I’ve been exploring my gender a lot lately, and bit by bit, I’m becoming more and more comfortable seeing myself as a transfeminine person, and feel more and more relaxed and comfortable in that place. Gender can often feel extremely overwhelming, but as I explore certain aspects of myself through journaling, communicating with others, and trying different ways of presenting (such as clothes or body hair), it can become simpler, just a feeling of happiness and ease. That feeling can be wonderful and make me very emotional, but it’s beautiful in how natural and simple it feels. Notwithstanding the ways that my thoughts can become much more complicated and distressing afterwards, it’s been a wonderful shift that I am really excited by and look forward to exploring more.
Where things start to feel more complicated is when I shift from thinking about how I relate to gender as a person, towards how I relate to gender in society. I’m not even talking about transphobia here. Sure that’s a big problem, but it’s separate from the feeling I’m talking about here. What I mean is that if I were to change my presentation or my body to align more with my personal feelings, it would also change the way that people perceive me and understand me in the world, even separately from being trans. Being perceived as a man and being perceived as a woman seem like very different experiences that are nuanced and complex, and carry a lot of baggage for me.
I am fairly comfortable being perceived as a man. It might not be perfect, but it’s something I know. As someone with social anxiety disorder, and who is getting assessed for ADHD and ASD soon, social interactions can be very difficult. Over the years, I have developed ways of coping with this; certain scripts, cues, ways of interacting with others in response to their perceptions. I might not fit into some stereotype of masculinity, but I can play a part that lets me fit into the world. This can even change with different people. I can speak in different registers, tell different kinds of jokes, and focus on different interests depending on who I’m with. It doesn’t feel inauthentic, it’s just the way that I’ve lived my life. These tools have let me break through barriers with people to get to a point where we can talk on a deeper level that isn’t as influenced by these performances.
The idea of changing the way that I am perceived by others means that the ways that I have worked so hard on to let others understand me wouldn’t necessarily work anymore. That is very scary to me. When I consider what it would be like the be perceived as a girl, it generates a deeply weird and confusing feeling that I don’t know how to process. I think this is partially because I haven’t usually seen myself as a person for most of my life. My public-facing identity is just this kind of strange theatre that happens to me, it’s not really a part of who I am. I have certainly received a lot of messages from the world that it’s extremely important and defines me in a lot of ways, and for my part, I’ve believed that and done my best to meet these expectations. But managing my presentation is never something I could stay focused on for long. Everything from clothes to even hygiene in my lower moments are things that I just kind of…forget about.
Then, there’s how I imagine being perceived as a girl, or more feminine person. There’s layers that I have to dig past in order to understand how I actually feel. When I initially consider what it would be like, my mind focuses on stereotypes. Some kind of girly archetype, or the ways that women are treated in media that was often created by and for men. And I can’t see myself in that. It makes me feel very awkward and uncomfortable. But then…I try to picture myself at my old job, wearing a blouse with some flowers, and some jeans, light makeup and hair to my shoulders. It’s just me. And it feels more like me than my actual memories of working there. It feels easier, simpler than the way I had my hair cut short, wearing a button-up shirt and khakis in reality. I picture myself in that situations with a slightly curvier waist and hips. And I feel peaceful. Like that might have made it easier to just exist than it was in reality.
Maybe my fears of how hard it will be to adjust to way I interact with others and how I am perceived are overblown. Maybe the reason it’s been so hard is that I’ve been cast in a role that doesn’t suit me. Maybe a new role will be easier, simpler, freer. Or maybe it will be hard too. Maybe the way my brain works means that this will be a hard barrier for me, and something I have to put hard work into all over again. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe it’ll be worth it.