This is My Body, and I Decide Its Meaning

Thirteen years old is too young to be believed, but just old enough to be blamed—this I was taught by my pediatrician, gynecologist, and their all-knowing scale when they announced my harrowing menstrual irregularities were due to my being overweight. They prescribed me exercise and dieting. I obeyed—my weight stayed the same, but my symptoms got worse. An allergist suspected polycystic ovarian syndrome, but the suggestion was shot down; I wasn’t “hairy” enough, the pediatrician said. Despite my insistence that something more was wrong, the fault remained mine.

When in a moment of weakness, I spoke of a hysterectomy to alleviate the pain, a nurse sneered at me and told me not to joke, that I would need the uterus someday. She thought my body was my purpose.

I was young, and I believed them. It was undeniable that I was failing at femininity—my uterus was broken because I liked Pepsi products and watched TV, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not lose weight or regulate my cycle. In that nurse’s eyes I had committed some grave sin by insinuating I would ever “remove” my womanhood, the meaning of my existence on this Earth. But I felt no guilt, and in my heart, I stood by what I’d said.

Clearly, I was missing something. I was no woman; I couldn’t be. I drifted farther from femininity on the basis that I felt I could never fulfill it, and found the transition to a masculine self-image was one I undertook easily and gladly. It no longer mattered that I had flunked femalehood; I was comfortable in this new form.

After four years, an ultrasound, and a blood test, my polycystic ovarian syndrome was finally diagnosed, and the doctors were forced to help me. I could no longer distance myself from my uterus—hormonal birth control exacerbated my mood disorder and upset my cycle. On one dosage, I bled continuously for six weeks, a harrowing, gender-devastating experience. Visits to the gynecologist surrounded me with pregnancy, women who were “healthy” by societal standards, content and functional in their roles. They wanted that for me, too. Each check-in, every medication—I was being “fixed”, not treated. I was expected to endure despair, cramps, and weight gain, anything in pursuit of a womb that fulfilled the meaning assigned to it, a purpose I had not consented to but was expected to perform.

And yet, despite the frustration, part of me wanted to be fixed. The masculine had been a welcome refuge, but there was an appeal to the feminine, too. Now I knew I wasn’t at fault, and I didn’t want to reject everything I’d been born into—the soft, the nurturing. I existed in limbo, hovering in the fluid between genders, the space between biological sexes. And I was happy there. I didn’t need to choose.

When I finally came out as non-binary, I felt like my body was truly mine for the first time in my life.

I decided I would no longer let my figure define anything about my identity. I’ve learned to treat myself gently; I see my vessel, and my uterus especially, as a living creature, a symbiont. I care for it, I take it to the doctor, and I advocate on its behalf when I am not believed. I tolerate hormones, and when it needs to, I let it bleed. In return, it lives peacefully inside of me, sparing me the pain it once caused when it was not being tended to. But it is not me, and it never will be.

All we can do is take care of our animal bodies, and for many, the creature and the mind align. But I’ve detached myself from the symbiont; I don’t need to be feminine just because it is inside of me, and I don’t have to be masculine to fill the void. I can be both—I can be neither.

There’s joyous freedom in rejecting the binary. Now I wear long skirts with suit jackets, and I’ve never felt more handsome inside and out. I let myself be nurturing with the young students I mentor, and dominant in my relationship; I use different pronouns depending on my mood. Every day I move through his world aware that the body is healthy and my soul thrives, separate and without limitation.

For this I thank the uterus, for its plight taught me not to let anyone determine my purpose. This is my body, the vessel of my spirit, and I make its meaning. When I bleed, that is my uterus reminding me it still lives, and when I introduce myself as non-binary, when I learn or teach or exist as a queer person in this world, that is me reminding everyone that I, too, am alive.

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A'liya Spinner

A'liya Spinner (he/him & she/her) is a non-binary activist, author, and aspiring paleogeneticist. Talk about magpies, dinos, and queerness with him at her Twitter, @cladist_magpie

A'liya has written 1 article for us.


  1. I’m typing this from a hospital bed after having a hysterectomy this morning. I don’t have PCOS, I just have gender dysphoria, but I relate hard to everything you wrote here. I also see my body as a pet who has to be taken care of, and for me, getting my pet spayed was the responsible option. The amount of gendered language around this procedure, though, has been unbelievable.

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