Are you agender/nonbinary/genderqueer? How did you know?
May 1, 2019 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Do you consider yourself agender/nonbinary/genderqueer? How did you know? I'm not sure if I fall into one of those categories, or if I just hate gender roles, or if it matters.

I put my whole story below to see if there are people who identify with what I experienced, but what I'm looking for is stories from people (either here or links) who tried to figure this out and how they did, how they experience gender, etc.

My story: I'm AFAB and have always IDed as a woman. But when I was younger, I had a lot of gender ... stuff. Outwardly, I guess I probably seemed like a pretty typical girl, though maybe a slightly tomboyish one. But starting around middle school, I started to feel a combination of not living up to what I was supposed to be as a girl, and pretty oppressed by the expectations of femininity. I know a lot of girls deal with this, but it went deep for me and was a source of shame/anxiety/self-loathing. I would sometimes feel like I wasn't legitimately a girl, deep down, and that I would be "found out." I don't really ever remember wanting to be a boy either though, except for the privilege (and maybe the clothes, I've always liked men's clothes better). This lasted on and off until my early twenties.

I should also say, this was all tied up in some stuff around my sexuality. The short version is that I knew there was something different about my sexuality but I was dealing with a lot of internalized homophobia from having grown up in a really conservative community in the 80s and early 90s, and also having been the target of homophobic bullying, and wasn't ready to deal with it. I think there was a part of me that felt like being able to prove that I was "successfully heterosexual" would make me feel like more of a "real woman."

Eventually, I got to a sort of peace with both myself and my gender in my late 20s and came to accept that I was a not-particularly-girly woman and that was ok. Buuuuuut I still didn't really feel at all comfortable in my body. I gained a bunch of weight, my style got really blah (is "frumpy femme" a thing?), I lost all interest in sex, I remember sometimes feeling like I was just a brain in a jar or something. I know that sounds terrible, but this was actually a time when I grew a lot in my confidence in and sense of myself: my career took off, I did some big things in my life, I built a community of friends that I love. But I was just disconnected from my body. (I should say, I don't think any of this body stuff was explicitly gender-related - for instance, I like my curves and my boobs, and my main feelings about my genitals are "they're weird but they can feel good, just like everyone else's.")

Anyway, the happy news is that over the past few years, I finally came to realize/accept that I was queer and primarily interested in women. The process of coming out, and starting to build a little queer community for myself, has been amazing for me. I'm starting to feel more in touch with my body (hey, actually experiencing physical attraction to other people will do that), and getting to know more people with all kinds of gender identities and expressions is making me think about my own in a new way.

I'm starting to realize that, while I don't mind having people see me as a woman, I have never really liked it when people treat me in a highly gendered way (even if it's respectful) - it feels like they think I'm someone I'm not. I think this is one of the things that I hated and that felt really fake to me about dating men (even very egalitarian men) as a woman. And I realized recently one of the reasons I don't want kids is that I feel like the expectations/dynamics of motherhood (more even than generic parenthood) would kill my soul. At the same time, I do have a lot of female-coded interests and look very much like a woman (albeit a lazy one who only wears makeup on special occasions and really likes button-up shirts) and I'm ok with that for the most part.

I could go on, but basically, my female gender feels very much like a social construct and not something innate to me. I sort of think I would feel the same if I were AMAB, though of course I can't know. But I can't tell if this is feminism or something about my gender identity. And even if it is the latter, does it matter? I don't know if figuring this out would change anything for my life, but I keep thinking about it.

BTW, I do have a queer therapist who uses they/them pronouns, and plan to talk about this with them, but I am really hungry for personal stories/experiences.
posted by the sockening to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I figured out when puberty hit me like a freight train and I just felt this overwhelming terrifying, trauma-inducing rejection of the unrecognizable thing my body was turning into. Well, I guess I also figured out by the end of my teens after I'd been going by a male name for a while and that didn't feel right either. Nonbinary/agender/genderqueer does feel right.

But--and I certainly don't mean to be flippant here!--does the thought of identifying as agender, nonbinary, and/or genderqueer make you happy? Then that's a sign it's right. There is no litmus test other than how you personally feel about it.
posted by capricorn at 7:19 PM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Those last couple of paragraphs feel especially familiar. I also had a sheltered/conservative upbringing where I was highly discouraged to express sexuality at all and if I did, it was expected to be "normal" so there was no way I was going to feel safe acknowledging even the possibility of anything outside of cis/het. These days (in my mid-30s) I tend to think of myself as gender-meh or androgynous but generally read as female (short hair and no makeup except for special occasions, dresses only rarely, but definitively pear-shaped and higher pitched voice; not sure how gendered my manner may be).
posted by miratime at 7:35 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm similar to you in many ways but have been in queer community since I was...25 or so. I think some people might describe me as non-binary because I wear mens clothes and have short hair but it's not a word I use for myself - for me "woman" works and I appreciate the idea of women being a diverse group of people, including those like me. But - and maybe this is somehow relevant - the place where I stopped nodding along to your story is where you mention motherhood. Although at this point in life I don't think giving birth to or raising kids is going to happen for me, I relate to something about being maternal pretty deeply and in a way that feels very much in line with my gender. I grew up around a lot of tough religious women who had a lot of kids, whose lives were consumed by that, and although as a feminist I have Feelings about that, these women also modeled a sort of practical and down-to-earth way of being a woman that made sense to me, even if other stuff (like men making a performance out of holding doors for me, or the single date I have ever been on with a straight man) doesn't.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:38 PM on May 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

while I don't mind having people see me as a woman, I have never really liked it when people treat me in a highly gendered way (even if it's respectful) - it feels like they think I'm someone I'm not.

this is more or less exactly how i feel about myself. basically, impostor syndrome about being a woman. i'm bigender and go through phases of vaguely man/vaguely woman, but whenever i'm not in man mode and even mostly then, i'm pretty fine with my body (though spent years dissociated from it in a similar brain in a jar way) and presentation but still resistant to being gendered in other people's eyes and always have been.

it's a little hard knowing what i am for sure because i feel ambivalent about both doing and not doing medical or social transition. im out to close friends and get recognition there but otherwise haven't really changed much. but recently i started wearing mens clothes to see how it made me feel and it turned out, pretty good? it doesn't make me feel more like a man or less like a woman than how i would feel anyways, but even in woman mode, it feels really good to be explicitly noncomforming rather than lazily/by default. so even if i can't be confident about my identity, i can be assertive and take ownership of my style and body instead of ignoring it, and that's gender euphoria for me. i wouldn't have thought so beforehand, and even at first sometimes trying new Gender things feels weird and doesn't come naturally, but i'm glad i've been able to experiment and find things that make me happy instead of just neutral.

also, i feel extremely more comfortable around other nb or gnc people. other bi people, too - sexuality gets mixed in with the gender sometimes and its hard to separate what feels like alienation from cis women versus alienation from straight women. it could be that in a year i figure out that actually i'm just a cis butch girl, but having the space to be honest, experiment, belong instead of being an outsider still makes me happy, so that's what i go with for now.
posted by gaybobbie at 8:00 PM on May 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

So I'm genderfluid/queer/genderqueer whathaveyou, and for me I've just always been like this but I didn't know there was a word for what I was until I was older. It was apparently so obvious that at 25 when I told my mom I was genderfluid she just looked at me and said, "yes, I know, you always were." I had a distinct advantage in that growing up in San Francisco the ambient homophobia was considerable lower than in other places. I just don't get why I have to chose a gender or why people expect me to be one over the other. I go through periods being more femme or less femme, more butch or less butch, and I prefer they but will accept she/he pronouns in a pinch if used respectfully. If you suspect you are like this, you probably are. I'd keep talking to your therapist and be a little less hard on yourself. Gender is weird and so is life!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:04 PM on May 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

Growing up at odds with beauty standards and feeling awful about it is very much part of the experience of feminine socialization.

Feeling alienated from your body, if you’re overweight (and again, at odds with beauty standards), is also a very common experience of feminine socialization.

>I have never really liked it when people treat me in a highly gendered way (even if it's respectful) - it feels like they think I'm someone I'm not.

I actually don’t know any women who enjoy this. Not liking it is a common and understandable response to sexism.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:07 PM on May 1, 2019 [27 favorites]

How did you know?

I came out as a binary trans person in 2014. I had to do a lot lot of work to get to that point, and then went through several years of hoop-jumping to make the social/legal/medical/surgical changes I needed to make. I moved across the country, and then across the country again, and then a smaller hop move into a new city. Like you, my life changed a lot as I met new queer friends and communities and experienced myself as a queer person.

(Even though the language of "knowing" about gender implies locating this deep, indelible signifier of self-ness or whatever, I find it helpful to think of gender or its absence as making music. You can interpret music-making as total free expression, without any pre-determined form or structure, and that's totally cool. But often, music is the meeting point of self-expression and shared forms and patterns. What gives it power is that it's simultaneously something that can be recognized by a community of people who care and contribute to this form of music, and that it's also capturing something authentic and unique about the musician. So when you start spending time in queer communities, you suddenly have entirely new forms and patterns with which to express things about yourself. I feel like the idea of "gender as social construct" doesn't capture the joyfulness and deep authenticity having that shared framework can enable.)

Over the years, and especially in 2017 and 2018, I started noticing that I felt entirely disinterested when I heard "she" and "her" in reference to me. I had worked really hard on transforming my body, and was happy that I had laid that foundation for myself. But after I had mostly healed up from bottom surgery and started moving more and more into my life, I no longer felt like binary trans womanhood expressed various things about myself. And similarly, I noticed an increasing divide in how my (very lovely) binary trans women friends experienced themselves in the world, their reactions to things like pronouns and passing, etc. I slowly started to find more folks like myself -- especially AMAB people who had jumped full-on into binary transition only to gradually renegotiate those boundaries for themselves, but all kinds of nonbinary experiences really. I started trying to affirm this part of myself in little ways - but, as is my way, with lots of getting freaked out and saying "nevermind" and waiting six months and trying again. It took a while to stick.

I'm now a couple of months into switching my pronouns to they/them and identifying as a nonbinary woman (and maybe just exclusively nonbinary at some point...!) and I'm really happy with things. You may find my Ask immediately before coming out helpful. My life isn't radically different or anything, but I'm much more open to certain parts of myself I had previously policed and fretted over. and w/r/t others, I like that my nonbinary identity signal that folks can either (1) learn to appreciate me as an untidily-gendered queerdo and we can forge intimiacy and complexity along that axis (or not!) or (2) accept that they won't fully pin me down gender-wise, and that that's totally okay, other than they need to honor that complexity via they/them pronouns. There were lots of times in my life where the idea of asking that from other people felt extremely embarrassing and shameful and oh my god why would anyone care about me enough to go through that. But now it's workable, everyday, foundational. It's nice.

Hope something in there helps!
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:42 PM on May 1, 2019 [16 favorites]

basically, my female gender feels very much like a social construct and not something innate to me. I sort of think I would feel the same if I were AMAB, though of course I can't know. But I can't tell if this is feminism or something about my gender identity.

Sounds super familiar. I don’t id as genderqueer or anything like that but...let’s put it this way, I’ve never had a doubt in my mind that I’m 100% heterosexual as an identity. It feels completely ‘me’. OTOH Being a girl never felt right and being a woman is...ok, I guess, except I hate being put in a gendered role. In my case that’s: being expected to not voice opinions loudly, to be extremely in tune with emotions of others (I’m not), and especially being complimented or noticed as an attractive woman, be it by men or women and even by men I’m attracted to. Seriously, it’s a reason why I hate dressing up, it squicks me out. Weirdly (?) I find myself attractive. Just...the whole pretty girl thing is horrible to me, like I’m dressed up for halloween and suddenly people think I’m actually what I dressed up as. As I get older, have kids etc, it’s become clearer to me that in my case this is not about feminism so much but more about being uncomfortable with my gender; that’s how I conceptualize it. Of course, YMMV.

In my experience, there are women (even feminist women) who truly enjoy being in that feminine role. I’m not one of them.

Just a data point from a straight cis feminist woman.
posted by The Toad at 8:46 PM on May 1, 2019 [11 favorites]

I'm AFAB, queer, and although it's not the trendiest of terms when it comes down to a label I like to call myself a demigirl. I have days where I'm definitely a woman and then less often but no less true I have days where I'm definitely not a woman. I never ID as male. It is definitely bound up somewhere with my general anxiety, and my whole personal neuroatypical cocktail, but it's definitely a thing that is separate from (but related to) the fallout of being socialized female in a patriarchal world.

I know this about myself because of a combination of many things.

Some of it is that as an artsy creative type I've spent a lot of time around theater people and the way they play with and put on and remove gender never bothered me but also never felt real to me - drag means something different when you have days when your gender, which is not a performance, is suddenly unperformable anyway? Very confusing to college aged Mizu, but fascinating, something I found myself circling on and ruminating on and making art about that was private when I'd never before wanted to keep any of my art private.

Another thing that happened was that I started taking an SSRI for anxiety and depression and that really helped me sort out what was a coping mechanism for that and what was me with the anxiety sanded down. I found that my demi days were fewer when I was medicated but no less real - and that importantly aspects of myself that I thought were connected to my gender really weren't.

Also once I had to attend a highly formal white tie family wedding weekend (interminable!!!!!) when I was definitely not a girl. The dysphoria was so different from the anxiety I was expecting. It was stark, and shocking, and wow do I look bad in photos of me in my gorgeous floor length purple gown. That was more than a decade ago and these days I think of it as sort of a pin moment, like, this is when I knew it wasn't something to ignore or discount or assume would change as I mellowed with age.

Upon my elderly mid-30s reflection it turns out that over my life I have been drawn to and latched on to a statistically improbable amount of genderqueer folks. The person I was in love with for the entirety of my teen years was definitely not cis, although they didn't know it at the time. I seem to sort of serially befriend people pre-transition and then have the great honor of hanging out with them as they figure themselves out. I've done so much gentle conversation about gender and socialization and identity and all that stuff. But when it comes to me it was a slow developing and increasingly sharpening picture that would suddenly just shift every once in a while to a different angle, and then shift back. No transition called for. It's just me and I've just been able to notice it better and live as myself more truthfully.

So anyway, your experiences resonate with my own but aren't the same. You don't sound exactly like some friends of mine but you don't sound unlike them either. It sounds like it matters to you to think about it some more, and what matters to you is why it should matter. To you. Because it's you! And you're the only you you've got.
posted by Mizu at 9:06 PM on May 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

I came out as genderqueer last year at 34 and could have written the first several paragraphs of this. A big difference is that I actually went ahead and had a kid (I like kids!) and--what do you know?--it was actually in part the gendered dynamics of parenthood that pushed me over the edge. In part because I had a child assigned female at birth and I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to teach them how to be a "real" girl correctly. So I learned to perform femininity better, things that had always made me feel lesser and wrong as a kid. I learned how to do her hair and how to do my own make-up and look like a "real" mom and it felt like those gendered expectations were never ending. One of the breaking moments was sobbing one day because I was expected to make something for a pot luck and I just could no longer deal because I felt like, if I didn't make the dish correctly, I'd finally be found out as someone who wasn't a "real" girl.

This was all especially weird for me because I'm primarily attracted to masculine people, though I'm bisexual, and even coming out as bisexual hadn't helped. I'm a feminist. I believe women shouldn't have to do these things. But I also believe that women don't sob over their fear of being found out as fake women. Like if they're not particularly femme women, they are probably comfortable with that inside themselves but for me the femme act was all a cover for not really feeling female. That if I slipped up and made a mistake at whatever type of womanhood I was pretending to be I would be found out as a fraud. And I didn't even know I felt that way, but I did.

It's complicated because if you come out late you get really, really good at performing. To the point where you might not even know it's a performance. I didn't. I thought that, at best, I had internalized misogyny. So I tried to be a better friend to woman and more appreciative of girly things (and I like some girly things! Like drag queen make-up and dolls). That didn't help, either. It didn't answer the thing that was inside of me.

The way I identify now is transmasc/genderqueer/trans and I can tell you that the first feeling after I came out to my partner was enormous, earth-shattering relief. Which doesn't mean it's always been easy. But for some reason, admitting this to myself has given me permission to do a lot of things I hadn't even realized were gendered in my head. Like lifting weights to get big and strong, explicitly. Growing out not just my armpit hair but my leg hair too. Wearing men's clothes, from head to toe, and no longer with any handwaving explanations about pockets though pockets are great.

It's also had the effect of helping me to suddenly remember a bunch of shit about myself that I had never connected the dots on. Stuffing my underpants with socks as a kid and a teenager, in private, in shame and desire. Desperately wanting to be among boys as peers in middle and high school even as I wanted to make-out with them and realizing their femme-phobia and homophobia and realizing the only way I could was to perform femininity. Realizing that some of the abuse from a parent--who I've since gone no contact with--was gendered and transphobic, specifically. Recognizing the thrill I'd always, always feel when I dressed up as male characters from my favorite books and TV shows, all the way into adulthood. Recognizing the glimmer in my eyes when I did that as gender euphoria, not just fun role-playing.

The gender euphoria I felt when I cast it off--that's been a big clue for me.

And I don't know. It fluxes sometimes--sometimes I think our categories are just wrong. I have low top dysphoria and don't intend to do hormones or have any surgeries at this point in my life but . . . calling myself trans just feels like less of a lie than the alternative. I also found a support group of genderqueer and trans people and being around them is just wonderful and beautiful and it has shown me the whole spectrum of trans gender and gender performance. And it's interesting and nuanced and feels like a community that I fit in--other than with either cis women or cis men, who can be decent people, but who can't talk about their childhoods in a way I explicitly and immediately recognize.

It was a filing off of edges for me, my childhood and adolescence. A very specific filing off of edges. It was a trans childhood and I couldn't even see it until I was out of it.

But the edges grow back if you let them and I feel much firmer and more comfortable in my gender now than I did before. Before it made me uncomfortable. Now it's okay. I'm okay. I'm happy with my body and myself, most days, in this beautiful, nuanced, unfurling sort of way. I'm a better and happier parent (surprise! kids don't need you to fake femininity to feel loved) and a better partner and a better human. Sex is better, oh god, so much better. Life is better. I'm better.

If you're feeling this way the biggest thing I could advise is to just . . . find some trans people and see how it feels to introduce yourself as one of them. I'd bet it feels good. And once you feel that, it becomes difficult to deny to rest of it. To deny yourself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:33 PM on May 1, 2019 [33 favorites]

I'm nearly 30, AFAB and in the slow process of coming out as non-binary IRL.

I had a rough childhood, the kind where the kid has to adapt significantly to the parents in order to survive the household of origin, and that profoundly eroded my sense of self. Surviving, particularly as a teenager, took up time and energy that should have been spent on developing self-knowledge, and as a result it took me much longer than average to realise that both my sexuality and gender identity were not the default. I kind of figured out my sexuality in my late teens/early 20s, then kind of forgot it somehow (?!?) and then figured it out again in my mid-late 20s.

One of the first signs for me gender-wise wasn't feeling discomfort with my female gender expression (the discomfort was there, I was just too disconnected from myself overall to realise what it was), it was hearing the term "non-binary" for the first time a few years ago and realising over time that that felt like a pretty good descriptor for me. So I sat for a few years with the idea that, hey, yeah, I'm probably non-binary on the inside, but at that point I had no plans to change my outward gender expression. I felt like I could probably live with the knowledge but not act on it basically forever.

Then a bunch of stuff shifted. I did some seriously in-depth trauma therapy, poking at the shame and gross feelings from childhood until they didn't hurt so much that I couldn't even go near them, and I started to pull together some kind of coherent sense of self. At the same time, I read Daniel Ortberg's coming-out interviews & essays and felt this huge stab of jealousy out of nowhere, half "but you were already living my best life as a bookish lesbian, why do you want this other thing instead?" and half "oh shit I think I actually want a piece of this other thing."

So I sat with those feelings a few more months and when they didn't go away, I cut my hair off and started binding and wearing men's clothes and I instantly felt baseline 15-20% more confident and comfortable in myself without even coming out, just with making those changes to the way I express myself. That was last November, and the confidence and comfort are still hanging around, which is lovely. I feel so much more myself like this, which was totally unexpected but has been really nice and affirming.

Something that's key to all this for me is autism - I'm as convinced as I can be without a formal diagnosis that I'm on the spectrum, and my mother is the same. The formal diagnosis didn't happen when I was younger largely because of my assigned gender, and it's very unlikely to happen now due to my perceived gender and perceived success - I'm in the UK and the NHS isn't interested in diagnosing apparently high-functioning adults with developmental issues and I can't afford a private diagnosis right now. I think this stuff is so interesting, though, as there's been research that suggests autistic people are more likely to be gender non-conforming than the wider population, and for me a lot of my experience of gender is one of finding it a totally baffling social construct with unwritten and unspoken rules that I was constantly failing at. Gender has just never felt super relevant to me, and I'm still puzzled about why it's such a huge deal for other people or why they feel the need to police its expression in others.

My experience of trying to perform my assigned gender was so miserable that in some ways I don't understand how I didn't figure out my identity sooner. Growing up it felt like femininity was this amazing ineffable thing that everyone wanted more of out of me, and I was the clumsiest bag of thumbs trying to perform it. It felt like an ill-fitting suit of clothes. I got constant comments and policing about "not doing it right", from cis women as much as from men - I'd be so pretty if I just wore a bit of makeup, I'd be so pretty if I just lost some weight, I'd be so pretty if I just had any idea how to dress myself, etc., all these gross comments that continued to erode my sense of self, because I was meant to be this thing and I sucked at being this thing and everyone else was mad at me for failing to be this thing.

Now all of that has fallen away from me. The language I find myself coming to most commonly on this subject is "I stopped pretending to be a girl", and that feels very accurate. Being feminine was in some ways very desirable to me at certain ages, so I feel weird now about rejecting my assigned gender as an adult when I didn't have serious dysphoria as a kid (basically because I was clueless and being actively abused) - it was the goal and the dream but I was consistently incapable of achieving it, and the process of trying to achieve it and failing hurt me repeatedly in ways that stacked up over time. I still have moments of wishing I could be a real girl, even though I technically am biologically a girl and knowing I'm much more comfortable presenting in a significantly more masculine way, while knowing, deeply, that I'm not actually really a woman. It sounds more confusing than it feels, if that makes any sense.

Some of the joy has been around clothing my body with clothes that feel like they were really meant for it. I'm on the abnormally large size as far as women's clothing goes, usually too tall for stuff to fit properly and into plus sizes because of my frame. With men's clothes I can walk into a store and buy straight sizes off the rack. Clothes shopping has turned from torture into genuine pleasure. I no longer feel like I'm fighting the body I actually have, trying to cram it into something that was not designed for it.

You asked "how did you know?", and unfortunately it's one of those weird ineffable kinds of knowledge. I had this conversation with a close friend a few weeks ago, who identifies as cis - I asked her how she knows she's a woman, and her answer was along the lines of "I just know deep down". Which was immensely reassuring, because that's how I feel about being non-binary. I just know, deep down, that I am not a woman. I know there are many ways of being a woman, but none of them feel right to me. I still love and celebrate women and girls, I'm just...not one. I'm still a feminist, I still want rights and good treatment for female-identified people, I just can't put myself into that bucket in good faith any more. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with femininity, it just felt like a prison for me personally.

This feels like a weird societal inflection point at which to have figured out this stuff about myself - in another/earlier life I might never have heard the term "non-binary" which ended up being the key to my own identity, but at the same time the rise of anti-trans and anti-LGBT sentiment is chilling. I've mostly lived a life of tremendous privilege, apart from all the child abuse, and the idea that I might get hurt or have to take risks to be what I am is a new feeling for me; my queerness has never cost me anything until now, but I'm increasingly visibly not-what-I-ought-to-be these days and it's strange to think that something that's brought me so much joy may also get me hurt in the future. Also the government where I live doesn't legally recognise my identity, and that is a real shitter on the old self-esteem.

Part of the reason that half my ass is hanging out of this closet and half is still sitting inside at the moment is because I feel like there are two parallel worlds existing in tandem right now: one where your gender identity is whatever you say it is and of course everyone respects your identity and pronouns, and one where gender-variant people aren't really people and gender is in the eye of the beholder and they're going to lump you into one of two buckets no matter what you tell them or how you ask them to treat you. The question of "how do I get people who are default hung up on the binary to understand and respect my identity?" is still sitting with me and I don't have a lot of answers at the moment, and that fear is why I'm not out at work yet, even though every "she" and "her" is really grating on me at this point.

The other side of the "how did you know?" question is confidence and the idea that you deserve to have the identity that feels right for you. When I was stuck in trauma-related depression, the idea that I deserved to be happy and visibly myself seemed laughable and ridiculous. I wrestled with "but am I really gender non-conforming" for a long time before I did anything about it, less because I wasn't sure and more because I felt like I wasn't allowed to be. It was fine for other people (subtext: the young wonderful sparkly rainbow people who knew this shit about themselves coming out of the womb, whose freedom and early self-knowledge I envy) to be openly gender-variant, but I wasn't allowed to be. I felt constrained for a long time by the idea that the world expected one female-assigned unit out of me, and it was my job to fulfil that expectation and I wasn't allowed to deviate from it. All of that fell away as soon as I started presenting in a way that fits my inner alignment better. The world can have me the way I am or go hang.

I am so much happier this way, and I suspect some of the reduction in depression has been from switching this stuff up as well as from doing the trauma work. I like getting clocked by/validation from other queer people, I like being visibly queer (I was queer before but also high-femme presenting and in a long-term relationship with someone of the "opposite" gender, so it didn't really come across), I like confusing people by looking androgynous, the "sir...madam...?" from service workers, being called "mate" rather than "love" by the homeless guy I gave change to. I don't love being belligerently argued with that I'm in the wrong place when I walk into the barber shop, which happened last night, but I love the haircut that the other barber who wasn't an asshole gave me, I love the validation about said haircut from senior cis men at work, I love how I feel in a suit jacket and chinos rather than a dress and leggings. I feel more playful with my gender expression than I did when I was trying to pretend to be a girl. I love that I can keep my clitoris and dress like a cute boy and not have to put a gender label on any of it.

I hope your identity journey takes you to a similarly happy place.
posted by terretu at 9:43 PM on May 1, 2019 [26 favorites]

I will say that for me the key to it all was realizing I really am mostly masculine. Personally. Whether that means I need to undergo physical transition (it doesn't) or am a man (I dunno, probably not), none of that really mattered. I hated being gendered as feminine but being gendered as masculine feels really, really great for me. Call me dude, let me buy the flowers, open the doors, carry a knife, ask me to cut down a tree for you or lift furniture and I am more than happy--I am ecstatic and feel exactly like myself. Of course, none of these things are what makes a man. But my discomfort with things coded "woman" and glee at things coded otherwise has been a really big tell. Because I don't think that being asked to make a casserole is really inherently worse than being asked to mow the lawn. But one feels wrong for me. One doesn't.

It's interesting because being around trans women I hear many of them express the exact same sentiments in reverse and it's really helped to dig into my sexism too because seeing these beautiful women blossom when they are themselves, whatever that means (and it might be doing traditionally masculine things, like fishing, while looking like the beautiful women they always wanted to be!) has helped me see that this mismatch in self and expectations of self are really at the center of a trans existence. To a level above and beyond cis experiences of sexism.

Also if you haven't you might take a look at reddit's egg_irl subreddit. An egg is a trans person who hasn't hatched yet. A lot of what's posted there rang true for me. It might for you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:00 PM on May 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

Another datapoint for recognizing much of your story from my perspective as cis lesbo. My interests, pocket-contents, mannerisms and look would probably suit a genderqueer or nb identity quite well, but that’s not me and there are a lot of ways of being a woman. It’s also important for me for womanhood to be a wide umbrella.
posted by Iteki at 10:34 PM on May 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

I could go on, but basically, my female gender feels very much like a social construct and not something innate to me. I sort of think I would feel the same if I were AMAB, though of course I can't know.

AMAB here, and I feel exactly that way about my masculinity.

Body-wise I am a six foot bearded overweight and somewhat muscular ape but I see that as more a pure accident of circumstance than a guide to appropriate behaviour. The older I get (and I'm 57 now) the more strongly I settle into the attitude that the closer somebody is to me the better they'll know who I am and the further somebody is from me the less I care about what they think.

But I can't tell if this is feminism or something about my gender identity.

For me, the idea of gender identity has always been about recognition of one's peers rather than something to be discovered about oneself.

I take the position that the concept of "identity" is valuable only in the sense that it allows one to recognize oneself from moment to moment i.e. being about who one is; as commonly used with modifiers like "gender" and "racial" and "sexual" it seems to me to address more the question of how one is, and I think a great deal of completely avoidable suffering continues to be caused by the tendency to get those two completely separable ideas crossed up.

And even if it is the latter, does it matter?

Only to the extent that you decide that it does.

I don't know if figuring this out would change anything for my life, but I keep thinking about it.

Pondering the question of identity has been fruitful for me. The most valuable product of those ponderings, for me, has been the who/how distinction I mentioned above.

I can't see anything wrong with describing oneself as having the same gender identity as those in some identifiable group whose members one recognizes as having desires and attitudes similar to one's own, but I think it's valuable to remain aware that one's own innate identity does not depend on membership of any such group and persists completely independently of any such membership or the lack of it.

All of us move in and out of membership of all kinds of groups as we live and mature and explore and change, and it seems to me that although leaving a group where one has found support and comfort in the past can be cause for grieving it should never need to cause fear of personal annihilation.

For me personally, gender is the least important aspect of those I identify with as My People and although I make no effort to avoid presenting as male on first glance I think of myself as gender-DGAF.
posted by flabdablet at 11:33 PM on May 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

One of the things that I find helpful to remind myself, in a lot of contexts, is that generally speaking, people who have [normative experience] don't spend a huge amount of time thinking about it.

If you're 100% straight, you probably don't sit around thinking about how great queer people are and how much you wish you could be part of their communities. If you're neurotypical, you probably don't read posts by neurodivergent people and sigh in a mixture of 'omg it me!' and 'that feels so relatable, but it's Not For Me.' Abled people don't agonize about if they really belong to the disability community. And, most relevant here, people who fit 100% with their assigned gender don't usually spend their time worrying that they're misunderstanding gender, or worrying that they're somehow faking their gender-related feelings, or that they're doing gender wrong, or trying to figure out if their feelings about gender are a them problem or a society problem.

There are exceptions, obviously, but I feel strongly that if this is something that you keep circling, if you keep coming back to it, that probably means something, and it's ok to embrace that. You're allowed to feel like gender is a construct with which you don't really identify—that's approximately how I feel about myself, and I think how a lot of other nonbinary people I know feel about it. In a lot of ways, "woman" functions as a social class as much as it does a gender, and I don't see any contradiction in identifying as a nonbinary woman: what you are, and how society perceives you and classifies you. You're allowed to be that, or any other stripe of gendered that you feel is appropriate, and it can effect your life as much or as little as you want. Some people want to get surgery, or change their names, or actively present themselves to be gender-ambiguous in terms of dress, etc. Some of us don't, or can't, or don't feel like this is the identity-related hill that we want to die on, and that's also fine.

All that said, it sounds like this is a thing that causes you some stress and unhappiness, and I would suggest that possibly that's the biggest thing that figuring it out might change. There's something to be said for knowing who you are, even if you don't feel like expressing it publicly, even if you don't want to change your pronouns or get top surgery or anything else. You deserve to understand yourself and your relationship with the ways that people frame the world. I hope you're able to find an answer to this that brings you peace, one way or the other.
posted by mishafletch at 12:15 AM on May 2, 2019 [24 favorites]

Hi! I'm similar to you in several ways. I see myself as mostly female and mostly cis. I see myself as female but not feminine. This works for me at this point in time.
I could almost word for word have written these lines: basically, my female gender feels very much like a social construct and not something innate to me. I sort of think I would feel the same if I were AMAB, though of course I can't know.

The answers to this different, but related, AskMeFi question might be helpful to you. They certainly were to me.
What does it mean to have a gender?
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:45 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm a cis bi woman and for me, my level of comfort with my own gender and with societal gendered expectations are very distinct things. Yes, I think a lot of societal bullshit around expectations of women are stupid and infuriating, and I reflexively cringe from being treated in a very gendered way. But for me that feels entirely different from my own sense of my gender. I don't feel in any way like I'm not actually a woman. I don't feel shame or self-loathing about the ways in which I don't measure up to societal expectations of womanhood. (And I am a person who can feel shame and guilt about basically anything, it's actually highly unusual for something to not cause me anxiety, but this particular thing doesn't.) I don't feel any discomfort or uncertainty about being a woman. Because I am friends with a lot of trans and nonbinary folks, I do have a lot of conversations about gender, so I periodically sort of check in with myself as part of these conversations to see if I really am still just 100% cool with labeling myself as a cis woman, and so far in forty years that has never wavered or changed.

All of which is mostly just to back up mishafletch above to note that at least some cis people, maybe most of us, are not out there worrying about this stuff or thinking about it on a regular basis except as maybe an interesting thought exercise. When I'm in a group of solely cis women we spend a fair amount of time yelling about the kyriarchy and gendered expectations but pretty much none of the time questioning our own genders.

That this is an ongoing source of questioning and curiosity for you suggests that there's some kind of there, there, even if you maybe end up deciding you're a cis person who spent some time exploring her gender expression and identification before settling back at a label you started with. It sounds like you're at a great time in your life to really dig in and poke at this stuff a bit with your therapist and your friends and your own memories, and that's something you deserve the space and freedom to do, whatever the end result and whether or not you make any outwardly visible changes as a result.
posted by Stacey at 5:34 AM on May 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

A term I picked up in Too-Ticky's AskMe: gender-meh.

Learning about Judith Butler's performative gender was an eye-opener for me. I don't feel qualified to explain it, but lots of people on the internet have. I feel very comfortable saying that I perform masculinity, but I don't feel as if I "am" male. That statement is just part of the performance.

If I were to wake up a woman tomorrow, I think my concerns would be entirely about people's expectations. I don't know how to perform femininity with the skill people would expect of someone my age, and it would cause tremendous problems for me if that were suddenly expected of me.

This is in contrast to, say, my wife, who uses words like "wrong" when asked to imagine herself a man. She claims to "be" a woman, and for her that is a more fundamental and immutable statement than the way she claims to "be", say, a knitter.

posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:13 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Lots of what terretu said tracks with me, and I ID as nonbinary.

For me what finally pushed me out of the closet was a very political sense of feeling out of step with women as a class. I am a feminist, but things like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel do nothing for me, I don't feel represented, I don't feel like that's "my journey" up there onscreen. There's nothing wrong with it, obviously, it's wonderful-- it just feels like someone else's thing.

I've also had a lifelong fascination with masculinity despite not being incredibly masculine. Like, war stories make me cry, while they seem to bore the hell out of a lot of cis women.

I'm still figuring a lot of it out but there's my 2 cents.
posted by coffeeand at 6:21 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am looking forward to going back and reading through everyone's answers, because those that I have read so far are wonderful and helpful. I belong to a nonbinary/gender nonconforming support group and sharing your story like this is one of the things I find super comforting--because sometimes we're so, so alike, and the rest of the times is a beautiful reminder that there is no right or wrong way to be you. No right or wrong way to be nonbinary or genderqueer.

I am AFAB. I came out to my friends at bi in high school. Or, more like, I wrote smutty fanfic with my friends in high school, briefly dated my best friend who was also female, and had crushes on several other female friends. I came out to my family as bi in college. I was neither girly nor not girly. I guess. I never wore makeup but went through a huge nail polish phase. I wore skirts and dresses, but I went to a school that required uniforms, so it was partly that. I also loved jeans and a t-shirt. And my dad's leather shoes. And his closet full of ties and dress shirts. And my mom's box of bras. In college I mostly wore jeans and t-shirts because that was easy, but I also wore long flow-y peasanty skirts. I made jewelry and wore huge dangly earrings and statement necklaces.

Post-college, living underemployed with my girlfriend, I got pretty angsty around clothing and my sexuality. We were LESBIANS together, right? But all of a sudden I hated every single piece of clothing and increasingly could not stand being seen as a woman. I never minded the older lesbian nod of queer approval I got when I held hands with my girlfriend, but more and more, I could not stand being hit on at the bus stop, asked out at my service job just because I was being paid to be polite to you, I hated my name and resented people who used it, especially when they didn't know me well. Wow, typing it out makes me remember how awful all that felt.

I got into therapy, found someone who was gender nonconforming and kinda grokked it. I experimented with binding, which felt awesome. Sometimes I hated my breasts. Sometimes I loved them--but those states tended to be months apart, not like swings day-to-day. I experimented with packing which felt like I was doing something incredibly sexual in public. I experimented with different names and finally picked one that I'm still using--legally now, too! Years--seriously--years of therapy and questioning later I came out to myself, my partner, and my close friends as transmaculine. I contemplated getting top surgery, but this was before trans coverage was more commonly available. Eventually I went on T. Around that time my wife and I joined a couple's therapy group for couples where one partner was trans and the other was cis. Hearing other people's stories was incredibly helpful. Having two more therapists (group was facilitated by a a sex therapist and her gender non conforming AFAB partner) who affirmed me and my struggles and choices was also incredibly helpful.

I came out to my job, then my immediate family, then to everyone on Facebook as transmasculine. I was on a low dose of T, so changes came slowly. Voice cracking--and fuck, trouble singing?? Tiny-but-noticeable genital changes. A bit of chin scruff. FABULOUS sideburns. Periods stopped, that's cool. Oh, receding hairline, damn. I was on T for maybe 3 years. Did the gel first, which was super easy. Had to change providers in between there and the new guy pushed for injections because we kept getting inconsistent levels from the gel. Did those for maybe a year and was like, yeah, nope. But it wasn't just the injections. I was getting read, consistently, as male. And it scared me and made me just as uncomfortable as being read female. Maybe that was scarier than being read as male . . . . A lot of this coincides with the shit that's been going on the US, the horrific misogyny and sexism and racism and white supremacy. What part of my noping out of male identity is personal and what part is not wanting to be lumped into the white cis male masses I can't say. But I was also moving in spaces where people coded male have different expectations put on them and I felt incredibly uncomfortable attempting to fit into those.

Stopped hormones. A few months later I tried on bras and dresses for the first time in 10? years. It was cool and felt nice. And weird, but also good. I've worn dresses the past two summers. I wear my awesome chain mail earrings. I mostly wear button downs, but sometimes I just wear neutral sweaters or shirts. I sometimes wear pink, a color I abhorred as a child. I bind pretty much every time I go out in public. Mostly I feel good. It's still a struggle, though. I started the nonbinary & gender nonconforming group with a nonbinary friend from couple's group. They came up with most of the format and we co-lead it for a year. We're passing off the leadership and hoping the group will step up and keep itself going . . . I'm happy to share the format if anyone wants to start their own. I've been nudging my friend that we should do a how to run your own peer support group presentation at Philly Trans Wellness . . . .

So it's a journey. One time when I was kinda struggling, I described my gender as a pendulum--back and forth, back and forth--but someone in my couple's group suggested maybe it was more of a river--meandering. I like that image so much better. Less static, less stuck. I still struggle. If I wear dresses, I get read as female. I hate when people use female pronouns for me. But I like having a mix of masculine and feminine things to wear and present. Sideburns and dangly earrings. 5 (day) o'clock shadow and dresses. Dress and binder. But I like identifying as genderqueer. It feels like a good fit for me. And the choice of identification is what feels right for you. Also, if nothing seems to fit right, questioning is also a legit identity.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:43 AM on May 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I hit the bottom in terms of my emotional and physical health between 2014 and 2017, and came to the conclusion that my closets were among my biggest health threats. If it's all the same and just arbitrary, why is passing, a set of rituals I perform to negotiate a professional world and the potential for street violence, causing more and more distress? And some of that may be trauma because I've been emotionally, physically, and sexually abused because I didn't always pass, I asked wrong questions, I expressed the wrong ideals, and had family, peers, and lovers come down on that hard. I think a big part of having a "mid-life crisis" is the recognition that I'm less resilient than I was 20 years ago, and the hangover from anxiety attacks is a bigger deal these days.

I'm a big old SFF nerd, so while a lot of people responded to ideas about body-swaps and body transformations with horror or sexual titillation, I've always responded with a sense of longing. The "what if you wake up in the wrong body" test never caused me distress. I'm keenly aware that that single-pronoun and gender-fluid culture of Ancillary Justice caused a lot of people distress, but didn't for me. Foz Meadows published three short stories a few years ago and I ended up crying, because why not be a brain in a box and be able to trade and share different ways of being embodied with people I love. And the story of independently discovering queerness in a text in spite of historic revisionism also made me cry. Becky Chambers gets a nomination for stories that use spivak pronouns and "Xe," and I breath a sigh of relief that my magical and idealized futures are getting out of a queer literary ghetto. I'm finding my comfort in games where I don't have to choose between intensely sexualized woman or whish-fulfillment macho man. I saw Shazam! last week which has "idealized self" body transformation at its core, and came out thinking that Sugar and Stevenson did it better. SFF is a space where I can be in stories and not be the problem.

I flip between nonbinary and genderqueer. I like genderqueer because, to me, it evokes the reality that LGBTQ people have always had complex relationships with gender. We've only just now started to deal with the baggage of inversion theory, and nonbinary and genderqueer are better and self-selected words for transvestite, cross-dresser, fairy, bulldagger, and invert which go back through the Victorian age. (That's not an argument that all feminine gay and masculine lesbian people are/were trans, just that some are.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:00 AM on May 2, 2019 [9 favorites]

I feel like this is a real different experience depending on your assigned sex at birth and your relationship with femininity and feminism. I'm AMAB, so maybe take this with a grain of salt.

These days I'm equally likely to call myself "woman," "nonbinary," or both. Getting here was a real step-by-step process, and there are probably more steps to come: I don't think I've necessarily arrived at any kind of permanent equilibrium. I have gotten to a point where I'm less worried about labels because I know what practical ways of living my life feel good. But I got here via a stage of caring intensely about labels, so I'm definitely not going to claim that labels don't or shouldn't matter, to me or anyone else.

My attitude is that a gender isn't a monolithic thing — it's an executive summary of a bunch of little preferences and needs and wants. And so the best way to find out about your gender is to try stuff, and see what stuff you prefer and need and want.

Thought experiments aren't enough, in my experience. Trying things in a practical way is important, because sometimes the results surprise you. When I transitioned, I thought I was going to be a real flashy makeup-wearer. I tried it. Turns out I was wrong and I'm way happier without. I thought I was going to love dancing follow instead of lead, but find singing with my low voice really frustrating. Turns out I had it backwards, I still prefer dancing lead, but being a lady bass and being a bass-singing-in-falsetto queerdo are two of my favorite things.

Sometimes the experiment goes on for a while. I switched to using zie/hir pronouns with my close friends expecting I'd use them for like a week and then get turned off. I ended up sticking with them for more than a year, and using them in a much wider social circle. And then finally, not that long ago, I was like "Eh, I'm happy with these pronouns, but I don't love them all the time, and pushing people to use them is a hassle. I'm going back to she/her." That doesn't make it a failed experiment and it doesn't mean I was wrong about my gender. It means exploring things sometimes takes time.

And sometimes it's important to try things you expect to fail. I was dead certain that being visibly not-trying-as-hard-as-possible-to-pass-as-female at work would never be comfortable. I tried it. I hated it at first I kept trying it occasionally. Now it's great. I feel more confident at work looking visibly gendercomplicated, and I never would have guessed if I hadn't dipped my toe in that water, and kept dipping it in from time to time over the years.

So I don't know. It's good and important to ask if you're genderqueer. And it's also good and important to ask what concrete things you could explore doing differently. You don't need to know in advance which things sound good to you. You just need to identify some experiments you might do, and try some of them out, and notice how they make you feel. And once you've experimented and tried things and maybe surprised yourself on a few of them, looking back and trying to describe the results might make it a lot clearer whether "genderqueer" is a good summary.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:34 AM on May 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

things like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel do nothing for me, I don't feel represented, I don't feel like that's "my journey" up there onscreen

As a cis woman, they don't do anything much for me either -- but, I think, the diagnostic test there is that for me, that fact winds up feeling like something I can use to calibrate my assessment of the films (by virtue of my response, I deem them incrementally less "representative" or less "successful" or less "interesting" or whatever) rather than something I use to calibrate my assessment of my own gender identity. If you find yourself feeling the other way around, that probably tells you something worth paying attention to!
posted by redfoxtail at 7:43 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm 35, AMAB, and slowly exploring being gender and expression and identity. I don't know where I'm going to land on the spectrum, but you gotta start somewhere. I do know that at a young age I was interested in feminine things. As a couple examples, I asked for Lee Press-On Nails as a Christmas gift when I was young, and on the first day of pre-school, I immediately gravitated towards the dress-up box, only to be politely told by my pre-school teacher that it was for girls.

A childhood of bullying and abuse, I think, forced me to suppress a lot of those aspects of myself, and only as an adult, being around out, visibly queer people, was I able to understand aspects of myself, and come out as bisexual, and become comfortable exploring presentation. One thing I do note is that I'm very comfortable with my body and it's configuration, so I don't think HRT will be for me. (In fact, one of the few things I'm not fond of is that I've got a small amount of male-boob. Not bothered enough to want to get surgery for it, but I don't want them to get any bigger, either.)

So, yeah, still figuring it all out, but I'm becoming more comfortable with presenting and behaving somewhat more feminine, in a way that feels right.
posted by SansPoint at 8:16 AM on May 2, 2019

generally speaking, people who have [normative experience] don't spend a huge amount of time thinking about it.

this is one of those things that people repeat because it makes a puzzle seem easier, not because it is true, and not because there is any way to know that it is true. with regard to gender and sexuality, it is only even plausible if you pre-define all women as non-normative. which many societies have done, so fair enough.

OP, the important thing for your situation is that if there is something you want, you can have it. even if you just think you might want it a little bit. you do not have to pass a moral qualifying exam. if you want to think of yourself in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, or call yourself a different name, or be referred to differently by other people, you do not need permission and you do not need to be sure. (if you want to change your body in some way that requires professional assistance, you may need to give certain answers to certain questions, but that is purely practical.)

this is important not just for your personal happiness and identity, but because it gives you no reason and no excuse to sleuth out or invent things that are cosmically different about you compared to women, when they are not actually generic differences and when women can and do feel as you feel. People who are not cis women, who tell you that ordinary cis women don't spend all this time worrying and examining their gender, are both mistaken and presumptuous. and misguided. it is actually all right to be like a woman in certain respects, such as one's response to treatment of women, even if you aren't a woman. you do not have to define discontent and individuality as unwomanly to justify personal disinterest in womanhood. and you don't have to prove that you don't belong within its borders in order to earn the right to leave.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:17 AM on May 2, 2019 [15 favorites]

Oh, hi, I asked a very similar question a few years ago and got some useful answers. This is something I have spent a LOT of time thinking about over the past few years, and now I think of myself as being trans/nonbinary, but have decided to continue to present as female and use she/her pronouns for the time being.

For me, the most helpful answers to my question were those encouraging me to explore my gender identity and give myself permission to experiment, and the trans people who shared their stories and thought processes. The least helpful answers were those telling me this is just internalized misogyny. I'm sure I do have some internalized misogyny because I don't know how any AFAB person could escape that, but, that idea did not resonate with me at all and hearing it felt invalidating and dismissive.

Since I asked that question, I've been slowly making changes that feel right to me. I have a buzzcut now, which is fucking great because I never have to worry about how my hair looks or paying a stylist. I also started taking continuous hormonal birth control for the sole purpose of stopping my periods. If you are able to do this, I highly recommend it, because I no longer spend days every month crying and panicking from dysphoria. Not having periods is a huge fucking relief and I am so grateful that is an option for me. (If you do decide to try this, be aware that many doctors will refuse to prescribe birth control just to stop periods, which is total bullshit because there is no valid scientific or medical reason why women who tolerate hbc can't take it to stop their periods. The clinic I get my hbc from actually has a policy against prescribing it to stop periods, so I just didn't tell them that that was my goal).

I have also done research on further steps like chest masculinization surgery, which I think I'd eventually like to get done but I'm not ready for that yet. I absolutely hate having boobs and getting rid of them sounds wonderful, but surgery terrifies me so I'm still weighing the cost/benefit in my head.

Anyway, my experience tells me this is a process and it can take a lot of thought and experimentation to get to a place of feeling comfortable. I'm not there yet because I still get read as female 99.9% of the time, which is frustrating and disheartening, but it's getting easier.
posted by a strong female character at 8:30 AM on May 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I'm 47, AMAB, and only really acknowledged to myself (and am still in the process of really acknowledging) that I'm trans/non-binary (and still figuring out the language too). It's a process that's been going on for longer but I've been varying degrees of stubborn, experimenting, denying, rejecting, tentatively peeking.

What has been a consistent guide has been listening very closely to how things feel internally. I'll read something or watch something and feel like I'm pierced through and suddenly I'm tearing up or bawling. Sometimes it's not so dramatic but I do feel a specific kind of deep relaxation.

And, as I've experimented (wearing skirts, wearing nail polish, talking with close friends, going to a trans support group, talking to a therapist), I've seen myself gain more energy, more confidence, more honesty around this. And that has been a guide too. Does it feel energizing? I'm probably on the right path.

Most of the resistance I notice lately is around how other people will handle this (my family who I haven't talked with yet, my son who is still young and with whom I have a complicated relationship already, work which is remote so I mostly don't see my co-workers directly). I know that's out of my control and at the same time, it's a real factor how I proceed.

I'm deeply grateful to threads like this and everyone on MeFi who has been sharing their stories in lots of threads over the years. I've found a lot of support and reassurance in this community.
posted by kokaku at 10:50 AM on May 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I'm AFAB and fairly butch -- I feel like you'd get this reference, I'm more butch than Cameron but less than Rhea (I know Rhea is NB but to give you an idea). No one is going to mistake me for a man when they see me from the front, regardless of my haircut. I bought a binder once because Daniel Ortberg made me curious and hated it as soon as I put it on, but I know there are women who like to bind and consider themselves to be women. I get really tired of the performative nature of gender as well in the context of straight cis people. Love seeing and hanging out with people exploring gender in interesting ways -- hate baby showers. I'm not sure if that's what you're feeling as well but it did make me think of that when I was reading your post. I got engaged recently and cannot stand wedding websites, cheesy vendors, all of this super-straight-gendery bullshit that is part of that industry. But I feel comfortable calling myself a woman and I like my body with its current configuration of shapes and genitalia, so that is the life I live. It sounds like you might be a little further down the spectrum towards a different gender identity. Can't hurt to explore it! Try something out, like I tried the binder. I didn't know that I would hate it until I tried it, I just thought maybe my shirts would fit better, not that I would feel a sudden profound loss.

I feel more comfortable with the femme things I do like now that I give myself permission to enjoy masculine things too. Sure, I'll paint my nails and I'll wear a bowtie. Life is grand. Society's construct of gender is just something we all made up and decided on together. I'd say opt out as much as you want to, or lean in!
posted by possibilityleft at 11:00 AM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

People who are not cis women, who tell you that ordinary cis women don't spend all this time worrying and examining their gender, are both mistaken and presumptuous.

Same applies to ordinary cis men.

Lost count of the number of times I've watched some fuckhead who putatively shares my gender getting approval by displaying some particularly egregious performance of it and thought, I'm supposed to be like that? That is what society expects of men? Fuck that noise, I want no part of it.

And yet I do get generally treated as a member of that same group on the basis of being a deep-voiced beard-wearing father in a cis het marriage, and am keenly aware of the extent to which my life runs on easy mode as a consequence.

It would be a much less stressful world if people were all as keen to please everybody as most people seem to be to please me. There is nothing I have done to deserve my spot on this somewhat vertiginous pedestal that has not been done better and more often by members of other genders. The whole thing is deeply unfair.
posted by flabdablet at 11:54 AM on May 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am AFAB and I identify as genderqueer and androgynous, but pretty much just privately.

I always identified as a woman, but after immersing myself in the genderqueer community in 2015, I started thinking about how 12-year-old me with my short haircut used to love being able to perform "boy" or "girl" at will depending on how I was dressed and styled. And how I love to cosplay as boys and men. I started playing around with presenting as more androgynous, and it felt great.

For a while I agonized about whether my feelings were "real," but a lot of memes reminded me that feeling like a gender means you are that gender, by definition.

Since I'm androgynous and definitely not genderfluid or agender (I do not go back and forth, and I definitely do not experience a lack of gender - more like, I'm all the genders!), I'm fine with the she/her pronouns that people naturally use for me, given my boobs and hips. But I'd be fine with he/him if I were magically transferred into a more masculine looking body.
posted by missrachael at 12:12 PM on May 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah, "cis people don't worry about gender" is completely false.

It is closer to true that cis people don't find themselves worrying that they're cis. If part of your thought process is not just "I wonder if I'm genderqueer" but "Oh shit! What if I'm not genderqueer enough?! Wouldn't it suck if I was actually cis?!" then that's some evidence that you might in fact be genderqueer.

But even then, it's not conclusive. I've known cis people who wanted to be not-cis, and who had the worrying-they-were-cis reaction.

(I want to be careful here, because there's an asinine moral panic that claims people try to be genderqueer just to be trendy. And I want to make it super clear that I'm not talking about that kind of "wanting to be not-cis." But some people who are under much, much more intense pressure do sometimes want to be not-cis. For instance: "Crap, my partner who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with just came out as gay. But he says he's attracted to genderqueer people. Well, I'm not super normatively feminine, and I'm definitely comfortable identifying as queer. Maybe I'm genderqueer after all. OH SHIT, BUT WHAT IF I'M NOT GENDERQUEER ENOUGH?!")

Maybe the best way to look at it is, "If you're worrying about your gender, it's probably worth taking those feelings and running with them." Maybe because you're going to find out you're not cis. Maybe because you are cis but you're under social or societal pressures that deserve more examination. Maybe because you're feeling a call to political action. Maybe because there's some totally different personal revelation you're going to have, and thinking about gender is going to be the catalyst that gets you there.

One way or another, the thing you absolutely want to avoid is just going "Oh, well, I'm sure I'm only having these feelings because I'm a Fucked Up Tool Of The Patriarchy, so I'd better ignore them." Because in fact, it's pretty likely that ignoring them is what the patriarchy would prefer you to do, and it's pretty likely that digging in to them is what's going to make your life better. So dig in.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:31 PM on May 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

For my entire childhood, I also felt like an illegitimate girl, had a strong affinity for the concept of androgyny, and was openly angry about the slightest whiff of gendered expectations by the time I was in preschool. I secretly wanted to be thought of as a tomboy, but that was reserved for girls who were athletic and rough-and-tumble, and I was an uncompetitive wisp of an bookworm.

Well, as an adult, a main tenet of my feminism and queerness is the right for everyone to smash preconceived definitions of "feminine" and "masculine." I'm a bisexual cisgender woman and pretty darn femme in presentation, I still internally feel gender-nonconforming in many ways, and don't feel that this is a contradiction.
posted by desuetude at 12:32 PM on May 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

Wow, I really want to say thank you to everyone who shared their stories. I really appreciate it so much. I strongly identify with some, less so with others, but the overall feeling that this is giving me is really empowering to explore this on my own terms, which is wonderful.

I feel like you'd get this reference, I'm more butch than Cameron but less than Rhea (I know Rhea is NB but to give you an idea).

Ha, yes, as someone who has re-watched Take My Wife 3-4 times this reference makes perfect sense to me.

posted by the sockening at 2:43 PM on May 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

A mental health argument: switching to an affirming LGBTQ-centric treatment model rather than trying to work with "generalized anxiety disorder" and "mood disorder" or even a heterosexual and cis-centric model of surviving abuse had made a huge difference. (So many resources for DMAB survivors are extremely masculine-centric and I just can't deal, but I'll spare that rant.)
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 2:58 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was assigned male at birth (AMAB) and now feel firmly nonbinary, but the most freeing thing to me is knowing that for me, that's not set in stone. When I first reconnected with that gender euphoria of women's clothes at 41, I wondered if non-binary was just a way to ease into the idea that maybe I am a trans woman. I weeks between when wear things bought in the men's section, but as I've become more comfortable just poking around the edges, I really do appreciate have the entire range of gender that nonbinary is for me. Maybe that's better labelled genderfluid, with a strong dose of the middle? Who knows? I feel the most myself and the least encumbered when I give myself the freedom to be anywhere along those lines.
posted by advicepig at 3:06 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I was AFAB. I guess I'm agender. I figured out recently when I happened upon the Wikipedia article about it. I read it and was like holy shit, I'm that.

I've never cared about gender or sexuality, and I have a hard time relating to people who want to talk about it. In childhood, I wore mostly boys' clothing, but that's largely because it's more functional than clothing meant for girls. I'm pretty butch now, but I identify as heterosexual.

I feel weird identifying as something other than cis because I've never struggled or not been accepted. It seems like it cheapens the experience of others to "claim" a non-cis identity, as though I haven't earned it.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:07 PM on May 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am so happy you asked this question! so much of what you wrote about gender sounds familiar to me. I (AFAB) avoid highly gendered spaces (even femme ones), and like to say I de-feminize skirts and dresses when I wear them (which is often. But very functional skirts and dresses. If you try to put me in overtly femme clothes, I feel like I'm in drag.

Anyway. I've long said that my gender is something that has been issued to me like ill-fitting gym clothes. It's serviceable, but it doesn't fit ME, the same way that it fits other people with my AFAB-ness.

Identifying with a nonbinary/gender queer identity has been a slow process over the past few years (I'm in my mid-30s). I've been pretty low key about it, never making a big kind of coming-out post about it on social media, and not really putting myself forward to join nonbinary discussion groups because I've had a lot of insecurity about not being queer enough or enby enough.

As mentioned above, despite wearing a lot of skirts and dresses, I don't really perform gender very well. I don't wear makeup (at all. ever.), I have short hair in a quasi-mohawk that I cut myself. I don't act like a lady, I don't feel a part of the conversation when women talk about body image and diets and similar topics around me. I had no personal experiences to add to #metoo. And so, I get confused and feel alienated when people in my community talk about being nonbinary but still hold on to a lot of aspects of femininity.

I have a friend who was AMAB and now identifies as genderfluid. They have a very different personality than I do, but we talk about their gender journey from time to time. They started taking hormones with the intent to enhance their gender experience, but not transition to a female identity. They want to be both SUPER MASCULINE and SUPER FEMININE, whereas I want to basically be neither. I don't want to say I'm agender, I just want to not ever have to answer the question, whereas Blake is happy to often proclaim that they are supergender.

A lot of what has helped me be more comfortable with my identity and choices about labels are posts like this where a lot of people get to chime in and share their very personal anecdotes and experiences. So both thank you and you're welcome!
posted by itesser at 10:34 AM on May 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Well, it seemed like a decent time for an update. It's actually a little embarrassing to read my initial question because I see in it a lot of the scripts I'd been telling myself for a long time to convince myself that I was ok with my gender when I really wasn't. But in retrospect, this post wound up being my sort of coming-out-to-myself and so it was really valuable for that - and the huge breadth of responses I got really helped me think more deeply about my own gender. It's been a completely wild ride since then and it will probably continue to be so for a while, but I also feel very fortunate that I even get to go through this process at all.

Thought experiments aren't enough, in my experience. Trying things in a practical way is important, because sometimes the results surprise you.

This was very helpful and so, so, so true. I didn't think binding would make any sort of difference because I've really never consciously felt one way or another about my chest. But I liked how a certain bra made me look kinda flat-chested, so I decided to try a binder and ... ohhhhhhhhhh. I never would have predicted the level of confidence and optimism and general well-being I feel when I wear it.
posted by the sockening at 1:14 PM on July 11, 2019 [13 favorites]

That's wonderful news, the sockening. Wishing you all the best of luck on this journey!
posted by capricorn at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

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