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I’ve been experiencing gender dysphoria for all of my waking life since puberty (and for a lot of the time before that).

It took me a long time to own up to that. The more that I do, the more I’m able to really understand how strange and disturbing it’s been to have to live this way.

I’m supposed to be inhabiting this body, but it doesn’t want to let me express myself. It wants to express something else.

I’ve tried to ignore that and carry on with my life, but this incongruity has a way of making itself the biggest thing going on at any given time.

Expressing oneself is a challenge already, but to have to do it in a body that wants to scramble the signal? That’s a whole new level of weird.

There’s no manual for any of this—you just have to figure it out yourself. So most of my approach for dealing with this has ended up being to just animate my body from an emotional distance, like it’s a robot I control from a panel in a dark room. I’ve tested the limits of this in some strange and interesting ways, which I might write about at a later date. But all you need to know for now is that most of my life I’ve felt completely disconnected from my body. (And as a result, disconnected from a society that only understands me through my body.)

I often think this is part of why art became my obsession. I’ve come to be able to use it to express things that I never could with my physical body—things that people take for granted that they can express in a casual gesture or a smile. Things they don’t even understand they’re expressing. Things I’ve spent years dissecting and reconstructing so I could attempt to express them in other ways.

It might sound trite, but I’m grateful for that, because it’s led me to understand a lot of things about human nature that I otherwise may not have felt such a need to delve into.

Lately I’ve gotten better with my body, though.

Getting top surgery has helped a lot in making it feel less like the body of an alien that I’m supposed to find a way to get comfortable in. Or maybe I should say it’s been a way to get more comfortable in this alien body. Regardless, there’s still a lot going on that doesn’t feel like me, and l don’t always see myself looking back when I look in the mirror. I’m closer than I ever have been, but I still have a long way to go.

I’m working on it.

Lately, one way I work on it is by taking selfies, like this one. Trying to move this face in a way that displays my expressions, even though it often doesn’t feel like my face. The more I can do that, the more I can make it feel like my face.

I’m working on not losing myself in here, in this body that lost track of who I am and developed in a different direction.

No hard feelings toward this body. We’ve had our differences, but I appreciate it. We’ve put each other through a lot, but we’re both still going strong.

I’m grateful to it, even though I’ve spent most of the last 20 years feeling like a stow-away in it—some sort of ragamuffin consciousness that wasn’t supposed to be here. Somewhere along the way I mistakenly adopted the lie that my mind was supposed to be a girl’s mind to match the digs. But instead it ended up being something way more unruly, and I unfortunately came to feel really guilty about that. It was a weird little scruffy orphan mind, lurking where it wasn’t welcome.

It’s taken me a hell of a long time to get to the point where I could say, screw it: these are my digs. This body doesn’t belong to some imaginary girl I never was. I’m not a stow-away. I’m the captain here. And even though I sure as hell wouldn’t have picked this ship, it’s the one I got.

And hey, all things considered, it’s not so bad. A little scrawny and soft, but I can figure out how to work with that.

Regardless of what you might think from everything you’ve learned throughout your life so far, the body I have is not a woman’s body. If that’s what you think, some of what you learned is wrong.

“You have a woman’s body” is something I’ve heard so much that it’s easier to believe than the truth. But it’s only ever been a lie.

It’s a lie that kept me hunkering down, trying to stay as far out of the way as I could to make space for the “real” owner of my body. A lie that turned me into a stow-away in my own life.

This isn’t a woman’s body. It never has been, and it never will be. For it to be a woman’s body, it would need to belong to a woman.

This one doesn’t.

This is my body. It’s always been my body. And I’m going to keep figuring out how to live in it.

Please don’t try to stop me.