The queer community owes its roots to transgender women of color Marsha P. Johnson and Silvya Rivera, yet it's within the last decade that LGBT+ activists like Chella Man, Laverne Cox, and Alok Menon have sparked one of the biggest civil rights movements for transgender people this country has ever seen. These individuals and other advocates have been instrumental in increasing trans visibility in the media, politics and everyday life.
Along with this upsurge in representation for the trans community has come ample opportunity for people from both within and outside of the queer community to broaden their understanding of gender beyond a person's biological sex. Inevitably, this has allowed more people than ever before to question themselves and find their spot within—or separate from—the gender binary.
Almost two years ago I began familiarizing myself with the trans community through Instagram, which was the catalyst for my own journey with gender. As of now, I identify as gender fluid.
Despite these excellent role models, this discovery was as nerve-wracking as it was invigorating. Since most of my surrounding community were straight, cis people, I was worried about what this meant for me and where to go with this information. I knew I wasn't living 100% authentically as I would have liked, but I didn't know what I needed to remedy that.
Countless Google searches and more than a few mental breakdowns brought me to a place where I know myself, I'm in tune with how I'm most comfortable expressing and I get all the love and support I could ask for from my surroundings. This process was extremely daunting, so I've compiled a list of some of the things I found most helpful while on this journey, and I hope they can help you too.
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If you're starting to question your gender, just know that everything is going to be OK. It's best to start this process from a place of self-love and not excessive worry, fear or doubt. It's true that the process of coming out, defining yourself and existing as a trans person can be hard for many reasons.
Just know that whatever lies at the end of this journey, you're still the same person you've always been. These kinds of discoveries can change certain things about you and encourage internal growth, but your fundamentals will always be uniquely your own.
2. Have fun with it!
Photo by Them on Youtube
As scary and alien as it may feel to be questioning something that seemed so fundamental, try as best you can to enjoy the process. Discovering your true self and your identity is a beautiful thing, and in the words of the lovely and talented Jacob Tobia, gender is play, so finding exactly where you fit in in the community can be an enjoyable experience if you let it be.
Disclaimer: This is not to negate the hardships transgender people endure. Transphobia is very real and hurts trans folks anywhere from just being misgendered to experiencing physical violence. Despite this unfortunate reality, all we can do is try to have pride in ourselves and stay positive.
3. Don't let your doubts get you down.
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Based on what I've seen—and felt for myself—lots of people experience feeling like they're "lying" or "faking" when they start to question their gender and tentatively claim a label for themselves. This can come from a feeling that you don't "pass" as trans.
Realistically, there's no "right" way to be trans. Also, I was lucky to read one tidbit early on that totally cleared away these qualms: cis people don't need to question their gender.
Less seriously, as the queers have been known to say, if you have to Google it, you probably are!
4. Educate yourself.
Photo by Genderfluid_support on Instagram
The best way to uncover who you really are is to familiarize yourself with the terminology and how queer people categorize themselves. While some people prefer to stay away from labels, it's still helpful to know your LGBT+ homies and begin to understand what types of qualifiers there are.
Above is a very brief rundown on transgender terminology, and by no means encapsulates all identities.
Other important terms that might come up are af/amab, which stand for assigned female/male at birth; enby is a cute way of saying non-binary (spelling may vary, which is why it took so long for me to catch onto); ftm and mtf, quicker and easier than writing out female to male, male to female every time; and femme and mas, for feminine and masculine expressing people.
5. Wikipedia and Wikihow
Photo by Wikihow
We're putting your high school teachers to shame because Wikipedia is your new best friend. Wikipedia has grown leaps and bounds in the past decade and now has complete, comprehensive information about all types of gender identities, their origins and even tests to help you narrow down your options.
You can even find tips for adapting your dress and behavior. For me, turning to a practical site like that rather than an obscure blog somewhere was very comforting in making me feel like I wasn't going crazy.
Photo by Genderfluid_support on Instagram
You never know until you try! So try, try again.
If you have people you feel comfortable with, have them use various types of pronouns you might want to experiment with. If allies are scarce, you can also have conversations in your head with yourself using your preferred pronouns, write them out in a secure diary or compose a narrative in the third person that's secretly about you, but with your preferred name and gender.
If you're lucky enough to have a strong support system, borrowing clothes and makeup to see how it feels is a good way to explore your style without the financial commitment.
Start changing behaviors little by little.
This was the hardest part for me because I presented myself a certain way for so long. However, there is information out there to help you brainstorm—you've just got to look. People watching, too, can be more educational than you would've thought if you know what to look for.
Rule of thumb: Follow that euphoric feeling in your gut. For me, having accessible pockets and using he/him pronouns made me want to cry, so I took that as a sign that I was on the right track.
7. Don't stress, express.
Photo by Chella Man on Instagram
We all know that men aren't always macho, and not all girls vomit sparkles and shit butterflies. This isn't any less true for trans people. Even if you're binary-trans, people come in all different flavors. There are feminine trans men, masculine trans women, non binary folks that don't present as androgynous—the possibilities are endless.
This goes back to insecurities of not feeling like you "pass." Body dysphoria and gender identity don't affect personality whatsoever, so don't feel pressured to adhere to traditional gender norms just because you want to fit in.
At the risk of being redundant, Chella Man is an excellent example of this. He's trans masculine, gender queer and uses he/him pronouns, but still isn't afraid to rock a skirt and heels if he feels like it. We would all be lucky to be even half as brave and authentic as Chella.
8. Coming out as questioning.
There's no need to do anything hasty, especially if the thought of coming out to even your closest confidant is terrifying. Instead of verbally putting anything out there, start changing the bits of yourself you feel least comfortable with first and offer no explanation. The right people will notice the change and encourage it, which you'll then notice, and it makes it easier to come out later down the line after you've found more clarity.
9. Find your fellows.
Photo by Adam Eli on Instagram
Finding people like you is easier said than done. In my experience because the percentage of openly trans people is so small, it's much easier to connect, chat and explore your social community online. Reddit is a safe haven for me; I love my cute genderfluid family.
Online chat rooms can also be a good place to feel less alone, get advice, share relatable memes and vent about identity-specific incidences.
If you're craving a more intimate connection with people, consider looking into LGBT+ support groups in the area and possibly through your school. While not everyone there may be exactly like you, like online chatrooms offer, they can still be extremely helpful in talking to people with similar experiences and feelings as you.
Regardless of how much and what kind of support you're looking for, it's always a good time when queers get together!
10. Dressing your best.
I, unfortunately, don't remember where I read it, but the best motto for looking for clothes is to leave no stone left unturned.
Do yourself a favor now and abandon all conceptions about your fit, style and go-to places when shopping. Since coming out, I've started looking in both men's and women's plus size sections, kid's shoe sizes, the men's section in a store explicitly made for women, etc. Also, going by your measurements and not size helps you online shop without judgment. You can find a cheap, flexible measuring tape on Amazon.
Second-hand shopping has produced some of my favorite clothing items. Don't doubt the magic of a thrift store. Moreover, gently-used shops like Plato's Closet and Uptown Cheapskate can help you revamp your wardrobe with their stylish, affordable fashions.
If you find yourself with money to blow on clothes, go for a few basics first, like jackets and pants, that can be paired with many different pieces.
If you've got a few more lumps than you bargained for like me, try layering and oversized clothes to smooth things out and keep em' questioning. This is another reason why thrift stores are thebomb.com, as items there come in a range of styles, sizes, and shapes when retail shops might only have limited sizing.
Binding tips for trans men and gender nonconforming people with chest dysphoria: safety is key. Regardless of how hard the dysphoria may get, you should never do anything that could jeopardize your health.
That said, always read the comments on websites that sell transitional apparel before purchasing, and reach out to the company if you have any questions. The companies usually encourage this!
If you're forced to bind on a budget, opt for two-layered sports bras before reaching for any kind of tape. Affordable sports bras can be found at any of the above mentioned retailers.
11. Your gender doesn't define your sexuality.
Photo by Alexandra Billings on Instagram
While I've learned that some of my siblings in the genderfluid community do actually experience a change in their sexual preferences when shifting between genders, in most cases, gender does not equate to sexuality. We know by now that gender roles are pretty null and void, so don't feel pressured to be "heterosexual" if you end up on the other side of the binary. Love comes in all forms, and there will always be someone for everyone.
12. Seriously consider all the options.
Photo by Life as transgender on Instagram
One of the scariest parts of discovering my gender for me was the looming possibility of surgery and hormones. All of the different possibilities and the associated price was overpowering for such a new queer on the block.
Everyone's feelings about this are going to be different. While some people need these things to feel entirely themselves, it's not for everyone, and if you choose not to take those steps, it doesn't make your identity any less valid.
If you are considering the medical options open to some transgender people, seeing a gender therapist is the smartest way to learn about how to start that process, what it entails and what is going to work best for you.
13. Cut your body some slack.
Photo by Transgender together on Instagram
With a gender that fluctuates as much as mine, body dysphoria comes at the most random times and can express itself in many ways. The way I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be 100% satisfied with what I've got is by remembering that really, no one is entirely satisfied with their body.
Cis and trans people alike wish to be just a little taller, just a little skinnier, just a little darker, etc. Even if cis people don't experience exactly the same dissatisfaction as us, it's a comfort to know that everyone's body is weird and ugly at its core.
While the pain of dysphoria isn't nearly the same as regular body dissatisfaction, try to take it with a grain of salt, and remember the day will come where you'll be actually satisfied.
Hang in there.
14. Practice safety as much as you can.
Photo by Imastill_ on Instagram
It's true now more than ever that to be queer in public is to sacrifice your safety. This does not always consist of physical safety, as many trans individuals experience transphobic street harassment.
At the very least, leaving the house in your finest get-up might earn you different treatment by customer service people and some sideways glances.
If you feel like your physical safety is being threatened, or if your mental or emotional health just isn't up for it today, it's OK to camouflage. Watering down your identity a bit to go run errands doesn't make you any less valid or valued, it's just an unfortunate necessity sometimes.
On the days I just can't deal, I look like I could be in a sorority. When in doubt, go with your gut.
15. Look to your leaders.
Photo by Munroe Bergdorf on Instagram
Aside from being entertaining, educational and typically gorgeous, trans activists and role models can bring inexplicable comfort just by watching them be themselves. Using social media to follow your favorites or else reading literature by our LGBT+ elders can provide real-life advice on how to deal with queer issues and can help remind you that there is a light at the end of this tunnel.
16. Have patience.
Photo by Transsmemes on Instagram
When I had my first conscious male phase, I hated my body, my clothes, my voice and even the way people looked at me. In my head, the easiest remedy to this would be through my dress, but I was stuck with what I got for financial reasons.
Practically no one can drop stacks on a new wardrobe or spontaneous medical procedure.
Even if you can and do choose to pursue a medical transition, it's as much of a financial and mental process as it is a physical one. Give yourself that time.
Until you get to the person you see in your head, be patient with the process and remember you are still your same, beautiful self despite the shell.