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Auntie SparkNotes: I'm So Confused About My Gender

Auntie SparkNotes: I'm So Confused About My Gender

Kat Rosenfield

Hi Auntie,

I'm a female who identifies as male, and I've been aware of it for a couple years now. I've been accepted by my family, friends, and even my boyfriend. The thing is, I don't know if I really identify as a guy, or if I just like the idea. I'm a fairly feminine person, I like makeup, cooking, "women's" clothes, and generally feminine things. But, I'm also pretty masculine. I want a beard and muscles and all these things that I feel people wouldn't take me seriously if I did them. I've thought about it for years, and my obsession to fully understand my gender has only led me to more confusion.

I've considered just dropping the whole thing and living life as a girl, but I just feel so me when I present myself as male, and when people use the pronouns I like. Even then, I can't tell if I've persuaded myself to believe that I'm a guy, or if I actually am! I've always found the idea of being male so attractive, so me.

Even now I don't present myself as male, because I'm scared that nobody would like me, both romantically and platonically. I don't want to confuse anybody. I just want to be happy. I'm happy as I am now, and it confuses me even more. At the end of the day, my happiness is what comes first, but what do I do if I don't know what will make me happy?

For starters, Sparkler, it might help to stop thinking of your gender identity as a choice—or at least to stop thinking of it as, like, a lifestyle choice, one you make between two equally cool and accessible options that just comes down to deciding which one is more "you." Not just because it isn't (undergoing a gender transition is widely considered to be kind of a big deal), but because the way you're currently framing this issue obviously isn't serving you.

And for what it's worth, based on the current state of Auntie's inbox, I can tell you that you're not alone on that front. There's been such a huge change recently in the way we talk about gender, which has been important and terrific for helping trans kids get the support they need. But it's also created a hell of a lot of pressure on young people at large to stress over an aspect of their identity that would never have been a source of worry otherwise—and to do it in a way that's just not especially healthy or productive.

Which brings us to you, and your letter, which is full of contradictions that speak to exactly that problem. You say that your friends, family, and boyfriend have all been accepting of your identity, and that you feel more like yourself when you present as male; yet in the next breath you claim that you're afraid nobody will like you if you do, and that you're also perfectly happy as a girl anyway. You talk about your "masculine" and "feminine" interests in a way that hews to the most rigid, even sexist, of traditional gender constructs, but you don't seem to see your own biology as relevant to the question at all—and you talk about "doing" a beard and muscles as casually as most people talk about dyeing their hair (you do know that achieving male secondary sexual characteristics would require extreme, expensive, and potentially irreversible medical intervention, right?).

But the one thing you're very clear on is that the years you've spent obsessing over your gender have left you even more confused than you were when you started, which is why I'd like to suggest that you gently extract your eyeballs from your navel and consider trying things the old-fashioned way. I mean, just imagine for a moment that your gender really is as uninteresting and straightforward as a checkmark next to the word "female" on your birth certificate, but that this doesn't bother you, because you contain multitudes, and there's no reason why your gender identity needs to be the framework for exploring them. In fact, imagine that your gender tells you literally nothing about who you are, what will make you happy, or where your ultimate destiny lies.

Where would you go from there? What kind of path would you pursue? Would you feel compelled to alter your body, and if so, why? Does being a woman somehow limit you from living, engaging, relating, and expressing yourself in all the ways you want to? Is a traditionally masculine physique really essential to your happiness, especially considering the physical and financial cost of achieving one?

In short, do you have to be male to have the kind of life that you want? Or could you accomplish that goal by opening your mind and broadening your idea of what it means to be a woman?

For the record, there are people for whom this is a dead-end of a question—people for whom making peace with the bodies nature gave them, and the corresponding gender ID and pronouns, is genuinely impossible. But when you don't seem to be one of them, I have to urge you to stop the exhausting and unproductive process of trying to fix and fix and fix what you aren't even sure is broken. It's not even about gender; it's about breaking free of an emotionally unhealthy pattern and finding a better way forward.

So take a breather; change your perspective; give yourself permission to think about happiness in terms of your tastes and desires and passions and interests, none of which need to be gendered to tell you important things about who you are. Cut your hair and wear what you want, not because it codes as "masculine" or "feminine," but because you like the way it looks, full stop. Go out and engage with the world for awhile. Do it without fretting about which silhouette on the bathroom door most fully encapsulates the innermost intricacies of your you-ness. You can always go back to pondering the fascinating mystery of your gender later on, if you want to. But when you're busy pursuing the things you want rather than spinning your wheels on who you are, you may find that your life is moving forward and blossoming so beautifully that it doesn't seem all that important anymore.

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Topics: Life
Tags: auntie sparknotes, advice, gender, gender identity, trans identity

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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