coming at you from the opposite direction.
This particular essay isn’t going to untangle that particular debate, so all I’m going to say is that I personally found the egg stuff to be really useful. That doesn’t mean that it’s always handled well, or that it’s good for everyone, but a little bit of pressure was exactly what I needed, and trans memes helped give it to me.
One of the meme communities I found most useful was a subreddit called EGG_IRL. The naming convention is a riff on the subreddit ME_IRL, which is (or at least used to be) one of Reddit’s most popular meme boards. The rule of ME_IRL is that all of the posts have to be memes, and they all have to be titled ME_IRL. Most people post memes that are somewhat absurdist and self-depreciating — an ironic window into your soul, if you will. The top post of the year on ME_IRL is this one, which explains everything and nothing about the concept.
So yeah, that’s ME_IRL.
EGG_IRL is a little bit like that, except the memes are all explicitly about being in denial about being trans. Because of that, they tend to be a lot less sub-textual and with a lot more original content than ME_IRL. While some of the EGG_IRL posts are just screenshots of forums posts, many of them are memes made explicitly for and by the users of EGG_IRL.
One of the myths that EGG_IRL shattered for me was the idea that all trans people had always been deeply certain of their trans-ness. I don’t know how that pernicious idea had lodged itself into my brain — cultural osmosis is very weird — but I had always assumed that trans people never doubted the reality of their situation. I had a vague sort of belief that all trans women gravitated toward dresses and pink toys in their youth, they knew beyond a doubt that they were women, and the only reason that some of them waited until adulthood to transition is that they had transphobic parents and/or they were afraid of the societal consequences.
As it turns out, that narrative doesn’t track for many, many trans people. It’s true for some, but many of us go through an incredibly long denial phase that’s confusing and scary and incremental and rife for meme possibilities. After all, there’s nothing more conducive to meme-ing than a bunch of repressed and connected feelings that are shared by a community of people all working through the same shit.
I devoured EGG_IRL, sorting the subreddit by “top” and reading every single post. I didn’t relate to all of them, but I related to enough that the reality of my situation became very hard to doubt. I can’t really explain what it’s like to have my most secret thoughts — thoughts that I was certain I was the only person in the world who had — expressed by Kermit the Frog or Patrick Star.
Here are some of my favorites:
This is a pretty common meme format, and it’s also a pretty common feeling. The idea goes back to the whole “wanting to be a woman is the same as being a woman” thing, which is incredibly hard to internalize. Saying that I wanted to be a woman was easy, and it was something I was pretty comfortable doing pretty early on. Admitting that those feelings were part of what made me trans was a lot harder.
This is another one of my defense mechanisms that I found out was actually really common thanks to SpongeBob's best friend. I told myself for years that my desire to be a woman was just a sex thing, even though a lot of the energy I had about the idea went far beyond the realm of sexual fantasy. Whoops.
This seems so obvious in retrospect, but it had honestly never occurred to me that cis guys actually LIKE being guys! I mean, I knew that SOME people must like being a dude, like baseball players or something, but I had always figured that most people inherently understood that maleness was kind of a low-grade annoyance that you had to deal with in order to get a bunch of business privilege.
No comment. Again, I’ve told myself a lot of things that have pretty obvious answers in retrospect.
This was a major realization for me. One of the biggest piece of ammunition I had against the idea that I was trans was the fact that I’ve only dressed in women’s clothing a couple of times, and not since the most hellish parts of puberty. But when I re-examined this decision under the lens of 1) knowing that I had a lot of energy around gender stuff, and 2) wanting to suppress that side of myself at every cost in order to protect myself, it all made sense.
Another major defense mechanism took a hit thanks to this very powerful YuGiOh card. I’ve always been full of self-loathing about my body, and the idea of being confident enough in myself to present as a woman in the world scared the crap out of me. It still does, quite honestly. But you know what’s scarier? Watching my body become the body of a middle-aged guy.
I’ll take whatever kind of girl I can be over that, please and thank you.
As it turns out, some trans people fantasize about magically becoming their actual gender, even if the idea of transitioning sounds super scary.
Okay, I’ve fantasized about magic A LOT.
And I always sort of believed that everybody else did this, too.
The term is trans.
Admittedly, this is where I can start to hear the skeptics clearing their throats. Do we KNOW this person is trans? No. Should they be pushed into accepting that? Of course not. But I also know is that this is almost word for word a series of thoughts that I told The Friend Who Helped Me Come Out early on in my own process.
I’m going to do an entire post about gender dysphoria at some point. Needless to say, dysphoria a lot more varied and complex than I had assumed it was before I started reading about it. Early on, I assumed that I had never had that much dysphoria. Now I know how utterly wrong that was.
I’m going to end with this one because it fits a mental pattern that I’m still fighting through. This meme doesn’t quite fit the proper galaxy brain mold because it’s not a linear progression — #1 and #3 are both true, while #2 is the delusion. But the point isn’t that the meme is good — the point is that I HAVE TOLD MYSELF #2 SO SO SO MANY TIMES and knowing that it’s a struggle that another transwoman have also fought through is so comforting.
And this is why I still go on EGG_IRL every single morning despite not really identifying as an “egg” anymore. I may never have scientific proof that I’m trans — none of us will — but the idea that so many of us have suffered the same doubts and uncertainties as we’ve progressed on our individual journeys can really help make the whole thing feel a heck of a lot easier.