I remember being frustrated about being a girl since I was very little. My half-sisters sons were a few years older than me, and I was raised close to them. They were allowed to play harder, get dirtier, to push limits. I also went to daycare with all boys, where I was outcast from every game and constantly teased for the indignant tears I would cry from being left out. All because I was a girl.
I did everything I could do to prove my validity as an equal to all the boys in my life. I preferred Legos and Hot Wheels to Barbies. I wore mainly overalls and shirts from the boys section until middle school. I refused my mother’s pleading to have me do ballet or gymnastics and insisted on being allowed to join Tae Kwon Do at age 7. I stayed in it for 9 years, earning my black belt and showing the boys that I could keep up and even pass them with my ruthless determination.
I did everything I could do to prove my validity as an equal to all the boys in my life.
But as I entered middle school and later high school, and my body began to change from a straight, boyish figure to womanly curves the differences between myself and the boys became more stark. I worried more about if I was as feminine and attractive as the other girls that the boys were fascinated with. I devoured every teen magazine I could get my hands on, determined to become the perfect woman — because I saw that being attractive to boys was now more important than being one of the boys.
I developed terrible social anxiety and depression, and obsessed over what the boys I had crushes on thought of me. Any small joke was a stab in my heart. I cried most days over the smallest of comments or actions. When I finally realized the power of my sexuality around 17 I threw it aggressively toward anyone willing, finally getting the tiniest of tastes of validation and attention. This caused me insurmountable amounts of emotional pain over my college years and right after college.
…I knew I was not soft and gentle, but strong and fiery… this wildly conflicted with my idea of what femininity meant.
A few years after college I discovered polyamory and came out as queer. Both of these things were huge steps toward better understanding and expressing my identity. I was still terribly insecure in my appearance, having struggled through a 5+ year long battle with an eating disorder and a lifelong severe skin condition that mainly affected my face. I had started attending festivals, which were full of women with impossibly beautiful bodies, perfect skin, amazing outfits, and an irresistibly carefree demeanor. I tried to find my place in this community but found myself still trying to squeeze myself into the identity of the perfect woman. All the while I knew I was not soft and gentle but strong and fiery and that this wildly conflicted with my idea of what femininity meant.
After I settled down in the Bay Area to create a more stable life post-festival world I fell in with a group of friends where for the first time I was viewed as a beautiful example of femininity. Men gave me more attention than I knew what to do with. And because of this, I felt like I was being treated as an equal for the first time. I was overjoyed. I dated 2 of the men I met through this group of friends, lavishing in the adoration and love and attraction.
By all means, I should have finally been content. But something was wrong. The more I felt into this feeling of happiness, I realized part of the happiness I was feeling was at finally not being treated differently because I was a woman — and when that happened I connected deeply with all the men in my life. I felt accepted. And this was when I began to question my gender identity.
I slowly put the pieces together — my longstanding kinship and connection to men, my masculine energy which everyone I had ever dated commented on, my misery at never feeling like the perfect woman. I had always felt more masculine than feminine, but because I was attracted to men I had never questioned my identity because I knew I wasn’t gay (and for most of my life I thought only gay women could be masculine or butch). When all these pieces clicked I cried first in relief and then the anxiety of what I was going to do settled in.I had always felt more masculine than feminine, but because I was attracted to men I had never questioned my identity because I knew I wasn’t gay.
I chose to come out first to my partners. They were a little confused but mostly supportive. Not feeling comfortable with he pronouns despite feeling that’s what my identity most closely was, I requested everyone to start calling me they/them. I cut off all my hair. I played with cross-dressing. I started dressing more androgynous all the time. I felt valid as a queer non-binary person for the first time. I finally felt like people were viewing me the way I had felt inside.
…it feels like I must be “on” all the time as a non-binary representative in the world, my desire to be acknowledged turning on me in the form of more visibility than I had ever wanted.
But it hasn’t been easy. Getting misgendered constantly has been an emotional vacuum. I grit my teeth when people don’t realize and I don’t feel like correcting them. I suck back tears when people who do know forget. My closest friends have become excellent at correcting others and themselves, and are my biggest champions. However it feels like I must be “on” all the time as a non-binary representative in the world, my desire to be acknowledged turning on me in the form of more visibility than I had ever wanted.
This brings me to my current state. I recently visited a former lover who met me almost 3 years ago, when I was still very femme. Being around them brought up a lot of feelings and memories from that time. I remember being so proud to identify with women and femininity. I ran a women’s circle, where I had some of the most profound conversations of my life. I have always adored the aesthetics of femme women. Even now as mostly androgynous presenting, I wear make up and heels and big hoops on occasion. I joke with my friends all the time that I’m a gay man who woke up in a woman’s body by accident and decided to roll with it instead of fight it.
I want to step into the empowered, graceful, fierce woman I was too scared to be when I was desperately trying to prove my validity to men.
But ever since I came out as non-binary I have been fighting it. I have been trying to masculinize myself out of a desire to be a valid non-binary person. Despite all the gender theory I intellectually know, I feel that if I present as a typical femme woman it invalidates my identity as a non-binary person. Tonight was my breaking point. I looked in the mirror and my short hair and masculine clothing felt foreign to me. I feel powerful and sexy in femme clothing. I love my short hair, but I miss my long hair. I want to wear lace and velvet and look soft. I want to step into the empowered, graceful, fierce woman I was too scared to be when I was desperately trying to prove my validity to men.
So I’m changing my gender presentation — again. In my quest to be my authentic self, I fell into the trap of trying to prove I was the label I was claiming for myself — fearful no one would take me seriously if I stayed a femme woman. And in doing that I abandoned many things I love about traditional femininity. I can be a fierce, strong, soft, beautiful femme and passing as cisgendered non-binary person. My physical appearance is not my identity. And I’m finally ready to embrace that.
My physical appearance is not my identity. And I’m finally ready to embrace that.
I have realized that gender is not a single trait. Strength does not belong to a gender. Softness does not belong to a gender. Beauty does not belong to a gender. I feel a companionship and camaraderie with men. I also feel a kinship and connection with women. I respect both genders and am no longer at war with them both. I am embracing the fluidity of gender, as I am no longer rejecting the binary gender but instead embracing the magic of all expressions of gender.
Strength does not belong to a gender. Softness does not belong to a gender. Beauty does not belong to a gender.