How often have you heard the phrase “born in the wrong body” about trans people? And how many times have you heard it said by trans people?
Chances are the first number is much, much higher than the second. That’s because the BITWB trope is primarily used by cisgender people who are writing or talking about transgender people; the few trans people who do use it are typically people who have just come out, have just started making sense of things and are trying to explain something very big and complicated in as simple a way as possible.
Mallory Moore has put together a good overview of this. As Moore points out, the vast majority of “trans people think you can be born in the wrong body” stuff online is written by anti-trans activists. Whenever I’ve seen it discussed by trans people, it’s to criticise the trope, not to perpetuate it. I don’t think I’ve encountered a single instance of the BITWB trope being used by anybody who’s come out as trans and begun any kind of transition.
Moore quotes a poem by Elena Rose from 2007:
I am not a woman trapped in a man’s body. This body is no man’s; it is mine, it is me, and there is no man in that equation. And I am not trapped in it. There are a million and one ways out of this body, and I have clung to it, tooth and claw, despite an endless line of people and institutions who would rather I vacate the premises, and have sometimes been willing to make me bleed to convince me they’re right.
The trope does have a history, though. When trans healthcare suffered from even more gatekeeping than it does now, trans people knew exactly what was expected from them if they wanted access to any form of transition: if they didn’t turn up looking stereotypically feminine and telling the doc they were trapped in the wrong body, they wouldn’t get any treatment.
It’s a story we were told to tell gatekeepers in order to qualify for essential treatment and a story early transitioners told the papers, setting a framework that journalists still use today.
As Janet Mock put it:
Trapped in the wrong body” is a convenient, lazy explanation but it fails to describe #trans people & our bodies every time… it makes our lives and struggles more palatable to the cis masses, but it is lazy media ‘reporting’.
Update: The Mermaids charity has posted a blog asking trans and non-binary people whether they use the phrase; some used to and feel it isn’t right; others are perfectly fine with it. It’s an interesting piece.