The Struggle With Becoming Aware of My Gender
by Wes Ingram
Coming to terms with – and understanding – my gender has been an incredibly long and difficult process for me. It’s hard to say exactly when I became first aware, but it seems there was always a struggle with becoming aware of my gender. It’s even more difficult to pinpoint the timeframe considering my parents were never huge enforcers of the gender binary. My older sister had been a tomboy, and we didn’t have much money, so I was left with all of her old hand-me-downs. These mainly consisted of t-shirts, shorts, and long pants – all of which were quite gender neutral and perfect for me, since I spent most of my time outside getting dirty and scratched up. Because of this, my parents especially didn’t want to spend any money on new, particularly feminine clothes because they figured I would just ruin them.
Along a similar line, my parents never really questioned any of the things that I was interested in. They’d buy me Hot Wheels and Barbies alike. They never forced only “girl” things on me or refused to get me “boy” things. I think that part of that had to do with our finances; they didn’t want to waste money on buying me any toys I wouldn’t play with or make a fuss over, as we were on a pretty tight budget.
On top of that, my parents had raised both my sister and myself to believe that we could do whatever we wanted to do. My mom especially, considering she’s half Japanese and actually was living in Japan when she and my dad, a Marine, originally met. The Japanese culture, can be pretty misogynistic at times. When I was older she told me a story about how she had cousins who became nurses because they wanted to work in the medical field. When she asked them why they didn’t consider going to school to become a doctor, they told her it was because ‘women are the nurses‘ and ‘men are the doctors‘. Even though my family had moved back to the United States and were far away from that culture, I think she, in particular, didn’t want my sister and myself to get that message.
Though this seems an ideal environment to raise a transgender child in, at the same time I think that it actually ended up making it harder to understand my gender. It was so normalized to me that I could do anything that pleased me. I could play with any toys I wanted or wear whatever clothes I liked. When I started going to school and paying attention to the media – being exposed to the gender binary – it was incredibly confusing. Kids in school refused to be my friend because I was dressed too masculine, calling me names like ‘lesbian’ and ‘dyke’. I couldn’t reconcile how I had been raised without rigorous definitions of gender with what everyone else was expecting of me outside of our home. Since the insults always mentioned sexuality, I began thinking that sexuality must be the culprit. Since I am bisexual, I figured that must be why they hurled such horrible names at me, and I tried to leave it at that.
This became increasingly difficult in high school, because of puberty and seeing all the girls around me, including my best friend, coming into their bodies and dressing in increasingly feminine ways. But I wasn’t like that, and hated every change my body went through. The confusion came rushing back, and that’s when I really started to question my gender. Luckily, I had access to Google. While I read about being transgender, at the same time it just didn’t seem possible to be a trans guy. So much of what I read had to do with transphobia, which terrified me, and the little that was left were stories of trans guys who were much more masculine than me, who were hypermasculine and lived in the gym and were pretty much indistinguishable from cisgender men after hormones and surgery. I still wanted to retain some of my femininity, so I felt like that meant I wasn’t allowed to fully identify as a transgender man. Instead, I tried out genderqueer for a while, feeling like that was a safe medium, and even considered using gender neutral pronouns, like they/them/theirs or neopronouns (vey/vem/vers in particular), but this was so new to the “mainstream” LGBT community that even my closest friends, who are also mainly in the community, were opposed to the idea. Even talking about being completely binary transgender wasn’t talked about yet – this was before Orange is the New Black, before Laverne Cox became a staple of the community – and presenting as masculine as I was basically meant that I had to be a butch lesbian. Which, considering I’m very much bisexual and not strictly attracted to women, wasn’t true either.
Since I felt so ostracized in high school because of my refusal to conform to society’s gender expectations, when I started college I became scared that the same thing would happen to me again; that I would be bullied, that nobody would want to be friends with me, and that I would hate going to class. Even though I don’t live on campus and never have, I was still worried about being harassed as I would still be spending so much time on campus. And, after all, UD is a very huge campus to not have any friends. I was so convinced that if I just gave being feminine a try, it would finally take and I would have friends and maybe then I wouldn’t be so conflicted and could actually be happy with myself. I became obsessed with sweater dresses and leggings, I began wearing make-up, I painted my nails, I grew my hair out and then let my sister dye it, I did everything that I thought was “right”. Surely now I was officially on the right path to being a girl…and instead of making me happy in any way, I somehow hated my body even more. I was severely depressed, and the more suicidal I became, the more I started to link it to my gender presentation. By the time I started toying with it again, and trying on identities like nonbinary and transmasculine, it was already too late though – I ended up hospitalized for my depression during the last fall semester, and honestly I found the experience integral to understanding my gender as a transgender man. The more I talked to the nurses and other patients about my gender identity, the more I realized that I wanted to transition, to show that trans guys could still embrace their femininity and exist outside of the binary and not have to be hypermasculine in order to be valid. I officially came out as a trans guy a few months later, last December.
The journey to understanding my gender has certainly been a complicated one, much more than the average cisgender person. However everything I’ve been through is so integral in understanding my identity and who I am as a person. It’s not all fun, but it has all been worth it to finally be able to be my true self.
Wes Ingram is a sci-fi enthusiast, dog lover, LGBT champion and budding trans activist. Follow him on Twitter.