Being totally honest, it wasn’t until I left high school that I became aware of myself as an independent person- Someone with their own thoughts, ideas and personality. Even then it was a slow process, and a bumpy one at that.
Coming out as gay and then finding a circle of supportive queer people I can be myself around has been key to this. With the freedom to consider myself in new ways I eventually came to a rather unnerving realisation: For most of my life, I didn’t really have a mind of my own. That sounds extreme, I know. But it is honestly how I feel, and these notes are some attempt to explain why, not simply to a cisgendered audience who might wish to know what it is like to have your brain stuffed into numerous ill-fitting boxes, but more importantly to other closeted people like me who are having trouble articulating their experiences. Your feelings about your gender will obviously differ from mines depending on all sorts of conditions, but I’m sure there are general traumas we both know well- too well, unfortunately. This one is for all my anxious and uncertain comrades in struggle. Your anxieties, your dysphorias, your scars, all of them are valid.
If you knew me as a teenager, you knew me as a shy, nervous, straight boy. I’m still just as anxious and nervy now, but I am most certainly neither straight nor a boy. Dropping the act and being honest with myself has been a liberation of a very confusing and profound sort- One at times scary and painful, but also absolutely thrilling. Put simply, I’m happier this way, and I never plan on going back to how it used to be.
“How it used to be-” There’s a dark turn of phrase. It stirs a variety of feelings: Fear, uncertainty, hatred, confusion, and sadness. Initially I had this rough cocktail forced down my throat, but when you break a person you also gain the ability to do whatever you want with them- In this case set up their brain so it starts perpetuating feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing all by itself.
Society achieved this victory over my mind with little difficulty. If anything, I was easy prey. A particularly bad bout of bullying sort of snapped me in half just as I was starting high school, leaving me completely terrified of being seen to be different and absolutely desperate to fit in. And in high school, fitting in means mutilating your personality, lopping off any and all parts of yourself that might get you called a loser or a weirdo or a sissy or a faggot. Bullying destroyed my will to be a free-thinking person and left me wholly ready, eager even, to accept all the patriarchal social dogmas and norms as my truth. It saddens me to say that I complied with little resistance.
I sometimes worry about that. Other trans people always seem like such ferocious fighters, such rebellious spirits! And then there’s me, the weak little girl that just folded up and let everyone tell her what to think and how to act for almost the entirety of her teenage life. Not that I enjoyed it or anything- I fucking hated it!
It’s just that I had no idea what was going on. One of the worst things about being conditioned was having no words with which to articulate the confusion and the pain. I felt like I had to keep on pretending I was into girls and that I was a boyish boy’s boy with boy interests and boy thoughts, all the while sad and angry and utterly unsure why I felt so bad. I believed that if I just went along with the crowd, then I would be happy, not realising that being a drone only made me feel even worse about myself.
It didn’t matter that the naked girls in the magazines my friends would share around aroused absolutely no feelings in me. It didn’t matter that when we talked up “who we would shag” in our classes I was faking it every time. It didn’t matter that I sometimes got random urges to wear dresses and kiss boys. At every turn I beat these jarring realisations down and screamed at them to fuck off and leave me alone. They only upset me- Why wasn’t I like everyone else? Why was everyone else normal?
Of course, those occasional feelings of being at odds with the world around me were the truth. But at the time I didn’t recognise them as such, structured as my brain was by masculine perspectives and goals. I considered my thoughts as strange aberrations that I just needed to force away and repress before I could function like everyone else.
Looking back now, it was obvious that I was queer. You might be wondering, “why didn’t you slow down for a moment and ask important questions of yourself like: Am I gay? Do I want to be a girl?” But it is too easy to ask such questions now that you know who I am. You assume teenage me also knew. And besides, teenage me wouldn’t have dared face up to the reality of being gay or trans, because being either of those things seemed a reality too terrifying to face. I heard all the jokes everyone made about faggots and trannies. Having them directed my way would have killed me.
Thankfully, things started to get better. As high school drew to a close, people started getting less concerned with popularity hierarchies and started feeling less afraid to like what they liked and be themselves. I found myself in a friend group where I could be shy and nerdy and still be accepted, and it did wonders for my mental health. Those gaping bully-wounds started to heal a little.
Radical politics has also been a great help. To cut a long story short, my journey towards socialism and anarchism has helped a lot with my sexual and gender anxieties, because through them I have learned new ways of seeing the world and myself- Historical materialism, feminism and critical theory are a few examples. Ideology was something I started to learn about and reflect on, and this led me to realise that I, like any other individual, have been subject to a constant process of conditioning and moulding by systems of thought and ways of seeing that I was never conscious of.
Those new radical, critical perspectives on the world intersected neatly with the long period of introspection and self-examination that I’ve been going through since the end of high school, and they combined to leave me deeply uncertain of so much that I previously thought true about myself. I began to recollect all my repressed thoughts and urges and consider them properly, and then, finally, things started to make sense.
To say a light flicked on in my head would be cliche, and in any case not strong enough. No, coming to terms with my identity has set off a bomb in my brain, one powerful enough to incinerate decades of trauma-based programming.
I was gay! I wanted to be a girl! I was gay and wanted to be a girl the whole time! My mind raced with new feelings and emotions, and if I could find an environment to safely experiment in, I realised I could perhaps find the fulfilment I had been missing all these years.
Having found the love of many queer friends in the last year, I am overjoyed to report that fulfilment is exactly what I’m feeling now. I’m only just starting on my path towards expressing womanhood, but the people around me care about me and are supporting me every step of the way. I’m getting braver constantly, and it’s because of them that I can finally, and with no fear or shame in my voice, call myself a woman.
The trauma of the old days is still there, certainly, and its going to be a long struggle before I can truly say I am satisfied and at peace. But for the first time I feel like I am actually in contact with myself, and that’s a healthy and positive feeling I can always hold on to whenever I’m feeling down.
I’m still angry, though. Not necessarily at myself- highschool me was a hapless brainwashed drone who didn’t know any better. No, I feel a lingering rage towards the system that effectively decided for me, walked all over me and robbed me of independent thought and agency. It feels like everyone else got to explore their sexuality and identity at a much earlier age, and now I’ve got to play a painfully awkward game of catch up. Had I been left to my own devices I might have developed into a much more stable, honest and confident young woman than the one I am now.
But I can’t go back and change the past, and in any case I don’t care to. I am who I am, and those scars are going to be with me for the rest of my life. What interests me far more than changing the past is using what I know now to fight and make sure the future is a better place. Patriarchy really does a number on your mind, and I have to accept that it messed me up badly- perhaps even irreparably. But I can still resist that rotten system, not only for my own freedom, but for the freedom of every other queer person who feels trapped. The truth is always revolutionary, and if I can help even one closeted person know that they aren’t alone, if I can help them realise the truth that society has denied them, then I’ll be happy.