We all have ways of defining ourselves, but when you’re trans, it can be a little harder.
When you’re trans, figuring out your gender identity can be hard. Especially if, like me, you’re well-versed in queer and feminist theories, and have a general tendency to over-think everything. When I first started seriously thinking about my gender, and how I wanted to present and exist in the world, I was asking a lot of really complicated questions.
What is gender? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Which one am I? Can I really be a woman if I don’t mind leaving my legs unshaven for weeks at a time? Is being transgender antifeminist—or the most radically feminist thing ever? Is it transphobic to ask these sorts of questions?
Like I said, it’s hard. Seriously, cis privilege is not feeling obligated ask yourself all these dramatic, political questions as you’re putting on your makeup in the morning.
Or maybe I’m the only one who asks these sort of questions. I don’t know. What I do know is that these questions have made it hard for me to figure out who I am and how I want to live. Because, like any good over-thinker, I could talk in circles and argue both sides until I’m so frustrated I end up smearing makeup all over my face, as if to say, “I REJECT YOUR GENDER NORMS. I REJECT ALL YOUR NORMS.”
This is actually a thing that happened.
As someone who’s identified as a feminist since I was 5, when I first learned the word while watching a Spice Girls interview, the questions that have haunted me the most are the ones that stemmed from those feminist ideologies. I know that women have a unique experience that I haven’t experienced in the same way. And that made me feel like I couldn’t identify as a woman, because I’d never have the same experience as someone who was assigned female at birth.
I recognized my “male” privilege—when I was too lazy to shave, I could still wear shorts without being publicly shamed for my choice. (Not that I would ever wear shorts in public. I’ve always hated wearing shorts—despite the fact that I have killer legs—because my legs are pasty white, and also—mostly—because they’re super-hairy. Which is telling.) And that’s only scratching the surface of how my experience, being perceived as a man, is different from most people who are perceived as women.
I felt conflicted because I wanted to be pretty and feminine, but I liked having the freedom to be my horrible, lazy self and not be judged. (Well… not be judged as much.) But the thing is, it was the freedom that I liked—not the hair or the fact that I was being perceived as male (or the fact that I’m too damn lazy to pick up a freaking razor). Still, I was convinced that if I couldn’t commit to living up to the expectations of womanhood 100% of the time, I couldn’t claim that identity.
But here’s the thing—nobody likes who they are 100% of the time.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think we all have tendencies to question ourselves and get insecure when we don’t measure up to our personal standards. Like, if you think of yourself as a smart person, getting a ‘C’ on a quiz can totally crush your confidence. Or losing your head in a heated moment can make you feel like an evil bitch, even though you’re usually cool-headed and charming.
We all have these moments of weakness, we all have ugly qualities that we might not be proud of. But those aren’t the things that define us—what defines us are those qualities that we like the most, the moments we are most proud of and the things we want to emphasize about ourselves.
I’m a very hairy person. I have big, broad shoulders and carry most of my weight in my stomach—not necessarily a feminine silhouette. Sometimes, if I’m sick or nervous, my voice gets really deep. But I don’t like these things about myself.
What I like about myself is my shapely legs, my curly hair—when it cooperates with me!—and my fairly high-pitched voice. I like the sway in my walk. I like the fact that I get called “ma’am”—on the phone and even in person sometimes. Really, anything that expresses or validates my femininity, I revel in. Now, there are feminist critiques to all these things (which I’ll address in-depth another time), but the fact that I love femininity so much says a lot.
So even though there are days where I let my hair grow free and moments where my voice drops, like, five octaves, those things don’t define my gender or myself—I do. Knowing that I have that agency has not only helped me feel more comfortable in my gender identity, but it’s also given me an overall confidence that’s no longer easily shaken by external circumstances—or by complicated questions about gender and privilege—and it can do the same for you, regardless of your gender identity.
Moments don’t define you—you define you. Remembering that makes everything a million times easier.
How do you define yourself? What are the moments that make you doubt yourself the most, and how do you deal? Let us know in the comments below, or in your own post.
Eve is a twenty-five year old trans woman and writer, and the founder of LGBTeen. She enjoys writing about pop culture, feminism, LGBT issues — and her lived experiences. You can view her writing on LGBTeen and on her personal blog, Original Woman.