Do you feel your gender pulling you in a new direction lately? Sometimes it moves around and is hard to catch, pin down, and understand what it’s telling you. Gender identity work is tricky. Gender can change and morph constantly, suddenly, drastically. (It’s called work for a reason!) This time of inner reflection and exploration, if you choose to take it, can look wildly different for different people. This article is an example of one perspective and is in no way meant to be prescriptive!
There are as many different genders as there are people on the planet. You are not wrong. You’re not wrong because there is no right. There is you.
Gender is what we call a social construct- our culture as a whole determines what is acceptable for a “boy” and for a “girl” to wear, act, think, speak, groom, etc. Typically, there is an inherent understanding of social and cultural norms in the location and culture we grew up in. In other words, we perform gender. Constantly. It’s how we know that “boys” are supposed to wear blue and “girls” should wear pink. Even if you’re a boy that likes pink- it’s likely ingrained from a young age that there is something wrong with that. Conversely, we often assume that if a person is a race car driver for a living, for example, that means that person is a man. If a nurse is the subject of a story you hear, you might instinctively picture a woman.
Basically, we get told who we are when we are born. That’s why you might hear the phrase “Assigned female/male at birth.” The point being, it is given. It is assigned to us like a homework assignment that we are left to complete based on the instructions society gives us about who we are supposed to be. Lots of times it turns out to be a nonconsensual gift! The earth-shattering part is that it doesn’t have to be that way! We can choose not to run with the herd. We can decide that a different way works better for us, that there are (many) other possibilities. Do you sense that fluidity about yourself? What is within your realm of possibility? Are you willing to consider the possibility that you might not want to follow the instructions?
It can be really fun to explore! Buy a new pair of undies. Have (alone) naked time! Make a vision board on identity. Take a dance class. Go into a new section of your favorite clothing store. Take notice of how being around other people might make you interact with your gender (and the world) differently. You are the person that knows you the best. Trust that. There is no wrong answer.
Sometimes, it's helpful to figure out who we are not before we can figure out who we are. Never underestimate the power of a feeling wheel!
Thought experiment: if you could perform a miracle and make yourself look and feel exactly like you want to, what does that look like? How would it be dis/similar to how you currently perform gender? How does it fit into who you believe yourself to be? How does this new identity make you feel about yourself? How would that change the narrative you tell yourself about who you are?
Now, draw it. Try to get your hands on some of that giant paper on a scroll you used in kindergarten and draw the outline of your body. Color it in. What parts are what colors? Are there shapes inside your body? What textures? Designs? Doodles? Or draw it on a napkin with a pen- whatever moves you! Know that you cannot do your gender wrong.
It is important to note that identity work can be destabilizing. Make sure to take extra special care of yourself during the process. This tip is meant for the body-curious. Make sure you have a support system in place in case your head starts to spin. If you start to feel anxious, shaky, feeling nervous or activated, feeling your chest get heavy and tight, you may be heading toward a panic attack. It is a good idea to let those thoughts lie, and come back to them another time.
If you feel like it's hard to escape society’s incessant messages about gender; you’re not wrong! It’s everywhere and it can be exhausting! Nurture yourself. Take a bubble bath. Each chocolate. Call a friend. Take a walk. Hug your pet.
Please also refrain from doing challenging feelings work without a support system that you can lean on, even if it is without sharing any details. Working with an affirming therapist can help level your footing by helping to handle the hard parts and celebrate the great parts of your journey. Affirming Support groups are other great tools to utilize. If you find yourself alone and needing someone to talk to, The Trevor Project is an amazing organization that is open 24/7 for calls, texts, and chatting. Feel good about exploring who you are. Stay safe and take good care of yourself when you're doing a deep dive into your authentic self.
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