CN/W — Content Note & Warning for trans and/or gender non-conforming readers: For the purposes of illustration, some very antagonistic and disrespectful language is used in the mock conversation below that may trigger some readers. Discretion is strongly advised.
As an “enby” (non-binary person), gender is complicated. Even though I have not thought of myself as a binary gender for several years now, I admit I still tend to default to seeing strangers as either male or female. These days though I spend enough time in “queer spaces” that I’ve gotten generally better at not assuming.
While gender is absolutely a construct, I tend to think that even if we took away labels like “man/masculine” and “woman/feminine”, we’d just use different words to describe similar aesthetics.
Words such as soft or hard, light or dark, cowboy or princess. One could just as easily be a “hard edged princess” as they could be a “soft frilly cowboy”. But if a label or concept doesn’t feel right to you, you don’t have to use it and people should respect how you feel.
I’ve struggled with my identity a lot because of some prevailing narratives/myths and the internalized voice of society that wants you to believe you have to exist in one specific way. Getting to the point of having more confidence in my new self required justifying to myself the answers to the questions (and accusations) that society was interrogating me with.
I decided to write up a mock transcript of that conversation and I wanted to share it, to help give cis people (or the families of newly “out” or questioning) a better idea of what it’s like to struggle with your gender identity.
This conversation is framed from my experience as a feminine leaning enby.
[Me] I don’t feel right, I haven’t for a while. I don’t connect with masculinity and I don’t resonate with the idea of being a man. I prefer more feminine things and I only get to enjoy them vicariously through women. I’ve long preferred to be around women but felt I only got to do so in select circumstances.
[Society] You’re just confused. You’re either gay or just a feminine man who prefers the company of women.
[Me] Well, I know I’m not a gay man for certain. And the idea of being a feminine man doesn’t really resonate with me either. I’ve known feminine men, I’ve seen them represented in media. I respect them, but that’s not how I see myself.
I feel like a feminine person. I generally don’t really want to hang around with men or be involved in “male culture”. Especially not toxic masculinity. I could not care less about football, I don’t like beer, and I don’t like beards (yes I know those are all stereotypes).
[Society] So what if you don’t like football and beer and beards, that doesn’t make you a girl, heck plenty of women actually do like that stuff (especially the beards!). You’re just trying to be special.
[Me] Maybe I need to actively start feminizing myself to see how it feels. That might help me figure this out better.
[Society] Oh so you’re going to cross dress? Real original. You’re just a freak and a fetishist. Get over yourself.
[Me] *tries on a dress*
Hey, I really like this! It feels really good, and looks great too! I mean, I recognize that I’m privileged to be tall, thin, and white so I already fit a lot of feminine beauty ideals without even trying, but still. I like how I look and how I feel in this a lot better than any of the “man clothes” that I have.
[Society] You’re just cross dressing. So you get off on wearing women’s clothes, that doesn’t make you a woman. The sooner you accept that, the better.
[Me] It’s not a matter of “getting off”, it’s not sexual. It’s that the clothes I was wearing didn’t make me feel good. I was wearing them because I had to more than because I wanted to.
I also used to have long hair. I loved it. It was the first major aspect of how I chose to manage my body and present myself that truly felt right to me, regardless of societal norms. I mainly only cut it off because I knew that most straight women didn’t like it, and I wanted women to like me more.
I miss my long hair and I want it back, so I’m going to grow it back. In the meantime, I’ll get a wig.
[Society] Anyone can have long hair! I’m telling you this doesn’t make you a girl! You’re just a confused deviant!
[Me] *gets wig and tries it on*
Wow, yeah, I look really great in this too! And I can’t wait to have *real* long hair again!
In the mean time, I want to try being a female identity socially. I need to go to an event as a woman.
[Society] You’re just taking this deviant delusion to the next level. We’re all going to laugh at you, because you’re just a man in a dress, and that’s funny.
[Me] *goes to a private event with trusted company as “Lacey”*
Wow! Yeah, once again, that felt really natural and great! I need to do that more often! But I’m not ready yet to go all out, full time. This is scary and new, but exciting. I do feel ashamed but I know that’s just because I feel like this is wrong, but it shouldn’t be. It feels right and I’m not hurting anyone. I’m going to start small and work my way up.
[Society] We’ll say it again, you’re not a girl, you’re just cross dressing on a small scale.
[Me] Hey, I have to start somewhere don’t I? Besides, there is nothing wrong with cross dressing. People can dress however they want if it makes them comfortable and isn’t hurting anyone. People can’t go walking around in public with their genitals exposed, but otherwise “you do you” as the saying goes. Aren’t you always saying “be yourself”?
[Society] Yes, but not like that! This delusion is not to be encouraged!
[Me] *thinks of small steps she can take*
I’ll get a purple watch strap, and some cute socks (most people won’t really see those anyway), and some purple shirts, and some grey shirts with maybe some slightly feminine designs/cuts. And once that feels normal and comfortable, then maybe I’ll start using a bit of nail polish too.
[Society] You’re a coward. If you really meant it you wouldn’t play all these coy little games. You might fool yourself but you’re not fooling us!
[Me] You know, this whole thing of having to shave every 2–3 days is really annoying, I just don’t want facial hair at all anymore, I should get rid of that entirely.
*starts laser hair removal*
[Society] People are just going to think you’re a gay man or queer. You’re still not a girl.
[Me] I know they will, and I don’t like that, but I can’t control what people think of me, I just have to do my best to present myself as I feel and see myself and hopefully eventually they’ll see me that way as well.
This hair removal is going well! I love not having to shave as often, and having less facial hair. My head hair still isn’t that long yet, but it’s definitely not short anymore. I’ve started a decent collection of new clothes and footwear to wear when I go out as my true self. I’m meeting some really awesome people and definitely feeling more confident in myself. I feel good about moving in this direction and I plan to continue.
[Society] Now you’re just a confident cross dresser, good for you. If you’re so comfortable and confident now, why don’t you tell your family?
[Me] I’m not quite ready for that yet. I know I like this but I’m still sorting out feelings. I need to give it more time to be sure.
[Society] Aha, we knew it! If you really were a woman, you’d just know! Don’t you know that? All trans women just knew, they always knew from childhood! This is just a phase. You’re just a cross dressing fetishist and feminine man!
[Me] Actually, that stereotype isn’t universal. Not all trans people knew since childhood, and not all trans people are even 100% binary themselves. And honestly when you’ve lived one way for multiple decades (even if it was enforced upon you), the weight of expectation of society is a LOT to just start suddenly pushing back against in a major way.
The fact that I’m only half a year into this and a lot more comfortable and confident is really admirable, but it can’t be rushed. It’s a process and I need to go at a comfortable pace.
My workplace is pretty progressive and casual, and we have a new worker starting soon. I’d like to get off on the right foot with them, so I’m going to talk to my boss and let them know I’m non-binary and request to start using different pronouns at least.
[Society] Finally, some commitment after so many excuses and diversions. We still say if you were really a girl you wouldn’t need all this time to figure it out.
You don’t even wear makeup, how do you expect people to believe you’re a woman?
[Me] Not even all cis women wear makeup every day.
[Society] Yeah well you don’t even have genital dysphoria, how can you call yourself trans?
[Me] Well, I don’t have severe genital dysphoria, but I’m thankful for that, and I also know that not all trans people do, nor do all trans people get “bottom surgery”. Jeeze society, you need to do more research. So many assumptions!
For several years I have wished that genitals were detachable at the very least. Even without genital dysphoria, there have been lots of times where I was like “you know, it would be much more convenient to not have a penis right now”. I also have physical sensory issues.
[Society] You just proved us right again! You don’t want different genitals because of your gender, you just want different ones because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable. You’re not really trans or a girl, you just need to get better underwear! Seriously dude, just stop lying to yourself.
[Me] I’m not a dude, and like I said I don’t have severe genital dysphoria, but I do sometimes have dysphoria. And that’s still valid.
I feel really bad for the people with constant extreme genital dysphoria, that would really suck and again I’m grateful that that isn’t me. But there have definitely been times that yes, I would prefer to have a vagina (or nothing at all), and other than the obvious and literal “physical attachment” to my penis, I’m not otherwise attached to it like emotionally or sentimentally or anything. If I could detach it when I wanted to, I would.
[Society] Seriously, you’re just a weirdo, not a girl. No normal person wants to be able to detach their genitals, or mutilate them for that matter!
[Me] There’s no such thing as “normal”, there’s only “common”.
Anyways, I’m feeling validated by the change at work, and living more and more as Lacey in my everyday life. My confidence and comfort both continue to grow, though I still waver, which is fair. I understand why and I know it always passes eventually.
[Society] You’re wavering because you’re fooling yourself. If you were really trans, you’d have sought out hormones immediately!
[Me] That’s another false narrative. However, I am ready to at least broach the subject of hormones with my doctor. I need to know if they would even be willing to prescribe them, or if I’ll have to find a new doctor for that.
[Society] Your doctor is probably going to say no, they’ll say are you sure, you haven’t been coming to see them as woman, why would they believe you?
[Me] I’m just going to broach the subject. Can’t hurt.
*talks to doctor*
My doctor said the general course of action is that you live the lifestyle for a year before you get hormones. I told the doctor that I’d been exploring this for about half a year, so I said I’d follow up in another 6 months.
[Society] Well, I guess now you’ve really got to commit, don’t you?
[Me] No, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. Like I said, I’ve talked to enough trans and non-binary people to know there isn’t one single “right way” to do this. I’m feeling comfortable with my current direction and pace and I know that I can start hormones and be on them for a few months before anything permanent changes. So I can do a test run, and if something doesn’t feel good or right, I can stop without any permanent negative side effects.
[Society] Yeah, but if you don’t like how hormones feel, then you definitely can’t be a girl! That clearly invalidates this whole idea because if you were really a girl, the hormones would feel great!
[Me] That’s not accurate. Many trans women can’t afford hormones, or can’t find a doctor who will prescribe them, or maybe they have a medical condition that doesn’t allow them to alter their hormones. They’re still women, completely valid. Just because I may have the finances and ability to get the drugs doesn’t mean I am invalid if I don’t go that route.
[Society] More excuses. Hey, when are you going to tell your family? You’re still being chicken about that.
[Me] That’s the hardest part. I have never been especially close with anyone in my family other than my mom, and while I believe she will ultimately be supportive, this is probably still going to be awkward temporarily. But I’m going to start with her because I think that has the best chance of going well.
*talks to mom*
Phew. Well, I was right. She is ultimately supportive, but also thrown for a loop, which I fully understand. I know in time she’ll adjust.
[Society] Hey, don’t be a slacker, what about the rest of them?
[Me] Stop rushing me, I told you I’m taking this at a pace that’s comfortable for me. I don’t have to tell anyone before I’m ready. But now that my mom knows, I can also tell my sibling.
Turns out, they are even more supportive right away than mom was. That was a surprise, but a welcome one. Not going to talk to my dad yet, that one is going to be the worst.
[Society] You must be really ashamed to tell your dad you’re a cross dressing freak.
[Me] I’ve already told you, I’m not cross dressing, and I’m not a freak. And I’ll tell him I’m on hormones and going by a different name now so that will be obvious.
[Society] Ohhhhh, I get it. You’re only doing the hormones part as a cover up for the fact that you’re just an ashamed cross dresser. It’s more believable that way. That’s really clever, though going a bit far don’t you think? Dude, you’d be a lot more brave if you just admitted you’re a cross dressing freak.
[Me] Once again, I’m not a dude. And I’m going to take hormones because I genuinely want to feminize my body more. I’m not the sort of person who would go so far as to medically (and permanently) alter their body just to not have to admit something I’m ashamed of. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to take hormones and grow permanent breasts if I didn’t really feel like a girl, would it?
[Society] Pfft, more excuses and lame rationalization.
Hey, you’re still using the men’s washroom, what gives?
[Me] That’s for a few reasons. One, I know I don’t “pass” yet (which is a problematic concept in itself) and I don’t want to upset someone or have cops called on me. I can deal with weird looks in the men’s room, and if someone freaks out on me in there and a cop gets called, if anything *I* would be the one who called the cop.
Also, it’s still pretty convenient to pee standing up. And because of the way I tuck (when I bother to), once things are untucked to go to the washroom they can’t really be re-tucked effectively.
[Society] Yeah you don’t even tuck most of the time. You’re even a lazy cross dresser!
[Me] No, tucking is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and not really healthy to do for long stretches. I know I still don’t pass and I’m admittedly not trying super hard yet because it would just make me feel worse. And honestly, trans women shouldn’t have to tuck, but I get why many do.
[Society] *disapproving stare*
[Me] Well, the winter was rough. I thought I’d enjoy getting to wear more cute scarves, and a girly toque, and fuzzy boots, but I was still getting misgendered a lot because my hair is still too short. But I guess it was character building. Still learning to own this new look with real confidence.
[Society] What do you expect, you look like a feminine man, because you are! It’s just embarrassing that you haven’t come to grips with this yet. But I guess your relentless masochism is at least kind of entertaining for me.
[Me] Not a feminine man.
Oh, look at that, my name day anniversary is coming up!
[Society] You don’t get to have a “name day”, that’s just made up nonsense.
Weren’t you going to see the doctor? Gotta stay committed if you have any hope that we’re ever going to believe you!
[Me] Yes, it’s been 6 months and I do still want to try hormones.
[Society] Try? Come on, you need to be more assertive than that if you expect to convince us.
[Me] Well, I got started on testosterone blockers, and a few weeks later I started on estrogen. I wasn’t sure what to expect or how they’d feel, but so far no issues. Minimal reduction to my sexual function, and peeing more often. Very tolerable!
[Society] He finally took a real step towards killing his manhood!
Hey wow, congratulations, no really, it’s about time. People might finally start believing you soon. I won’t, because I know you better than you know yourself, but other people might be fooled. A limp dick is a small price to pay for keeping the delusion alive! Go you!
[Me] First off, it’s she, not he. And you know what, this does make a real difference. It feels a lot more real to me now.
I was afraid it would feel bad and I admit that I was afraid that if it did that would make me feel invalid, but even if I had to stop the hormones, I would still continue this change. I have almost no hair left on my face, my head hair is down to my chin now, and I’m happy with what I see in the mirror. Hormones are really just a bonus.
I’ve experienced so much positive transformation.
[Society] Alright girly man, why don’t you go give your dad a call then? Or are you still chicken?
[Me] Not a man! This is going to be stressful, but at least now I feel like I can do it.
*talks to dad about transition*
Well, like I thought, that was hard, but went better than I expected. Of course “better” in this case was just the difference between “I didn’t think we’d speak again” and “he’s saying he’s supportive but it remains to be seen”.
[Society] Well, I hope you’re happy. Now you’ve definitely got to commit.
[Me] I already was committed.
[Society] Well good for you. So, if you really want us to believe you, long hair and breasts aren’t going to be enough. Women have vaginas, everyone knows that. When are you going to get yours? We’re waiting.
[Me] Anatomy does not equal gender. Some women have penises and some men have vaginas. And like with hormones or even laser hair removal, not all trans people have access to these things, and that DOES NOT INVALIDATE THEIR GENDER. You may not want to accept that, but it’s the truth.
Whether or not I get or plan to get a vagina is none of your business, and it’s really not polite or acceptable to ask anyone that question.
[Society] Hahaha, very funny. If you expect us to accept women with penises, you really are delusional.
[Me] So let me get this straight — in your eyes if a trans person doesn’t get bottom surgery, they’re just delusional cross dressers, and if they do get bottom surgery, they’ve mutilated their body in the name of a delusion which still makes them delusional freaks. So we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t? How is that fair?
[Society] Life isn’t fair, didn’t you know?
You have to pass our test to be accepted and receive our good graces.
[Society] If you pass as cisgender then we’ll treat you as well as a cis person can hope to be treated. Then we might still treat you like crap because you’re also something else we don’t like, like being fat.
[Me] But how can you claim this standard of “passing”, when there are plenty of actual cis people who wouldn’t “pass” under conventional beauty standards?
[Society] Not our problem. Ugly people just got the short end of the stick.
[Me] You’re very rude and you’ve antagonized me this whole time. Good thing I’ve learned to largely stop caring about winning your approval. This conversation is done.
[Society] Pfft, you’re no fun anymore. I’m going to go bother another egg.
At the original time of writing this, I had been on T blockers and estrogen for 3 months. I had more confidence than ever in myself, but still had days and moments where I wavered. This is very normal for a trans or gender non-conforming person.
Upon updating the article, I’m nearly at 2 years of HRT, and while I still get weird looks and misgendered, I’ve settled pretty comfortably into my new self.
I have been extremely fortunate both to live in a very progressive city, and have a great community of queer and trans friends to support me. For those that don’t have this, society’s “back talk” will be much stronger and harder to overcome, and transition progress will be slower because there will be less opportunities to live as your true identity in public (and thus get used to it).
Even working at a very progressive workplace, I was still afraid to come out for months, and even after I did, I still felt self-conscious about it for months longer. If I were at a workplace where I wasn’t able to come out at all, that would certainly have slowed me down.
At this point some of my family is still awkward around me — mostly the older members. My siblings and cousins my age have been very supportive.
Many trans and gender non-conforming people need to basically do “exposure therapy” with their true identities in different situations to get used to and comfortable with them. We get stared at, we get misgendered, we get mocked. But if we’re lucky, we survive all that and get to live full time as our true self.
Please consider how you speak to (and about) people, whether or not they present as gender conforming or not. You never know who you’re speaking to.