With long blonde hair, striking angular features and a tall, thin frame, you’d never guess that Valentijn De Hingh was born a biological male. One of her earliest memories was, at the age of 4, telling her mom, “Some day, I’m going to cut my pee-pee off.” Like many young girls, she enjoyed playing with barbies, and wanted to be a Disney princess, but Ariel held a special allure. Little did she know that later on, she and Ariel would undergo similar transformations: “She was the girl who needed to change her body to change herself,” says Valentijn.
Seeking a definition of gender
For Valentijn, gender was mysterious. Everyone seemed to fit into one category — male or female. Everyone except for her, that is. “Gender seemed to be a big inside joke, that everyone but me seemed to get,” she explains.
So what, exactly, makes a person male or female? Is it only our physical anatomy, our sex organs, or is there more? According to Valentijn, our body does play a large role, but “there is also a realm of feeling involved when it comes to gender. We all seem to have a voice inside that tells us whether we’re male or female, no matter what.” But Valentijn never had that voice.
So throughout the process of transitioning from man to woman, Valentijn continued to wonder what her body means for her gender, and realized she would need to change her body to answer her question. She underwent gender reassignment surgery, and after the scars healed, Valentijn appeared — at least to others — to have it all figured out. Her body now seemed to match how she felt inside.
Finding a new understanding of womanhood
But Valentijn didn’t feel different, and yet she did not regret her gender reassignment surgery. “I can cut off any part of my body, but it doesn’t change how I’m going to feel about myself,” she discovered. “Ariel grew a pair of legs, but it didn’t actually change her.”
Ironically, in order to understand that there’s no such thing as being a woman, Valentijn had to become a woman. She gave up on trying to figure out gender, and started focusing on what she knows about herself.
So what did Valentijn figure out? “I found out that I was happy… Gender actually didn’t matter to me anymore. No matter what label you put on me – male, female, transgender, whatever – I will always be myself.”
Watch Valentijn’s TEDTalk below:
Watch a behind-the-scenes interview with Valentijn (around 1:20 mark):
And some highlights from her TEDTalk (around 0:59 mark) and the rest of the event: