I’ve never had an understanding of my own gender identity within the binary standards of male vs. female. As a child, I said that I was a girl because that’s what they told me to be. Since I had heard that girls grew up to be women, that was what I thought I was going to be. I’d grow breasts and start understanding how to dress myself and get a husband and have sex and have kids. Bam, woman.
Yet, in my self-reflective writings, I talked about how I went from kid to pre-teen to teen to young adult to adult, not girl to woman. Not even in my journal entries about getting my period did I talk about becoming a woman. I talked about giving up on childish things, about puberty, about my sexuality, but never about girlhood or womanhood.
Feeling like a woman was something that simply never happened for me. When I realized that was the case, I did quite a lot to try to feel like a woman without consciously admitting to myself what all was going on. None of it worked.
I tried using my male-focused sexual desires as a path to womanhood. I seduced men and was seduced by men. Much in the way of consensual hotness and fun was had, but all that made me feel no more womanly than when I was a never-been-kissed virgin.
I tried using feminism. I read and wrote lots of things about gender. I checked myself for internalized misogyny and actively rid myself of it as much as possible. I learned about femmephobia and slut-shaming and stopped being such a chill girl about things traditionally associated with women. No dice. I had stopped loathing women and feminine things, which is an awesome thing in itself, but that didn’t make me a woman.
— Heina Dadabhoy (@heinousdealings) February 6, 2015
I stopped ignoring my gayer feelings and came out as bisexual. I danced with and kissed and dated and had sex with women. Getting right with my queerness was good for me in infinite ways, especially for my body acceptance (nothing like finding someone else’s body attractive because of its flaws to realize that your similar “flaws” are just fine), but didn’t make me smack my forehead and go “yep, woman.”
I explored kink from all angles; again, I had a lot of fun, but no gender-based realizations happened. If anything, as a switch with varied tastes, I found myself questioning how well I fit into the “woman” box even more than I had when I was primarily vanilla in my activities of choice.
I went full-on femme. I explored my wardrobe with the help of thrift stores and Etsy. I acquired cool jewelry and explored makeup. Wearing pretty clothes on my person and applying fun colors to my face made me feel awesome and much more like myself, but oddly enough made me feel less like a woman. I approach and wear femme as a way to express myself, since there are a lot more options for my body type and tastes within more femme expressions, but it doesn’t make me feel like a woman.
What helped me to figure it out, in the end, was learning about trans issues, especially since I thought that, as a not-woman, I might be a man. All the binary trans people I spoke with understood their own genders the way that the cis people I knew understood their own genders. They knew themselves to be men or women in a way that I eventually realized I would never know along binary gender lines. All the force of cisnormative trans-hating society couldn’t stop the binary trans people with whom I spoke from knowing that they were men even if designated female at birth or women even if designated male at birth. I realized that I wasn’t a man just because I wasn’t a woman.
But what was I? I eventually settled on “gender questioning,” at least for the moment.