Learning to love my reflection: A personal essay

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I’m not coming out because I feel I owe it to the world to be honest about myself. I started coming out because I decided the world owed it to me to let me live in a way that I could be more honest with myself. I was tired of feeling like a coward.

That said, I know there are many people who cannot come out for safety reasons. I will probably not be out to some of my extended family for years until I’m independent enough that I can avoid them if need be. Oftentimes staying in the closet is a matter of safety and security, and that, while tragic, is the world we live in.

I wasn’t in the closet to everyone else for safety reasons, though. I was in the closet because I didn’t realize I was. I was miserable for years, and I didn’t know why.

When you hear stories about being transgender, many of them are from people who knew they were trans, nonbinary or otherwise genderqueer from a young age. Many trans people will share stories of terrible dysphoria as well. But for some people, like me, the signs are much less obvious. Sure, I didn’t like being called a girl or acting particularly “girly” from a young age, but I just chalked that up to internalized misogyny and not being particularly feminine. There were signs my whole life, but I explained them all away, convincing myself that if I just ignored them, they would go away. It didn’t matter what my gender was, that wouldn’t change who I was as a person. And if I presented myself in a less gender-conforming way, I could change people’s perceptions of me without having to admit to or explain anything.

I wasn’t in the closet to everyone else for safety reasons, though. I was in the closet because I didn’t realize I was.

Gender is exhausting. Most of the time, I don’t even want to think about my gender. Let people think what they want. But sometimes, it makes me want to scream.

Gender is a performance. Some days, I dress in clothes that present more feminine than usual. Often, those are the days that I feel pretty solidly like a guy. Other days, I just slouch into a hoodie and hope nobody asks my pronouns.

Gender is a scam, and I hate it. Gender is a social construct, but like race, it’s a social construction with material implications. I hate that I care what my gender is, and I hate having to come out and explain myself if I want someone to understand my gender. I hate that I misgender myself all the time because I think it will avoid making others uncomfortable.

There was a period of several years when I was in middle school where I avoided mirrors. I realized that the way I thought of myself was very different than the image I saw in the mirror, and I hated it. I didn’t think into why I hated it, but every time I glanced into a mirror, my gut reaction was: That’s not me. That’s not me. That’s not me.

It’s so easy to just accept what you’re told. To not question, to not dig deeper. To brush off the mirror thing as body image issues, to put down never growing out of my T-shirts-and-sweaters phase as just not caring about how I looked and to ignore the thrill I felt every time someone mistook me for a boy.

Because gender can be euphoric, too. There’s a feeling of overwhelming joy and relief that I get every time I think I’m presenting in a way that matches my gender.

Because gender can be euphoric, too. There’s a feeling of overwhelming joy and relief that I get every time I think I’m presenting in a way that matches my gender. It’s a feeling of freedom, of being seen, of being understood.

This semester, I finally understood that. It didn’t start with telling other people how I wanted to be seen, though. It began by looking in a mirror, seeing myself and coming to terms with who the person looking back at me was.

I don’t hate my body. I do not feel that I was born with a body that doesn’t match my gender, but that society tried to fit me into a gender that didn’t match me. I tried to map my expectations of gender onto my perception of my body for so long that it was poisoning the way I viewed myself.

When I admitted to myself for the first time that I was genderfluid, I broke down in tears. I was relieved, I was terrified and I was sad for all the time I lost hating myself. I may be frustrated by my gender at times, but I will never regret accepting it. I’m lucky — I don’t have severe dysphoria like some other people I know, and I don’t have to worry about my immediate family rejecting me for coming out. For me, the biggest barrier to coming out was my own struggles with self-acceptance. Although it can be annoying explaining myself or parsing how I need to present myself for the day, it’s a small price to pay to love myself more fully.

Coming out is a process. I started telling people that I use they/them pronouns even though I don’t actually like them that much. At least they feel like they fit better than she/her most days, and I don’t have to explain or justify my pronouns changing on a regular basis. I also haven’t come out to at least one of the most important people in my life yet because I’m not ready to lose them.

I’m not finished, but I’ve started the process. I’m coming out, and in doing so, I’m learning to love myself. I’m coming out, step by step, and I’m never going back.

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Contact Saya Abney at [email protected].