What the Heck IS Gender Affirming, Anyway?!

Taylor lies upsidedown on a white bed. They are shirtless, though the frame cuts off above their nipples, wearing only their glasses. The sides of their head are flashly shaved and the hair on top of their head is sticking straight out as if they have a sloppy mowhakwk. They don't, they're just upside down and that's what gravity does.

The way people think about gender is SO weird. The way I think about gender, even my own, is confusing and strange.

A frame with three pictures of Taylor. On the top left, there's a picture of them from behind. They are wearing over-the-knee white socks with black bands around the tops, black booty shorts that say "hot and horny hook ups" across the bum and a strappy sports bra. The image on the bottom left features them in the same outfit from the from. Their legs are spread and their right hand is on their hip. The photo on the right shows them in the same outfit again from the waist up. They are leaning toward the camera and are taking the photo through a mirror.
What do all the photos in this post have in common?

I began my transition about seven years ago – a lifetime for some, no time for others. I talked a bit about my early transition in a Twitter rant last month, but there was more to it than that, of course.

When I realized that I wasn’t a girl – when I knew it deeply and fully, when I knew that I could actually change this instead of simply hating an unchangeable fact about me, I also knew that I didn’t identify fully as male. I saw how a guy who would later become my boyfriend identified with his transness and knew it wasn’t for me, but it was close. I saw a way to fix what I felt needed altering.

And then somewhere along the way, I lost sight of that.

It was little things that built up – my parents not understanding “nonbinary” and so I accepted them viewing me as a trans guy because it was close enough; 100% gay men being attracted to me as a guy and as a guy only. It was bigger things – the medical system was structured in a way that wouldn’t allow access to people who weren’t binary-presenting; said boyfriend wanting me to act and look male so that people would be more likely to read him as male, too. It was all the things that I did so often for survival and safety that I forgot they were coping mechanisms and not actually me.

I lost myself for a while, though I didn’t realize it.

I was too busy trying to keep everyone who I loved/who loved me happy, and keep the gatekeepers happy, and keep the street harassers from deciding to kill or rape me. I was so frantic to separate myself from “womanhood” that I didn’t take long enough to consider who I was doing what for, and if it’s what I wanted.

I don’t regret any of it, but I do also recognize that I permanently altered my body for others and wasn’t aware of it at the time.

Another three photos of Taylor. On the left hand side, they're wearing a powder blue dress shirt, top two buttons undone, and blue jeaans, shirt untucked. They are looking away from the camera. In the two photos on the right they're wearing the same outfit with the addition of a plaid bowtie. The top right photo is from their chest upl they are pretending to look surprised and are very cute. In the bottom right photo you can see the tops of their jeans as well, their shirt now tucked in, and they have an overly exaggerated excited expression.
Any guesses?

Initially, I saw how I viewed myself and knew that I needed to be male – not because that’s what my identity was but because I wasn’t on hormones and the way my gender feels doesn’t sit right on a “female” body. Hormones take time and then suddenly it was two years later and then I was a boy who looked like a boy and that’s…that’s not it, either. But I had forgotten by this point that that wasn’t who I was. I had convinced myself to listen to everyone else pushing me in a different direction from the one I wanted. Now that I had the body I needed for the presentation that felt right, I no longer had any of the clothes, nor did I have a strong enough sense of safety for it.

Coming from so many years of brainwashing into thinking that boy/male things were correct, it took me a while to walk even a small distance away and begin to reevaluate my gender, my presentation, and my wants.

And what I’ve determined is that:

I have no freaking idea what “gender affirming” means anymore.

I view my gender as something that’s more or less static. The way I dress my body and gender up changes, but my gender itself doesn’t. And yet, without fail, well-meaning people will comment that “wow I’m presenting so differently than last time I saw you!” and other comments that imply there’s a change. Things like “oh are you feeling more femme/masc today?”/”should I use different pronouns when you dress like this?” and I’m thrown for a loop because…it’s just clothing.

If a cis woman wears a tshirt versus a dress, people don’t assume she’s now a man. But if a trans person wears clothing that “doesn’t fit” what you expect, something must have changed. Now people say that they’re “actually trans” or “aren’t really trans!”, depending on how their presentation is read.

Taylor takes a photo of themself in a bathroom mirror. They are wearing a cozy grey hoodie, hood up, and blue jeans. They have white earbuds in which are connected to their phone which they're using to take the photo. They're looking down at their phone screen.
No?

If I haven’t indicated to you that I am genderfluid or that I use different pronouns on different days, chances are good that it’s just my clothing that has changed. If it’s more than that and I want you to know, I’ll tell you.

I spend so much of my energy trying to figure out ways of communicating my gender that will make sense to cis people that it’s sometimes hard to remind myself of how I feel about it myself. Words like “masc” and “femme” are thrown around – I’m obviously a femme, they say. Just look at how I present, look at how I behave. And I do identify with femmeness, to a degree, because in the context of a binary men vs women world, I am a femme. But that’s not my understanding of gender or this world, gender is not in strict competition like that, I am not a boy who is feminine, like people project onto me.

But it’s often so much easier for me to just tell you that I am exactly that. It’s not an entirely uncomfortable statement, I have accepted it as true enough to my being.

But if you take a moment to look beyond that simple men vs women construction, if you truly believe that there is more, maybe I’ll tell you something that’s closer to the truth. About how I identify more as an androgyne and with masculinity than I do maleness and femininity. Sure, I’ll accept “femme boy”. But mostly because I never have the energy to explain how my lipstick is masculine armor to someone who I don’t think will ever understand.

Two side-by side photos of Taylor. In each one, they're wearing a black mesh body suit with vertical stripes and an ornate gold metal chest piece that drapes across their chest and shoulders.
Answer: Clothes are different. Gender is the same.

I don’t have the energy to explain, when you’re asking me again and again about my “different” gender today the conversation that I have with myself every time that I leave the house: does this feel like my gender or at least close enough? Will going outside like this make me look like a “man in a dress” or will they think I’m a woman? If I leave my house like this, am I going to get killed for being trans, raped for being trans/a “woman”, or just mildly harassed because they think I’m a guy? Am I  going to see people who are safe to express my gender around, or will they not get it? Am I going to see anyone who can refuse access to the services I need to live if they don’t like my presentation? Are my gender feelings so strong today that they’re worth risking any or all of that? Is it easier to just pass as something I’m not?

I’ve had that conversation with myself every single time I’ve left the house for the past seven years. Getting dressed is never as simple as just putting on clothes and ensuring they match.

I know that you mean well when you ask about my presentation, I know you’re just trying to be respectful in how you talk about and to me. I’m just trying to be authentic to my identity, but I’m also trying to not be murdered.

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