A few years ago, I was going through a bit of an identity crisis. Well, actually, it was rather more than a bit of one — growing up in a society as deeply entrenched in a gender binary system as the U.S. is can turn questioning one’s gender into a really complicated mess.
I kept trying to figure things out in my head — my mind hadn’t failed me before. I’m a philosophy major! Thinking is what I do! I kept thinking that if I just worked at it hard enough, I could theorize my way to an identity, decide — based purely on my mental skills — how I identified and how I wanted to live my life. It wasn’t going so well. Some things are not purely theoretical, and gender is one of them. Still, I kept at it, not willing to accept that there wasn’t some conclusion to reach if I could only find the right argument, the right chain of logic.
I don’t want to think about how long I would have been stuck inside my head if I’d be dealing with everything on my own. As it was, I wasn’t alone. A friend suggested that I get out of my head and actually live it for a while — if I didn’t know what was right for myself, through experimenting, I could see what felt righter and wronger as I went. And so I did.
It wasn’t easy. Real life is scarier and harder than theory. It’s messier and more complicated and far more imprecise. And yet, it was the right thing to do. Knowing is different from thinking, and there are a number of realizations I think I could only have reached from living out my life, not just thinking about it.
I hear people call me different names; I hear people use varying pronouns for me; I dress in different clothes — and through of this, I learn what feels righter and wronger. All the thinking I could possibly have done about how I want to present myself pales in comparison with actually putting on different clothes and going out in public (or, alternately, realizing that I can’t leave my room wearing it). Thinking about which pronoun would be a logical choice doesn’t help me in the way that experience does: when I heard myself referred to with gender-neutral pronouns at GQC, I knew that feminine pronouns didn’t work, and when people at TJLP use masculine pronouns for me, it feels good. The more time goes, the more right it feels.
As a philosophy major, it’s been a bit of shock to realize that I can’t do everything with reading books and theorizing. After I came out as trans, I spent most of my time (related to figuring things out gender identity-type things) reading trans and genderqueer books and thinking about how it applied to my life and what I thought about my own identity. I experimented with clothing a little, but most of what I did was theoretical.
Since moving to Chicago, however, I’ve finally graduated to living my gender and not just thinking about it. And it makes such a difference. Slowly, I’ve been figuring out what feels right to me and creating my own path.