Have you ever rode a Ferris Wheel; an experience of a lifetime, filled with anxiety and thrill? If you have, you must remember your racing heart when you rode it for the first time, specifically waiting until you reach the top of the wheel from where you can see the distant lights blinking like a carpet of stars beneath you and the part when you felt like you’re falling and there won’t be another tomorrow. Exploring one’s gender identity might feel similar to riding a Ferris wheel; confusing and euphoric.
Before diving into gender, we ought to be familiar with a few terms related to it: sex, gender identity and gender expression. According to Merriam-Webster, ‘Gender’ is the behavioral, cultural or psychological traits typically associated with one sex; signifying that the entire concept of gender is a human made idea that assigns biased roles on people from different genders. ‘Sex’ on the other hand is used to refer to biological characteristics like chromosomes, sex organs, hormones and so on. ‘Gender identity’ refers to a person’s personal internal sense of gender, i.e., male, female, a combination of both or neither and ‘gender expression’ refers to the physical and behavioral manifestation of one's gender identity through which they express themselves.
Each individual has a different perspective on how they view or experience gender and no two experiences are exactly the same; and the journey through questioning one's gender identity can be both scary and lonely. I was a 16 year old high-school student when I first learnt that the gender that was assigned to me by society was not something tangible and rigid but more of a fluid entity that I had to figure out on my own. Most cisgender people who identify with the same gender that is assigned to their sex don’t realize how confusing the sudden realization that ‘gender is merely a social implication that isn’t bounding’ can be. I spent days questioning everything I knew about myself, about what femininity or masculinity was. Since childhood, each of us have been introduced to a binary world, be it in terms of our school uniforms, bathrooms, clothing section, perfumes or even pencil boxes; everything is divided into two sections - male and female but we aren’t taught or informed what to do in case one doesn’t fit into the section that is assigned to them and feels more comfortable assigning themselves with the other; or when one doesn’t connect to either of the sections and is forced to fit themselves into one only so they can feel like they belong.
It's only normal for any person to start questioning their gender when they realize that we are being influenced into believing that gender is something rigid when it is only a human made idea that will keep evolving with time.
To begin with, if one is questioning their gender, they can collect resources that are accessible to them. Reminder- The Internet is our friend. Hundreds of articles, videos and reading materials are available on the internet that will provide one with enough information on gender to move ahead.
Treating gender as a journey instead of a destination is important. As the concept is fluid and evolving, our perspective on gender is also ever-changing with the information we have in our hands. It is possible that one’s gender identity and the way they express their gender might change even after they’ve come to a realization about themselves. Figuring out one’s gender identity is not the end goal, only a process of learning and re-learning to associate themselves with whatever feels the most comfortable to them.
Gender is not a label or a box and we shouldn’t treat it as such. Similar to a color wheel, gender is a spectrum and each individual relates to a point in that very spectrum. We won’t always find people who would relate to us and our gender identity and most people’s understanding on this topic is very limited but the best we can do is explain to them how we feel (if we are comfortable doing that) and leave the rest to their allyship. However, one doesn’t owe people an explanation about their identity and aren’t obliged to share any information if they are not okay with it.
Conversations with people who have limited ideas of what gender is, can be invalidating one's gender identity but that shouldn’t hold them back. Although, it is often very lonely when we don’t have people by our side who relate to us. This is a good time to expand your friend circle; visit queer events and consensually befriend people who are going through a similar experience as you, if not exactly the same. Having an affirming support group makes everything so much better. (Even I found one of my best friends through Instagram when I was going through a gender crisis)
There might be times when a person questioning their gender might feel guilty or wrong for things that they are experiencing and that is okay. We’ve been conditioned into believing that questioning societal norms is something disrespectful and wrong; it is only normal for one to struggle with years of conditioning that they faced. Give yourself some time and affirmations; you’ve stood up for yourself!
It might happen that we are occasionally triggered by terms that one doesn’t know if they connect to, like ‘queen’, ‘ma’am’, ‘bro’ or so on. It might help to keep mental notes on what triggers you or makes you feel euphoric. If one is comfortable with it, they can let people around them know how to refer to them in the future. Also, don’t be surprised if someday you misgender yourself, our brain does take some time to adjust itself. Even if a person might not have an immediate support group, gradually they will find supporting people around them and can cut off people who are disrespectful or insensitive to their journey, if they wish to. Even therapy can be a good support system if one has access to it.
Lastly, no matter how bad the times get, one doesn’t have to express themselves unless and until they feel comfortable and safe to do so. Protecting their own mental sanctity and physical health should be treated as a priority, the journey will go on regardless of the hardships.
It’s tough to look forward when one doesn’t really recognize themselves in their own reflection but us humans, we are so much more than just our skin and bones. We are our kind smiles, our intellect and we are brilliant ideas on our own, without any limits. Treat yourself with the same kindness that you would have treated another person going through the same experience as you, I wish I did too but it’s never too late to be kind. Let’s start anew.