This post it my personal experience in navigating gender identity, but I would love to hear from other people what the process was like for you!
My experience navigating gender identity has felt like trying to find my way in a city that I’ve visited a couple times, but don’t know well enough to figure it out without a map. I knew the big landmarks, namely the things that I wanted and the things that caused me distress, but there was so much other stuff that it made it hard to find my way around.
As a kid I did know that I wanted to be a boy. It was enough that it caused me a lot of angst, and I had a burning hatred of ‘girly’ clothing and tried to make myself look as much like a boy as possible. But between that and adulthood when pressure to be ‘womanly’ got to be too much, I’d always discounted my feeling back then as being a part of puberty and that all kids went through that kind of thing. However, while I am sure there are people for whom there IS a phase, mine isn’t one that simply went away. Even throughout my teens my favorite activities were still things that people associate with ‘guy stuff’. [Although gender roles are bullshit.] I liked sports: flag football, basketball, camping, scouting, ROTC. I still dressed mostly gender neutral to downright ‘guyish’. Then high school hit, and I think this is the period where things became confusing, and still poses something that is confusing and hard for all kinds of people:
Balancing the desire to be attractive and feel accepted by your peers to being true to who you are as a person. Especially in relation to gender. I had always been called ugly all the way up to the end of middle school, and of all the things the feeling of ‘ugliness’ has been the most pervasive idea that has followed me my entire life. ‘Ugly’ had been the reason I didn’t make friends. ‘Ugly’ was why my crushes as a child would respond with “Ew. Who would like [them]?!” if anyone ever asked if they would like me. (Kids a cruel!) So the feeling of ugliness and wanting to finally NOT be ugly is something that could easily win out my desire to be myself and dress how I liked and participate in activities that made me happy.
Our middle school “Graduation” as they called it, is where the idea that I could NOT be ugly started. In celebration I was given the opportunity to have my natural hair straightened, and I HAD to wear a dress because this was a SPECIAL event.
You know the meme “Be careful who you call ugly in middle school”?
That was me.
Suddenly the same people who had teased me all year for ‘looking like a dyke’ had changed their tune. Suddenly I was the person who “Cleans up nicely” (Or whatever the kids used to say back then). The experience of finally being Not Ugly™ had opened up new possibilities! Imagine what I could do if I continued!
So for the rest of my teenage life being ‘feminine’ (Or as close to it as I could ever be, because lets be honest, my idea of looking ‘feminine’ is just a skirt a blouse, and eye shadow.) became my way to feel accepted. Suddenly I had Friends™ where I’d actually never had any close friends before. And those friends could even teach me how to be MORE feminine. I could imitate their high pitched voices and act really hyper and sociable. (And the people that I liked were actually interested in me. That was cool.)
But even when I had more acceptance from others than ever, I still struggled with self acceptance. Even though I had friends that I cared about, I was still struggling with low self esteem and depression on the low.
Trying to be feminine allowed me to get one thing, but at the cost of another. Which is also how I’ve been able to organize my feelings better, and in retrospect, that’s how I knew that femininity wasn’t necessarily for me. It was the feeling of being accepted that I really craved, and how could I experience true acceptance if it was based on pretending to be something that I’m not?
Of course, these are all things that happened before I was ever exposed to Transgender identities. I had simply assumed that it was an issue that all young adults have as they find themselves and that eventually (If I lived that long) I would have it all figured out.
It wasn’t until I had started going to counseling for my progressively worsening depression that I started questioning, and when I started questioning and started getting answers with the help of counselors and support groups and a lot of soul searching, that’s when I started to find my way.
Written by Kris
Photos by Unsplash.com
*This is my first time writing a blog, so if you have any corrections or suggestion, feel free to comment. I appreciate the feedback.