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Hello friends! Yes, you see the title. Yes, you might be confused. Let's talk about it.
Gender identity is becoming more and more of an open discussion as the LGBTQ+ community and their allies has fought for liberation and equality through the years. Gender identity is something that still isn't fully understood by everyone, nor is it accepted by everyone. For today's post, I'm not going to discuss too much of the specifics on the more political aspects of this, because there's a lot that I, myself, am still learning. But I wanted to talk about my personal experience with my own gender and how my moment of uncertainty opened my eyes to the construct that is gender roles.
I will say, though, that if you're wanting to learn a ton about gender identity, there are some incredible trans YouTubers I've been watching lately:
- There's Sam Collins, whose dry humor reminds me so much of Cody Ko. He promotes trans rights in a more light-hearted way, through videos that will make you cackle.
- There's Samantha Lux, a gorgeous trans woman whose sass and intelligence will both enlighten and entertain you. She does a great job explaining the more political aspects of trans rights.
- And finally, there's the stunning ContraPoints. I'm actually going to link her video about J.K. Rowling and TERFS because it's incredibly insightful and it helps to explain how subtle transphobia can be, yet how deep it can cut.
I'll also be leaving links to the resources I cite throughout this post so you can check them out!
A misconception about gender identity is that it's simple, that there's two genders. However, what's often misunderstood is that biological sex and gender are two different things. What you're assigned at birth and what the stereotypical, constructed gender roles are, are not the same. Femininity and masculinity are ideals that have been created through time, and are taught. But they are by no means actual biological traits.
According to Planned Parenthood, "Assigned sex is a label that you’re given at birth based on medical factors, including your hormones, chromosomes, and genitals. Most people are assigned male or female, and this is what’s put on their birth certificates." On the other hand, Planned Parenthood also notes, "Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you express your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins very early in life." It's less about anatomy and more about culture and how you more closely associate yourself.
And none of that is to say that MTF (Male to Female) trans people claim to understand everything women experience, and same for FTM (Female to Male) trans people. However, it's more how closely they identify in society, where they feel comfortable, and how they see themselves. "Gender is...complex: It’s a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts. Each culture has standards about the way that people should behave based on their gender. This is also generally male or female. But instead of being about body parts, it’s more about how you’re expected to act, because of your sex" (Planned Parenthood). See the article I'm referencing here.
Besides male and female, there's several other genders. Teen Talk broke these down, saying, "Gender isn’t about someone’s anatomy, it is about who they know them self to be. There are many different gender identities, including male, female, transgender, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, third gender, and all, none or a combination of these." You can learn more about these here.
But why am I discussing this? And why do people identify as genders that aren't their biological sex? Because I think it's important to cover gender dysphoria before I continue with my own gender identity story. This is such an important subject, and I hope it helps anyone out there who might be struggling with any inkling of gender dysphoria or discomfort in their skin to understand that they're not alone. There are so many influential and beautiful people I look up to that identify with genders outside of their assigned sex. It can be scary, but you're not alone.
Allow me to define a couple more terms before I dive into my personal experience.
For starters, gender dysphoria. It's defined by the American Psychiatric Association as, "psychological distress that results from an incongruence between one’s sex assigned at birth and one’s gender identity. Though gender dysphoria often begins in childhood, some people may not experience it until after puberty or much later." I will say, this article does an amazing job of listing the signs of gender dysphoria, the differences between gender identity and gender expression, and the differences between sexual orientation and gender. See it all here.
Gender Dysphoria is "a concept designated in the DSM-5 as clinically significant distress or impairment related to a strong desire to be of another gender, which may include desire to change primary and/or secondary sex characteristics."
- American Psychiatric Association, 'What is Gender Dysphoria?'
Now, I'm not claiming to have experienced Gender Dysphoria. I was never diagnosed, and it only really intrudes my thoughts in bursts, not consistently. Whatever I experienced, however, was very real, how I felt was valid, and what I felt was a genuine, undeniable disconnect from my typical identity as a woman.
Formerly, I've never felt a need to think about my gender identity. And I think that's definitely a privilege I didn't realize I had, not having to worry about how I identify. I was comfortably calling myself a woman. But this wave of identity confusion rushed over me, seemingly from out of no where, about a year ago. I'm currently at a stage where I feel decent about identifying as a woman, but it wasn't like that for a while.
One day, as a barista, I remember a man coming into the café. I made him his coffee, and on his way out, he told my coworkers and me, "Thank you, ladies!" I felt really confused. Ladies? But what about me? Oh wait. And it was the one of the most unfamiliar feelings I've experienced about myself. I can compare this feeling to if someone was to call me the wrong name. I'd feel confused, I'd think surely that was a mistake, they're not talking to me. Oh, they are? But in reality, nothing he said was abnormal. I just felt lost. In reality, my disconnected feeling from womanhood has started since I started puberty, and has shown itself in the weirdest ways.
Through high school, as my breasts grew, so did my insecurities. It seems like such a small issue, I can see that. However, ever since I've had breasts, I've wanted them hidden. I've always worn sports bras to smash them down as much as possible, and I always felt interested in binding.
If you're not sure what binding is, the organization Pride in Practice describes it as a type of "gender-affirming [practice] to reduce gender dysphoria or present in a way that is more congruent with their gender identity...a practice used primarily by transgender men and nonbinary individuals in order to achieve a flatter, more masculine chest appearance." You can read more about this here if you're curious about this method.
But, yes, I've always felt a disconnect and a resentment towards my breasts. It might sound ironic, but in a way, they've always made me feel less feminine, less confident. I feel like I've spent so much of my teenage and adult years so far trying to mask my body, as if I have a more androgynous figure. I feel uncomfortable with my curves, with my breasts. It's still an ongoing struggle, truthfully.
Something that honestly made me feel super confident was when I wore men's dress shoes and a button up blouse to my design portfolio show. I opted for a less feminine look, and I felt like a total badass. Switching to more masculine clothes from time to time has been crucial to my gender expression, but it's left me confused in how I feel with my actual gender identity.
In short, I identify as a woman. For now. I'm still trying to determine how I feel comfortable, to be honest. Or if non-binary is more of my speed. A lot of research and exploration still needs to be done on my end. I'll gladly respond to she/her, or they/them. I just don't identify as a man.
The wave of discomfort in my gender identity definitely wasn't black and white. It was crucial to have someone to talk through my thoughts with. I hiked with my friend Cooper every week through the spring and summer, and he was an amazing support system. He was the only person who knew about this dilemma (an understatement, honestly) I was experiencing. And it's important to note that Cooper did not tell me how to feel or how to identify. He did what any amazing friend would do, even what psychologists and therapists do--he asked me thought-provoking questions and allowed me to talk through my own thoughts to decipher what my path would look like. He was also the best listener in the world.
By the way, I'd like to quickly note that when people experience gender dysphoria, they often have a specific psychologist or therapist who help them plan the next appropriate step in their journey, i.e. if they should transition, or how they'll be able to flourish in their preferred identity through gender expression. It's an amazing collaboration to explore how you'll feel the most amazing and comfortable in this world.
In conclusion, I can't confirm if what I went through and still go through is a mild form of gender dysphoria, but just know, if you're going through something similar, you are not alone.
If you're struggling with your gender identity or have any related issues, the LGBT+ hotline is available to support you. The number is 888-843-4564.