7 reasons I pretended to be a woman

I spent the greater part of the first three decades of my life passing myself off as a woman. I was an imposter the whole time. And the whole time, it made me miserable. (If this is the first article of mine you’re reading, I’m agender.)

So why did I do it? Here are seven big reasons.

1. I thought it was my only choice

In childhood, I learned that people were going to lump me in with girls no matter how obvious it was (to me) that I was not one of them. And whenever they did, it deeply frustrated me. The frustration never died down, but I learned to see it as inevitable.

My earliest memory of this was being in a group of four-year-olds and getting called “ladies” in a dance class—and it made me very upset. 

I was forcibly dressed up like a doll every time my family went to some kind of social function. I protested a lot when I was little, but eventually learned there was nothing I could do to stop it. I resigned myself to feeling like a disgusting joke in public, because I learned that’s what “looking nice” meant.

I started learning to ski at age five at the local rope tow in my wintery home town, and as soon as could ski without adult supervision, I gave myself the male pseudonym, Mark. I just wanted a break from people thinking I was a girl, and pretending to be a boy wasn’t ideal, but it was the best thing I could think of. It didn’t last as long as I’d hoped because it was a tiny town with only so many kids—kids who knew me from places where I was forced to wear dresses. And they sure loved telling me that I was actuallya girl.

I asked for a pocket knife for my eighth birthday, and was so excited to take it camping with me and whittle sticks. I opened it, and it was pink. It was strangely crushing. Pocket knives weren’t supposed to be pink, unless they were specifically for girls.

When I was twelve I asked to get my hair cut short. My mom and the local hair dresser were friends, so under their influence I ended up with an extremely girly shoulder-length cut, complete with styled blowout. I was horrified (but I had to smile and say thank you anyway).

The message was clear: people were going to treat me like a girl no matter what, and I had to get used to it, no matter how excruciatingly uncomfortable it made me.

2. I thought I could train myself

Eventually, after being pounded for years with pressure to act like a girl, I figured I was just really detached from my gender and needed to work on connecting to it. No matter how much I hated it.

I got criticized a lot—especially as I reached young adulthood—for “hiding my beauty,” and was pressured into thinking I had a duty to my genetic disposition to do myself up like a lady.

People were always trying to give me makeovers. I hated it, but sometimes I let them do it out of that same sense of duty. Every time I did, and saw myself in the mirror, I had to hold back the impulse to throw up.

I did my best to try to imitate how women walked and moved, and to understand the science behind what they wore (joke’s on me; it’s not science—people look good in what they feel good in).

I didn’t get the hang of any of it, but people still thought I was a woman, so I eventually figured I was off the hook. They’d see whatever they wanted to see no matter what I did anyway.

3. I figured no one would believe me

This led to me just going about my life in a deeply internalized way, expecting people to only see their invented versions of me. I was right. That’s what they did. And I didn’t believe there was anything I could do to make things any different.

4. I didn’t know there were people like me

It was a surreal moment when I discovered the term “nonbinary” and recognized there were people out there who weren’t men or women. I came across several people publicly out as gender fluid, part of this new-to-me concept of “nonbinary.”

At first I was skeptical. Looking back, it cracks me up how I was skeptical. I thought: No way. These people are nowhere near as genderless as I am, and I’m not going around saying I’m nonbinary.

It was my ignorance talking. Of course I was nonbinary, and so were they—I just didn’t realize I was a certain type of nonbinary that was different than the folks I came across. I was agender, which is in many ways just as different from gender fluid as it is from man or woman.

I had to dig up a lot of scattered reading to understand the terminology and reconcile it with my experience, which is a big part of why I’m making this site.

During that time, I was still enmeshed in environments that didn’t even believe that these identities were real. I was among people who believed any form of queerness was sin. So I kept it to myself.

5. I didn’t want to lose my rights

I’d come to believe that most of the people I’d known all my life only cared about and accepted me on the condition that I was a straight cisgender woman. I didn’t know what would happen if I tried to explain to friends, family, or coworkers that I wasn’t.

I didn’t want people talking to me like I was insane and needed a lobotomy. (Those are things I’ve heard people casually and confidently say about trans people in my presence without knowing I’m one of the people they’re talking about.)

Also, trans people aren’t typically treated with much respect by our government or society.

I was afraid of losing the benefits of “passing” as cisgender. And it was a lot less work to pass as cisgender than it was to out myself. So I did nothing—which was essentially the same thing as pretending to be a woman.

6. I didn’t want to draw attention

It’s pretty much impossible to be treated according to my real gender without asking people to treat me that way. And people come up with all kinds of gross ways to misrepresent those requests.

It seems like every day that I hear a cisgender person complaining about how hard it is to get pronouns right, and how absurdly special nonbinary people are trying to be. 

That kept me closeted for a while, because I didn’t want to deal with being seen as ridiculous, coddled, and annoying. 

Eventually I felt comfortable enough with myself to recognize that it’s not worth it to care about the opinions of people who are so ready to whine about something they haven’t even tried to understand.

7. I didn’t know being real had value

As I started to understand more of the conversation and language around nonbinary and trans identities, I started to recognize what kind of powerful encouragement and healing I’d experienced by getting to see and hear from trans and nonbinary people being visibly themselves.

I thought a lot about all the hateful and ignorant words I’d heard people casually say about trans people—and instead of letting that hold me back, I realized it’s probably because they didn’t know any trans people.

I discovered that I was more excited to encourage and validate other people in pain than I was afraid of being judged or rejected.

And I found myself in a supportive community of people who actually cared about understanding me.

So I finally stopped pretending.

1 comment

  • Wow. How amazing is this?

    I feel like this is the story I’m going through myself – but with a completely different set of variables.

    Perhaps this is everyone’s story. Perhaps every single category out there that defines and shapes how we view others isn’t actually sufficient for anyone. We require these constructs to the degree we’re unable to actually see for ourselves. We’re like blind people groping through life with words and constructs – substitutes for the Real we are not ready to grasp.

    Thank you for writing this Laura.

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