You Need Help: A Non-Binary Woman Working Through the Gender Feels

Q:

I identify as a non-binary woman, and, until recently, I never felt uncomfortable with my body — just with the gender roles assigned to it. But these past few months, I’ve found myself struggling with new and increasing chest dysphoria that I never asked for. And it terrifies me! I bought my first binder a while ago, and while I love the way it makes me look, it’s so difficult to get on and off that I don’t wear it nearly as often as I’d like.

Yesterday I started researching top surgery, just as a first step. But rather than making me feel better about the whole thing, it just demoralized me even more. I wasn’t happy with the way things were, but I was also surprisingly, deeply upset at the thought of going through with the procedure. My gender crisis spiraled even further. What if I was just as unhappy with a flat chest? What if queer women weren’t attracted to me anymore or wouldn’t recognize me as one of them? How would my identity change, or be forced to change, in ways I didn’t want it to? And how many of my feelings were even my own, and how many were just social conditioning? My other trans/nonbinary friends always seemed so impatient to get gender confirmation surgery, but I can’t confirm my gender when I don’t even know what it is.

So, my question isn’t so much about the surgery – I’m obviously not in that headspace yet – so much as all the Emotions I stirred up in thinking about it. I just feel like I’m in this weird limbo in between male/female where I’ll never be comfortable with any version of my body. How do you find peace when you live in that space?

A:

Sometimes, when we allow ourselves to open a door, to open a possibility, the weight of that possibility and that choice is damn heavy – and overwhelming. This is where you’re at: You took a peek into something that wasn’t previously a route you imagined in your life but now that you peeled that curtain back, it is wide open. And with it all the doubts, fears, and uncertainty come swirling out.

You’re in the thick of a gender crisis. Change is tough, knowing what we really desire is tough, too. We see so many narratives of non-binary and trans folks being SURE – 100% certain! – of what they need and what they want, but at times that means the blurred space between sure and questioning gets lost.

The first time that questions similar to yours popped into my brain, I laid down on the ground and stared at the ceiling. The next day, I did the same thing. I did it for a week. I made a lot of emotional art about it. I wrote a lot about it. I looked for others experiencing similar things online. I eventually talked to my friends about it. I talked to other non-binary individuals about it.

I don’t think “peace” is what you should be seeking right now. I think you need to take some grounding breaths and reassure yourself you’ll get there, no matter where ‘there’ is. Lean hard into these questions and these feelings. Be at peace that you’re just going to be unsure for awhile. Write about your doubts and fears. Write about why it excites you too. Think about why this might feel good or awesome. Draw your body, draw it now and draw it in the future. Read lots of things. Buy this zine and this zine. Talk to your non-binary and trans friends who’ve had surgery about your doubts and questions.

Will you be just as unhappy with a flat chest? Maybe. There are folks who feel amazing after surgery and there are folks who at times questioned their decision. They are both valid ways of being and I don’t understand why top surgery can’t be both – a little bit of happiness and a little bit of sadness. Women will still see you, they will recognize you, crush on you, date up on you. Those that don’t aren’t ones you want in your beautiful complex non-binary life anyway. Will you identity change? Yeah maybe, but whose identities aren’t always in a little bit of flux? We’re not stagnant, just because we don’t want to change doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accept change when it’s happening.

To paraphrase a note I wrote to myself once: You don’t have to love your body or your gender. You do need to compromise with your body. You need to stare it down and be all, “I don’t like you and you don’t like me but here we are – partners.” You each have what the other is lacking; you possess the ability to get up in the morning, to move and act and think, and your body literally has a body for you to do those things in. Maybe with time y’all will be on the same page.

And maybe, like all good buddy comedies, you’ll learn to laugh at each other’s stupidity and mistakes, and maybe, like all good buddy comedies, the two of you will eventually learn something from each other. Maybe, like all good buddy comedies, you’ll save each other’s life someday.

You two might not ever say the word love but there could be this fondness, this feeling of going through the war together.

I'm a cartoonist living in Minneapolis. Co-Author and artist of A Quick And Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns. Author of Grease Bats, coming out Fall 2019 with Boom! Studios! If I'm not working I'm socializing. If I'm not out with friends I'm drawing. If I'm not doing any of those things I'm probably depressed. Support me using Patreon.

Archie has written 85 articles for us.

17 Comments

  1. just wanna say thank you to our question asker and thank you to Archie! for almost a year now i’ve been living in an in between space re: gender. sometimes claiming space in the world as nonbinary and using they/them pronouns feels like imposter syndrome. sometimes i want to play up my chest and feel pretty and explicitly femme. sometimes i really really wish i had a biodick. im struggling with feels about not being enby enough, about wanting to “still be a lesbian” (whatever the hell that means), about my full on misandry. I love queer woman and queerwomanhood and I love that in myself. but I also really wonder if people who are fully comfortable in and pumped about being cis don’t have thoughts about gender in this way. my boyfriend has had top surgery and started T in the last year and it’s through knowing him and his personal relationship to his body as a nonbinarytransdude that i know that (at least for right now) those physical changes aren’t the ones that i want.

    so all of this is to say, i fuckin hear you dude!

  2. I love the idea of being partners with my body. I can’t always muster up body positivity for myself, but body solidarity/commitment/cooperation sounds really, really good. Thank you for this helpful frame of thinking!

  3. Feel this for sure. In the midst of my own gender crisis right now, partially started by needing to dress formally for a (straight cis) friend’s wedding (also started by a return of PMS breast pain which makes me think about that part of my body a lot more than I usually do) I thought for sure a dress would be bad but guess what! I don’t feel great in a suit either. Do I just hate dressing formally or is my gender and it’s presentation just way up in the air?? Both?! To make myself feel better I bougth a t shirt from an etsy artist that says “No Gender No Problem.”

  4. Thank you for this! I a nonbinary person who is mid-medical transition and still grappling with what exactly I want that to look like in the future. I might take a break from T to see how I feel, since I’m happy with the permanent changes I have and ambivalent about growing facial hair. Heck, I’m even uncertain about top surgery, where before I felt really sure! (This is partly my low pain tolerance and dislike of surgery talking, but also I have less chest dysphoria than I used to.) It’s all a journey, really.

  5. This question hits close to home… I’ve never really experienced dysphoria, until one day I was really bummed out about my hips. I don’t like how my button downs are tighter on my hips.

    Thanks for the advice Archie! It’s really comforting knowing I’m not the only squiggle in town.

  6. This is a kind of sidestep but I’m wondering if anyone experiences the following? I’m not trans/enby/whatever, love being a woman ( apart from sexism etc!) but I have ZERO attachment to my breasts.. I wouldn’t go through the hassle of getting rid of them, but if they wandered off in the night I’d not chase them! I’d hope they’d be rehomed with someone who wanted them, for whatever reason.. many women seem VERY attached to theirs, see them as part of their femininity, and I just..don’t..

    • I like this vision of breasts wandering off like disgruntled cats looking for a new home.

      I identify as a cis woman and I don’t have any strong attachment to my breasts. I’m also tomboy femme and I still kind of feel like breasts just get in the way of climbing trees.

      I am very fond of my hips and butt.

  7. This was just what I needed to hear today, thank you <3. I've been having difficult gender feels for a couple of years now, and struggle a lot with feeling like I need to love myself, but a lot of the time I just can't. But the idea of compromising with myself…now that maybe I can handle.

  8. When I came out I read a lot of AFAB non-binary narratives and it felt like every single writer had had top surgery and that this was the only available trajectory. Later I realized that there are many different ways to transition and while transition may include medical or surgical intervention it is not inevitable. Transition might be social or legal, for example, or all or none of the above. This was a huge relief. I have been experimenting with different brands of binders since then and the third one I tried is much more comfortable than the others. I now feel like the only non-binary person who doesn’t want hormones or top surgery but at least I know where I stand. Transition is a long complex process. Give yourself time to figure out what feels comfortable; this might change over time too.

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