Biologically, I was born female.
My brain doesn’t agree. Never has.
My brain doesn’t see myself, my identity, my person, anyone else, or even the rest of the world through a gender-based lens.
As a child, this wasn’t particularly problematic. My mother’s parenting style was pretty progressive; she never went in for the “blue for boys and pink for girls” thing, nor did she try to influence which toys we played with according to gender; i.e., she didn’t try to push “girly” toys on us like Barbie or other dolls, nor did she try to dissuade us from playing with more “boyish” toys like remote-controlled cars. She didn’t even raise an eyebrow when my sister and I liked “He-Man” and “GI Joe” cartoons better than “My Little Pony” cartoons.
Sure, we had My Little Pony. And Strawberry Shortcake. And Care Bears. And, for a short-lived blink in the timeline, Barbie. But we also had Legos. And Construx (image below). And remote-controlled cars. Our playroom was an equal-opportunity, gender-free zone. We were comfortable, peaceful.
Then, the world caved in.
I hit puberty.
I was nine. Yes, nine. And in 1987, that was considered very early/young.
I noticed breast growth first, followed quickly by new hair growth in specific places.
I was not at all happy with this. It was taking place against my will.
I asked my mom, “why is this even happening?”
To which she explained that nature is preparing our bodies for adulthood and the possibility of having babies.
I wrinkled my nose. Babies?? What the hell? I didn’t want babies. I didn’t like babies. I certainly wasn’t going to have any of my own (a sentiment that has not changed in 30 years, interestingly enough).
But nature assumed I was going to, and it was preparing me for that task.
But nature had never consulted me for my opinion.
Nature simply said, “it’s time!” and outright hijacked my body.
I felt a sense of violation.
My mom also gave me another heads-up: changes would be occurring not only in my body (which was becoming obvious), but also in my brain.
My brain…nature is now going to hijack my brain. And what were these things called “hormones”, anyway? Hormones quickly became Enemy No. 1. Hormones suck.
Despite the fact that this occurred over a two-year period starting 30 years ago, I still remember certain aspects quite well. I remember becoming stormy and unpredictable. I remember getting angry fairly easily. I remember having outbursts and run-ins with family members or friends that I hadn’t had before.
And then, when I was ten, I noticed a clear fluid emanating from…down there. It would be there for a few days, and then it would go away for a while.
And then, came the grand finale…
One day, I came home from school (Grade 5, age 11) and noticed…a different fluid. This one was red. No one else was home, so I was left to process my anguish on my own, during which I attempted to “keep it cerebral”. I made a mental bulleted list.
I came up with three possibilities:
- I tore my insides (hymen) in gym class
- I was getting my first female monthly cycle
- I was dying
I figured that it was one of the first two, because there was no pain. I prayed for the first option. I was really—vehemently—not ready for the second.
When my mom came home, I blubbered to her the situation, a verbal waterfall. My mom knew instantly, and she smiled and exclaimed, “you’re a woman now!”
Dude–I was fucking eleven. The last thing I felt like–and wanted to be–was a woman. No way, no how.
A few minutes later, with a newly-materialized absorbent pad in place, I sat with my legs tucked under me on the family room floor and sulked. I felt humiliated (not by my mom–she was very supportive–just humiliated in general, by nature). I felt like I had regressed back into diapers again. After all, that’s what this absorbent-thing felt like: a damn diaper.
Puberty was over. (A biological female’s first cycle signals the official end of puberty.)
But my war had just begun.
I went through such a growth spurt that I have stretch marks on my hips, despite the fact that I have never been pregnant. My monthly cycles, starting with my second one ever, became so intense that I was essentially debilitated for a day or two. Between the intense pain and cramping, fatigue, cold sweats (too hot and then too cold, and sometimes both at the same time), and occasionally, nausea (sometimes with emesis), I desperately wanted to be knocked unconscious for a few days a month.
I hated being female. Period. I saw nothing redeeming about it, as applicable to my life. It’s fine for “other people”, but it didn’t fit me. It went against everything I felt and everything I was.
But it didn’t stop there. For about five more years, I went through a real “voice change”, too. Oh yes–at the most inopportune times, perfectly timed for maximum embarrassment, my voice would suddenly crack. Completely out of my control. And always when there were either 1) a lot of people around, or 2) someone that I looked up to within earshot.
Not something you want to have happen to you when you’re trying not to attract attention to yourself, when you’re more-than-satisfied with remaining in the background, as a non-descriptive part of the incidental landscape.
Ugh, more hormones.
Except that I think I got a healthy (over?)dose of both(?) Biologically, I know that I have a lot of estrogen; lab tests have measured abnormally high levels, even when measured using the female reference ranges (i.e., the “normal” range).
But my brain is very gender-neutral, encompassing characteristics of both (or neither) gender.
I felt like a sea of chaos, never fitting into either gender completely, never feeling comfortable with either gender within myself.
I have since learned a few things. Things like…
- It’s not imperative that a female wears makeup.
- You don’t have to wear a skirt or dress–ever.
- You don’t have to partake in traditionally “girly” activities like gossip and shopping.
- You don’t have to get your hair styled all the time.
- It’s not “weird” not to have or want children.
- It’s even OK to do traditionally “guy” things like drive a pickup truck or wear jeans.
- You don’t have to watch soap operas or keep a perfect house.
(Please forgive me for the stereotypical nature of the list above; I grew up in decades past, where these were actually considered against-the-grain.)
I have made a few female friends who have unwittingly provided me with “livable” examples on how to be female in a way that’s comfortable to me, without developing a hatred of life.
These females wear comfortable cargo pants, and shirts from the 1970s. One is a ham radio operator, like me. She also drives a big four-door pickup truck. She’s into biology, botany, and foreign languages. Another cusses a lot and tells it like it is, and we have a lot of fun.
We go bowling. We go on day-long road trips. We gab on the radio about weather or what’s good to plant at this time of the growing season. We crank the music. We learn from each other. We don’t have to impress each other.
I’ve learned that even as a female, I can be brainy, nerdy, technical/technological, assertive, ballsy, logical, quirky, no-nonsense, and common-sense. I can wear long-sleeved Wrangler shirts and sport a wash-‘n’-wear ponytail that hangs loose, low, and most importantly, out of my way. I’ve found gender-neutral clothing and gender-neutral activities. (Three cheers for a progressive mom who got us Legos when we were kids.) (Again, please forgive me–these are all semi-major revelations that are kind of a big deal for me, given the 1970s-80s-90s mid-American environment I grew up in.)
I think I’ve come into my own as a biological female because not only do I have friends that love me for who I am and support me in everything I do, but I’ve also come to realize that I am indeed “nonbinary”, meaning that I don’t identify with all the stereotypical traits of my gender, and since discovering that, I’ve been much more comfortable with my accompanying side-dish of testosterone.
It’s tough feeling like you’re breaking your own ground to pave your own (new) road, but once I got things figured out for myself, I feel a lot better now. I’m definitely happy being a girl. I’ve just decided I’m going to do it in my (own) way.
For more information on gender nonbinarism, see Nonbinary.org (link to main site).
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)