“We all hold a book of life full of many chapters, some filled in with crayons and pencils already, and some still blank. Some of our chapters intertwine with each other and are written similarly in another story. Neither is wrong, but different, personal, and only fit for their story. This is my chapter on gender identity and my conflict with femininity.
To give you a starting point, I’m a 19-year-old, puzzle-loving, pastry student who has too many unread books and half-finished paintings. I was born female and identify as a trans man. I’ve spoken this label into acceptance this year, held it like a cracked egg in my brain for 2 years, questioned what it was for 4, and stigmatized femininity for 19. Okay, maybe not the whole 19 years, but I’d say a solid 14 at least. For those who don’t know, being transgender/transsexual means identifying as a gender that does not align with your biological sex.
Remembering how I felt as a child in social situations versus around my brothers makes a whole lot of sense. I can’t say I’ve known I was trans my whole life like some people, but I can say I’ve always felt a sort of dissociation when it came to myself. The best way to describe it is like watching a Sims character of yourself go through life. You know that body is meant to be you, you gave it your name, your style, your quiet personality, your love of music. You gave it your skin color, and your eyes, and your height so you look similar. But there is nothing else connecting you two. I know this body that brings me to school and back is mine, but I don’t feel any ownership over it.
Imagine having the words for this feeling at 7 years old. HA— I could never. I’m surprised I have the right words for it now. The only way I was able to translate this feeling of disconnection between my brain and my female body was hating on girly things. That’s right, Barbie, please exit stage left. You are not wanted here.
I avoided anything pink or frilly like the plague. In a way, I was defiant towards it. For example, my mom always called my siblings and me her ‘princes and princesses.’ For years, whenever I’d hear the word ‘princess’ being aimed towards me, I’d bat it away and instantly reply, ‘I’m not a princess, I’m a knight.’ Because like a knight, I liked action and maybe I wanted just a little bit of courage too. Like a knight, I’d valiantly toss away the bad guys (dolls and nail polish) and protect the good (board games and Bionicles). As a knight, I felt like I was capable of staying away from all the girly things that made me so uncomfortable.
Except when it came to my hair. I’ve always had a super long, unruly mane of red hair (probably my best feature) that everyone including myself loved. I’d get the classic ‘Omg your hair is absolutely beautiful, don’t ever change it’ and ‘I wish my hairstylist could give me that color.’ I’d sit there and reply, ‘Thanks, I grew it myself.’ My mom especially loved long hair and always wanted to style it some way when it came to school photos. I just wanted it pulled back and out of my face (I wanted it short but I was unaware that was an option). I really didn’t want any of the braids or buns or bows that were pinned here and there because I didn’t want the attention. I was SUPER shy as a child. The last thing I wanted was people focusing on my appearance. My hair made that a pretty difficult objective to achieve, but it made for several nice photos that my mom cherishes.
I was also not allowed to cut it till I was about 13 or 14. It always seemed like my mom had a personal vendetta against me giving my hair ‘the chop,’ as if it wasn’t going to grow back like a weed on miracle gro. I had a red waterfall down my back for most of my life. Don’t get me wrong, we took care of it and trimmed the dead ends but I had never stepped foot into a salon or barber for a haircut till I was 13. Come ninth grade, though, I had chopped it up to my shoulders and donated it to a child who would treasure it far more than I had. This was also the time I started experimenting with button-downs. My best friend at the time gifted me two for my birthday during the summer and I was OBSESSED. One was white with tiny giraffes all over it and the other was a bright turquoise with black dots.
Let me tell you, two thin pieces of fabric and half the hair on my head gave me beautiful waves of golden confidence and anxiety. Confidence because this was the birth of my style, choices I had control over. Anxiety because it was obviously so far away from the braids and skirts I had to wear in a private middle school. Anxiety because I didn’t want someone to acknowledge the subtle difference that felt so humongous to me.
I stayed stagnant at this button-up and flannel stage until eleventh grade. At this point, I felt like I’ve matured and learned more about how messed up gender roles are. I recognized my own personal stigma against femininity and thought, ‘Ugh, I had thought girly things were so uncomfortable because society told me it was weak. How shallow of me. I should step out of my comfort zone and try it since I never truly gave it a chance.’ And so I did, but what I had thought was a mature reflection was me being too afraid to press my boundaries further into masculinity. I did a 180. I bought two dresses and wore them to birthday parties and to school, and I actually did the whole eyeliner and concealer thing. It was different for sure, but I didn’t hate it as much as I thought.
Then the time came for junior prom and that was a turning point. Prom is a time for teenage adolescents to get all dressed up and show off their formal, fabulous side. Just like all my other girl-friends, I got myself an expensive floral A-line dress (with pockets) and a pair of boot-like heels that were too high to do anything in and danced the night away with other sweaty, hormonal teenagers. The pieces themselves were beautiful, but they weren’t beautiful on me. They didn’t present me. That night was supposed to be some level of magic, yet I had never felt more uncomfortable in my skin. I was acutely aware of it.
Imagine lava running over your body but under your skin. That was the night after and that’s what forced me to look in the mirror and try to figure out who I was. It was apparent I couldn’t back away from the truth anymore. The first time I considered the idea of being trans. I cried and couldn’t pinpoint if I was crying out of release or out of confusion. The first time I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I’m a man,’ was a release. It was after I cut my hair into what is called a Pixie Cut. I didn’t even want to call it that. It was my ‘boy haircut’ and I still remember the feeling of euphoria just by brushing the back of my neck and not feeling anything there. It was a cool breeze not only on my neck but in my lungs and over my heart blowing away old planks I didn’t know were there. I remember my shoulders pulling back, relaxed. I took pictures of myself… and actually liked them. Cutting off most of my hair felt like cutting off a leash. I slowly allowed myself to explore the men’s clothing section and by age 18, the barber. I asked a couple of close friends to use he/him pronouns for me and shortened my name to what it is now, Krys.
Don’t get me wrong, these baby steps were terrifying but so needed. The more open I was to others, the more accepting I was of myself. At my core, I’m a very honest person. So if I am feeling some type of way about an opinion or piece of art, I will share it and it will be unapologetically true. I can’t hide and I can’t lie to myself anymore, it’ll drive me insane (it already did). I’m eternally grateful to be surrounded by people who wouldn’t compromise my safety knowing my truth. I remind myself every day to be grateful for it, knowing it’s a privilege many other trans people don’t have.
In these last 2 years of holding my eggshell of a trans identity in my brain, I’ve been walking a tightrope of masculinity and femininity. I’ve learned over the years I’m deeply uncomfortable at one end and feel fake and expend far too much effort on the other. Allowing myself to dance in the middle of these two is extremely freeing for my mind and creativity but a trap when it comes to social dysphoria. The trap being (unironically) my closet. I am now stuck between saying, ‘Screw gendered clothing’ and wearing what I want and wearing what I want and not passing as a man. This being because our dear society has created flowery patterns, skirts and crop tops for the ladies and plaid, baggy jeans and suits for our manly men. If you stray from those boxes, you are discriminated against.
This is my daily choice of an outside battle or an inside one. Self-verification, behaving, and dressing how I want and see myself, versus self-presentation, behaving, and dressing in ways that will make others perceive me as a man. Do I want to wear this pink form-fitting shirt and argue with society as to why my slightly visible chest doesn’t declare my gender? Monitor every piece of body language and phrase I give out to the world to compensate for the feminine appearance? Or do I want to wear a binder, muted sweater and a pair of slim-straight jeans so I can drop my guard a little?
It’s a sharp, heavy pain realizing you’ve been looking into the mirror for 19 years and you’ve never actually seen yourself. That NO ONE has actually seen you. Some days I feel I’ve missed out on 19 years like I was just daydreaming through it all and now I can’t get any of that back. Until now— I’ve been on testosterone for about 2 months and the past is starting to appear more and more translucent. I’m starting to see someone I’ve longed to meet face-to-face for a long time. Someone I’ve been dying to introduce to the outside world and release from his mental cage. He’s getting his first breaths of cool air and stretching his taught shoulders as you read this.
Do I wish I was just simply born in the right body? Yeah, I really do, but I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today if I was. Despite the mental and emotional pain it’s brought, I’m still thankful for being transgender. It’s allowed me to understand myself in mental and physical ways not many people get to experience. It’s challenged me in recognizing my dissociation, adding another layer of self-awareness and drives me to find ways to live in the present as comfortably as possible. It’s still teaching me to be gentle with myself. I’m still working on keeping up the extra communication I need to have between my mind and body. It’s led me to an ocean of knowledge, a new community, and a more empathetic view of society. It’s driven me to dive fully into art, and what better creation to take part in than myself?”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Krys Peer. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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