One of the most commonly repeated phrases / acknowledgments / pieces of advice / soundbites of justification that we hear as transgender people is “Be Yourself.” As I’ve transitioned, I’ve uttered these words in a meager attempt at explaining the hugely positive impact this gender journey has had on my life:
– I am my authentic self
– I feel more comfortable
– I can finally just be myself
But how do you know who “Yourself” is when that is exactly what you’re searching for?
What is authentic?
For many, “being ourselves” is something we’ve never truly experienced, least not before transition. We often report feeling as if we’ve been wearing masks our entire lives, pretending to be someone we are not.
It is clear who we are not, but do we know what lies beneath the mask? Who would we be if we were to stop pretending?
We’ve never had a chance to fully embody that unmasked individual save for fleeting glimpses, few and far between, sometimes only in our thoughts, or in little moments, mere minutes snuck into a lifetime of purposeful stifling.
Perhaps in our childhood we were too oblivious to notice gender. Or at least there were enough of those moments where it didn’t loom over us, take over our lives, and we were just “ourselves” most of the time. It wasn’t until we learned the word to describe this inner conflict that we became aware the conflict existed at all. We started questioning why we partook in certain activities, why we enjoyed what we did, whether it was appropriate to enjoy it in the first place. Our self was turned upside down in an instant, transformed into a series of questions with no answers.
When considering what the next best step is for us – whether it will bring us closer to
authenticity – it’s difficult to place our future selves in what has been, until now, essentially an imaginary state.
Authentic is: genuine, real, legitimate, valid.
Being authentic for me has been a struggle that’s not only about gender. If I wear the same clothes that everyone else is wearing, am I being authentic? If I stop trying to explain everything rationally, am I staying true to the core of my being?
Whenever I stop acting, whenever I stop thinking about doing something and just do, when I don’t even realize I’ve stopped thinking about it, that’s when I know I’m being authentic. Of course, I only acknowledge this in retrospect, because hopefully I’ve been so caught up in the moment that I forgot to check in with my authenticity.
What is comfortable?
A question as simple as “what’s your name?” shouldn’t stir up a storm inside every time it’s asked. Something as basic as peeing in public shouldn’t be extreme anxiety-inducing. Gender is not something you should feel, grating at your insides, every waking moment. Gender should be like the air you breathe: essential, yet unnoticed the majority of the time.
As I transitioned, I eventually started feeling comfortable in myself. Or rather, I stopped feeling so uncomfortable and upset and frustrated with my body and the way people interacted with me. Instead, I found relief when I looked in the mirror, pride in how I was seen by other people, ease in how I was addressed, satisfaction in what I thought of myself. This did not happen overnight, but every day I’d feel a little less worse, until I began to feel a little bit better. Suddenly I looked back and realized I was feeling a whole lot better than I ever thought I could.
Feeling comfortable is forgetting the frustration ever even existed. I have to actively sift through my memories to recall a time when I did not feel at ease. This is not to say my life, my body, my mind are all perfect; but instead of constantly grasping for that evaporating illusion of who I could be, it’s the ever-present frustrated state that has floated away into the clouds.
How can I be myself?
Is my “true self” something I’m born with, or is it who I choose to become? Should I focus on deep introspection, or should I attempt to construct the best person I can given my circumstances? Is it Nature, or is it Nurture? We’re surrounded by fake binaries… This is the quintessential human lifelong quest, and it’s not restricted to gender.
Being myself has been releasing my mind from hyperawareness, from excessive meta-analysis, escaping the persistent fight or flight potential beneath every interaction. It’s a move towards an effortless ease in my gender, in my personality, in everyday moments, allowing me to forget I exist and to enjoy what is happening in front of me.
I don’t have any magical answers. Do a lot of research. Mix in some careful deliberation. Follow your gut. Trust that the decision you make right now is the best decision for who your self is in this current slice of time and space. Don’t be afraid of the decisions you’ll make in the future; they might sound like awful choices today, but tomorrow you’ll have found enough reasons to have taken that path. And just be yourself, whoever that may be at any given moment.