C/O Travis Nguyen

Learning to love myself through research and reflection 

By: Anna Samson, Contributor 

During my first year at McMaster University, I came out as non-binary to my close friends and sister. As I grew more comfortable, I began to tell more people. Now, aside from some conservative family members, most people in my life know I’m non-binary. However, it took a long time to embrace myself as non-binary in a world that thinks in binaries and cisnormativity. 

I was assigned female at birth, always used “she/her” pronouns and stuck to that side of the gender binary. But something always felt off. I would later learn this feeling is called gender dysphoria, a term that refers to the distress one feels if their gender identity differs from their assigned sex.  

I remember talking to my older sister about how I did not feel like a girl or boy and worried there was something wrong with me. I asked her if she ever felt this way. I thought it was a normal part of growing up and something everyone experiences at some point. She asked me if I was transgender. Not knowing much about the gender spectrum and growing up in a conservative Christian household, I believed the negative things I had heard about transgender people and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and immediately replied I was not, quickly changing the topic. But that moment stuck with me. It was one of the first times I acknowledged I do not fit into the gender binary and it was jarring. For many years after, I tried to ignore these feelings. 

In first year, I took an introductory gender studies course in which I learned about inequality, intersectionality, 2SLGBTQIA+ identities and more. This course finally gave me names for many of the things I had been experiencing and thinking about my whole life. I learnt about the gender spectrum, which especially piqued my interest because learning about a gender spectrum as a concept told me that others questioned their gender identity like I did. I did some more research and learnt about transgender identities, under which non-binary falls. 

I learned there are many gender identities outside the male-female binary. Non-binary is a broad spectrum covering all gender identities that are neither solely male nor female and exist outside the gender binary. While I felt this applied to me, I also felt it was not specific enough. When I first “came out” I identified as agender, meaning I have no gender and used any pronouns. But that did not feel right either. So, I started identifying as genderflux, meaning my gender identity fluctuates, with the base being agender, and used “she/they” pronouns. This identity felt right for me, but I noticed no one ever used “they” pronouns for me, which was frustrating because it felt like the erasure of my gender identity. So, finally, for brevity’s sake, I have now been identifying as non-binary for years, using “they/she” pronouns. And it feels right. 

But my journey to self-acceptance in terms of my gender identity did not stop there. I also had to figure out what sort of gender expression felt most comfortable to me. Being AFAB, my gender expression has been mostly feminine but it felt wrong. Within feminine clothing, I preferred baggy clothing, though my family often scolded me, telling me to wear more form-fitting clothes. I liked wearing sports bras and bralettes that were like chest binders and wearing boy short panties or boxers made me feel more comfortable.  

I also never got much into makeup other than wearing lipstick, because it felt very gendered and I felt using it meant I accepted being AFAB. While I know clothes and makeup are not inherently gendered, they do hold gendered connotations in society which make it difficult to embrace one’s unique identity. Ultimately, I have opted for unisex or less form-fitting clothing, as they make me feel more like myself. 

While I have come a long way in learning to love myself by embracing my non-binary identity, there is still a lot of work for me to do. I still need to find a hairstyle I feel comfortable with. I also need to accept menstruating is a bodily function outside of the gender binary. There are several other things as well.

Most importantly, any positive steps I have taken towards accepting and loving myself require practice. I still accidentally say the wrong pronouns for myself sometimes or wear gendered clothing that makes me feel uncomfortable before realizing it.

Along with accepting and embracing myself, I also must forgive myself and others for getting it wrong sometimes. This is my lifelong journey of embracing myself and my non-binary identity. 

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