Gender is complicated. I first realized that when I started doing research online, not long after a moment of definitely-not-cis-ness that even I, oblivious as I was, couldn’t miss. There were lots of terms, but even more questions for me to answer. What had my "definitely-not-cis" feeling been, exactly? The "definitely-not-cis" feeling wasn’t always present, so what was I feeling when it wasn’t there? Slowly, I began to find answers, to find terms like genderfluid, genderflux, agender, demigirl, terms that seemed like they might feel comfortable one day. And I thought that would be it, that once I found my terms, my questioning would end.
In a way, it has. I’m agenderflux demigirl, although I usually just tell people I’m nonbinary, and I don’t expect to change labels any time soon. And yet, what I once knew but had since forgotten until I started thinking about this prompt is, gender is complicated. I know what words I like to use to talk about and think about my gender. I know how I can go for months at a time, never feeling any gender at all, and then suddenly feel vaguely, weakly feminine for just the briefest moment. But there are questions about communication, about expression, that I keep ducking away from, because I don’t know the answers, and the unknown is scary, and figuring out the answers requires experimentation, and experimentation means trying something without knowing if the outcome will be good or bad.
I know at least part of my fear comes from society. I’m AMAB, and there’s a confusing mess of transmisogyny that makes experimenting with femininity, either in expression or identity, even if only weakly or briefly, both exhilarating and terrifying. I suspect some of it is internalized, holding me back even when there are no witnesses around. (And if that wasn’t enough, there are questions about what role, if any, my sex-repulsion and asexuality play when I think about engaging with femininity.)
When I was starting to figure out my gender, I made lists of what I knew and what I didn’t. As time went on, the unknowns about identity and what I was feeling went away, but a lot of the unknowns about expression have stayed. Would I like wearing skirts or dresses? I still don’t know. I’ve never tried one on. Would I like wearing makeup? I don’t really know. I once wore a little bit of eye makeup (completely unrelated to any gender stuff) and didn’t like putting it on or taking it off, but there’s more to makeup than that. (I don’t even know what I don’t know about makeup.) Would I like painting my nails? That one, luckily, I’ve tried, and I do like it a lot. Would I like dying my hair? I think so, but the fear that something might go wrong, leaving me with the impossible choice between keeping hair I hate, or cutting it shorter and sacrificing one of the only things that marks me as slightly androgynous or feminine, keeps me from trying.
It’s been a while since I’ve consciously formed or confronted those questions. My questioning has paused, even as I hope to one day know the answers, to one day look into the mirror, truly see myself, and be completely happy. It’s like a game theory problem: I can experiment, figure out some more answers, and get an outcome that might be good or bad, or I can wait, stick with a known quantity, and get the same neutral outcome over and over again.
Coming out was nerve-wracking and not exactly positive at first, but it ultimately turned out for the better, and I’m glad that I chose to come out. And I was anxious about painting my nails, but turned out to like that as well. I can see that there’s a pattern there, that I should just be bold and experiment with gender presentation and everything will turn out for the better. But, well, if it was that easy to get over my fear of the negative, this would be a very different essay.
Realizing that I’m still questioning is humbling, in a way. There are lots of questions about identity where I can guide (or at least, try to guide) people in a direction that’ll be helpful for them, but there are still times where I could use a guide myself.