The key to Pandora’s box was a t-shirt

There’s so many stories between here and there, but we might as well get to this one first, since it’s kinda the whole reason I’m here doing this to begin with.

“The Great Gender Crisis of 2016”, I like to call it. And it started with a t-shirt.

I suppose I should back up briefly and say that this was not my first crisis. After childhood, I stuffed all of my feelings and confusion about my gender into a box that sat in a dark corner of my mind. I am astonished at exactly how much confusion, dysphoria and sadness I managed to shove into that box, but as much as it held, it was only so big, and eventually it broke. Not the whole thing, mind you, at first it was just the corner. Some feelings leaked out at some point in the early months of 2015 and I tried to clean them up.

I’d learned enough at that point to know that if I’ve got a mess of feelings on the floor, I’d damn well better look at what spilled, instead of just sweeping them back into the box while sobbing, like I used to do.

I admitted to my partner at the time that I didn’t know what gender I was.

Prior to that, I’d worked really hard to convince myself that the reason that I didn’t feel like a woman was because society’s definition of what a woman is was too limited (and it is, I still think societal definitions of gender are terrible and force people into boxes where nuances and differences aren’t acknowledged or celebrated) But somewhere in cleaning up those feelings that has spilled out of the box I realized that by any definition I didn’t feel like a woman. I didn’t know how to describe what I felt, so I just kinda stopped at genderless. It really confused my partner at the time and she demanded I come up with an answer, which made me shut down and created a bit of a rift. Later she admitted to me that she had her own unresolved gender identity issues and had projected her confusion and need for answers on me.

But I wasn’t ready to answer the question yet, so I didn’t. Not fully anyway. I did briefly toy with the idea that I might be transgender, but dismissed it because I was confident that I didn’t want to be “a man” as defined by society, nor did I want a penis. (I can hear you writing indignant comments as we speak. Don’t hate, just keep reading) I was definitely fooling myself here because I did legitimately know that there was way more to being transgender. What genitalia you have, believe it or not, doesn’t necessarily factor into it.

But this is what I went with for a while. My next (and current) partner was more open to these conversations, and so it resurfaced a year or so after. When I told her that I didn’t know what gender I was, she actually supported me. She asked if I thought I might be trans, but I repeated my same old “I don’t want a penis” bullshit.

Until the t-shirt happened.

It’s funny how something so innocuous could have triggered something so huge within me, but it did. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It was a Christmas present from my dad, a custom aviation t-shirt. And it was a lovely tapered, tiny-sleeved femme-style shirt. I was a little crushed, because I’d been off women’s clothing for years (and vocal about it), but I certainly wasn’t a big enough jerk to complain about it during the Christmas morning gift exchange, so I took it home with me and agonized over what to say.

I needed to say something to my dad about it, but I didn’t want to seem like an ungrateful douche. I was afraid that he wouldn’t understand why I hated feminine clothing, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. This had gone so beyond just being a t-shirt to me, but I couldn’t quite place why until I actually emailed my dad about it.

In trying to explain why it was such a big deal to me, I put the matter in a way that I hadn’t before. “Feminine clothing accentuates parts of my body, like my chest and hips, that make me feel uncomfortable. I do my best to hide those parts.”

The t-shirt itself was a complete non-issue. Dad said it had been a genuine mistake while ordering, and that he totally understood that I didn’t like feminine clothes. I felt seen, and that made me happy. Problem solved.

Shit, if it only could have been that easy.

I perseverated on the line that I written to my dad for weeks after that conversation. Feminine clothing accentuates parts of my body, like my chest and hips, that make me feel uncomfortable.  I’d been wearing minimizing bras for months without actually acknowledging the fact that I hated my chest. They didn’t particularly help and it was frustrating. I’d also been taking creatine after my workouts and too ashamed to tell anyone.

For those who are wondering, creatine is an amino acid and gym supplement that aids muscle development. One of the ways it does this is by causing your muscles to retain water. Hydrated muscles recover faster and build faster and have the added bonus of looking bigger as well. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. But if I’d told anyone I was taking it, I’d also have to admit to myself that I was taking it mostly to look bigger, and I wanted to look bigger because I was completely dissatisfied with the amount of muscle I had. I’d started to form a borderline unhealthy relationship with the gym.

I didn’t want to acknowledge any of that, because then I’d have to really pull everything out of that dusty little box that I’d been stuffing my gender feelings into for 20-some-odd years, and man, there were a lot of feels to look at in that box.

What pushed me directly over the edge was hurting my left bicep. I stubbornly went to the gym and tried to push through it more times than I should have. It wasn’t working, the pain was too severe and I finally forced myself to stop. I’d just do cardio (which I loathe). But those days spent doing cardio were days I wasn’t spending lifting and my anxiety brain took over. X number of days spent not lifting meant X percentage of muscle lost that would take longer to regain because estrogen makes it so much harder to build and retain muscle. I had a quiet meltdown. On a fucking ellipical machine no less.

Yep, I was that guy. Crying at the gym.

I know enough about how my anxiety works to realize in that moment that how I’d come to think about my body wasn’t healthy or sustainable. Dysphoria. You’d think I might have looked it up before now, but nope. Then I’d have had to admit identifying with it.

Gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder (GID), is the distress a person experiences as a result of the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. In this case, the assigned sex and gender do not match the person’s gender identity (Thanks Wikipedia)

I don’t like the whole “disorder” part of it, because it makes it seem like an illness, and it absolutely isn’t, but I’ll talk more about that later.

When I got home that day, I admitted to my partner that I had gender dysphoria. I’d always had it, I was transgender, and I was having all of the feels about it. I finally looked myself in the mirror and acknowledged that “not wanting a penis” had absolutely nothing to do with my being transgender and that “not wanting to be a man” really just meant that I didn’t want to be a man in the way men are socialized today.

I cannot adequately put into words what it feels like to be in this body when there are parts of it that feel so entirely wrong. On the best of days, I was quietly frustrated that I had boobs and that clothes didn’t fit the way I wanted them too. On the worst of days, it felt like I was wearing a silicone skin-suit that I just wanted to rip off but never could. It was (and still is sometimes) agonizing. To look back at my life since having realized at 8 that I wasn’t female was a mind-fuck beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

I wish I could make it make more sense for y’all cisgender people out there (Cisgender = those of you who identify with the gender you were assigned at birth), but the only way I can describe it is to say that it was a wrongness that crept into everything I did, every fiber of my being, and that addressing that, looking in the mirror and into the faces of people I care about and telling them that I am not what they thought I was for 36 years is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

To reveal yourself in a world that thinks you’re an abomination, a world that doesn’t even want to let you pee or change your clothes in peace, that takes balls – the proverbial kind, because ew. I realize I’m lucky, because not every trans person out there can be visible, so I’m trying to be visible for them.

I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.

One Reply to “The key to Pandora’s box was a t-shirt”

  1. Please don’t go anywhere! I had no idea how gifted you are at the written word. Rock on! Also loving the box metaphor. One thing I know, emotions are stronger than corrugated wood pulp.

    Like

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