“Why do you feel like you’re a girl?” — adapted from a series of text messages to my mom
I don’t want to answer my grandma when she asks why I think I’m a girl because I’m not confident in my ability to come up with a good answer when put on the spot and because I feel like she’ll probably just try to shoot down anything I say, but it is something I’ve thought about.
My ideas mainly center around what I learned about the process of socialization (and socialization into gender in particular) in Intro to Sociology, the key point being that peers play a major role in early gender socialization, which also coincides with the period in which the sense of ‘self’ forms.
Socialization into gender
I can’t remember the exact details of the experiences that led me to conclude this, but from an early age I made a conscious decision to interact with girls instead of boys because I thought boys were too “immature”. And I know your counter-argument to this line of reasoning, that I could just be a really cool guy. But that’s not really persuasive for me because that’s what I told myself for years and years. It was basically a rationalization to avoid actually thinking about the fundamental conflict in my gendered sense of self.
So for basically all of the most formative years of my life I socialized mostly with girls and almost never with boys. I understood from the messages I was given that I was supposed to be a boy, but there’s no way spending so many crucial years almost exclusively in female social groups couldn’t have influenced my identity. I always felt like an outsider in those social groups, but in cases where I had to be around mostly or all boys I just felt out of place. Even though I felt like an outsider I at least felt an affinity with girls, but I didn’t feel like I could relate to boys.
My gender identity was built on a conflict. The state said I was a boy. My family said I was a boy. But I didn’t relate to boys, and by hanging around female social groups I couldn’t help but internalize their norms and expectations. I had the idea that I was supposed to be a boy, but I was rejected by male social groups, and the groups I could find some degree of acceptance in were almost entirely or entirely female. So the gender socialization I got from my peers was different from what I got from other sources.
I avoided fully thinking about the conflict for years through different rationalizations.
The “girls are more mature” one satisfied me for a while, and it’s not exactly wrong, but it mainly acted as a rationalization. If I’m a boy then why are all my friends girls? With such a rationalization I didn’t have to think too hard about answering that.
I understand that gender and sex are two different things and the conflict of the two. But in the old world in which I was raised the sex identified you as male or female.
I’m just trying to explain my thought process… basically, to answer “why do you feel like you’re a girl?”
Really, the world I was raised in wasn’t much different in that regard. It’s only very recently that that idea’s started shifting on a large scale. If anything, that’s why I didn’t even consider that I may be something other than a boy for years, because I was socialized to believe that the gender you were assigned at birth is an unchangeable fact.
As my thinking got more abstract (and as I encountered a few exceptions to my idea that “boys are immature/girls are more mature”, I think) I started explaining away the conflict as me not fitting the expectations of masculinity… or as you put it, that I was “just a really cool guy”.
The point of no return
The game-changer was learning about trans people and their issues and experiences through the social groups I participated in online. For some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, I felt jealous of trans people.
Which one day brought me to the thought, Could I be trans? That was a question my old rationalizations couldn’t explain away.
Coming out to myself
I thought about how I felt about being a boy and the social expectations that carried with it. And as I thought about it, I realized I didn’t like it. It had always felt like a burden. I had just never even considered the possibility that it could be a burden I didn’t have to carry. So that was step one. I decided I didn’t want to be a boy. I was familiar with the concept of “non-binary”, so that’s what I considered myself at first.
But then another question nagged at me. So do I want to be a girl? That one took a bit longer to process. I remember one of the things that made me lean towards answering that in the affirmative. I was with you (and my grandma, I think) at one of those outlet malls. As we passed by the women’s section in a store I visualized myself wearing some of the clothes, and felt sad that I couldn’t. That may have even been the exact moment I decided, yes, not only do I not want to be a boy, I do want to be a girl. I realized I felt drawn to femininity. I’d been turned away every time I’d tried to explore it in my life before, but it was something I wanted for myself.
I started having dysphoria after that. I wanted to be a girl but I knew no one saw me as one. Any time I saw a girl I thought was pretty I felt jealousy and intense shame. I fantasized about being able to wear feminine clothing and be seen as a girl. I came up with a new name and then started coming out to a few people one by one.
Being called by my dead name and referred to as ‘he’ started to grate on me. Each time felt like being punched in the stomach, and it happened all day, every day. That was about the time that I started spending a lot of time laying in bed in the dark, never wanting to explain why. I was just so exhausted every day from being referred to in a way I didn’t want and feeling powerless to stop it.
The first thing I did was try to grow my hair out by refusing to get haircuts. My hair was the first thing I ended up actually liking when I looked in the mirror. For a while it was the only thing, but it kept me from losing hope.
Eventually I decided I wanted to go on hormones, and an online friend mentioned a site I could get them from. I started obsessively researching HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and only took the plunge when I was sure I was aware of the risks and knew how to do it safely. I didn’t want to risk having someone else get the mail and being interrogated about the strange package, so I tried figuring out other ways to get it.
The first time I tried getting it sent to my friend A. there was an issue with the address (the site’s fault) so they sent another package, but that one went to the post office because no one was available to sign for it when it arrived, and A. was never able to get to the post office so it was returned to sender after sitting there for a few days. Eventually she did manage to get it and she gave it to me in a class we had together. I excitedly took pictures and showed them to my online friends when I got home, and I think I started the next day.
I kept the blister packs of pills in that water-flosser box under the sink in my bathroom because I didn’t think anyone would look there. For longer than I thought I would manage to get away with it, I was right.
I only ever self-medded on a low starter dose so the changes were minor but noticeable. My butt got shapelier, my overall figure started to change to a different shape, and I felt amazing. It was like I’d been stumbling around in the dark before and someone turned on a light.
And something important I noticed was that though before the best I’d ever felt about my appearance was okay, I started to actually like what I saw in the mirror. I still had some dysphoria, but I didn’t feel so hopeless anymore.
The story doesn’t end there, obviously, but I think that’s about the time that I had no more doubts, for good. After that it was more a matter of getting other people to see me the way I saw myself. By the end of my senior year of high school everyone I had almost everyone I interacted with on a regular basis calling me Kinsey. Life still sucked a lot, but that made it a bit better.
I haven’t really looked back since I decided I want to be a girl. It just feels natural to me, whereas being a boy always felt awkward and forced.
Does all that help at all?
Yes, that makes sense.