In case you’ve not experienced it yet, let me just tell you: going to the eye doctor during the time of COVID-19 is pretty weird. Wearing a mask while having your eyes examined and trying to pick out new glasses is pretty weird.
That’s what I did this morning.
Thanks to my dad’s side of the family, I am blind as a bat. I can’t see very well past about two or three feet in front of my face, and every year, my prescription gets a little bit stronger (which was the case yet again today).
Anyone with glasses probably knows the little feeling of excitement you get when you’re able to pick out new glasses. It’s kind of a big deal, you know? It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, anyway, despite how indecisive I can be at times.
While going to the eye doctor can seem trivial or even a dreaded chore to some extent, today’s events triggered something deeper than usual — thoughts and feelings about who I am down to my core and how I identify myself.
When I was younger, I still felt the excitement about new glasses, but I also always felt this internal struggle that I never could seem to resolve. My glasses were always a part of my identity, which made picking just the right frames that much more important. (That’s not so much the case now, because I wear contacts, and I seem to only wear my glasses at home most of the time.)
In those younger years, I’m afraid I spent too much of my time trying to keep myself within the box that the people around me and society overall placed me. I was concerned about staying in line and allowing outside forces to determine who I was. That, of course, played a huge role in the decisions I made about my outward appearance — not only my glasses, but also my clothing, my haircut, my mannerisms, etc.
I was born with a vagina. In puberty, I developed DD-sized breasts.
Because of my biological sex, the world around me expected me to fit inside the “female” label.
And, my Lord, did I try my best to force myself into that box, too.
I kept my hair long, because that’s what was expected of females. I wore make-up, because that’s what was expected of females. I only (officially) dated guys, because that’s what was expected of me. Whenever there was a formal event I needed to attend, I wore feminine clothes, including dresses at times, because that’s what was expected of me. Even when picking out glasses, I would force myself to pick from frames that were considered more appropriate for women to wear, because that’s what was expected of me.
But all of that made me feel downright miserable.
I can’t think of a single time in my life when I actually felt comfortable presenting myself in a strictly feminine way. Even as a small kid, I can remember my mom and grandmas dressing me in girly clothes, even dresses, and it was terribly uncomfortable, sometimes nearly unbearable.
Because I have a vagina, uterus, (diseased) ovaries, and breasts, I was told I had to be a woman, and because of the conservative nature of the family I grew up in, being a woman was the only choice I had.
For years, for most of my life, I worked so hard at being a woman, at being feminine, at presenting myself to the world as a female… but I hated it. And I hated myself. I hated who I was. I hated that, no matter how hard I tried, it never felt right. It was never comfortable. My outward appearance didn’t reflect how I felt inside, but that was mostly because just the idea of presenting myself in any way other than what was expected of me, in any way other then the “female” I was told to be, seemed to be not only wrong but also a little scary.
I’ve never felt feminine. I’ve never felt strictly masculine for that matter, either. My entire life, as far back as I can remember, I have always felt that my gender identity has fallen somewhere in between the two extremes. Some days I would slide along the spectrum, feeling more feminine or more masculine, depending on the day, but no exact label ever seemed to stick to me. And, again, because of the conservative family I grew up in, I felt scared to admit it, out of fear of being seen as “wrong” or “bad” in some way. It never felt safe to express myself in any way other than strictly feminine — that’s what society told me I had to be, so that’s what I was.
I also struggled at the same time with my sexuality. That was another topic it felt like I wasn’t allowed to openly question, despite the things that were going on in both my mind and my heart. Because I was biologically female, with all the female reproductive parts (even though they didn’t function properly), my only choice was to be attracted to, sleep with, and eventually marry men. It was expected of me to find a man, get married, settle down, and have children. That was the only path that was ever presented to me, so when I began to realize that wasn’t the path my heart wanted to (or ever could) follow, I, again, felt like there was something wrong with me.
I was 12 years-old when I started feeling attracted to other people. Yes, I had crushes on boys, I even “dated” boys throughout those early teenage years, but I also began to notice at that exact same time that I was attracted to and had crushes on girls just as much, if not more than, I was attracted to boys.
Those feelings scared me. I never told anyone. And, in the meantime, I spent every hour of every day beating myself up for having those “unacceptable” feelings. Because of the way I was raised, I didn’t even fully understand what being gay or queer meant, but I did know the people around me thought that being attracted to people of the same biological sex was bad. It wound up leading to a lot of confusion and frustration and even self-hatred.
Just as I worked so hard to present myself in the expected feminine appearance, I also worked hard for years to try and force myself to be straight. I only ever talked about liking boys. I only ever dated boys. I worked hard to make sure everyone around me believed I was straight, because I hoped I would eventually convince myself that I was straight and no longer feel attracted to girls.
No surprise, it didn’t work.
I have struggled with severe mental illnesses since I was about 12 — about the same time I was starting to go through puberty and began feeling attracted to other human beings. I have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder, multiple anxiety and panic disorders, as well as other mental illnesses I still don’t feel comfortable naming. I spent the majority of my life in extremely dark places, which eventually led to urges to harm myself and commit suicide, as well multiple stays in psychiatric units in order to keep me safe.
I bounced around between a few different counselors, but they all acted like there was no hope for me. They seemed to treat me as a lost cause. (Which doesn’t help with the suicidal feelings.) One counselor even went so far as to say “maybe you’re just an Eeyore personality and need to accept that you’ll always be sad and depressed.”
It wasn’t until I was 20 that I found a counselor that actually committed to sticking with me and helping me, and 11 years later, I still speak with him every week. He believed in me. He believed that I could do the work necessary to create a better, happier life for myself.
Turns out, he was right. I also know I never would have seen that if he hadn’t stayed so committed to helping me.
It was throughout my years in counseling that I worked through my emotions, my thoughts, and even my identity. It was through counseling that I finally began to let myself step outside of the box I had forced myself to stay in and really examine who I truly was. It was through becoming comfortable in my own skin that I finally admitted to myself what I’m fairly certain I’ve known all along: I am neither a woman, not am I straight. Through the building of my self-esteem and self-confidence, I began to feel more comfortable in becoming my true self, without worrying about what other people or society as a whole thinks of me.
I also benefitted greatly from my time in college and the people I got to know while there. They too helped me understand that I could be myself and stop worrying about what was “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad.” Being in college helped me broaden my horizons and see that the world is made up of all kinds of different people — gay, straight, transgender, non-binary, white, black, brown, religious, atheist, etc. — and that it’s our differences that help make the world so interesting.
It took a long time to get here, but I can now say, without hesitation or fear, that I am both genderqueer and bisexual.
Being able to say that so freely brings me an indescribable amount of happiness and comfort.
I finally realized that I don’t have to force myself to fit into one box or another. I don’t have to label myself with either of the two genders society has traditionally considered acceptable. I don’t have to be a woman just because I have a vagina. I don’t have to go to the other extreme and become a man, either. This middle space that allows me to slide along the gender spectrum is exactly where I belong. This is where I’m most comfortable. And that’s okay. No matter what others may say or think, there is nothing wrong with me taking up this middle space and claiming it as my own.
I’ve stopped forcing myself to dress in ways that make me appear to be feminine. I wear whatever feels comfortable on any given day.
I cut off my long hair, and the majority of my head is now shaved.
I’ve stopped making myself put on make-up when I leave the house, but I also allow myself to wear make-up on the days it feels good.
I openly talk about my attraction to both men and women now.
I finally reached a spot where I feel comfortable in my own skin, and I have never felt more free or happy with the person I’ve become.
When picking out glasses today, I remembered the young person I used to be, the one that would have feigned interest in more feminine frames, which I would use to try to convince the world and myself that I was a woman. I remembered the pressure I once felt to “fit in” and present myself in a way that was socially “acceptable,” out of fear of what others might think of or say about me. I remembered trying to force myself into that small box even with something as seemingly small as picking out glasses.
And I felt sorry for that younger version of myself. I felt sad for them.
Then I went to work, picking out a pair of frames that I felt most comfortable in, paying zero attention to whether the frames were considered feminine or masculine, and I felt an amazing sense of freedom. In the end, I picked out a rather gender-less pair of frames, something I knew I would feel comfortable wearing, no matter where I might happen to fall along the gender spectrum on any given day.
We each get one shot at this whole life thing. In the end, the boxes we force ourselves to fit into and the labels we apply to ourselves won’t matter, so why put so much time and energy into fitting into places other people want you to be? Why not instead spend that time and energy finding a place in this world that feels right and comfortable for you?
Some day, when I’m lying on my death bed, I want to be rest assured that I did everything within my power to live as my own, genuinely, authentic self. I want to know that I allowed myself the freedom and the space to live in ways that made me feel comfortable, content, and even happy.
No matter our gender identity or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or skin color, we all return to the earth in the end. What matters is what we do and who we allow ourselves to be along the way.
Every day, I find an opportunity to choose to be my most authentic self. It’s always a choice.
And I’m going to choose to be unapologetically me.