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Why I'm Struggling to Feel Good About My Gender Identity

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A couple of years ago, I came out as gender nonconforming (GNC). It’s been a struggle, but I’m much happier in my own body now that I can truly express myself. It wasn’t that I discovered I was GNC recently; I always knew I was different from other cis girls, but I didn’t have the words for it. Once I did have the words, I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud.

Coming out as gender nonconforming, non-binary, or trans, comes with a certain level of risk. A level of risk that I wasn’t comfortable taking, and honestly, I’m still anxious about it. But the alternative — hiding and forcing myself to be something I wasn’t was so detrimental in terms of depression, anxiety, and self-worth. I hated myself, and I hated seeing a strange woman staring back in the mirror when I knew that wasn’t who I was. Coming out has been life-saving for me. I look at clothes on my body and feel like they’re for me, I’m so much more comfortable expressing my masculinity, and I am less anxious and depressed.

For the first time today, I walked into a store, marched into the men’s section, and started picking out clothes to try on. I held my head high as I asked for a fitting room and made my purchases. I never felt comfortable doing that before because I was anxious about the weird looks I’d get. I was always worried I’d be told I can’t shop in that section, or something much worse. When I first started wearing men’s clothing, I knew I was making a choice to have my gender identity seen more visibly, which led to a number of safety concerns. Every time I decide to do what feels comfortable internally, there’s a certain level of discomfort I have to accept externally. I have to choose to not be myself and be depressed, or be myself and be anxious about my safety.

In 2019, I visited Trinidad and Tobago, a country where being gay was illegal and punishable by law with 25 years of imprisonment until 2018, only a year prior. I was terrified wearing swim trunks on the beach, and was constantly looking over my shoulder. At the same time, I knew that I would feel beyond depressed if I forced myself to wear a bikini. I often find myself having to choose between what feels right, and what feels safe.

We’re at a time where trans rights are under more fire than ever before. Anti-trans legislation has been sweeping across the U.S., and politicians and public figures are becoming emboldened in sharing their transphobic rhetoric. As of March of this year, 238 anti-trans bills has been put forward, making it over 600 proposals since 2018. These bills cover anything from banning trans athletes from participating in sports, to a Texas bill which calls for child services to investigate “child abuse” if parents support gender affirming and life-saving medical treatments for their children. Trans rights, which are human rights, have been under attack.

The mental health toll and trauma as a result of these transphobic messages has been staggering for myself (despite me being in Canada), and trans folks worldwide. Even if these bills get overturned or shut down, damage has still been done. Data from The Trevor Project shows that when anti-trans legislation is proposed, crisis calls from LGBTQIA+ youth, and particularly trans youth, skyrocket. And it’s no wonder, because what kind of message are we supposed to receive when these kinds of anti-trans movements gain traction? It tells us that who we are is inherently wrong, and what makes us feel happy and OK is wrong. It tells us that we don’t deserve to be who we are.

Fifty-two percent of trans youth considered suicide in 2021, far greater than any other demographic segment, and 94% of LGBTQIA+ youth said politics has a negative impact on their mental health.

As I become more comfortable in my own gender identity, and see the beauty in my transness, the limitlessness of being gender nonconforming, and the freedom of living exactly who I am, I struggle to reconcile my small world with the systemic and societal structures that make it exceedingly difficult to be who I am.

While my mental health has improved drastically since accepting myself and finding acceptance in my communities, I cannot remain unaffected by the violence my trans siblings are constantly subject to. Black trans women are for more likely to be murdered than white, cis women, and five times more Black trans people have experienced homelessness than the general population. When the trans community is subject to higher levels of violence, homelessness, unemployment, and harassment, it’s no wonder it becomes harder to be who you are.

I carry a lot of privileges — I can choose to pretend to be a woman in spaces where I need to preserve my safety, and I have a job and a home, but I always carry that fear with me. I fear for my future, my safety, and for the safety of the trans community. I fear that one day, being who I am, will come at much too high a cost. But yet, I know progress has been made, and I’m reminded of my friend Lisa’s words, who said:“’We stand on the shoulders of giants’ is said to mean that we see farther, understand more, and reach higher than ever thanks to those who came before us and did the work. Usually said with gratitude, I think, but I can’t help but think about how, in this context, the shoulders of those giants are tired, and many are dead. We stand on the graves of our guardians. We stand on the scars of our siblings.” I am eternally grateful for each of those giants who made it safer and more acceptable than before for me to be who I am.

I still get scared sometimes. I make my voice higher pitched, or when trying colognes I say I’m shopping for my brother. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it to be who I truly am. The answer is yes, it is worth it. We deserve to feel safe and accepted for who we are. Being gender nonconforming has been, and will always be, one of the best parts of who I am, and one day, the rest of the world will see that, too.

Getty image by bortonia

Originally published: June 16, 2022
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