I don’t want to be a woman
June 21, 2016 6:12 PM   Subscribe

How did you “know” you’re trans?

I hate every single thing about being female. I hate having tits, I hate periods, I hate dealing with daily sexism, I hate being physically weak, I hate being seen first as a walking vagina and second as a person, etc etc. I've always envied men and wish I'd been born male, but I'm basically ok with my body and I've never had any serious desire to get surgically altered or take hormones or anything like that. When someone says something that reminds me they see me as female, I feel awkward and...uncomfortable? Like I find it weird that someone would just unquestioningly think I'm female.

But, I almost always choose to present as very feminine, often wearing skirts/dresses and jewelry. I enjoy the “trappings” of femininity despite sometimes feeling limited by those same things.

So my question is, I guess, what the hell am I? And for those of you who identify as trans, is this something you just knew about yourself, or how did you come to see yourself as trans?
posted by a strong female character to Society & Culture (41 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Cis woman - I can relate to a lot of what you've said... I personally feel gender-neutral, internally, and hate 1) my period (it sucks) and 2) the impact of sexism on my daily life; also present as more or less feminine (and enjoy traditionally femme-ish fashion etc). I don't hate my tits, for example, though, and have a question about that - do you hate gendered parts of your body in themselves, i.e. when you're considering your physicality when you're by yourself, or because of and in conjunction with the negative social effects experienced in having them?
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:26 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Personally: I am a biological female. For a while I presented pretty masculine-ly, in terms of my hair and clothing choices and my mannerisms, and found comfort in being perceived as androgynous and being mistaken for a man by strangers. For some time I thought I might be trans but then I realized I actually do not want to be a man, I just want people to treat me like a person instead of the way they generally treat women (as less-than-people). Am now comfortably an increasingly radical feminist. Am no longer fantasizing about being androgynous or male-bodied one day as a way out of the consequences of my biology.

If you want to read the experience of someone who was born female, began transitioning to male, then de-transitioned and is now a female who presents as a woman, you can read this writer's work: https://mariacatt.com/ice-balls/
She is a much more eloquent writer than I'll ever be.
posted by zdravo at 6:29 PM on June 21, 2016 [46 favorites]

I thought about this years before I had even heard of the concept of "trans"

I feel or have felt a lot of those things. But I wouldn't say I personally experience body dysphoria because while for instance I take vitamins to prevent migraines, and I wear glasses, I'm also "basically ok with my body and I've never had any serious desire to get surgically altered or take hormones". I guess I figure if I had a penis I'd be so pleased to be able to pee standing up but I'd just the same be grumbly to myself about having vulnerable dangly bits and facial hair.

Here's how I see it. Society puts all sorts of labels on me that I grudgingly accept. Female. Bicyclist. Vegetarian. I ride transit, I wear used leather products. For me, "cis female" is just another label that, well, is more or less accurate enough.

If it doesn't work well enough for you, you don't have to use it. There's all sorts of other options out there! But if it more or less works well enough and just isn't a perfect fit, that's ok too.
posted by aniola at 6:33 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer the tits question: I find them ugly and also cumbersome--I hate bras, but I like to be active, which basically necessitates wearing a bra. They just get in the way.
posted by a strong female character at 6:36 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

there is a thing as genderqueer. I have feelings like this sometimes about patriarchy and femininity and seeing some of these issues sociologically is helpful for me. I can relate to some of the feelings you have, especially when I want to present feminine but not for the male gaze, simply because I like to wear makeup sometimes (it's fun). I feel pretty neutral about my body as a woman, but I love my body as a human (it keeps me alive and breathing - that's great!).
posted by lunastellasol at 6:45 PM on June 21, 2016 [14 favorites]

I think feelings about your body can change over time. There's a narrative of transness that is basically "I knew when I was five, the end" that is true for some people but not for others.

When I was in my mid-twenties through mid-thirties I wore dresses and skirts and heels and had long hair (and looked godawful, actually). Tons of dresses and jewelry and so on - I collected vintage jewelry and platform shoes. (Even now I will gladly visit Sephora, jewelry stores, etc because I still kind of love that stuff.) Parsing out how I felt about the things themselves (I like jewelry!); gender presentation (don't like being read as female!); femme presentation (wish I could incorporate more, don't feel that it flatters me); and the positive attention I got from society when I complied with gender norms (sad childhood made me needy!) was tricky.

I felt, at best, dis-associated from my body - so even when I felt positive about my body, I felt positive about it like it was someone else's body that I was looking at. In retrospect, I now realize that I also numbed myself a lot and did not have a lot of physical sensation in most parts of my body - like, I liked back rubs and foot rubs and felt quite a lot during them but got very, very little out of touch on my torso or out of sexual touch. At the time, I just figured that I had - literally, I thought this! - something wrong with my nerve endings.

It all started with...well, actually, it all started with an idle thought when I was thirteen, when I looked in the mirror and thought "I am an ugly woman but I'd look better as a man," then I freaked myself out about how being trans would be even worse than being queer and literally didn't think about it again for about twenty years.

But it all started again with my ankle. I had started wearing pants and some of the froufier kinds of men's shoes and I looked at my ankle while I was riding my bike and thought "gee, I feel good about that ankle because it looks like a man's ankle".

And then I started thinking about it, imagining being a little old man looking in the bathroom mirror when I got old, imagining a different face and body, and then I figured that while I'm not a rootin' tootin' he-man of a fellow, I would rather be a man.

I guess what I would suggest is not trying to push yourself to decide if you are or are not trans right now, or trying to push yourself to feel one way or another about feminine gender presentation. (You could, in theory, be a trans man who likes to dress like Perfume Genius, for instance. He likes jewelry and feminine presentation and so on. But you could also not be.)

Maybe do some imagining - how would you feel about life without breasts? (You can actually have top surgery without fully transitioning, I am told - takes a bit of medical work-around, but I have heard of several people who've done this.) Imagine having a male body. Play around with your gender presentation - maybe experiment with a new haircut or mixing up the way you dress more. Read memoirs, read the internet.

It is very possible to take a long time to figure yourself out.

I guess the one thing I'd like to say in particular is that it is possible to feel like you "just hate your breasts because they get in the way" now, and sit with that feeling and explore it and feel like you actually want to transition - when I was thirty or so, I would have said that I hated having breasts because I worried about breast cancer, they were a nuisance, I was unsatisfied with their general shape, etc, and only later did I sit with those feelings long enough to realize that they were just socially acceptable ways of expressing my dislike of having breasts because they represented womanhood to me. When I acknowledged that I would like to transition, I stopped having those feelings almost completely - I rarely worry about breast cancer except in a normal "hope I don't have any lumps!" way because my breasts no longer represent womanhood to me.

It's also possible to find your breasts a nuisance for the rest of your life, identify as a woman or genderqueer or another gender or no gender, etc. But I did want to say that feelings are pretty complicated and can take a while to unpick.

That said, I am at a life stage where it's not likely that I will actually be able to access top surgery or transition any time soon, and that gets me down sometimes.

And I worry about being treated as a man, and how that will change me.

I guess that's one of the things where I figure I am trans - I would like to change my body but am not so sure about male socialization. I'm not so into "being treated as a man" because being treated as a man can turn you into a massive asshole. I just want to....be a weird and socially inadequate man, I guess?
posted by Frowner at 6:50 PM on June 21, 2016 [43 favorites]

Also, have you read The Argonauts? It deals with some complicated stuff about gender, gender fluidity and transitioning.
posted by Frowner at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm agender so my feelings about gender are basically "no thanks". I found it a lot easier to chop things down into manageable pieces - what pronouns did I like, what did I want my body to look like, how did I want to dress - instead of making it into a big Identity Thing. That process helped me figure out what I wanted to DO about my gender without making me feel like I needed to make a huge statement about it first.

I found that the key for me was asking myself "what would I do if society didn't exist" + "what would make me feel more comfortable in my body" because the society aspect was just too much noise for me to process. My feelings about some things shifted quickly, others shifted slowly, and some stayed the same. I ended up getting top surgery and a hysto and going on T and I feel great about those choices, it's just the "people read me as a cis man now" part that weirds me out (but yay no more misogyny so I'll take it). YMMV.

There are so many more options than cis woman or trans man. You can "build your own transition" out of the parts that speak to you and ignore the parts you do not want. You can do this gradually and without needing to rationalize it. You can try things out, change your mind, postpone decisions for a while, dive right in, whatever works for you. I know many genderqueer and non-binary people who feel some variation of what you describe so you are definitely not alone.

Basically: try to break it down into smaller steps, separate society and body if you need to, and try to see it as a continuous exploratory process instead of a declarative process that you do once and never go back from.
posted by buteo at 7:16 PM on June 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

So, I am an AFAB agender person (who is still feeling their way into that identity - I think this is the first time I've written it down where other people can see) and everything you've written is extremely familiar to me. In that I could have written this exact same question a year ago. So maybe that's helpful to you?

For me, it's not something I just knew. Or, at least, I knew that I had that same feeling of discomfort when someone called me a woman or a girl or said I was pretty, that I was deeply dissatisfied with the things about my body that made people read it as female (especially my breasts), that I felt more like I could breathe when I said the word "person" to describe myself instead of woman, even in my own head. But I didn't just know that those things could mean that I wasn't a woman. It's taken me a while to get to grips with that and at first it felt like I was, I don't know, faking. Playing pretend. But the more I let myself think about myself the way I wanted to, instead of the way that I'd thought I had to, the more relieved and relaxed and okay with myself I felt.

Like buteo says above, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing thing. You don't have to decide right now today what the be-all and end-all of your identity is and never change again. Try something small, see how you feel about it, and go from there. You get to take your time to figure it out.
posted by darchildre at 7:30 PM on June 21, 2016 [7 favorites]

I agree there are totally separate parts to this question.

1. Some parts about a women's body are less fun. These are more manageable bit by bit i.e. surgery/great bras/IUDS. Burn some askme questions in the coming weeks about the specific things that suck and we'll be happy to answer.

2. Do I feel like a women? which I am combining with do I want to present like a women? Some great advice on this above. Nthing, the world is your oyster and you got nothing but time.

3. Patriarchy sucks. Yup. It does. This is a person to person variation. Some folks are terrible and some folks have little gender bias.

I'll add, one great thing my parents gave me is a gender neutral view of the world. They have an equal relationship and did not gender bias me growing up to female toys, professions, roles. I don't identify as either gender because I don't see a big difference beyond a physical shell. And everyone has a unique physical shell anyway. So make your she'll whatever you'd like. I just present as female because I have this body and am too lazy to change it. But try to keep 1 and 2 and 3 as separate issues to address.
posted by Kalmya at 7:33 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am probably on the genderqueer spectrum in that I don't always feel female. I dislike the way the male gaze is directed toward me, not just by individuals but by society as a whole, and I sometimes have played with more butch presentations of myself. I sometimes experienced significant body dysmorphia around gender stuff, though it's sometimes difficult for me to parse what is true dysmorphia and what is anxiety around an inability to perform femininity adequately--I often had no clue how to wear clothes or make-up or do my hair in a way that felt both good and feminine and I admired the fact that men seemed to so easily fully embody themselves and I wanted that.

For me, much of that dysmorphia went away after the birth of my child. I hated being pregnant, so this surprised me. But the process of giving birth and then breastfeeding her made me inhabit my body in a new way. My tits, especially, seem like body parts that are really really not about men. They're about my child's sustenance first and my own pleasure second, whereas before they felt a bit completely pointless. I also feel like I have a better understanding now of my menstrual cycles in terms of them being in some way useful to me. Ironically, I have a better handle on hair and make-up now but also care less if other people like what I do with my hair and body and make-up. So I'll wear green lipstick or whatever because it feels joyful and don't shave my armpits and yet I feel beautiful in my weird body.

It's not like this for everyone--many people, I think, find their dysmorphia increases during pregnancy and the postpartum period--but my body feels more like a reflection of my internal self now in a less complicated way. I still dislike being objectified, though. That part of being girlish will probably always get to me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:34 PM on June 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

There are women who like getting periods? There are women who have large breasts and don't mind when they're exercising? There are women who like living in a patriarchy that sees us as less than?

I'd suggest reading basic Feminism 101 stuff. This self-loathing you are feeling is a pretty normal reaction to being a woman in a woman-hating world.

I can't speak to queer identity, but I'm going to suggest engaging in some old fashioned feminist consciousness-raising.
posted by bluedaisy at 7:40 PM on June 21, 2016 [37 favorites]

I feel much the same, OP. I consider myself femme on the outside and androgynous on the inside. A person first, a woman second. I don't revel in my feminine body. I keep it healthy, and in the past I've performed femininity with makeup and all that so I could be pretty enough that I wouldn't be bullied for being ugly like I had been as a kid. Instead, I got the male gaze and catcalls--a different form of bullying, but not as hurtful. It was a survival mechanism. Like you, I experience my breasts as a burden and cumbersome, kind of crude and floppy-looking. But I don't like bio in general, or being embodied. I wish I could be as clean and seamless as an anime character. Am I cis? I don't really know what I am; there may not be a word for it. But I am so glad we're talking about it now and that I'm not alone like I always thought I was.

I have no plans to transition as I have no more desire to be male than to be female. I work with what I have and people see what they expect to see. I have often wondered if I had been less traumatized or born later and able to learn about multiple genders young, if I would have adopted a term like nonbinary or agender for myself. The only word that came close was tomboy.

So yes, there are others who hate being a woman but don't have a strong desire to be a man. And there are those who eventually develop the desire to transition. Either way it is okay. Give it some time and think about it; read some feminist consciousness-raising work too. I've known feminists who love being "in" female bodies and fiercely embrace it, though, so with you it may be more than the universal hatred of being treated like a second-class citizen. I believe it is more than that with me.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 8:22 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm FTM and can relate to what you're saying, but that doesn't really mean anything. I can write about my experience-- it was less of a "you just know" for me than a process of gradually discovering what worked and relearning what I might have known well before growing up happened.

I felt completely disassociated from my body-- I thought of it as a thing I was stuck with, not a thing I inhabited. I had some depression, anxiety, and self-harm behaviors that I couldn't shake, not with psychiatric drugs, not with exercise, not with meditation-- not until I started addressing my gender identity in therapy did I get better and stay better. That was the evidence I needed to really get it that I was trans.

As I started to address that in therapy, it got more and more clear that I lived in my body more when I could allow myself to frame it in my mind as male, like I did when I was alone with my thoughts when I was very small. I sort of had a clue as a teenager, but for many reasons, breaking away from gender expectations in general was impossible and I never pursued it, assuming that "you can't always get what you want" and "everyone feels bad sometimes" and "I must have some internalized lesbophobia/misogyny, I'm awful" and "men are bad people who hurt women, and I don't want to be a bad person so I need to work harder." Definitely talk to someone about this stuff. It's complicated and there is no right answer for everyone. I had a really great therapist and I argued myself into accepting that while I love and respect women, and it makes me blindingly, furiously angry when people treat women as lesser beings, I'm not a woman and never was, but I am committed to being everything men should be as good human beings-- kind, gentle, respectful, and able to share. Could you be that? If men could be good, would that be you? What if "woman" could include you, just as you are or significantly changed? Would you be that? If you could be different, what would you be? Think about it. It's a lot to think about. I eventually worked that out in therapy. I'm pretty decisive about it now, but that's only because I had a lot of time to think out loud about it. Sorry-- you are up for years of therapy, possibly. (Probably less if your family is more or less stable and not weird like mine.)

For many years (starting right after I broke up with my college girlfriend who I'd been making an effort for), I gradually switched to a more masculine presentation in my daily life, while not identifying as trans until I was-- what, 26? (I've lost count of the years.) I eventually connected "feeling great" to "being read as male." Maybe if I'd had a partner or been open about what I was doing with friends, it would have gone quicker? I don't know. You may or may not find this helpful, or you may find your personal calibration is such and such but not something else, and that's fine.

The experimentation with different options in attire, mannerism, name, and pronoun was really helpful, since I went from minimally-invasive efforts (men's underwear, short haircut, androgynous clothes) to gradually more invasive efforts (binding, changing my name informally, changing my documents, investigating medical intervention) and I really never was more than 60-80% certain that any choice was a good choice, but I figured that I could always stop or go backwards if I really had to. Embarrassment, temporary discomfort, and/or being wrong about something is not fatal and does not do permanent damage, particularly if you're going into something in the spirit of experimentation/doing science on yourself. If you get as far as medical interventions, they can be more permanent, and you need to evaluate what risk you may face of regret and how you plan to handle that, if it ever comes up. But that's far off down the road, if ever-- start small, with something nobody will notice but you, like tshirts from the men's department, or something like that.

One of my best friends is also trans, and she feels a deep sadness over lacking some of the physical hallmarks of femaleness as people in our culture understands them, even the physically uncomfortable parts--we don't talk about it much because we'd both prefer not to dwell on what we can't have, but maybe try imagining how you would feel if someone took away part of your female body or it just up and disappeared. Are you bereft? Sad? Pleased? ...why? I found that imagining being old as a woman was really painful and awful, but eventually being an old man would be lovely. I don't know if you can relate to that, but maybe think about it.

Look, it's all up to you how you behave and how you feel about yourself and feel yourself to be. We can generalize medically, but the way you experience your body can't be determined by any metric other than how you personally feel about it. If you made no changes and felt yourself to be a man, you might have a harder time getting people not close to you to recognize that, but you would still be right because it's up to you. It's up to you what effort you want to make vs. what is too much effort vs. what feels wrong that everyone except you wants vs. what feels right that nobody but you cares about...just experiment with it. You may find your perfect calibration to be somewhere in between or more complicated than that, and wherever you are in your gender, I guarantee you will find people who love you just the way you are. Once you're really yourself, even if that shifts over time, if you're being genuine, people respond to that. So in addition to being yourself (which I can't recommend highly enough!), you will meet people who like that self, in all the complexity you come up with.

So I guess what I'm saying is 1) experiment-- if things aren't working for you now, try changing some of the variables of your life, there's nothing wrong with trying something new and maybe guessing wrong, and 2) Try therapy, and stay in therapy as long as you can. If nothing else, you'll get some clarity on your life. If you're in the Bay Area I can refer you to good people with a sliding scale!

(Can you get a copy of Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook? I think the old edition is better, but possibly it's because I'm rapidly becoming An Old. It's pretty much made for people who need to work out their gender feelings.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:14 PM on June 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

I came across Vi Hart's video on gender today, you might like it.

I've been through a spectrum of feelings about feminity, girlhood, womanhood, gender. These seem linked to age and circumstances. Being a mom to a girl has allowed me to embrace parts of womanhood and feminity that I don't think I would have ever done without this experience. There is joy in dresses and color and flowers and fairies. There is joy in fancy things, baubles and friendship. I'm not sure the exact moment society starts ruining that for girls (boys are outright denied these joys, by and large). But I see that these things are worth fighting for.

I'm still trying to find my authentic self.
posted by amanda at 9:18 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Nthing My Gender Workbook. I left it where my hurting confused sister could see it and now I have a happy brother.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:37 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am a trans man, though I haven't yet transitioned medically because I am planning to bear a child within the next couple of years, and my presentation is extremely high femme (I do not wear pants-- ever; my preferred habitat is a micro-mini skirt). Because of my presentation and my general lack of caring about being read in public as female, it took me a very long time to realize that I really do need to at some point get top surgery and go on T, and that some point had better be sooner rather than later for my own mental health, because that dysphoria is not. going away. by itself.

And what I brought away from that very long time of thought is that it really does help to separate the issue of your presentation (clothes, hair, etc.) from the issue of how people interact with you (pronouns, general treatment) from the issue of how you would feel best in your body. Because those three things may well turn out to have nothing to do with one another. It's entirely possible to want to present in a masculine/androgynous way with your clothes and body language and so on, and/or to want to be treated as male or nonbinary, and yet be fine with how your body is in terms of not needing/wanting surgery and hormones.

If you find that the way you want to present and/or the way you want others to read you do not match your societally assigned sex and gender role, you may find it helpful to consider yourself trans. And that would be valid. You can be trans without dysphoria, that happens. And if you don't find the label helpful, you do not have to use it.

I also find it useful to tell people that I am transsexual, but not transgender, in that if I were told I could just push a button to have a Y chromosome I would sprain something leaping for it, but if people on the street think I look like a girl, whatever, and they'll take away my skirts over my dead body. And my agender spouse identifies as transgender, but not transsexual, because they don't want surgery or hormones, they just want people to stop using any gendered pronouns for them. However, this distinction is not standard terminology, so I find I have to explain it to people, which limits how useful it can be. Helped conceptually, though, when I was thinking things out.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 9:41 PM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]

Hi. I am an AFAB person with The Genders. I am medically transitioning now. Didn't for a long time. Had a lot of weird feelings about it. Didn't want to be a man, wanted to be a "not-woman", felt 'not trans enough' for the long time, have had a weird relationship with gender.

blnkfrnk's advice is extremely spot on.

Here is some additional advice to take or leave as I do not think my life story is super useful in this instance.

- Try binding and see how that works out for you.
- Definitely get an old copy of My Gender Workbook and try that out too.
- Thinking through this stuff rather than just trying stuff out is very limited as an intervention. Experimentation in the material world is worth years and years of sweaty private theory moments.
- Talk to other people with the genders about your gender feels. It really does help.
posted by beefetish at 9:55 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

So my question is, I guess, what the hell am I?

I would love to answer that for you, or point to a ready-formed answer within yourself, but I think the answer is really a process. Which is a frustrating answer, but it also might lead you in some helpful, healing, unexpected places. There are some really great suggestions above for what you might draw on in that process -- My Gender Workbook, experimenting with presentation, imagining. As many other folks described above, this process may lead you back to womanhood, but perhaps a reworked and feminist womanhood. Or into the realms of genderqueerness, agender identity, trans identity -- many realms! But I think inevitably, if you're open to it, it may be a way to bring your relationship to yourself to a deeper place, and perhaps a way to heal some of that painful self-hatred.

I feel like sometimes the project of representing trans folks respectfully and with autonomy ends up giving this impression that like, we are totally on top of our shit, and if it wasn't for society we would have always been able to live out our truths perfectly. As for me, I had TONS of doubt and confusion about gender identity before coming out as a trans woman in November 2014. I didn't specifically concretely understand myself to be trans until very close to the time I came out. I had some of the same struggles you had years before getting to that point, however -- as preserved beautifully in this old Ask :) (yeesh does reading "a young straight(ish) man?" make me cringe)

It's funny, looking back at how real and pressing that doubt felt -- how horrible it felt to wear a skirt to a crowded Boston bar and still feel uncomfortable and exposed, and not euphorically like "yes this is it, this feels right!", or what it felt like to try in earnest to make maleness work for me via carefully selected clothes, and having those efforts fail and fail. Now, years into living on the other side of things, I have zero regrets and zero doubts and only immense gratitude that the scared kid I was back then kept walking into situations that were ambiguous and uncertain and kept going to the next one and next one, learning things but only sort of, but continuing anyways. It's funny how self-important doubt was, telling me that YES I had to listen to it, when it really had nothing important to say at all. Rather, what I learned to actually listen for, beyond doubt, was that sense of necessity within me -- what did I feel compelled to ask about, year after year, month after month? What pain did I feel compelled to linger on, and what kind of healing was that pain calling out for, quietly but persistently?

I'm not sure where those questions will lead you, or if this even describes a process you want to take on. But regardless, please be patient and kind with yourself. Best of luck :)
posted by elephantsvanish at 11:53 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Your mileage may vary, but for me (nonbinary trans person), it really helped to be told "You know who doesn't incessantly wonder if they're trans? Cis people."

A friend of mine edited a compilation zine called "Not Trans Enough" that is also a great collection of stories from variously-trans-identifying folks who don't fit neatly into gender categories.

Navigating gender identity stuff as someone who doesn't fit the "I've known for as long as I can remember that I am completely, definitely [gender]" is really hard, but for me, it really helped to be told that it was still OK to identify as trans, if that felt right for me, and that I could take my sweet time in working out exactly what that meant for me in terms of identity, presentation, and medical interventions.
posted by ITheCosmos at 6:02 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I hate every single thing about being female. I hate having tits, I hate periods, I hate dealing with daily sexism, I hate being physically weak, I hate being seen first as a walking vagina and second as a person, etc etc... I've always envied men and wish I'd been born male, but I'm basically ok with my body and I've never had any serious desire to get surgically altered or take hormones or anything like that.

Just as another perspective that is in no way meant to dilute the thoughts above: I feel similarly and I don't personally place those feelings in a spectrum of gender fluidity. I acknowledge that the biology of being female often blows giant chunks, but see the rest of the suckage as cultural. In other words, tits and periods aside, I am square with the fact that it sucks to live in the construct of the contemporary world as a woman; who wouldn't envy men when the patriarchy wins all day, every day?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:06 AM on June 22, 2016 [15 favorites]

I hate every single thing about being female. I hate having tits, I hate periods, I hate dealing with daily sexism, I hate being physically weak, I hate being seen first as a walking vagina and second as a person, etc etc...

I've struggled with these same issues. I'm straight and cis, but I was also the only girl in my friend group of little girls who wanted to play boy characters when we played Narnia or whatever. I wore my hair cropped short, pants, boots, and men's shirts all through high school at a time when this was odd for a girl and had people assuming I was gay.

I experimented more with femininity in college, and as I learned more about feminism, I realized that I craved male privilege, but not to actually be a man. I wanted to walk places safely, and expend minimal effort on my appearance, and wear comfortable, loose clothing, and flat shoes that allowed me to stride quickly.

Currently, I would put my being female very far down the list of things that are important to my identity. I'm not interested in an identity as womanly or female, although I'm not surprised when people identify me as female because many signifiers are present. I never wanted to be pregnant or have children, so I'm alienated from a mother identity. When I got married, I had an unexpected crisis dealing with now being placed into the category of "wife" (a very loaded gender term to me) that took about four months to get used to.

A few other things have helped me be more comfortable in my body - a number of years ago I started a 3 month birth control pill to control migraines and realized I could just skip having a period ever. It's been great. The second thing was a breast reduction, which I honestly wish I had done much, much earlier. I hated my breasts and it was getting to the point that I couldn't look at pictures of myself and started to not even want to leave the house. They were very large. Since the reduction, my breasts are just another part of my body that I don't have to think about very much, like my elbow or shoulder. It's fab.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:21 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

My experience is very similar to DarlingBri... I've always felt the world was wrong about women, not that there is something wrong with my body.
I found feminism helped with this, and generally just learning to unapologetically be me helped.

Some people like to ascribe rules for what it means to be a woman (or man). I feel life is better if you make your own rules for such things.
posted by chapps at 7:26 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

So my question is, I guess, what the hell am I?

(I'm also a radical feminist, and those politics have informed most of my thoughts and feelings about the varying embodiments and constructions of womanhood. YMMV.)

I share your hatred of all of the things you hate (especially tits and periods), plus I've never wanted and definitely still never want to have my own or care for anyone else's children, I'm physically sickened by the idea of pregnancy above and beyond all the child-rearing stuff, I don't have a maternal cell in my body, I will never marry a man, I don't present in a "feminine" way at all and I never have. Most of the world has been very persistent and consistent in telling me that women like us are not simply Doing Woman Wrong, but sometimes that we are not women at all. Because while "man" is generally held indistinguishable from "person," women are best received when they inhabit the role of objects and limit themselves to the world of servitude and submissiveness.

Twisty Faster propped my eyes wide open about the true indignity of the "man = person," "woman = thing" dichotomy with The Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women. Reading her work and the work of other radical feminists taught me that all of the complicated and painful feelings I have about being female in a patriarchy don't make me not a woman, they just make me hate the patriarchy and want to fight so much harder for a world in which "woman" and "person" are no longer mutually exclusive.

Because while I'm not sure how it is elsewhere, at least in America, I've been getting a strong sense that we're moving more and more rapidly back toward a gendered construction of "womanhood" that is explicitly associated with the desire to engage in the performance of "femininity." And since "femininity" as a practice has historically (for reasons of patriarchy) been twinned with submissiveness, a lack of agency, being considered inescapably frivolous, &c.&c., it makes sense to me that I and a lot of my fellow female people have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of being "treated like women."

The tits thing, though, I haven't found a way around that yet -- I hate mine so much, feel so disgusted by them and have for 20+ years, and I wish they would disappear. But the feeling of constriction around my chest makes me panic (so no binders - I can't even wear a bra) and I can't grok the idea of seeking surgical intervention in hopes that those feelings of hate and disgust would axiomatically vanish as a result, so until they invent a "tits off!" switch, I'm wearing a whole bunch of undershirts to keep them from bouncing around too much and just trying to ignore them. Reading the words of detransitioned women, Maria Catt in particular, has been as helpful as anything could be on that front, because although many of them have already had top surgery, they are all already experts in navigating the ramifications and, as zdravo put it so succinctly, the consequences of female biology.

The best thing I ever did with these feelings was push myself to spend time at an event where I witnessed the broadest spectrum and most complete representation of the true fullness of this half of the human race that I could have possibly imagined: all shades and shapes and sizes, many different races, with and without mastectomies, with and without facial hair, with and without body hair, who do and do not pass as women in their daily lives. It blew the doors off of my idea of "woman" and profoundly changed my life.

Basically, I feel the same as you but have come to the conclusion that "gender" as it exists in practice is completely irrelevant to every corner of my heart, mind, and spirit. I don't want any part of it; I'm not interested in having its language applied to me because I have no allegiance to the concept whatsoever. I just truly and profoundly DGAF. My body is a different story, but it's the one I was born with, and probably the hardest work of the next few decades of my life will come in trying to accept it the way it is rather than the way I so desperately wish it would be. To that end, watching the WANTED Project podcast has been an incredible comfort to me.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 7:58 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'm genderqueer. I came at it from a similar place: I don't think of myself as a woman. I don't feel female. I dislike aspects of my body (period, breasts), but other than a few (thankfully) brief times, don't have body dysphoria. But I've had a hard time thinking of myself as trans. At work and with my family, though, I've told them I'm trans and to use male pronouns. I think of it as a social transition. For my and my partner and my queer friends, though, I'm genderqueer and use they/them. I changed my name, first socially, then legally, and I think that was the single best decision of all of these changes I made. I bind. I'm on T. I like my body more now. I don't get periods anymore. I can't grow a beard (yet?), but I've got hair everywhere else. I wear masculine clothes, and lean towards dapper when my I-don't-give-a-fuck-jeans-and-a-tee-ometer is running low. I still get read as female most of the time, but it's shifted a bit and I feel better with me.

It's been a long, slow journey. I've been thinking about gender and how I relate to it for about a third of my life. I wavered a lot. Some days (months?) I didn't care at all (or didn't let myself think about it . . . ). Some days (weeks, months) I was frustrated and scared and angry. One helpful things my therapist told me was that transitioning (or not transitioning) was not an all or nothing gambit. I'd been reading Jamison Green and Max Valerio Wolf and other binary FTM transition narratives and had kinda gotten the idea that that was it. You started at one and ended at the other. Nope. It's a la carte. Hate your tits? Try binding, reduction, top surgery. Hate your period? Look into birth control, testosterone. Hate your name? Try out new names with a partner, safe friends, a new social circle. I went through half a dozen before I found one I liked. Take it slow. Think about what sort of changes would make you happy and comfortable. Don't be afraid to try something and discard it. Take the above advice to read Kate Bornstein. Along with The Gender Workbook, try Gender Outlaws: the Next Generation, co-edited with S. Bear Bergman. I've also found Ivan E. Coyote's work really relatable.

As for being femme and enjoying things society says are feminine? I still do. I like jewelry and dresses and flowers and gardening and cooking and baking and knitting (though my wrists don't) and crafting and babies and kittens and puppies and bunnies. But, yeah, I don't wear dresses, though I think I'd like to. I don't grow my hair long because it'd look too feminine with the rest of me. I'm working on embracing the idea that feminine things are not just for women. I get it intellectually, but internalizing it is hard, especially when it gets thrown back at you by other people. It's hard to balance what I feel inside with what I get from society.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: After reading this thread, I wanted to add: for me, one of the hardest and most friendship-wrecking/silencing things I've experienced as a trans person has been the persistence of the "you just need more feminism, then you won't hate your body" thing.

I know that's not what anyone here is trying to say. I'm also not saying "if you question your gender at all, that means you are trans - binary trans, no less! - and should immediately start transitioning!" Most people aren't trans; gender is intensely weird; we're in a social moment where there is sort of pent-up demand for changes in how we do gender and a lot of new stuff is being thought and lived. People are working without a lot of models and acknowledging feelings in themselves that have been muted and denied under patriarchy.

I totally do want to emphasize that feeling discomfort about your body or your gender does not "prove" that you are "really" trans and need to transition to be happy.

I also know that it is very difficult to unpick internalized misogyny and accompanying feelings of body discomfort and shame from other feelings about gender. That's something I've thought a lot about and spent some time on in therapy.

For me, when I started to try to explain how I felt about my body, friends would hasten to jump in with "but all women hate their breasts, because patriarchy!" and a lot of "well, you should be relieved that you don't have to be trans, you can just be agender or a radical feminist instead! Look at all these women who started to transition and decided against it!"

People certainly can be agender! People certainly can be radical feminists! People can certainly start to transition and then stop - I know someone who has! But those ideas did not resolve things for me.

This kind of conversation came very close to destroying my oldest friendship. We've fixed things up and come to an understanding, but the scars are still there.

What I'm saying is that you will encounter many, many people who will tell you in various ways that if you get your head right via feminism, you will feel better about your body. This may well be true for you! But if it proves not to be true, know that other people have experienced these same kinds of confusing, upsetting interactions.

To cis folks writing and reading in this thread: please be aware, when a friend talks to you about their gender feelings, that you often come across as "well, it will relieve your mind to know that you will be happy in your body if you just feminism harder".
posted by Frowner at 8:24 AM on June 22, 2016 [35 favorites]

I'm a cis woman.

I hate every single thing about being female.

But, I almost always choose to present as very feminine, often wearing skirts/dresses and jewelry. I enjoy the “trappings” of femininity despite sometimes feeling limited by those same things.

I think you probably already see the contradictions in this, but I just want to point out that one of the things about being female, is that in this society, as a woman, expressing your femininity is the socially accepted choice. Which means that at the least, you enjoy the part of being female that means you can wear a dress and not get funny looks.

I hate having tits, I hate periods, I hate dealing with daily sexism, I hate being physically weak, I hate being seen first as a walking vagina and second as a person, etc etc.

I feel like (most of) this is a list of things that all women face to greater and lesser extents. Like, I'm positive that I don't know any woman who doesn't hate her periods (or just find them annoying). Your reasons for being annoyed with your tits sound totally reasonable too. Sexism/walking vaginaism is a universal awfulness. And there is no reason why being a woman means that you need to be physically weak.

I've always envied men and wish I'd been born male

This is because life is better for men.

When someone says something that reminds me they see me as female, I feel awkward and...uncomfortable? Like I find it weird that someone would just unquestioningly think I'm female.

This, I think you might want to dive into more. Would you feel less uncomfortable if people just unquestionably thought that you were male? Or what if people questioned it?

The thing is that people like to put other people in boxes, male/female is a pretty common one. And we've all learned since babyhood the markers that society says point to maleness or femaleness. And as someone who has a female body type, and chooses to present as female, you're easy to put in the box. But that's their box not yours.

So my question is, I guess, what the hell am I?

I don't think it's my place to answer this question for you. But you sound like a woman to me.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:29 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm cishet female, just for the record. When I read your post, the feeling I was getting was not so much that you hate being female, but that you hate the way society treats women. Which is a very reasonable way to feel.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:30 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think what Frowner says is very true, and speaks to transphobia that can be embedded in feminist conversations. Also:

There are women who like getting periods? There are women who have large breasts and don't mind when they're exercising?

I don't mind either my periods or my breasts, and my periods are very heavy and my breasts are very large. It's no big deal to me to put on a sports bra before I exercise, and I would hate to not have my tits. I also weirdly like having my periods, and as I've gotten older I've tried to be more attuned to my internal chemical and hormonal rhythms. I'm much happier this way than I was when I took the pill all the time and skipped my period.

But that's why I identify as not trans even though my gender expression sometimes doesn't feel cis, either. It's clear to me that I wouldn't want to change my body, even if I sometimes want to dress like a man, be regarded as a man, or interface with the world in the way that male people are allowed and female people aren't.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Hi there, I'm a trans man. I've legally changed my name, I'm on hormones, and I live 100% as male. I was 40 when I started this process (last year)! I knew something was up when I went through puberty, but for a variety of reasons I didn't take action for a long time. (I'll expand in more detail through memail if you like.) Once I accepted it as a real part of me, I had to take action. I had absolutely no choice - it was that or extreme mental discomfort, possibly leading to suicide.

But. This is not everyone's experience. There is no One True way to be trans (or cis). It's a spectrum and a process. I know a lot of trans people, and they're all over the map. Some like their bodies the way they are but their gender expression does not align with what people expect given their anatomy. Some are trans men but they love wearing nail polish and glitter (or trans women who are not stereo-typically feminine).

So there are different aspects of being trans, and you can make decisions (or not) on each one:
1. gender expression
1a. dress, hair, makeup, etc.
1b. binders/packers
2. body language
3. pronouns (non-binary are totally an option)
4. name (used socially, or legally changed)
5. coming out to people
5a. Friends
5b. family
5c. work
6. gender marker legally changed (e.g. driver's license)
7. hormones
8. top surgery
9. bottom surgery

Sounds like you've mostly ruled out 7-9. I'd sit with how you feel about the rest. If you have understanding friends, try out some new pronouns, and a different name for a week or two. Join some website as a man and see how that feels. Visit another city and bind your chest and wear a packer. Nothing is permanent or difficult to undo until you get to #5, and you'll know how you feel about that once you experiment with 1-4.

I also encourage you to meet some trans people IRL! Google "Genderqueer [YourCityName]" and see if anything pops up. Or contact your local LGBT center and see if there is a discussion group. I promise there will be no test to see if you really belong there & it's okay to hang back and listen.

Feel free to ask me anything.
posted by AFABulous at 9:23 AM on June 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

For me, when I started to try to explain how I felt about my body, friends would hasten to jump in with "but all women hate their breasts, because patriarchy!" and a lot of "well, you should be relieved that you don't have to be trans, you can just be agender or a radical feminist instead! Look at all these women who started to transition and decided against it!"

Thanks for this, Frowner.

Per my earlier comment, I want to clarify after reading Frowner's response to comments like mine... While I felt the problem was with the world, not my body, some friends I know had different experiences -- they felt the world was wrong about women, but also they felt wrong in their body, as many here have described here more eloquently than I could.

What I read in the OP echoed with my experience... but perhaps I am just reading in what I expect?
posted by chapps at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thank you, Frowner. I hope I did not come across as saying "just feminist harder" but instead that 1) I have used surgery and hormones successfully to mitigate things about being female I did not like, and 2) to share some of my experiences about being alienated from many aspects of the female gender while also being cis.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: And for those of you who identify as trans, is this something you just knew about yourself, or how did you come to see yourself as trans?

Definitely didn't Just Know, definitely had to think about it for a good long while.

Things that helped:
  1. Thinking in really concrete terms: not "What is gender really?" but "Okay, what specific things would I like to do differently?"*
  2. Breaking the big questions down into small ones: not "Should I transition?" but "What small mannerisms might I change if I felt like it was permitted?" and "What do I feel like wearing today?" and "How would I feel about joining a trans/genderqueer discussion group?"
  3. Trying things out. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you want to know how you'd feel about using he/him pronouns, or binding or packing, or using your voice differently, try it. Try it even if you're 99% sure you know how you'll feel. You may surprise yourself — and that surprise will be valuable data. If you don't give yourself the chance to be surprised, you won't learn anything.
  4. Meeting actual trans and genderqueer people in person and making IRL friends with some of them.
  5. Finding a therapist who specialized in gender shit and was familiar with the defense mechanisms that closeted trans/gq people tend to use.
FWIW, this is all stuff that's worth doing even if you end up deciding you're cis. Experimenting with your identity and presentation and figuring out what makes you comfortable is a good thing to do no matter what, and will make you a happier person whether or not you ever transition.

*This connects to a bunch of the stuff Frowner said upthread about "You just need more feminism." There are a lot of fascinating debates within feminism that connect to trans and genderqueer identities — stuff like "Would trans people still need to transition in a perfect feminist utopia?" and "Does transitioning reinforce harmful binary gender roles?" It is really easy to convince yourself that the first step, before you start thinking about your own gender, is to find answers to all those questions. That is some grade-A yak-shaving bullshit. You are allowed to work on your own genderfeels without having answers for any of those Big Questions, and in fact getting hung up on the Big Questions can very easily become a way of distracting yourself from your own genderfeels.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:31 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I felt, at best, dis-associated from my body - so even when I felt positive about my body, I felt positive about it like it was someone else's body that I was looking at.

Yeah, what Frowner said: that's a big part of what made me realize what I was experiencing was dysphoria. So there's physical dysphoria, and also social: how do you feel about being seen as a woman? Calling yourself a woman? Being invited to women-only social events? I have no idea, based on your ask, but my discomfort with the above helped me to recognize that I'm non-binary.

I recognize that a lot of this is very hard to tease apart from garden-variety internalized misogyny, and I still struggle with that. But if you can come to appreciate women and love women's communities etc, and still feel out of place in them, that might tell you something. If you can find love and appreciation for women's bodies (particularly for bodies that look like yours), that'd be another sign.

It's helped me a lot to understand that I can identify myself as trans or not: that's a personal semantic choice. I can't change who I am, though. I can just do whatever is possible to make myself more comfortable. In my case, identifying myself as trans and non-binary has helped me come to peace with my dysphoria a bit. Best of luck in figuring all of this out.
posted by libraritarian at 1:26 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

To me you sound like a self-aware woman and a nascent feminist. But there are a lot of possibilities...
posted by acm at 2:30 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

For me, it was understanding that I resent the way the world treats me because of my body, but am ok personally with my body. The worst part about puberty for me was the way in which I suddenly felt like a target for wanting to move around autonomously in the world.

I'm neither yay nor grar boobs, I am mostly "fuck the world for treating me like an object because I have visible breasts." I don't how I'd feel about them were I able to exist in a world where they didn't matter. Getting my period doesn't make me feel like a woman. It feels like a physiological thing (with awesome side effects like fatigue and migraines!) that happens and will someday stop. I'm doing my best to kindly shirk the one-sided emotional labor foisted upon me.

I do not identify with anything feminine. I feel no innate woman-ness. My identity as a woman exists because the world in which I grew up categorizes people with my attributes (appearance, physiology, social conditioning) as such. It is my individual response to an external context, a larger system. I think there exists an array of individual responses. Some people feel differently!
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 4:56 PM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

There are women who like getting periods? There are women who have large breasts and don't mind when they're exercising?

Cis woman here. I wouldn't say I like my periods, but largely I'm at peace with them; I have large breasts and I really like them now that I have a bra which fits them. Being a woman can be inconvenient and sucky, but I've always identified as a girl/woman and wanted to be recognized as such, identified online as such even when inconvenient, etc... I even prefer to play video games as a female character (including in Civilization, where the gender of the icon is incredibly incidental).

My mom is also a woman, but didn't want to be a girl when she was a child, prefers pants, has a lot of the characteristics associated with being masculine. In the wake of a friend of mine being publicly recognized for the man he is, my mom and I had a talk about her childhood in the context of whether or not she was trans or genderqueer; she ended up deciding she wasn't and that once she had more rights to do what she wanted she was pretty comfortable being a woman. I think she's still considering the way that knowing that trans people exist affects how she views her own gender, though; it's something we talk about semi-frequently.

My trans man friend, in contrast, was not only often masculine when he was younger but often presented as male and preferred being taken for male. We used to roleplay and he was always a him in those contexts; most of us used male pronouns for him long before we knew trans was a thing, and he less "came out" and more went "this is the word for what I'm experiencing". In a lot of ways he's sort of an archetypal trans man, so his experiences might not help; for him the issue was always how he could transition to being perceived accurately, not whether he should. I think it's worth noting that even he occasionally enjoyed passing for a woman when he was a teenager, but he's infinitely happier being a man; gender is complicated!

I have a lot of friends through roleplay who do a lot of gender play. I have friends who change their gender presentation semi-regularly. Others who identify as male offline and female online (and vice versa). Some of them identify at one end of the spectrum or the other, others aren't particularly wedded to one thing or another, I even knew one person who described it as "I want to get to the middle and STOP." Gender is both intensely personal and performative - and there's a lot of cross over between the two. If you can cultivate some people with whom you feel safe to experiment and experience gender in all of it's messy variety, this can be really valuable.

RE: Gender in feminism, internalized misogyny is A Thing (I know I have it) but in my experience it doesn't necessarily result in feeling like one doesn't want to be a woman. I think it's worth keeping a feminist lens handy to look at things through, but personally my emphasis on people is for them to be healthy - and that includes feeling safe and settled in their own bodies.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:55 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a cis, mostly-het woman... And i absolutely don't think this sounds like a "you need more feminism" situation at all, even though I'm an ardent feminist. These days I present fairly femme, but I have many butch hobbies. At different points in the past, I have presented very butch. My butchness was mostly about self-defense, but going to gay clubs I loved feeling free enough to dress extremely femme.

I do have an IUD these days so I don't have to deal with my period... But I've never hated my breasts. I hated the weak stupid men who objectified me for having them. My breasts are relatively large for my frame so very occasionally I have wished I could flip a switch to hide them for different situations but mostly I just want sexist pigs to grow up. I'm pretty active too, but my breasts have never stopped me from kickboxing or cycling or jogging.

And big ups for non binary presentation, and yes, trans identity doesn't necessarily mean you have to have any kind of surgery or hormone replacement therapy.

Also I've only ever had passing curiosity about having a penis.

I wish you joy and luck and everything else needed to find your most confident and truest self!
posted by leemleem at 9:34 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Other people's labels for me: cis woman, AFAB, genderqueer, femme, tomboy, dyke, queer, daddy, lion.

For myself? DGAF.

Puberty was devastating. As a teen I hid my period, shredded my first bra, covered my growing tits and hips with long t-shirts, shunned makeup and dresses and emotional labor and housework, idolized male intellectuals, had mostly male friends, prioritized debate and "logical rationalism," avoided feelings, and buffed and postured on the playground because I resented taller, stronger men. I didn't exactly want to be a boy, but I definitely didn't want to be a girl. I knew at fifteen I never wanted kids, marriage or a white picket fence. In the words of my coltish younger self, "I'm gonna grow up to be an artist, live in a loft and have lots of affairs!"

Then I went to college, came out as gay and realized... I had internalized a lot of self-hatred. Misogyny sucks. Being objectified sucks. Feeling weak and powerless sucks. Bleeding out the ute sucks. Having my legal and social autonomy stripped away by clods, zealots and bigots sucks. Feeling alone sucks.

I have "atypical" interests for a woman and find myself on the far end of the bell curve by nearly every metric. I don't fit in with my family, I don't fit into conservative midwest culture, and I definitely don't fit into customary expectations of femininity.

But you know what? I also never felt essentially "male" or "female." I made peace with my body and a world full of so-called "feminine trappings" when I realized, we're all stuck in these genetic claptraps, no presentation or activity is inherently gendered, and it's just not worth it to me to spend time and energy altering my meatsuit. If I had a choice I'd be six inches taller with skinny little ankles, a muscular back and size 12 feet! But medicine has its limits. So does my cognitive processing power.

I chose to redirect my dysmorphia to fucking up the patriarchy. (That's not a good choice for everyone, and remember: the personal is political too! There are lots of different ways to tackle the same problem. Aligning your external and internal selves can be really, really important and validating. And visibility is ultimately how we get rights.)

I'm not trans. A lot of people close to me are. But I do have a lot of genderbendy traits. I use a traditionally male name. I take all pronouns. I kick ass in a male-dominated field. Sometimes I bind. Mostly I wear pants, boots and a lace bra. I tried testosterone and liked how I felt (but not how I looked or smelled). I think about using my big ol' cock on the daily. I also have a set of dentata. Politically I identify as a woman, because that's how people peg me and I shoulder the ramifications of that. (Figure I'd best rep my doppelgängers.) Privately I'm more "handsome alien trashlord." I fantasize about being a man, but also about being a different kind of woman, and occasionally about being a tentacle monster :P

Identity is inclusive. My experience is different than yours. Each of these axes changes over time: presentation, sexuality, attraction, gender, orientation, biology, cultural expectations, perceptions. You can be a trans man AND genderqueer AND faggy AND femme AND never take hormones AND be royally bad at badminton. Do what you like! Uneducated dolts will always shuffle you into boxes you don't want and never chose. To the extent you can, be the most yourself you can be. Good luck!
posted by fritillary at 2:40 AM on June 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: One huge advantage to being AFAB is that you are much freer to play with your gender than AMAB people. If you're hesitating on changing anything because of people's reactions, I can reassure you that unless you live in an extremely religious community, virtually no one will care. People think about you and your gender a lot less than you might suspect. This does not protect you under all circumstances - trans AFABs have definitely been bashed - but I would not worry very much about the people around you.
posted by AFABulous at 6:35 AM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

From an anonymous commenter:
This is actually a rather deeply personal story to me but I thought I'd share in case you can find yourself relating to some of what I wrote in the same way that, in previous years, I could also relate to what you had written in your question.

I am trans (male) and it was something I always kind of knew about myself. I have the cliched trans story of knowing since I was very young. I also found out the word for it pretty young, around eight years old, when I watched a documentary about transgender people on TLC. I didn't tell anyone what I learned though. I wore boys' clothes and played with boys' things and was pals with the other boys in the neighborhood, but I learned from this documentary that what I was was something to be ashamed of, so I kept it mostly a secret for many years. Puberty was a distressing surprise for me as I didn't think I would actually grow up to be a woman and the changes felt unnatural. I tried to look like a woman post-puberty because I felt like people might be able to tell I was transgender if I dressed too masculinely and there was, in my mind, nothing worse than that. I tried really hard to tuck my feelings of being "mismatched" away. It seemed to have a lot of benefits: when people say derogatory things about transgender people or laugh in the face of a trans person (I have vivid memories of these moments), they are not directed at you; you don't draw attention to yourself if you're not transitioning; you don't have to worry about how to get healthcare, discrimination on the job, and in your daily life; and it seems like it would be an easier existence. Until it wasn't. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted throughout a serious relationship and I just didn't feel like pretending to be a woman anymore if that's what it would lead to. After we broke up, one of the first things I googled was "I hate my boobs" and it lead me to websites and tumblrs about being ftm. It seemed really extreme to me at the time: all these people talking about the perils of "dysphoria" and how much they want to cut their boobs off and wearing ill-fitting men's clothing. "Well, that's not me," I thought. "I don't want to cut them off, I just don't want them there." And I didn't like the way people talked about dysphoria or the word itself. On the tumblrs I read, people talked about it like it was some kind of constant, nagging back pain and, honestly, it just annoyed me. I wanted them to suck it up, because that's what I was doing and I was pretty damn efficient at it. A few months after this, I had dinner with my best friend and I confessed to her that sometimes I wanted to look more masculine but I didn't want the negative attention to come along with it. Her response was mostly "you do you and fuck what anyone else has to say."

I continued to look like a really bedraggled woman until I moved cities and gradually starting looking more androgynous and stopped pretending to be a woman, meaning I stopped holding myself back when I wanted to speak up and stopped caring about what straight men thought of me or would say to me and stopped trying to look "delicate." I didn't want to transition, but as I gradually started looking more androgynous and acting less feminine, I felt more and more comfortable with myself. The next thing I tried was buying a chest binder. I was too nervous to wear it outside the house for about a month because I didn't want people to notice the difference in my chest area. But when I tried it on at home for the first time, it felt so freeing. I already felt so much more comfortable with my reflection in the mirror. Not long after that, Leelah Alcorn killed herself and I started thinking harder about whether or not I would transition. I had been suicidally depressed for most of my life (no medication, diet, exercise regime, drugs, alcohol, or belief system was ever able to alleviate it for any length of time) and the thing that made me start actually changing my presentation and letting go of reflexively pretending to be a woman was a night where I realized I had no future as a woman. I was never going to have kids because I was nauseous at the thought of being pregnant, I would never date a straight man again because they always just thought of me as a woman and not who I actually was, I knew I was not a lesbian, and I just didn't see any kind of life for myself growing old as a woman. I had been having PTSD flashbacks, and went running, in futility, to try to shake it off, and almost threw myself in front of a car on a busy street that night. The only thing that stopped me was remembering an article I read from my hometown where a firefighter did the same thing and how the people who ran him over were incredibly, incredibly distressed about it (obviously). I thought about how I kept thinking of suicide and saw no future for myself and asked myself if that was really how I wanted to spend the rest of my life -- enduring my own existence. I didn't and so I started to seek hormone treatments. At that point, I had already accepted that, yes, I am transgender; I had came to that understanding after realizing the comfort and confidence I felt with the difference in presentation.

The two things that made me really understand I was transgender were the fact that I became more and more comfortable with myself the more I presented masculinely and how much more "right" things looked in the mirror as I did so. I had literally blanked out my knowledge of my body as it caused me so much distress. I didn't like looking in mirrors and would glaze over the chest and hip region when I had to do so. My face was androgynous-looking without makeup and didn't distress me quite as much. After I had been on testosterone a few months, I had become a much less angry person and I really started to recognize myself in the mirror for the first time since I was a child. It was a miraculous feeling to finally start feeling connected with my body instead of just walking around feeling like a brain in a vat. I became more extroverted and really felt like an active participant in my life and in the world around me. Even if men had the gender roles that women did, I am pretty sure I would still be transgender. I could wear a dress and keep house with the rest of the men as long as I didn't also have breasts and etc. When puberty happened, and before I knew breasts had any sexual component, they felt wrong and awkward to me. I would wash around them in the shower because touching them felt extremely weird. (Embarrassingly perhaps, I continued to do so well into adulthood without thinking much about it.) I recently had what is known as "top surgery" in transgender circles (bilateral mastectomy with chest reconstruction) and so much of my daily anxiety about my body is gone and I can't even remember what it felt like to have those lumps of fat on my chest for so long. I am quite certain that whatever my brain and physiology might look like, having the anatomy of a woman was never supposed to be a part of it.

My story is just one of many and there is a lot of great insight above. My advice for you, in light of my own experiences, would be to experiment with your gender presentation and with your gendered behavior and to think hard about whether you actually feel comfortable with your body or if you have just become acclimated to completely ignoring its existence.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:45 PM on July 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

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