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I have a pressing, all-consuming need for advice! When I was younger, I always wished I was a boy. As I grew up, I came to realize that I didn’t necessarily need to be a boy to get what I wanted – I could be a lesbian! I could be butch, date women, do “man” stuff… everything I wanted. But as I’ve come into my Butch Identity, I’ve started realizing that maybe I do want to be a boy still. That maybe I am a boy. But I’m having a lot of trouble because I don’t know that I want to give up the lesbian community. I don’t know that I’m ready to give up being a woman either. Can I be both? A lesbian and a boy? Probably not, but it’d be cool if I could. I don’t know that they/them pronouns fit me, but I’m also not sure he/him fits me. Honestly, sometimes I feel like she/her only works for me because I’ve been socialized into liking that for the past 26 years. But honestly it’s hard to tell. I just don’t know what to do or who to talk to. I don’t want the lesbian community to ostracize me because I’m not sure I feel like a girl anymore, but I don’t yet feel comfortable in any other community. I’m also afraid of transitioning and still dating women, effecting looking like a straight couple everywhere we go. Ugh why is gender so hard?
First of all, thank you for doing the most and reaching out. I know how hard it can be to ask for help, especially when you feel scared and confused, and I know gender is extremely hard; you’re not alone on that one.
It sounds like the spiral you’re having is because you’re looking into everything up close and also from far away. You’re freaking out about your own identity on a micro level, yourself, while also freaking out about your identity on the macro level of community and at the same time trying to predict how the future could look for you on a social level.
Everything you’re currently spiraling about is extremely real; I know how hard it can be to try to focus on your own identity when there’s a lot of history, internalized stuff, and a whole world out there judging everything. The good news is that nobody gets to define who you are, except for you; the bad news is that no matter how much energy you put into making sure everyone knows that, you cannot control everyone else or what they think.
For a minute, let’s take the world, gender at large, society, and community out of the picture; I know it’s hard, but it’s where you need to start if you want to start solving this puzzle for yourself.
I am someone who has always felt “like a boy,” but I truly couldn’t vocalize it until very recently. I grew up surrounded by girls. I have five sisters, I went to an all-girls Catholic school, 90% of my friends are queer and 60% of them identify as women. So I get how lonely you can feel about this.
I thought about being a boy every day of my life without necessarily thinking “am I boy?” In fact the word “boy” rarely made its way into my thoughts. The way that I thought or questioned my gender was always very passive; it was almost as if there was always a lingering thought, a fleeting feeling, a certain kind of grief, for a “what if?” and I was terrified to open that door.
Just like you, for most of my life I identified as butch, as gay. I formed every relationship in my universe around those facts. I honestly don’t think I ever said the word lesbian as a self-identifier, but people gave it to me and assumed it of me and I didn’t necessarily correct them because I also didn’t have an answer, so at the end of the day, that was my community. I dated mostly women, I hung out with people that were queer almost exclusively. I was too gay and too butch to belong anywhere else. Most queer people, that’s all we got, ourselves, so I understand how scared you are because for a long time I couldn’t ask myself the same question you’re asking yourself right now. I was also terrified to lose the only true family I had. For a long time I put whatever I thought their feelings were around my gender first, even if I didn’t know it.
Coming into a butch identity usually involves making a decision — not a decision to be butch necessarily, but rather to say “I am here, I am visible.” Think about approaching coming into your gender, even if that ends up being “a boy,” in the same way. You don’t have to have all the answers right away; no one expects you to. Self-discovery is great in that way; you can go as slow as you want, you can try some things, play it safe and little by little start putting the pieces together. You get to evolve and grow into it if that’s what works for you. And I get it, gender is confusing and so fucking vast it can seem wildly intimidating, but you’ve already started. Something that I’m picking up is that even though you might be a ways away from having all solid answers, you at least know that something is missing, and that something is probably not working right now.
A lot of the narrative about gender questioning at large is about tragedy, about what we lose. I encourage you (even though I know it’s challenging) to think about your gender from a different angle. What makes you feel affirmed? Instead of approaching this conversation with yourself focused on what you’re losing, maybe think about approaching it around what you’re gaining. It seems to me you’ve ignored a part of yourself that’s asking you for attention because you have been focused on everyone else in your sphere and their feelings about it.
For example, something that worked for me as I was questioning my own gender was to instead of evaluating everything that has hurt me or has made me feel sad and confused and dysphoric was to look back into the moments that made me feel euphoric about my gender: when someone would clock me as a boy in the street, being called sir randomly at a store, fitting into “men’s” jeans, even asking some partners to roleplay with me “as a boy.”
Once I singled out those moments it was as if the picture started to come together. Instead of waiting for moments like those to happen randomly I proactively started to look for more of them, dipping my feet into my relationship to myself. The moment that I stopped worrying about losing everything, and starting focusing on what I could gain by asking myself what I wanted, what I truly wanted outside of everyone else, things became a lot clearer.
In terms of pronouns, maybe start by asking someone to try other pronouns with you? One or two people you like and trust, until you figure out not just what feels “okay” but what feels good, what you actually like. You don’t have to announce it to the world either; you can start very small. Even though I’ve slowly moved towards he/him pronouns (honestly because they feel good, they feel mine) I still identify as a non binary boy; my gender identity is not defined by my pronouns but rather by who I am, who I feel I am, and the same can be said for you and everyone else. Your relationship to your gender is so intimate with yourself, and yourself only.
Start thinking about approaching the question of “am I boy?” from a place of expansion, of growth into yourself, whoever that happens to be. Instead of shutting it down because you’re trying to rush to the finish line and have everything figured out, start by walking, start by figuring out what you like and how you fit into your own skin. Once you embrace yourself people will also embrace you.
It seems to me a part of you is ready to stop settling for your current reality and to start growing into a place of happiness and comfort. I know you’re scared, but I promise that once you get to a spot where you feel good rather than “okay enough” you’ll start getting all the answers you’re looking for; you just have to keep moving.
In terms of dating, if you’re scared of people seeing you as a straight person, if you do decide to transition in the future — people are already getting the wrong assumption about you, it seems to me your gender is more complex than what people are assuming at the moment. Instead of jumping so far ahead, maybe focus in the now, one step at a time and try not to dwell on the idea that this might happen. Gender exploration and transition, if you decide to pursue it, look different for everyone, and also happen more incrementally than you are probably thinking.
I don’t know your current community but even though it’s true you might lose a lot, you will also gain a lot, especially with yourself. I hope that no matter how you start your journey towards self-discovery you put yourself first. Once you start trying things out, pushing through those fears to unpack these questions, and moving from a place of desire rather than a place of fear, the answers will come to you. And I hope that no matter where it takes you, you are able to find peace and happiness within yourself in the process.
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