Recently I’ve received lots of similar emails along the lines of “I am questioning my gender, and I don’t know what this all means!”
“I’m trying to reach out to people who understand or relate to what I’m feeling so I can sort it out.”
“I’ve recently found myself googling “gender” and over the last week I’ve discovered a whole new language and world of identities.”
“My mind wants to embrace these aspects which I have ignored most of my life. … I’ve been feeling insecure lately after acknowledging these feelings.”
Everybody starts somewhere, and the beginning looks different for each person. Some folks are barely starting to question gender in a conscious way, while others have been grappling with it for years or decades. Yet somehow you’ve all arrived at a boiling point, where you can no longer brush off these feelings as irrelevant, inconvenient, transitory. You feel compelled to do something about them, even if the first step is shooting off a personal email to a total stranger. This first step is perhaps the hardest and most important: it marks a stage of exploration, filled with endless rabbit-hole research only to find answers that lead to more questions.
So I wanted to make space for you, and round up a cogent response for everyone who hasn’t yet had the courage, drive, or time to write me an email. This isn’t really a manual on how to figure out your gender identity, it’s more of a security blanket to remind you that everything will be ok.
Your experience is not uncommon or unheard of.
I want you to know that it’s completely natural to feel insecure about these feelings, both what they mean and of having them in the first place. This is especially true when you are first beginning to explore gender and your identity, though the feeling of doubt kind of creeps up on you regardless of how long you’ve been at this.
You are not only diving deep into what it means to be you, but having a non-binary gender (or just considering the possibility) means coloring way outside the lines of what exists in society, sometimes even coloring off the page entirely! So of course it can be both a very scary, though exhilarating, experience.
Read and Research
The best I can recommend is to read, lots. The more you think about it the clearer things will get (eventually).
I’m glad you found my blog, since it is a great place to start figuring out your identity. A few of my favorite posts that might bring some clarity as well are about Finding Yourself when you don’t know who “yourself” is, how to know when you’re Ready to take the next step, and how Today’s Truth might not be tomorrow’s, but it’s still the truth.
Other resources I recommend are:
- TransYada, AVEN, Susan’s Place, and other forums
- GenderqueerID with an inexhaustible list of resources
- The Art of Transliness has a great article on figuring out your gender identity, among others
- this article on Everyday Feminism, aptly titled “I think I might be trans” with 50+ resources
- browsing Tumblr and YouTube and Reddit and whatever the kids are on these days with tags like #genderqueer or #nonbinary or #agender
- browsing the blogs of my commenters, who span a variety of identities
If a term, label, or concept resonates with you for whatever reason, I encourage you to dive deeper, because it usually means you’re on to something. Even if you have it all figured out, at the very least you might learn language to describe your experience to yourself or others, and integrate this into how you feel. Just be careful not to let attachments to a particular word question who you are. What’s important is to figure out your gender and your identity, not whether you “qualify” as a member of a group or not, or whether this means you are (or are not) trans or genderqueer or non-binary.
Dealing with other people, especially when you’re young (and socially or financially dependent) can be the most painful part of the experience. When do you come out? How do you come out? What do you come out about?!
Everybody will navigate this differently. Coming out is not as simple as opening your closet door. It’s an ongoing process that requires plenty of courage: opening up to someone about your innermost private (and often jumbled, confused, sensitive) feelings leaves you vulnerable.
Garnering a support system to help you figure out your gender can be relieving, but depending on the circumstances, may also be a risk. You may experience rejection, denial, or acceptance. Don’t pressure yourself into having a conversation with someone if you’re not ready, be that your parents or your therapist or your best friend or your partner. Don’t feel like you have to explain or justify your feelings, your gender, or your expression/actions. Coming out to someone won’t make your identity more or less legitimate.
Above all, don’t feel like you need to have all the answers right now, or ever.
Crawl the Walk
The next best thing to take little steps.
Sometimes your heart knows what it wants, but your brain needs to do the catching up. So trying something out – like a new name (or nickname), a new pronoun, a new shirt or a new hat – can be the nudge that pushes you in the right direction. It can turn an abstract experience of feeling uncomfortable with your gender into concrete validation of “this feels right.” These sensations are the first of many in your exploration of your identity, as you slowly being to peel off the layers and unlearn everything society has engrained in us regarding the gender binary.
There is no checklist of behaviors or preferences that will determine whether or not you are transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, none or all of the above. Allow yourself to feel. But don’t get hung up on one experience either; you’ll have many moments like these, eventually they’ll add up to provide some clarity.