“Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity…This mismatch between sex and gender identity can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings that are called gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a recognized medical condition, for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. It is not a mental illness.” (source: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Gender-dysphoria/Pages/Introduction.aspx )
When you hear the phase “body dysphoria” it is usually in the context of the transgender experience. A man or woman is describing the way they feel towards the mismatch of their body parts and their gender, because for whatever reason, they want the traditional man=penis+testicles, woman=vagina+uterus+breasts equation (not all trans people feel this way, but for argument’s sake I’m focusing on the ones that do). But then there are people like me, whose gender is not so black and white, that aren’t accounted for in that equation.
People understand the transgender experience because it fits in the male/female binary; it boils down to being the opposite of what everyone perceives you to be. But there is no script for being genderqueer like there is for being a man or woman; there’s no set way a genderqueer person is supposed to look. So I guess you could say our relationships with our bodies are…complicated.
I’ve read things online about genderqueer body dysphoria before, and it seems everyone’s experience is different. Some people want a mix or male/female parts, some people want the entire male/female connotation removed from the description of their body, some people are happy with what they were born with and the male/female status of their body, some people want the “opposite” of what they were born with. In a way, it’s nice not to have pressure to get any surgeries or start hormone therapy, but on the other hand it leaves a gaping hole where there would normally be some sort of frame-of-reference. I can’t just do what everyone else is doing, or do what society sees as the “genderqueer body”; I must sort through my feelings about every part of my body…searching for what I see as “me”.
Though there has been a lot of relief with mostly coming out as genderqueer, there has also been a lot of frustration. Most people don’t use my they/them pronouns, and most still see me as a woman (or girl, if they are being infantile about it). And most of the time I hate it. It makes me feel so angry inside to constantly be put in a box where I don’t belong…”I’M NOT A GIRL!” I want to scream. But usually I don’t say anything because I either don’t want people to feel bad, don’t want to be judged, or have to explain myself. It gets sort of exhausting after a while to try to teach people over and over what you are, especially after living a life where everyone assumed things correctly. People mean well, but it feels sort of alienating to have to explain something so integral about yourself as your gender. No one asks men or women to explain what a man or woman is, or when they knew they were one, but they do with me.
I hate being different sometimes. I hate that people see my body, my face and use it against me—to label me as something I’m trying so hard not to be. No matter how flat my boobs seem to look, people still know I have them and talk about them in a feminine way. No matter how skinny I get, people see me as having hips and an ass that is different from men’s. I can’t see to get away from “woman”…but I don’t want to get rid of parts of my body in order to be seen as something else. I don’t want a penis so I can be “manly”; I want people to see the masculine parts of my personality and know that I can be “manly” as I already am. But looking past the boobs and smooth face requires more work than most people are willing to put in.
So I look in the mirror at my body and feel mixed up. Sometimes I love it as is, other times I wish my boobs weren’t there, or that the curves I was once so proud of would even out… My body now is everything I wanted as a teen: skinny, feminine, mature; but now it doesn’t match how I feel on the inside. Everyone calls it female, making me feel so disconnected and sometimes resentful of it. As someone who has struggled hard to love themselves as they are, this makes me feel even angrier. I want to love my body as it is, but it seems to be the source of almost all of the misgendering that happens to me.
I know in a lot of ways I have it easy. My breasts are easier to bind since they are now smaller, and my skinniness makes guy clothes fit easier (though I definitely do still have trouble finding the right fit). My race also helps, since masculinity is not as hyped up as it seems to be in other races and ethnicities. But even with all this privilege, it will never measure up to the privilege I had as a cisgendered woman.
There’s freedom in being something that society has yet to define, but there’s also loneliness in it. My experience as a genderqueer person is so hard to relate to because I am often the only genderqueer person people have met. I guess that means I can sort of set the tone for what “genderqueer” means in my area…but I don’t want the weight of that burden. I just want to be me…why can’t people see that? Why can’t they see how uncomfortable they are making me when they call me a girl? Why can’t they understand that my gender has nothing to do with theirs, and that my existence isn’t affecting their femininity or masculinity at all? Why can’t people just accept me? Why can’t people just accept me?
For the record: I love women, and I loved being a woman while I felt I was one, but I’m not a woman. I shouldn’t represent women any more, or be asked to speak for them and their current experiences. Yes, I did identify as one and had experiences in that cisgendered phase of my life, but that’s not who I am now. I don’t want to speak for women anymore; I want to speak for genderqueer people…people like me.
Don’t look back.
If I could give myself one piece of advice, that would be it. I would tell myself this, again and again, year after year. I’d whisper it in my ear as I stare out the window, dreaming of my youth. I’d say it and tug on my arm when I look at my brother, remembering how we played together so long ago. I’d scream it to myself when I walk away from my dad, remembering how I’d run up and hug him after he came home from work back in preschool. I’d slap myself in the face and tell myself, “don’t look back” as I cried over the years for so many people….
I guess I’ve always been sort of a nostalgic person. I used to keep journals and scribble my thoughts furiously, telling myself that they’d someday matter. I hang onto pictures, pour through them and will myself to relive the happiness I felt in them. I replay my memories like an annoying film montage that can’t ever seem to pause. The past holds so much knowledge, so many mistakes, and I constantly search through it so that my future may end up differently…or the same.
But I’m trying to stop this. My nostalgia gets me in trouble because it plays on all the softness in my heart. In those moments when I long for the closeness I once felt for my family, guilt, pain, and anger start appearing. When I remember my happy childhood I often feel sad, because it ended too soon. And when I think of the good times, the times I’ll never get back with the people I’ll never get back…well, then I start questioning. Did it have to end up that way? What did I do wrong?
What. Did. I. Do. Wrong.
That used to be the thing I whispered to myself in nights spent alone. Instead of advice, I repeated that question to myself, gradually chipping away at my self-esteem. The depression that kept coming back to me came back through my memories. It attached itself to my past, sucking away all the happiness I once felt and leaving emptiness, leaving blame. If the present sucked, it was my fault. And everyone knows you can’t repeat history. But I tried, anyway.
I went back again and again to the same relationships, the same friendships, because I loved those people and I missed them. But what I loved and missed more were how they once made me feel…whole. Happy. I had so much trouble letting go, because I was always looking over my shoulder, wanting to make the past a reality again.
But things can’t be undone, can they? A fight will always be remembered; the words said can never be unsaid. The carelessness that someone gave toward your heart will always leave behind a new insecurity, just like a love once felt will always leave behind some pain. Even though I would try my hardest to rekindle laughs, wild nights of summer, unhinged passion, and unblemished trust…I failed. Those friendships would fade again when I wasn’t looking, and those relationships withered away in my hands.
So I tell myself, “Don’t look back.”
It’s true, the past will always be a part of the present; I cannot pretend to be indifferent to the things I once held so dear. But the past doesn’t have to remain my vicious cycle of retracing my steps. I can accept my mistakes; I can let go of the rose-colored glasses peering into my recollections. The past was never perfect, just like the present, and I can’t let myself cherry-pick the good times. Life goes on…One happy memory can always be followed by another, and sometimes you find happiness where you don’t expect it to be.
By welding my own destiny, and following the path of the present I can move on. So when I dwell on the dysfunction of my family, I think of how independent it has made me. When I feel the sting of rejection from old friends who have turned into strangers, I remind myself of the new friendships I have created. And yes, even when my stomach drops in disappointment when recalling the relationships that have gone awry…I manage to hold strong, reminding myself why things ended the way they did. Because I find that the older I get, the more I define my experiences, instead of the other way around. If I’m looking back at my past I won’t get to see what’s coming up next. Life moves forward so I look forward…So I can look forward to life.
All my life, I’ve been searching for answers.
Like most little kids, my favorite question was “Why?” I’d ask my mom about everything and anything, wanting to know why people did the things they did, how things worked, and what my mom thought about them.
As a teenager, I explored different experiences to find who I was and who I wasn’t. I tried being the over-achiever, the slacker, the arty kid, the theater kid, the choir kid, the daredevil, the music snob, the loner, and the social butterfly (at least as much as I could manage it).
Now, I’m a young adult. I’ve got an idea of how the world works and who I am. But like most young adults, I’ve struggled with another big question: what do I want in life?
For the past few months, this question has been interrupting my life almost every waking moment. It all started with my ex Jessie telling me that all of his relationships have fallen apart because he’s still in love with me. While this wasn’t exactly a shocking revelation, it still threw me off guard and left me thinking, “What am I supposed to do with this information?” That got me looking at my current relationship with my boyfriend Fred. Would our relationship allow me to pursue my dreams of traveling in the future? Suddenly I wasn’t so sure. And then I started thinking about the other big black hole in my future: my degree and my career. I thought I knew what I wanted, but the hoops I have to jump through to get there sound miserable. So, all day everyday I have been thinking, “What do I do? What do I do? What do I do?”
The more I realized I hadn’t thought things out, the more questions seemed to be hurdled at me: do I want to get a Ph.D? Do I want to be in a relationship with Jessie? Am I willing to give up on travel? What type of job should I pursue if I don’t get my Ph.D? Would I be willing to let Jessie go? Would I be willing to let Fred go? Should I just be on my own? Should I start traveling now? What do I do if I take a year off? How did I not think about all of this before now?
The trouble with happiness (as weird as it sounds) is that you quit questioning things. The way that sadness makes you hyper-analyze your life, happiness makes you under-analyze your life. After all, if you’re happy, why should things change? Isn’t that the goal, to be happy?
When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to change peoples’ lives. Probably not in a fancy way, like being president or discovering a planet, but changing them in a small, meaningful way. That’s why I chose to pursue psychology, so I could help people manage their everyday lives. I also knew I wanted to travel, to see every continent (except maybe Antarctica) and discover how other people live, and how different life could be. I held these two goals close to my heart and promised myself that no matter how far away they seemed, that I would do them because that is just who I am…I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have these goals.
Now, I’m in my early twenties, and I feel as though every decision I make right now will influence whether or not those goals will become accomplished. I’m terrified of waking up in ten years, stuck, and wishing I had done something different. I’m terrified of choosing wrong, and being unable to make it right.
So I had to make a choice. It all happened in one night, when I sat down with my mom and told her everything I had been thinking. I didn’t exactly want her to tell me what I should do, more like her perspective. What did she want when she was my age? Did she get what she wanted? What about the things she didn’t get—does she regret the decisions that stopped her from getting them? What happened? What changed?
Basically, that conversation with her reminded me of every other moment of doubt in my life. Time after time, I’d feel so lost and helpless…and what did I do? I did what I had to. I chose a college, I chose a degree, I chose to drop out, I chose to go to therapy and get medication, I chose to go back to school. I’ve always done what I had to, and when I found myself lost again I made a change. No matter what has happened, when I’ve had no other choice than to trust myself, I’ve ended up happy and content in the end.
So I chose to make it work with my boyfriend, and try to let Jessie go. I chose to pick a career within psychology that would get me a job easily, so I could have the money to go back to school later if I didn’t like it. I chose to make a choice—to suck it up, pick a direction, and trust that I’d take myself where I needed to go.
Weeks later, I’m more or less the same. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to get into grad school, and I’m still working on letting go of Jessie, despite not talking to him for weeks. But I feel better, I feel confident in a weird way. I may still be a little lost, but I know it won’t last forever. Eventually I’ll move on to different problems, circumstances in my life will change, and I’ll still be the one calling the shots. The problems I’m stuck on now will seem smaller; the insecurities I face will have faded. Life goes on.
So maybe down the road I’ll change my grad school plans. Maybe I’ll decide to travel on my own. Maybe it won’t work out with Fred, maybe it will be too late with Jessie. No matter how scary it gets, no matter what happens, it’s going to be okay. I’ve kept myself safe thus far, and I know I’ll do it again.
This weekend I went to Florida to visit my cousin. It was decided about three weeks ago, while I was at work running around and stressed, that I needed a vacation. Amidst all the chaos of the dinner rush, I was worrying about my ex and my feelings and the upcoming school year…just worrying, freaking out, stressing out, and doing it all at the wrong time. Fuck, I thought to myself, this is how I’ve spent my whole summer. Just working at this mediocre job and putting off all the things I’d say I’d do. So instead of working on promises I made to myself like reading a book or trying my hand at painting, I decided to take up my cousin’s offer from March to come visit her in Florida. I texted her right then and there, and we planned my visit for later in the month.
The next morning I woke up and thought, Oh god what did I do? It’s not like my cousin and I were close—there’s almost a ten-year gap in our ages, and the only real time we had spent together was when she helped me get her old college job when I decided to go to the same university she went to. Shortly after that bonding, she packed her bags and moved to Florida, and we hadn’t talked much since. So what was I doing, going to stay with her? What would we do or even talk about? I shook my head and cursed my impulsiveness…this was one plan I couldn’t back out of.
Luckily, I found a cheap round-trip flight that lasted the weekend. I was able to take off work, and my cousin was able to pick me up at the airport. Before I knew it, I was on a plane. Just like my trip to Central America, I had zero expectations and told myself that no matter what I’d make the best of this trip. So that was Friday. And now, in the wee hours of Monday morning, all that is left of my mini vacation is the trip back home.
Surprisingly, this trip has given me a lot of fresh perspective. I thought I’d use this time to think, sort out the jumble of feelings in my head and figure out what I’d like my future to look like, but instead I was a sponge absorbing the life my cousin has built for herself.
To give you some background, my cousin moved to Florida with her boyfriend about two years ago. One year ago, the relationship dissolved and left her in a state where she hardly knew anyone, in a lonely apartment, and in a relationship status she hadn’t been in for ten years. But she stuck around, because she had a good job and a lease to maintain. Basically, she had to rebuild her life and figure out who she was again. (Sound vaguely familiar?)
I’ve come to witness her strength and resilience despite all the crap that she’s been through. It’s pretty inspiring, though she still remains unsure of herself and what her future will be. She still gets lonely and sad about the whole thing, for sure, but she’s also very determined, and it’s damn impressive. On her fridge is a message she wrote to herself about remaining positive…in her apartment is a bunch of decorations she’s recently bought to make the place seem more homey and like hers…all weekend she practiced training with her dog because they are in an obedience class…on her counter is a routine of exercises she’s working on in order to become more fit…in her stories is a new family of friends that she’s grown close to and relies upon—she is moving forward and trying new things, for her. Watching it all in front of me, I wondered, when was the last time I did something I wanted to do for myself, by myself? I never could come up with answer.
On Saturday night we took a walk on the beach. Moonlight guided our bare feet through the sand as we discussed things like traveling abroad and surviving our teen years. I realized that everything I was talking about with her was actually about myself and my own private experiences, and not something I had done or shared with someone else. Her stories were very much the same. It made me feel like my life was my own, like I felt back in high school before I had ever dated or back when I went off to college. Why don’t I feel like this all the time? Just because I’m in a relationship doesn’t mean my life isn’t my own…why does this feel different from my everyday life back at home? Suddenly all the personal baggage I imagined revealing to my cousin didn’t need to be poured out…I didn’t want to confide or be consoled…I wanted to make new experiences, just like my cousin.
From the time I was seventeen, I have hidden myself in the security of relationships for fear of loneliness, depression, and asking myself the big questions: what do I really want? Why am I not doing it? What is holding me back? Subconsciously, this effort to protect myself has been the backbone of almost every problem in the last three years…every moment of uncertainty, of choosing a path, of moving forward has been about protecting my relationship with someone or developing my relationship with someone. And where has it gotten me? Scrambling inside my head, still questioning whether all of my decisions are the right ones. Fuck, I thought, maybe I should just quit the mental dialogue and just do the things I want to do. Sometimes life doesn’t need to have some big fairy tale lesson or conclusion.
Being on your own is harder than relying on a partner during the everyday issues we encounter in life. But on your own, you learn so much more…this weekend I learned that I like eating fruit in the morning and doing puzzles while a movie is on in the background. I learned that I like reading before bed and that snacking on cheese, meat, and crackers with wine is sometimes preferable to eating a regular meal. I learned that I love walking on the beach barefoot at night, and that walking around outside in the afternoon breeze can be just as relaxing as staying indoors. So when I go home later today I’m going to try to take some of this with me. I’m going to make more of an effort to take care of myself, for myself. I don’t want to keep waiting until shit hits the fan—until I’m forced to—to take some time out for the things I want. I’m going to go out and find what I’m looking for…status quo be damned.
One thing I despise about adulthood is that you never really know if you’re doing the “mature” thing to do. No matter how hard I try to grow up, put on my big girl panties, and make the hard decisions, I always seem to second guess myself. Am I really doing the right thing? Is there even a “right thing”?
If you compared my life from back in March to now, it’d seem like I was growing up. Then, I was depressed and isolated, back at home with my parents. I spent my days watching Netflix and avoiding anything remotely stressful, and I had no goals. Now, I’m working full-time, have been accepted into a university for the fall, undergone treatment for my depression, and am working on moving out of my parents’. Suddenly the hours of the day fly by where they once dragged, and I feel the hunger of ambition again. I’m striving to be independent, both financially and personally. I have a life—one with coworkers I can freely chat with, trusted friends both near and far, and a boyfriend who wants us to build a future together. I feel a million times better than I did in March…so why do I still think about my old life?
That part of my life sort of feels like a ghost…most traces of it gone, but leftover feelings that remain. I still wonder about my old friends, but am too afraid to really reach out to them (also, what would I say?). I think about my old university, my old job, my old place. I had a very different life there, with different goals and different dreams…a life full of fear. Mostly I am happy to see it all gone…to let go of feeling lonely, left out, and fundamentally wrong, but it’s the positive feelings that get me all mixed up. The good times I had in that old life follow me around at the heels, begging me to slip into nostalgia. I guess this wouldn’t seem so bad—that it would be a much simpler thing to let go of—if it wasn’t all connected to a person, my ex.
Last fall, Jessie and I practically spent every moment together. We were best friends, lovers, but even more than that…we were each others’ means of surviving the everyday life we dreaded. Me, unhappy and lonely at a place where everyone seemed to thrive, and him, unhappy and restless in a country where he felt disconnected. We kept each other going, and kept each other company in our respective depressions. It sounds pretty twisted, I know, but when I remember it, he was my source of happiness…my everything.
Now, Jessie and I live in separate countries. Our lives don’t intersect at all…heck, we even speak a different language on a day-to-day basis. We have other reasons to be happy, we have separate dreams, separate everything… But for some reason we just couldn’t let go.
Until now, I suppose. About a week ago, our conversations stopped. I quit answering his messages/updates on his life, mostly because I’ve been struggling with what is the mature thing to do. Jessie says he can’t be just friends with me (despite living so far apart) and still keep in contact. So I got upset, had my cry, and just quit processing the whole thing. Since we can’t be platonic friends, I feel like the right thing to do is stop the communication between us, even though it makes me really upset. But the way I see it is if I keep living in the past, I’ll start messing up the present. As much as he may want to, Jessie can’t offer me anything but a “maybe someday in the future…” and I can’t do that anymore. I spent years of my life dragging myself through unhappiness in pursuit of a better future, and now is when I need the happiness. I need to be living, right here and now.
After everything I’ve been through, I feel so proud of myself for making it to this point I’m at now. I have stability and balance in a world that was once upside down…and even though I don’t always feel confident in my maturity, my finances, or my future, I’m confident that eventually this decision will feel okay… Eventually my heart will learn to let go, and be okay with letting go. I can see myself in my future, working hard with my boyfriend to achieve our dreams, and being at peace with the love that Jessie and I lost. In that future, Jessie and I are happy in our separate lives and wishing each other well still, but our hearts don’t ache and our minds are clear…we will have grown up, and realized that everything is as it should be.
I guess the bottom line is: if I spend my whole life second-guessing myself, I won’t ever get the chance to truly live…
Our society has many rules of dating, some of which make sense, and others not so much. For instance, there’s the common rule not to sleep with someone on the first date. Or the rule that says you have to wait a certain amount of days before calling or texting someone who just gave you their phone number. Personally, I think these dating rules are best when they are broken—after all, not every situation is the same and not every person is the same. So why should we all play by the same rules?
While I have broken many of the dating rules out there (starting with my first date, when I didn’t order the lady-like and easy-to-eat salad and instead opted for hot wings, fries, and cheeseburger pizza….also I was wearing old, ratty jeans and a T-shirt that belonged to my brother), one of the big rules I have broken is taking back my boyfriend Fred after he cheated on me. Before I go any further though, I should explain one thing: I have been a cheater myself, and taken back myself. So yes, I know both sides of the experience.
I never thought I would cheat on someone. It seemed like something that was obviously fundamentally wrong, and how could I ever do something like that to someone I cared about/loved? Why not just break up if I wanted someone else? But life happened, and I jumped into a relationship right after ending one that lasted 2 years. I never processed the breakup, and I ended up dealing with those feelings in a really awful way, by cheating with my ex. It was the biggest and worst mistake I’ve ever made, and while I have forgiven myself I will never forget it. Long story short, both the relationship and the cheating blew up in my face and left me miserable and alone. But months later, that same person I cheated on took me back.
I was incredulous that this person would want to be with me again, let alone not hate my guts. After all, I had broken their trust and not owned up to it until much later. I lied again and again…so why take me back? Well, I think it had a lot to do with the fact that in-between these two relationships I found out that I had been cheated on in the 2 years I spent with the very person I cheated with. It was then that I owned up to my own cheating, and realized just how badly I had hurt the person I cheated on. As silly as it sounds, you just can’t realize the pain cheating causes until it happens to you.
So let’s jump forward onto the timeline to this past March, when I officially took back Fred, aka Mr.2 years. After yelling at him again and again, and then not speaking to him, I had realized I still had feelings for him, and he still had feelings for me. So we decided to explore them, and see if we still could get along and function together on the regular. But then we realized we both wanted to make it official—neither one of us wanted to see other people. So we called it a relationship, and here we are months later.
How do I trust him? How do I not worry about repeating the same mistakes? Well, it’s not easy. If I didn’t believe that this person wasn’t worth spending the rest of my life with, I wouldn’t be with him. If he hadn’t changed his behavior and started being honest and open, I wouldn’t be with him. If I hadn’t learned to deal with the insecurity and mistrust the cheating instilled in me, I wouldn’t be with him. A lot of work has gone into repairing the damage, and a lot of serious talks between us had to happen before I felt like we both knew exactly what we were signing up for again. And even now, it is still a process. Honestly is something that has to constantly maintained, and that will never change. We both have promised to keep each other in the loop, to talk about whether or not we are happy, if we are feeling tempted by someone else, or if we are doing something (or in the position to do something) that might upset the other person. He works on not sugar-coating the truth or hiding things, and I work on actually speaking up when I’m upset or feel insecure. By dealing with the hard stuff directly, we are able to have room to truly enjoy the happy, easy things.
All in all, the cheating made our relationship stronger, opened both of our eyes to the ugly parts of each other, and forced us to grow up a bit and realize what we want. But other people don’t always understand that part of the story…when you tell your friends and family that you took back the person who cheated on you, there tends to be some judgement. Luckily, everyone I’ve told has been supportive and happy for me, but I still feel the need to justify my decision when I talk about how my relationship is going.
See, it’s really easy to say, “Don’t ever take back a cheater!” when you’ve never been in the middle of cheating. It’s not as black and white as you would think—yes, it is wrong, no doubt about it. But the person who did it still may be a good person. If I hadn’t cheated myself, I probably couldn’t have forgiven Fred. But after my own experience, while very different, I saw how confusing and trapped someone can feel in that situation. When I cheated, guilt swallowed up my entire life and ended up destroying my relationship. I couldn’t take it back, no matter how much I wished I could, and I couldn’t seem to convey how deeply I loved the person despite cheating on them. But people hated me and judged me for cheating anyway, and while I understood that I wished they realized that I was still the same person, just one that made a very terrible mistake.
So that’s why I’m breaking the rule. Ultimately, I am in charge of my life and my happiness, which I don’t have to explain to anyone. Fred makes me happy, and I make him happy, so we are working hard to make sure that we maintain our relationship and prevent any cheating. The bottom line is: you can’t change the past, but you should give people the opportunity to learn from it. I’m not saying that everyone in every circumstance should take back their ex who cheated, just that people are more than ‘cheaters’ and more than ‘cheated on’. We are human, we make mistakes and hurt others, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change or that we don’t deserve love.