#1296: “Gender may be made up but it’s still messing with me”

Hello there!

I am a 42 yo person (she/her/hers) who figured out I was bisexual at 40 and now realizes that ‘woman’ may not be entirely accurate. The bisexual part was more of a ‘duh’ moment than anything, and looking back on my life I can see where it was always there, I just didn’t connect the dots. As for gender… I’m not sure I even have the language to articulate my floundering. I am a woman, but also someone else I think.

I don’t mind the word ‘woman’ but dislike the use of ‘ladies’ for groups of women I am part of. I am not ‘he’, but ‘they’ doesn’t feel right either. When I dream about sex, I am never a woman. Not even if “I” am one of the participants (often a very strange experience). I like my curves and low-cut tops and flirting and feeling desired as a woman. I am often surprised when someone uses ‘she’ when talking about me.

I guess my question is this: how do I untangle my thoughts about my own gender and whether I want to change how I interact with the world w/r/t my gender/gender presentation VS how much our society has imposed rules and consequences for being a woman that I have always pushed back on as ‘not me’ and sexist? Or is that division irrelevant because we live in a society and gender is a social construct so therefore cannot be teased apart.

I keep turning thoughts over in my mind. I try to shrug and put it aside and let it marinate with the hope that as time passes I will gain insight. So far that has just gotten me more confusion and more feelings that this is important for me to dig into, and no we won’t be letting it go anytime soon. I had a wonderful therapist that I was building up the courage to talk to about this but she passed away 6 weeks ago. I am trying to find a new therapist but my midwest town only has so many therapists who are safe for queer folks, which means waiting lists.

Besides therapy, where do I go from here? How do I find my people when I lack the words?

Thank you,
– It’s clear that it matters, but I don’t know who I am

Hi Love!

Rae here. Thank you so much for writing in and asking this question. This is a question/concern that I hear all the time. In fact, I’ve already gotten it multiple times on this site.

Captain Awkward wrote a great response to another reader struggling with a similar question that has some great reflection questions here: https://captainawkward.com/2012/07/07/291-how-do-i-know-if-im-trans/

If being curious about your gender identity is important enough for you to write in this question, it seems clear to me that it is worth your time to explore. You deserve to be your most authentic, biggest, most-lit up of version of yourself in the world.

But maybe there is a way to explore it that doesn’t leave you feeling super confused and floundering.

I hear you when you say that “woman” and “she” don’t feel like they fully articulate who you are. And that “man” and “he” or “they” don’t feel like they fully fit either.

I want to name that language is both dynamic and limited. It is ever expanding and evolving and also woefully inadequate to fully express all of who we are. And that’s not on you.

How do you create language for a concept like gender, which is like the universe in the sense that it is incomprehensibly large, full of beautiful mystery, and ever-expanding?

All that to say, it’s ok and normal if you don’t feel like you have words to describe your gender identity fully right now and haven’t found pronouns that feel exactly right. Maybe we will come up with a term and a pronoun perfectly aligned for you. Maybe we won’t. Either way, your gender identity is entirely valid.

And maybe, just maybe, not having exact language right now doesn’t mean you are floundering. Maybe it means that you are expanding and are an explorer in the galaxy that is gender.

Is it possible to feel a sense of ease and peace in knowing that your gender is bigger than the words we currently have to describe it?

I also hear you mushing up gender identity and gender expression a bit when you talk about liking low cut tops and curves. Feeling like the label of “woman” doesn’t fully fit you doesn’t mean anything about how you choose to express that fact, including expressing what society typically calls “femininity.” There are lots of folks, including non-binary, cisgender, and trans folks, who enjoy expressing more feminine aspects of themselves. You have complete agency over how you choose to express your gender and, if you like those aspects of yourself that feel more feminine, then lean into that!

Which brings me to my other point: You might be thinking too hard.

You are absolutely right that society has imposed rules and consequences for being a woman that are complete patriarchal misogynistic nonsense. Good on you for questioning that and pushing back on it. We know that so much of gender is culturally constructed and it is good to critique and question and pull that apart.

And….

This feels like the difference to me of being queer and studying Queer Theory. It is good and important to have a basis of understanding of the philosophical tenets of Queer Theory. It informs much of who I am to know that society constructs boxes to put people in and I am working to dismantle those boxes and create more freedom. And also, my daily life as a queer and non-binary person doesn’t often involve actively thinking about how something I’m doing is related to the tenets of Queer Theory and if I happen to be fitting into one box or another at that particular moment. I just…am. I’m just living as my queerest self without thinking too hard about it.

That’s where the freedom is. And I want to invite you into the freedom of “just being” and following what makes you feel good and the most like yourself without over-analyzing it.

I like to ask my clients to start with this question: What do you know for sure?

It sounds like you know:

  • The term woman doesn’t fit
  • The term man doesn’t fit
  • The pronoun “she” is surprising to you when someone uses it and doesn’t feel right
  • The pronouns “he” or “they” don’t fully feel like they fit either
  • You like low cut tops
  • You like your curves
  • You like flirting and being desired “as a woman.” Though I am curious about why it feels like you are flirting and being desired as a woman specifically. In my view, you’re simply flirting and being desired as you, not as any particular gender.

What if you just started there and built on it?

There’s no perfect solution here and no right answer. And exploring does not mean you’re confused.

You don’t have to hate your body or any pieces of how you express yourself now to start exploring and expanding to other things that also make you feel good. Maybe it’s not so much changing who are and how you express yourself as leaning into who you are more intentionally.

In the other article linked above, Captain Awkward talks about a key tenet of my work as well: Play

Start playing with various aspects of your identity and expression and take note of what lights you up and where you feel a sense of gender euphoria. Then lean into those things and build on them.

I think you’ll find that taking the pressure off to find “the answer” breathes a lot more life and joy into the very human process of simply evolving.

On pronouns, one way I’ve had clients work with not having a singular pronoun that feels 100% right is to ask friends and family to rotate pronouns-using he, she, they, or others interchangeably. Another option is to ask folks to use just your name as much as possible in lieu of pronouns.

Also, I’m sorry to hear about your therapist. That really sucks and I can imagine what a big loss that is for you. Finding a good therapist and building a trusting relationship can take a lot of time and starting that process all over again likely feels a little daunting.

Here are some practical tips on finding the support you’re looking for:

Facebook Groups: There are LOTS of Facebook groups for trans/non-binary/questioning folks that you can find with a quick search. These groups can provide some free support and the opportunity to build meaningful connections with other folks who are also questioning and exploring their gender. Here is one that I happen to run: https://www.facebook.com/groups/practicalaudacity/

Coaching: One quick and easy way to get support is through GenderFck: The Club, which is my online group coaching community for transgender/non-binary/questioning folks who want to explore their gender with less suffering and more ease. It includes a 10-week course with a deep dive into exactly how I’ve walked dozens of folks through exploring their gender from a place of self-growth and curiosity. If you want an immediate community of (I have to say) pretty fucking incredible humans who are super supportive of your journey and doing the work themselves, this might be the place for you. I think you’ll find that not having the exact words to fully describe your identity is a more common experience than you think.

Therapy: It’s true that finding a good and affirming therapist in the Midwest (Or any rural area) is challenging. However, it’s not impossible. Google is your friend here. Often, a search for “trans queer affirming therapists near me” will get you to some sites where affirming care is mentioned and also trigger ads related to gender-affirming care from clinicians who care enough to run ads about providing gender-affirming care.

You can also check out a database like Psychology today that has specific searches for therapists who are queer and trans affirming. Another database to check out is AASECT, which is the governing organization for certified sex therapists. AASECT certification requires that clinicians have at least some training in LGBTQ-Affirming care. The databases aren’t perfect, so do your own research on the therapists, but its a good place to start.

Also, as I’m writing this, we are currently still in pandemic-times with most (ethical) therapists seeing clients remotely and Telehealth is still being covered by insurance in most cases. That means that you might be able to find a therapist in your state, but outside your geographic area, that could see you virtually.

PS-I think you’re magic. Don’t forget it.

Rae McDaniel, MEd, LCPC, CST (They/Them) is a Gender and Certified Sex Therapist who works with folks feeling anxious and lost about a transition they’re experiencing in sex, gender, sexual identity, or relationships. Find them at www.practicalaudacity.com and
www.genderfck.club.