Made, Not Born, This Way: Angsting My Way Through Everything But Gender

[ brief mention of intentional weight loss]

When other people tell me they’re trans and/or non-binary¹, it doesn’t occur to me to question them.

I am so honored you came out to me! Let me know what I can do to help you. Would you like moral support and/or bargain tips for your new aesthetic? Should I correct other people’s misgendering yet? I am so happy for you, friend!

My own path towards accepting that I am not cis has been far less…. accepting.


When I searched myself and found that I was definitely not a girl, my knee-jerk response was to tell myself that it couldn’t be that I was not a girl. I had never felt strongly about being a girl, but it wasn’t like I felt strongly that I was a man, either. So what could I be? I defaulted to girl and woman because that’s all I knew was available as an option.

I thought maybe the rigid sexism that told me that I was not woman enough was the problem. Deconstructing gender roles and becoming that most reviled of internet creatures, the feminist, didn’t relieve me of the not-a-girl feeling.

two cartoon figures enjoying pizza, with the caption "pizza rolls not gender roles"

Through that feminism, I found out that being neither a man nor a woman was an option. At the same time, that option seemed very much out of my reach as a fat brown person, since the popular conception of androgyny means being angular, tall, thin, and more often than not white. Dieting wouldn’t save me, since every time I dieted hardcore and lost weight, I ended up looking more traditionally feminine, all va-va-voom curvaceous, rather than stick-like. It didn’t occur to me to disrupt the white supremacy and fat-hate built into this gender-disruptive concept I encountered. I dismissed living outside the binary as yet another thing that wasn’t for people like me and moved on, finding other things to blame for my gender feelings.

Intersectional theory and the writings of many excellent black women had me consider the racism behind the idea that someone like me couldn’t be a girl. So what if my dark fat hairy ass wasn’t the dainty hairless pretty that I was told girls should be? I could still be a girl! I stopped shaving and started talking about how I used to pluck my toe hairs (this is even more painful than it sounds) as a Feminist Pain Sharing Story. Being hairy felt good. Affirming, even, especially when I wore red lipstick and earrings and dresses with it. But I still didn’t feel like a woman, femininity and all.

a light-skinned cartoon leg with dark hairs all over it surrounded by hearts on a pink background. the toes are painted red and wiggling

Embracing femininity yet not finding a woman in me also disproved the idea that my gender feelings were internalized misogyny telling me to revile the feminine. Going femme (and hard, since I do little half-heartedly), while fun as all hell, didn’t help me to feel more like a woman. Indeed, it alienated me further from womanhood in ways I’ve not fully unpacked yet. I finally accepted that I must be non-binary, but insisted that I didn’t need to change anything about myself. I was a non-binary femme and not quiet about it… except at work and with family. Even among friends who knew who I was, my femme appearance led to a lot of feminine gendering.

I stopped being femme after gaining weight, though not because I thought a femme couldn’t be fatter than I was before.

Being an SJW doesn’t magically cure you of plain old internalized fatphobic body hate. While I was fat positive in theory, I was still dieting and loathing myself. That led me to the next way to dismiss my gender feelings. I told myself that I didn’t feel comfortable or at home in my body because I was told my entire life that my body was wrong and needed to be changed. I was only partially right. Months of helpful (and expensive) intuitive eating coaching later, and I was mostly over my fatphobia and diet cultural brainwashing… yet I still felt like not a woman and like I maybe wanted to change my body in certain ways.

I started by changing my appearance. I needed new clothes anyway and knew how to shop frugally. Within a few months, I had a wardrobe obtained mostly from the men’s department. It felt good.

an assortment of clothing and accessories traditionally considered to be for men

I knew all along that I had some unresolved mental health issues. I thought seeing a psychiatrist plus a therapist and getting helpful meds might fix the gender feelings. It didn’t. Seriously confronting the mountains of unresolved trauma from my childhood did not disappear my discomfort with the way I was perceived by and moving through the world gender-wise.

It finally occurred to me that I had spent my entire adult life dealing with real issues that cis people also have in order to accept that I am not cis. While all my non-gender issues were real and worth tackling, they didn’t make me any less trans. I would not stop being trans even if I reached some perfect level of serenity, health, and wellness.

Not being perfectly ordered, and in fact still being somewhat disordered, is okay. We don’t stop cis people from doing all kinds of drastic and permanent things, medical and/or gender-related or not, because they aren’t perfect. In 2019, after years of actively trying to deal with my gender feelings in every way but the obvious one, I finally let my imperfect self go in for gender transition-related care. The surrounding gender euphoria is so, so real.

I’m perfectly okay with the fact that I wasn’t born this way. I struggled through an intensive process of elimination to be this way, and I look forward to discovering more about myself along the way. I don’t think I’m more or less valid for getting here the way I did. I just wish I had known that so, so many of the things that give me joy now were in fact an option for me all along.

1) There are some who say that anyone who is not cis is trans. There are others who reject the cis/trans binary in addition to the male/female gender binary. It’s not my place to tell people what and who they are so I have accounted for both perspectives in my wording.

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Made, Not Born, This Way: Angsting My Way Through Everything But Gender
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13 thoughts on “Made, Not Born, This Way: Angsting My Way Through Everything But Gender

  1. m n
    1

    <3

    I'm going through some similar gender stuff, so it was really affirming to hear you talk about it, too. I know I need to Address My Shit this year; hopefully I actually manage to start taking steps.

  2. 2

    Embracing femininity yet not finding a woman in me also disproved the idea that my gender feelings were internalized misogyny telling me to revile the feminine.

    I’d like to hear more about this part. I want to know more about how non-binary AFAB people can figure out if their itch at being labelled feminine isn’t just feeling like “woman” is an insult in an overwhelmingly (if sometimes subtly) misogynist society.

    It’s a tricky question because how can one publicly discuss that issue without giving fuel to transphobes and gatekeepers, and aside from that how can you discuss it without putting a person who’s already had a hard time figuring theirself out a trip down trigger lane.

    If you don’t want to elaborate on that, don’t bother. In fact, delete this comment if you don’t want to see anyone else discuss it here either. I’m not bothered. But I would like to hear your thoughts on that, if you’re OK with it.

    1. 2.1

      It was less the label of feminine, more the social treatment of me as feminine. Most of my feelings about gender are about how I move through the world and am treated, and how I feel about that. In aggregate, I didn’t like being treated like a feminine person — taking the good and the bad into account. Of course, feminine types are generally subject to more bad treatment, but I don’t like the “positive” stuff either.

      1. So in a magical hypothetical thought experiment, if society’s treatment of humans magically became perfectly gender neutral, would you no longer be gq?

        The reason I think this is a risky / possibly insulting or annoying line of questioning is that it’s almost the inverse corollary of the “autogynephilia” concept, in that it’s something that could give a person pause about seeking treatment for gender dysphoria, depending on how they receive it.

        But the more aware I’ve become of misogyny over the years, the more this question pops up in my mind. So it would be cool to have a snappy retort to it, like say if a dysphoric AFAB person I knew found theirself bogged down in “gendercrit.”

        1. In the world you imagine, would “genderqueer” even be a concept? Probably not. There’s no snappy retort because I don’t think we are truly capable of imagining a world like that.

          1. If trans and gq people like us are experiencing dysphoria (or whatever we call our discomfort with the birth box) purely as a response to society, pursuing medical transition ends up feeling like an extreme response. From a male privilege having amurrican individualist position, which was my starting point in life & is a feeling I have to be cognizant of, if society is wrong why should we have to change ourselves physically in reaction to it? I’d never want to discourage people from physically transitioning. I’m just spelling out some kind of ideas one is likely to encounter. The kind of stuff where snap would be nice to have, even if it might not be possible.

            There’s practically no comparing the transfeminine and transmasculine sides of this, which is another limit to understanding. On one side the question is – am I feeling internalized misogyny? On the other – do I only feel sexual as a woman because I’ve bought the objectification of women as the only source of sexual feeling?

            Every day I feel lucky as hell to not experience significant levels of dysphoria. It gives me the option of not expressing my genderqueer identity in day-to-day life, and facing that prejudice more pointedly. It does make me feel kind of illegitimate though. Again, small potatoes compared to the feeling of full on gender dysphoria.

            All that’s to say I recognize I’m not entitled to this conversation and am ready to buzz off. I’m not enjoying myself here, just taking an opportunity to clarify something vexing with an unusually qualified person. Howdy.

          2. Is it really that extreme? Many cis people live out their entire lives and make nearly all of their choices, medical and not, in response to social pressure and going along with the mainstream without ever questioning it. There’s a reason why exactly none of my married female relatives “chose” a white dress for their weddings while many mainstream American brides do and claim it was a choice. There’s a reason why my relatives claim to “choose” not to date until after having married while, again, mainstream Americans “choose” the opposite, including premarital sex. We are products of our cultures. None of us can claim to be untouched.

            So why is it only that when trans people do so that it suddenly seems “extreme” to do something in response to the way the world works so that you can live comfortably within it?

  3. 3

    I haven´t decided whether I just chafe at gendered expectations or gender in general, but round hips and big boobs making androgyny feel painfully out of reach is something I really struggle(d) with. I´ll be referring back to this post regularly so I can chew it in small pieces because there´s so much stuff here which you put much more clearly than I ever could.

  4. 4

    Really that extreme? Some procedures are a lot more expensive than a tattoo and can involve not lifting your arms above shoulder level for six months. And a transwoman that will never pass well because of various natural features is putting a hard-to-conceal bullseye on her chest if she gets top surgery. (I think the community sometimes fronts like passing is possible for everyone and that can be very harmful. On the other hand, passing isn’t the only reason to medically transition and gatekeepers using that as a reason to rain on people is shit. A bit off topic.)

    A trans dude told me, and I take this to heart as someone who in different life circumstances might have considered it, that if you have a choice to not medically transition, you shouldn’t. Not in this world – I’m not saying anyone really can ignore their culture, that can and will kill people.

    I only brought up “in a world” as a clearly failed springboard for a specific question, and find myself talking about stuff way outside the subject I originally was trying to ask about.

    That question is this: You’re sure that your discomfort with being treated as a woman is not internalized misogyny. I’m interested in how you arrived at that feeling of confidence, and am not sure I completely understood the passage where you mentioned it.

    Embracing femininity yet not finding a woman in me also disproved the idea that my gender feelings were internalized misogyny telling me to revile the feminine.

    So you femmed up your presentation early in your gq times, but you still felt like an odd one out when ladies got to talking around you, still didn’t feel like you were part of that way of being in our culture? Something like that? How did this translate into confidence that you aren’t a woman, and how are you sure that is isn’t internalized misogyny?

    I’m sure you’re right about yourself. This could sound like I’m trying to get you to doubt yourself and that’s the last thing I’d want to do. I’d just like to know how you found the line for yourself, between misogyny and gender identity.

    1. 4.1

      So there’s a lot to unpack here, friend.

      Really that extreme? Some procedures are a lot more expensive than a tattoo and can involve not lifting your arms above shoulder level for six months.

      Cis women get breast reductions and enlargements all the time, as well as labiaplasty and nose jobs, often for purely cosmetic reasons, sometimes with no reported positive outcome (even negative ones) and sometimes at the behest of pressuring male partners. Why are we singling out trans people, whose reported mental health and other benefits are overall more positive than those of cis people undergoing cosmetic procedures, for criticism for these procedures? Trans people have to get through medical gatekeeping to access care as well, something cis people don’t. It seems absurd to the point of bigotry to scrutinize the group of people who are better-vetted for doing what you call “extreme” things.

      Surgeries aside, most cis women get pregnant and give birth at some point in their lives, a risky and harmful process that changes your body indefinitely and often disables you temporarily, not to mention increases your lifelong risk for poverty and the chances of your male partner (if you have one) murdering you. By your logic, having a child is an extreme choice and we should be scrutinizing people who do so far more than we do now.

      And a transwoman that will never pass well because of various natural features is putting a hard-to-conceal bullseye on her chest if she gets top surgery. (I think the community sometimes fronts like passing is possible for everyone and that can be very harmful. On the other hand, passing isn’t the only reason to medically transition and gatekeepers using that as a reason to rain on people is shit. A bit off topic.)

      I challenge you to find any trans person that believes that anyone can pass. Find them, ask them to comment, or heck, just tell me about them. I’ve been around people I’ve known are trans for 12+ years now. I’ve been part of social circles where most people were trans, online and off. I’ve deal with many flavors of trans people, from truscum to people who think that binarily gendered people are inherently oppressive, and I have never, ever heard anyone express that view with any seriousness. You might be mistaking intra-trans encouragement and inspiration and aspiration for a warped view of reality.

      A trans dude told me, and I take this to heart as someone who in different life circumstances might have considered it, that if you have a choice to not medically transition, you shouldn’t. Not in this world – I’m not saying anyone really can ignore their culture, that can and will kill people.

      That is a flattening of trans people’s lives and experiences that ignores intersections of oppression. Trans women of color, specifically Latina and black trans women, who are at a particular intersection of racism and misogyny and transphobia, are the ones being rampantly murdered. Trans men do have a higher suicide rate, which certainly is connected to social issues, but the original statement lacks in nuance.

      That question is this: You’re sure that your discomfort with being treated as a woman is not internalized misogyny. I’m interested in how you arrived at that feeling of confidence, and am not sure I completely understood the passage where you mentioned it.

      No one is 100% confident. You’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. All I know is that I dealt with my internalized misogyny but still found myself not feeling like a woman. I stopped hating women and the feminine, but that didn’t make me feel like a woman. It wasn’t hatred that kept me from feeling like a woman, it’s me.

      So you femmed up your presentation early in your gq times, but you still felt like an odd one out when ladies got to talking around you, still didn’t feel like you were part of that way of being in our culture? Something like that? How did this translate into confidence that you aren’t a woman, and how are you sure that is isn’t internalized misogyny?

      Actually, I went femme before identifying as non-binary (I don’t identify as genderqueer, not really. It’s not a label I feel is for me). Femme was fun and what I wanted for myself at the time. In going femme, I embraced traditionally-feminine coded things that I used to scoff at out of hand. Again, it was part of rejecting misogyny. I rejected misogyny and still didn’t feel like a woman. Again, I found out that I wasn’t feeling like a woman because of hate, I simply am not a woman.

      It has nothing to do with other people’s talk or feeling left out. I do not identify as a woman. Other people do identify as women, but I don’t. It’s as simple as that. I don’t have anything else for you. I am not a woman. I know it the way other people know they are women.

      I also know, now, that certain things I do feel right. Calling myself a woman, being referred to as “she”, doesn’t feel like it fits. It feels awkward. When people gender me correctly (that is, neutrally), I feel euphoria. T feels right for me as does my newer presentation.

      I am sorry I don’t have anything more for you. It really feels like you’re looking for answers I do not have.

      1. I never intended to get into debate about the whys and wherefores of medical transition. There’s practically nothing you’ve said that I’d actually disagree with, except to say it doesn’t seem minor. The trans person I know best would rather have not felt compelled to do any of it.

        My original statement that started down that path was meant as something like: from my point of view as a person who has been living with white male privilege, any situation where it’s me vs. the world, I’d expect the world to change.

        Other people take that kind of feeling as a justification to never bathe, so I wasn’t even saying it was a good position to hold. But from that point of view, transition would seem like an extreme thing to do in reaction to society.

        I challenge you to find any trans person that believes that anyone can pass.

        It usually isn’t spelled out explicitly, but sometimes it is, in the form of blithe positivity posts. I’d be surprised if you’ve never seen them. The trans version of Dan Savage’s “It gets better” shit or people saying it’s always possible to lose weight. Then again, you may be quite right about my misunderstanding the posts in question.

        flattening

        I’m not so much ignoring intersection as I am, through the pain of loved ones, experiencing the intersections of severe mental and physical disability + fatphobia + transness + hopeless unending poverty. And from that point of view – yes, one person’s, so flattened – it can seem like transitioning can be brutal and still fail to significantly improve one’s life. All that said, there’s nothing you’ve said I disagree with.

        No one is 100% confident. You’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. All I know is that I dealt with my internalized misogyny but still found myself not feeling like a woman. I stopped hating women and the feminine, but that didn’t make me feel like a woman. It wasn’t hatred that kept me from feeling like a woman, it’s me.

        That’s it. That’s all I meant to be asking about, and the subsequent paragraphs of clarification are helpful. Sorry about mislabeling you on the gq front, my esteemed nb.

        I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the phrase “gender euphoria” before this conversation. Sadly, I think euphoria of any kind is a pretty distant land from where I live. Congratulations on feeling that way sometimes though. That’s pretty rad.

        1. To be clear, I never said medical transition is minor. I do object to calling it “extreme” which is a judgment call rather than a descriptor, and one rarely applied to similarly major medical choices and/or interventions that cis people undergo.

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