My word of the year is forgiveness, with an emphasis on forgiveness for myself. Forgiveness for my past actions, for how I used to speak to myself, and for how I used to treat my body. Forgiveness for spending the past year confusing body dysphoria with gender dysphoria.
When I was outed, the LGBTQ+ world was new to me. I was just beginning to learn about umbrella terms for how folx in my community defined themselves. I turned to subreddits the most to educate myself. I joined subreddits if I had the slightest inkling that I could relate. I sometimes posted stupid questions under my anonymous account and then ashamedly deleted the posts if I was wrong, leaving the community with no trail. In real life, I met more and more nonbinary folx, and I convinced myself that I was enby, too. I identified as genderqueer because it felt the safest; the term can literally mean someone who is questioning their gender. I tried using they/them pronouns, but eventually, I was starting to feel alien. I was feeling like a poser, although LGBTQ+ folx have taught me not to be ashamed. It’s okay to change your name or your labels a million times over, because we are all doing the work to evolve into the most authentic expressions of ourselves.
After unpacking the fact that I was conflating my sexuality and my gender, I recognized that my confusion about my identity came from feeling like I didn’t have the face to match the body. In middle school, I was horrified when my crush told me that I looked like a mouse. My bully told me that I needed to wear makeup in order for him to like me. My mom has told me even into adulthood that I look better with makeup. My first boyfriend’s sister called me a trans slur behind my back. I was getting all of these messages that I had a masculine-looking face, and I was believing them. I still struggle with feeling like I should wear makeup when I am pursuing men, even though almost all of the men that I’ve dated have told me they prefer me without it.
On top of feeling like I didn’t have a feminine enough face, I developed an hourglass shape. I got little to no attention until college, and I found it disturbing when people suddenly found me physically attractive. Even though I’ve always had the power to choose who has access to my body, I would let catcalls and unwanted advances get to me. Since I didn’t love myself, I began to assume that people only wanted me for my body. And I learned to use it to my advantage. Finding sexual partners wasn’t a tough conquest. I sent nudes. I had an anonymous NSFW Tumblr where I posted black and white photos of me in my lingerie from the neck down. At times, knowing that my body turned people on thrilled me.
My body dysphoria wasn’t triggered until a sexual partner of mine made comments about the size of my body. It reawakened insecurities that I hadn’t had since middle school. I started to feel like I didn’t want any attention drawn to my feminine figure at all. I relished in being flat chested. I tried wearing dresses but had to quickly change out of them. I didn’t want to wear dresses and skirts above the knee because I didn’t want anyone to look up my skirt.
When I dated a woman for the first time last year, I thought that being in a lesbian relationship would protect me from unwanted male attention. Even though I wear a gender neutral uniform, there were times when I almost called out of work because I couldn’t fathom receiving more of the unwanted attention from regular male customers and I wanted to hide my body. Towards the end of my relationship, I was considering switching my pronouns to she/they. It wasn’t until that relationship ended and I returned to Self that I started seeing myself as an independent woman again. I recognized that I was very much attracted to men and other queer folx, but I no longer felt like I was genderqueer. Since I had just started to reframe my pronouns before this realization, it took me a little bit to retrain my brain when people addressed me as female.
I feel like confounding gender and sexuality in the early stages of queerness happens more frequently than not, and I hope that more people own up to it. Today, I can say that I’m proud to be a woman, and I’m learning to love my body through self-expression again. I still prefer crew and high necklines, but I feel comfortable in a crop top. Sometimes, I wear my shirt tucked in and I wear a belt when it’s not necessary because I want to show off my hips. I feel just as comfortable in trunks as I do in bikini cut underwear. I desire to model half naked. My relationship to this vessel is an ongoing practice. My body is precious, and what matters the most is how I feel about it.