Disclaimer: this post explores my personal understanding and experience with gender. This may differ from yours. That’s ok.
Back in 2019, I published a blog post called “Shit, I’m a Lesbian“. At the time, I was a newly out lesbian trying to make sense of all the confusing things from my childhood that stopped me from realising that I am about as straight as a roundabout. Like how people will say: “But, you had crushes on men” Nope, all my friends did and I wanted to fit in. “You said you were bisexual” Whoops, I was wrong. Y’know, unpacking that kind of stuff.
In that post, I said:
Change happens. No your sexuality isn’t going to change at the flick of a switch: you are who you are. It’s the way you identify that changes. You realise something, admit it to yourself, accept it. Breath it in and sit with it.
And, I still stand by that. Things didn’t change overnight but as I’ve slowly carved out my own understanding of my sexuality, the topic of gender entered the ring.
00s – 2010s
Growing up, I honestly never thought about my gender. I had the occasional “I hate being girl” when adults would say inappropriate things to me, but other than that, nothing. As far as the early 00s understanding of gender goes, I was fortunate enough to be raised in a neutral environment. I played with Barbie, Bratz, and My Scene dolls, and then joined my brother in playing Tony Hawk & WWE games on the PS2.
It wasn’t until I turned 12 that things changed. Certain social pressures like wearing dresses, straightening my hair, and wearing a full face of make-up came into play. I started wearing skirts to school after two classmates pressured me to be “more girly”. Friends would ask “do you not care about your appearance?” when I didn’t straighten my hair in the morning. Though my parents were still cool with me doing my own thing, my dad’s new wife and some extended family had an issue. They began pressuring me to be more like my step-sister or cousin or anyone who had more stereotypical feminine interests like wearing dresses and dating boys.
Sadly, in the 00s and 2010s, that pressure to conform to society’s expectation of gender presentation was difficult to contend with. Everywhere was peddling girls vs boys. It was completely normal and reasonable to shame someone for presenting outside of the mould. And because of this, I grew up doing things in an attempt to fit in: I wore skirts, straightened by hair everyday for two years, applied make up and cried because I was never comfortable in it. The list goes on. I’ve always been on the outside of what people wanted and expected from me.
What I didn’t realise at the time is that, no matter what I did, who I became, I would never be accepted. Whether it was because I was closeted, an undiagnosed autistic, or just not that “girly”, I would never fit in. That pressure should never have been on me to begin with.
2019 – 2022
Now, I’ve spent the last few years moving away from those pressures that linger in the back of my mind. Those thoughts of “I should dress more feminine” are tangled like a net around my ankles. I wish there was an easy way to cut them off. Despite that, I have become more myself. I’ve been working hard to uncover parts of me hidden behind the words and misunderstanding of others. In the last year, after lots of research, introspection, and discussions with people from different communities, I have come to some realisations:
- I’m non-binary. I realised that I have no attachment to the labels of ‘man’ or ‘woman’. They feel like empty vessels floating in the sea, far away from the island that is myself. No amount of me fills either.
- I’ve put in the work to develop my own understanding of identity and the social understandings of certain labels. There’s no checklist I need to complete to identify as non-binary and maybe that label will change in the future after further self-exploration. However, I don’t need external validation to know who I am.
It feels good to say these things out loud as I type.
Some hope in the past
Looking back, there’s one person who I think might have seen me clearer than they realise. My mother. We’re not close, we don’t know each other very well, but there are a number of actions that I will be eternally grateful for. One, occasionally, I would come home to a new t-shirt or hoodie lying on my bed. It was always blue and obviously from the men’s section, and it was always something I liked.
In those moments, I felt seen. The idea that my mother saw a shirt from across the shop and bought it for me regardless of the gender it was made for, warms my heart. Of course, I can’t say for certain what went through her mind when doing this, but nevertheless it was a lifeline for me. Reinforcing some form of acceptance. Especially when considering how nervous about social expectations she is. Now, all my shirts are from the men’s section. No shame.
Gender isn’t decided by your interests, behaviour, or clothing, but those can be ways to express yourself. Sometimes I walk with a male swagger, while other times I tip toe. I adore the colour pink, but I mainly wear blues and blacks. I love to sing and decorate and play video games. I like every genre of film and will find reasons to cry at every single one.
What I’m trying to say is, that regardless of how people see me on the outside, I’m non-binary. I can do traditionally masculine or feminine things and regardless of what blocks I use to build my island, it all come together to be me. Not a man or a woman. Me. Non-binary.
Slowly, I’m dismantling the use of the gender binary in my mind and my relation to it as a non-binary person. Sadly, so much of our existence is gendered and society has trapped people like myself in a position of anti-gender binary, which thus creates ANOTHER binary. It’s a mess which is why I recommend that anyone questioning their gender identity should define gender for themselves. Ignore what society and other people say because you’ll just get trapped in a web of constant second guessing and impostor syndrome.
Think: What is gender to you? And how are you comfortable existing? Are you currently hiding a part of yourself to make others comfortable?
One major step for myself in accepting who I truly am was getting a hair cut. Something so simple, yet so effective. When I looked in the mirror it was an emotional moment. For the first time in my life, I saw myself looking back.
Some days I do find myself resenting how people made me feel growing up. The constant understanding that I was never enough has severely impacted my mental health. But, by exploring my identity I’m slowly learning that I am enough, because I am all I need to be. Fuck those people. And, there is a wider discussion that needs to happen around the existence of gender as a whole, but that’s a societal issue that I can’t fix with a blog post. I can only explore my relationship to the self and so can you.
So, if you’ve got this far, I’d like to ask you to consider something. For the cisgender people reading: What makes you a man/woman?