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Author Topic: Gender Confusion
lm216
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Hi everyone. I'm new to the forum and this may be a bit long winded, but here it goes. I'm a 28 year old female and up until about 5 months ago have identified as such and never felt any issues about my gender. I have been dealing with some anxiety and depression issues over the past year with a therapist, which have manifested themselves into OCD like thinking patterns. We touched on some painful stuff, such as my relationship to my mom during HS and how she would constantly bother me about weight and how I dressed. I identify as bisexual and HS was a hard time for me with questioning, but did not come out until college. So this stuff was brought up and I didn't realize how much it affected me. It hit me really hard and brought up a lot of anxiety. I started having intrusive thoughts, it started off with harm thoughts, images and thoughts of harming others or myself, then went into some philosophical stuff, etc and one day after reading an article about a transgender persons story started panicking that, omg maybe I'm transgender or what if I am? Without much real basis for feeling that way. I started analyzing how I felt about my body, my clothes, etc. etc. and at first it seemed very much like OCD and not a real issue, but it has progressed into something that feels very real. I feel like I no longer feel as feminine as I used to or really feminine at all for that matter and suddenly started disliking most of my clothing and feeling like I didn't want to really look girlish. I started questioning what I thought about my boobs and my body in general and don't feel as naturally connected to it as I have previously. I started feeling like I was looking at a stranger in the mirror and it was very scary. It's given me a lot of anxiety and it's like I have started feeling more masculine and thinking about what it would be like to be a guy, but I don't know if I equate that with not being a girl at all. It's like this overwhelming and non stop thinking about looking like a guy, what I would look like and then does being a girl feel right? I've always felt like a girl until recently and this is all giving me so much anxiety and I've felt really disconnected from who I am and who I've been my whole life. I don't know if I have actual dysphoria or if it's in my head. I really liked wearing sundresses, things that showed off my boobs, and curves and now I feel like I've done a complete 180. I don't hate my body, I don't know if it's discomfort or just a feeling of it being weird that it's my body. Writing this really bugs me out because this all feels very surreal and like I'm living in the twilight zone. I started seeing a new therapist who focuses on obsessive thinking, OCD, but also takes a psychodynamic approach and have talked to some friends and family about this. I'm just really scared, confused, depressed, and lost. I just want to feel normal again and know I need to do something to experiment or move forward. I plan to cut my hair because I think it would make me feel better and want to experiment with binding my chest to see how it makes me feel. Can anyone relate to the suddenness of these feelings? I mean over the past 4 months it's like it's all gotten stronger and stronger, but it's also like I can't remember what it's like to feel feminine and I just feel like I'm a stranger to myself. Like, everything feels off and wrong. I think/worry about this 24/7 and am worried that this is really bad dysphoria and will never go away. All I want to do is just to be and feel normal again. It feels impossible right now and I feel like I'm losing my mind. Help, can anyone relate? I'm very confused and scared.
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Molias
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Hi lm216, and welcome to Scarleteen.

It sounds like you're having a lot of intense and confusing thoughts about your body and your gender right now - that can be really overwhelming, to be sure. I know you said you just started seeing a new therapist; maybe either now or as you get more comfortable with them you can start talking about gender a bit (some therapists are great to talk with about trans and general gender issues; some not so much) and see if you can get any help there in sorting out your feelings about gender. I have some thoughts about what you've mentioned but I do think that someone who's more tuned in to OCD issues will have some different perspectives that would be helpful!

I didn't start to question my own gender until I was about 19 or 20 - younger than you, but older than some people come into that questioning. I don't feel like the change in my gender identity invalidated my gender as I'd experienced it for the rest of my life until then; sometimes I liked to dress up, I enjoyed having breasts, and being a girl was just fine (and wasn't something I really thought about much; it was just how things were). It was jarring to question all of that fairly suddenly, but I never had a sense that it meant something had been wrong before, if that makes sense. My assigned-at-birth gender felt fine, up until the point that it didn't, and then it felt really uncomfortable.

Experimentation with presentation is certainly a fairly low-commitment way to see how it might be to change how your body looks and how you present it to others. Maybe, as you're thinking about some of these things, it could be helpful to write down any appearance or presentation-related things you're happy with now as they stand, what feels less authentic right now, and what you might want to experiment with? Keeping track of specifics may help you from feeling like you're drowning in details, here.

You mention wanting to feel "normal" a few times; can I ask what that means to you? Is that being in a state where you don't question your assigned gender at all? Or does it mean feeling comfortable with your body or presentation? Something else?

Also, I think it's important to say that I really don't think there's anything wrong with not knowing, exactly, what your gender is or what your desire to experiment with your presentation means. Identity can be fluid or changeable sometimes, and that's ok! I can really sympathize with this sort of feeling being scary, but it can also be an exploration, something really interesting you learn about yourself.

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lm216
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Thanks for the reply! I have been talking with my therapist about these issues and he's encouraged me to experiment as well. When I say I'd like to feel normal again I mean I want to go at least a couple of hours without analyzing how I feel and thinking about my body and wondering what I think of it. I am in constant doubt and feel trapped in this cycle. Its scary and jarring to feel so alien to myself and in my own skin and seemingly out of nowhere. And I guess yes, not having these questions or feelings would be great. I just feel like I'm outside of myself and can't access who I've been I've been up until now. I wake up with anxiety and have anxiety a good portion of the day and essentially just want to feel sane again. Thoughts? Where are you in your process now? How has your identity shifted or remained the same since?
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Molias
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I have been out of town for a few days, sorry for not being able to reply earlier!

In terms of your desire to feel normal and not be worrying about this - are there any physical activities you enjoy that are good at making you focus on how it feels to be in your body and tune out worries in your mind for a bit? I have found that things like riding my bike or taking a tiring walk (I live in a place with a lot of hills) can really help me tune out negative self-talk and feel more connected to my body as it is vs. being fixated on all the ways it's not quite how I want it.
Any other kinds of self-care that work for you could be helpful here; I certainly think that as you're thinking about some really Big Stuff right now that it's a good idea to be extra kind to yourself in any way that you can. And I think this is where your therapist can be helpful too, as I know that OCD can make some of these thought patterns harder to break out of.

My identity has actually shifted quite a bit, to be honest. I grew up thinking I was a straight girl, started questioning my gender when I was about 19, and was tentatively genderqueer-identified for a few years. I started hormone therapy about eight years ago, at which point I asked people to use male pronouns for me and really focused on making my presentation more obviously masculine. I was more comfortable calling myself a trans guy but never quite a man. In the past two or three years I've actually felt less male-identified than I did before; my identity is much closer to genderqueer than male at the moment. But I'm really happy with the physical results of medical transition; that was definitely right for me.

The really big difference between now and when I originally started to question my gender is this: I no longer find it upsetting to think that my gender identity may change in the future, or that I'm sometimes unsure what it is right now. When I first started thinking about all of this, I was very upset by my uncertainty. A lot of what you're talking about in terms of thinking constantly about this and having a sense of being outside your body sounds very familiar.
So one thought I have - and I realize this may not be an easy change to make - is that reframing how you think about this may be the key here. It's ok not to know. It's ok to be confused about your gender. It isn't something you need to work out all at once, or in a final way that you're locked into for the rest of your life.

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lm216
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Thank you so much. I really needed this reply right now. I tried explaining this to my mom and she's insistent that its all my OCD and is having a hard time understanding that I may feel like a guy. To be honest I don't know if its being a guy or if that word applies to me but I can't get these images and thoughts out of my head. That is the obsessive part of my brain and I just want it to chill. I just feel really uncomfortable about everything and am dumbfounded as to where
feeling like a woman went. I feel sort of trapped in the thinking and very confused. Does it get better? How did you manage your questioning and slow your mind down?

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Molias
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Even if your mom's saying these things to be helpful, it's probably a good idea for her to remember that she doesn't know what's happening inside your head and where your feelings are coming from. Based on how those conversations go, it may be helpful for you to talk to her a little less about how you're feeling at the moment. And maybe it won't! But I find it really stressful to have "working through thoughts" conversations with folks who want to come up with answers for me vs. letting me bounce ideas off of them.

I know I mentioned it earlier, but do you do any journaling at all, or does that sound like it might be helpful for you here? Just writing down how you're feeling in terms of gender on any given day, or what you think you want in your life, gender-wise, that you don't currently have (be it social, physical, relationship-wise, anything like that), could be a useful way to get some of this out of your head and somewhere else where it might not feel so overwhelming.
Kate Bornstein has a book called My Gender Workbook that I found fairly helpful when I was sorting through my gender-feelings early on; I know she's working on a new edition (the original is from 1997 and is dated in some ways) but it's not out quite yet.

What helped for me was a few things:
  • I finally went to a therapist to get my anxiety and depression diagnosed and under control.
  • I started making some tentative changes that felt like a good idea (enforcing use of my preferred name, some clothing changes, eventually hormone therapy) even if I wasn't sure exactly what they might mean in terms of my gender. I gave myself permission to try things out even if I wasn't 100% sure about them, and to change my mind if I wanted to do so down the road.
  • I spent time with friends who "got" gender or were willing to talk with me about it non-judgmentally, who encouraged me to play around with presentation, who respected my language choices. Some of this was online support but I was lucky enough to have a partner and some friends who were also having some gender identity changes and who enjoyed talking about this stuff with me.

I feel pretty at ease and confident about my own gender experience right now, but I won't pretend the first years that I was wrestling with all of this weren't overwhelming and tough sometimes.

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lm216
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I think a journal is a good idea and I'm lucky to have friends that are always super supportive. I probably should say less to my mom but I guess my ultimate fear is not being accepted and she's always been my rock. She's not having the easiest time understanding and I'm probably too dependent on her opinion. I just feel like I'm flailing and not sure where to start.
I did just cut my hair really short which I like and a friend of mine came shopping with me in the boys section. I think my fear is that I don't know where this is going and that I won't be able to handle what it means to really be me and still have a good life. Sorry if I'm repeating myself but its like one day I felt like a girl and then this and its like I haven't really felt like "me" or very girly in months. Its just disorienting and nothing seems natural anymore. Its frustrating and just want to feel okay again, but I guess I am where I am and need to start from there. Thanks for your feedback, I really appreciate it.

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lm216
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Hey Molias my obsessive thinking is really a problem. It's like I'm constantly focused on whether or not I'm comfortable and questioning if I'm happy with my presentation right now and worried that I'll never be happy and it's really keeping me from being in the moment. This all seems so sudden and I don't know if me over analyzing is making it worse. It's like I feel like I need to be something else or do something, but I'm not sure what. I just want some clarity and for the questions and urgency to subside for a bit just to breathe. It's really hard though.
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Molias
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I'm sorry to hear that this is still causing you so much distress. I know you said you'd mentioned some of these gender thoughts to your therapist before, but if you haven't delved into this issue much before, I'd encourage you to talk more about how anxious these thoughts are making you. Maybe next time you're in a therapy appointment, the two of you can go over some things you can do to manage these obsessive thoughts and anxiety when they come up?

In the meantime, what coping mechanisms have you worked out with your therapist to deal with obsessive thought patterns in general? Are there some things that have worked in the past that you can focus on doing consistently and mindfully right now, to give yourself some extra support around this?

To some extent there's only so helpful we can be in this space, as we can't provide mental health support and I think that's going to be really useful for you right now as gender worries seem to be really intense - and again, I'm really sorry to hear that this is the case right now.

How are you feeling about your haircut, and about some of those new clothes you bought? Do you think there's a way you can enjoy those right now and worry less about how you might feel about those aspects of your presentation in the future? Enjoying or experimenting with something new isn't a commitment to that thing forever.

Also, do you want to talk any more about your worries you stated above, about not being able to handle what it means to be "really" you and have a good life?

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lm216
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I've spoken with my therapist about this, but he's away for a couple of weeks. I thought I would be okay, but it has been harder not to go.
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lm216
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Hi Molias wanted to give you an update. My anxiety has subsided and I'm finally back in therapy, but this hasn't been easy to say the least. I'm trying to be as honest with myself as possible and I genuinely just feel confused about what it is I'm feeling/experience in terms of my gender. For most of this year I've felt a big absence of the feminimity I've felt up until now and as I've started to feel less anxious notice that it's still sort of there, but that I feel this sense of otherness about my gender. I sometimes think is it male and think it may be on that spectrum, but it's frustrating because I can't exactly pinpoint it. It feels right now at least like this mix and just wanted to see if you ever felt this way or know anyone else that has. All of this started to come up while doing some real work in therapy earlier this year and I know that this is part of being the authentic me, but it's all been such a mountain of emotions and anxiety. I think I'm starting to see the air clear a bit though and am feeling a little more accepting that I am probably genderqueer/trans, I think? I guess the biggest challenge in my life has been to just let things be and not get carried away with slapping a label to an experience and just feeling my way through it without judgement. Any advice?
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Molias
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Thanks for coming back with an update!

So, it sounds like the sense of uncertainty you're feeling around your gender is the biggest source of anxiety and discomfort right now; do I have that right?

To some extent, I think the only way to get through this sort of feeling is to ride it out, and to do what you can to accept a little bit of ambiguity in your life. I certainly had a lot of anxiety and upset feelings about feeling uncertain about my gender - there are many many entries in my old journal that will attest to this. And I don't know really know what made things change other than the fact that the slow, experimental steps I started to take felt better and better and made me feel more confident.

I'm wondering - are you feeling pressure to nail down a specific gender identity from anyone other than yourself? Because I think that might be something you could handle differently if it's an internally vs. externally originating idea.

I also want to mention that you can be a trans guy or a genderqueer person and also feel feminine some of the time, or feel a connection to femininity. Gender identity and expression can be very closely tied together, but there are plenty of femme trans guys, butch trans women, trans* and gq folks whose expression in terms of masculinity and femininity is all over the map depending on how they're feeling on a certain day or in a certain context.

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lm216
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Yes, I feel a connection to feminimity and don't really know what that means. I have felt feminine for most of my life up until now and it's like I'm trying to figure out what wants to be expressed and what is the most authentic thing right now. I think the anxiety comes from not knowing but also having these feelings in general. I'm scared to feel even more different than I already feel. I feel like I need to meet likeminded people in the area. I just had to move back in with my parents after losing my job, but was previously living in NYC. I will still be in NY a lot and would love to find others who have felt this way or are also questioning to talk to.
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lm216
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Also, what kind of changes did you make?
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Molias
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I found a listing of resources in the general NYC area; it's a pdf from the Callen-Lorde health center: http://callen-lorde.org/graphics/2012/03/NYC-Metro-TGNC-Resources.pdf The Center in NYC also has a resources list: http://www.gaycenter.org/nycresources Of course a lot of this isn't specifically trans-focused, but it looks like there could be some leads there. Also, if you want me to look for something closer to where you're living now, I can do that.

In my experience, support groups can really vary in how helpful they are depending on who's going and how they're moderated, but I would certainly encourage you to try one or a few out to see how they feel. It can be really helpful to talk with other trans folks in person! And some of the organizations you'll see in those links above offer therapy services as well; it might be helpful for you to talk about some of this with a therapist or counselor who's explicitly trans-friendly.

In terms of what changes I made: do you mean socially, medically, identity-wise?

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lm216
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Thank so much for the resources! And just out of curiosity I guess any of the changes you made that you feel comfortable sharing.
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Molias
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Sure, I can share a bit. All of this came after I did a lot of thinking and private journaling about how I was feeling about my gender - a lot of that was just me writing things like "I'm so confused, what does this mean?!?" a bunch of times.

I asked people to use my preferred name: first my close friends, then my professors and wider circle of friends/acquaintances, and finally with my extended family. I'd been kind of unofficially using it for a while, but this was the point where I let people know that I no longer considered it ok for them to use my birth name, which I'd tolerated until then.

I played around a little bit with clothing that I wore; I bought new clothes exclusively from the men's section. There was a political drag king troupe in my town and I used to go to shows "in drag" which was the only time I would bind (I found it too uncomfortable to do in my daily life). Most of what I wore was pretty non-flashy; lots of neutral and desaturated colors, nothing very attention-grabbing, and all a little big because I wasn't sure what to do about my chest.

2-3 years after I started seriously questioning my gender I started hormone therapy; at that point I officially changed my preferred pronouns. I wasn't really sure if where in the vague space between "masculine-of-center genderqueer" and "trans guy" my identity fell, but felt that I was somewhere in that area. As I started to have physical changes from testosterone I felt a little more comfortable with a trans male identity, but I struggled with the fact that changes were slow enough that a lot of people didn't pick up on them. I felt like I had to push my mannerisms and presentation a little farther into a stereotypically male area than I was that comfortable with, just to have a better chance of people using the right language for me.

In the past few years, as I find that more people are reading me as a guy, I've actually become LESS comfortable with that, and my identity has bounced back into a more fluid & genderqueer space. I wear nail polish and bright colors now, and because of the physical changes from hormone therapy and chest surgery I feel like people generally read me as a guy so I don't feel the need to self-police my behaviors as much as I used to. I'm still figuring out exactly what that means, but most of the changes I'm making now in my presentation are things that make me feel more relaxed & authentic in my gender (even though I'm not always certain what my gender is, some days).

Hopefully that's helpful in some way? I think it's important to remember that EVERYONE is going to have a very different sort of experience in experimenting with gender identity and presentation! So your path may look a lot different from mine.

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lm216
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Thanks for sharing! The more honest I am with myself the more I realize its somewhere on the trans male/boi spectrum and that feels very scary and confusing. I've had a number of hard talks with my mom to try to get her to understand, but it wasn't until I broke down cryin today that I think she's starting to get how important this exploration and realization is. I struggled with needing her approval and feel really sad that she doesn't totally get it. I don't even completely understand and just feel a constant sense of unease and like I'm stuck and going to feel this way forever. I've thought about moving to San Fran actually. It seems like a very genderqueer/trans friendly city. I feel like I need to muster up the courage to keep taking steps towards experimenting and meeting like minded people.
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Molias
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I think some of these scary feelings are the sort of thing that therapy can be really helpful with; have you talked about any of this with your therapist? Do you feel like they're a safe person to discuss gender with in general? If not, you may find it helpful to look for someone through one of those resource links I shared.

In terms of your mom's feelings and how she's taking this, have you seen this thread? There may be some resources there that are helpful for her. It can be easy to feel like it's your job to help your mom process her feelings about your gender, but that's really not a burden you should have to shoulder. http://www.scarleteen.com/forum/ultimatebb.php?/ubb/get_topic/f/25/t/000548.html

As a side note, speaking as someone who lives in SF - I do like living here! There are a lot of trans folks, and things like sliding-scale clinics and support groups are fairly easy to find and access. But like any city, it has its downsides too. It's very expensive to live here, and the job market's terrible, so it's not easy to just show up in the city and hope for the best. If you do wind up here, though, I can certainly point you towards local resources.

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