Is it a phase? Or is it the real you?

It wasn’t until age 30 that I finally came out as agender

It’s not that I didn’t realize I had no sense of gender before. I was painfully aware for just about every waking second.

But I kept it to myself. Partially, because I’d been taught it was just a phase. Being cisgender was the only thing I was told was possible. So I kept holding out. I was trapped in this limbo—pretending to be a woman, and waiting for the moment where I finally felt like one. 

I didn’t tell anyone about my absence of gender, because I thought I had to work to become the gender I was supposed to be—the gender everyone already thought I was.

I was tricked into believing that the real me was just a phase that I needed to pass through. 

That lie controlled me for a long time.

I was taught that one day I would understand

When I was a little kid it always felt wrong when I was treated like a girl. I felt like I was stitched into a costume I couldn’t take off. A costume that every person in my life thought was the real me.

But the way out of this was explained to me. One day, I would change, and the female gender would feel right.

Whenever I would cry about being forced into a dress for school photos, I was told, “You’ll be so glad you have these photos when you’re older.” When I would cringe away from nail polish, jewelry, and bows, I was told, “one day you’ll love these things.” When I would try to stay home from girly events and activities, I was told, “in the future, you’ll regret that you skipped out on these, so you’re going anyway.”

My favorite clothes—a baseball cap I would wear backwards and a few dinosaur t-shirts—were put on a strictly limited rotation, because “I’d be so embarrassed about them when I was older.” 

Things were all supposed to click into place when puberty hit. So, with a mountain of shame and anxiety, I waited for the hormones to kick in and turn me into a person I couldn’t recognize, but that everybody liked better.

Puberty was supposed to change me as a person

Puberty came and went. It changed my body in ways that horrified me, but it didn’t change who I was as a person the way it was supposed to.

The gender I was supposed to be became more inescapable in terms of how people treated me. Every aspect of life became more heavily gender focused. 

I was supposed to have moved into a new phase—become a new person—but I hadn’t. I was still the me I wasn’t supposed to be. 

I felt lost, ashamed, and defective.

So I did the only thing I could think of: I tried acting like I’d figured the female gender out while I waited for the person I was supposed to be to kick in.

I held on to the idea that I would change for years

I kept waiting for my gender to kick in for over a decade after puberty. I’d gotten the false idea that my mind hadn’t developed yet the way it was supposed to, and I needed to just push and prod it into becoming female.

I saw the genderless person I was as a phase I was supposed to have already grown out of. So I kept trying to change.

But nothing changed, no matter how hard I tried.

I tried to wear the clothing I was supposed to wear. I forced myself to put on makeup (I was never able to maintain this for more than a few days). I even made myself put on a feminine necklace sometimes. To an outside observer, I looked like a woman who didn’t care that much about her appearance, and who wasn’t really trying. But the amount of stress and discomfort that went into figuring out how to present myself was off the charts.

I studied women and tried picking up their mannerisms. I got teased a lot for my lack of delicacy, so I was always trying to compensate for it. Every time I walked through the hall in the office, I tried to remind myself to take short, light steps. “Pretend you’re an elf in the forest,” I would tell myself. 

All of it was exhausting, and I was bad at it.

None of it ever clicked. I would wear myself out trying to act in ways that ultimately felt ridiculous and uncomfortable anyway.

Gender was the basis of how everyone I’d ever met defined themselves. There seemed to be no other option for me but to try to make my life work as a woman. So I held my real self in suspense for a long, long time.

I finally took some time off trying to force it

A few years ago, I took a break from my gender training, because I was too tired to keep it up. I just started acting in ways that felt natural to me. I stopped going to places that required me to act in a gendered way (church being the primary one). Most of my interactions during that time were with strangers. I traveled a whole lot that year.

For the first time in my life, I started interacting with the world in ways that felt comfortable to me. 

I ended up buzzing off my long hair. I stopped buying women’s clothes (seriously, what is the deal with the pocket situation on those things?). I just stopped bothering with all the things I hated bothering with and couldn’t understand the importance of.

Pretty soon, strangers were getting confused trying to decide whether I was a man or a woman. I got patted down a good deal at airports because the TSA uses a binary-gender system to check what’s in your pants. People tried to stop me from going into various public bathrooms. Life was getting both more and less comfortable.

I realized that even though I was making everyday life more awkward for myself, I was happier.

And that’s when I finally admitted it wasn’t a phase. It was actually me.

The work was only beginning.

I finally recognized that if the female gender was going to “click” for me, it already would have done it by now. My experience of how positively my life changed when I started to just let myself exist showed me that I knew myself better than anyone else who thought they knew me.

I was wasting my life trying (and failing) to be who I was supposed to be, instead of being who I really was. It was time to stop overriding my instincts with the instincts of people who mistakenly thought they knew me better than I did.

At this point, even though I was acting more like myself every day, friends & family were still treating me like a woman, because “man” or “woman” were the only genders they knew.

I didn’t want to just exist in a vacuum. I wanted to be present in the lives of people I cared about—and to accept the love and care people might have for the real me. 

It became clear to me that the only way to really live as myself was to educate the people in my life about the existence of the real me. So I spent a full year and a half preparing myself to explain who I really was before I finally opened up.

It’s been a lot of work. But I’m finally starting to get to be real with people. So it’s absolutely worth it.

The moral of the story: trust your instincts

Sure, this is a story from someone with kind of a fringe experience. But just about everyone deals with being taught things that go against their instincts

It might be valuable to your growth as a person to consider things you were told about yourself that might not be true.

For me, on this side of things, I don’t regret any of the things I was told I was going to regret.

I regret listening to the people who controlled my behavior by telling me what I was and wasn’t going to regret.

People in your life don’t know the real you better than you do. Your instincts are telling you something for a reason.

I hope you listen to them. I wish I had listened to mine sooner.

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