Look at me
I will never pass for a perfect bride
Or a perfect daughter
Can it be
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see
That if I were truly to be myself
I would break my fam’ly’s heart

Who is that girl I see
Staring straight
Back at me?
Why is my reflection someone
I don’t know?
Somehow I cannot hide
Who I am
Though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?
When will my reflection show
Who I am inside?

(Songwriter: James Merrill Brickman)

When I first saw Mulan, I felt as though I’d finally found a Disney “princess” with whom I could identify. Though my family and the Mormon culture did not take things to quite the same extreme as that of ancient China, I felt her plight in trying to fit into a role for which she felt unsuited. My entire childhood was bombarded with efforts to curb and shape me into the person my parents and my church felt I was meant to be. Meanwhile, I felt as though I was being forced to give up pieces of myself, and especially, as if my mother would never truly love me.. for just being me.

My father did not seem to mind that I was a “tom-boy”. He was glad I wanted to learn how to maintain a vehicle. He was happy to take me camping and fishing and teach me how to build a fire. He gave me a venomous snake identification book so that I could be safe while out catching snakes, frogs, and lizards. He helped me build a tree house. He supported me in my love of dirtbiking. He even seemed flattered by my desire to customize his old army bdu’s so I could wear them myself. I was permitted to dress up as whatever I chose for Halloween, and those costumes included Simba, a ninja turtle, a ghostbuster, a jedi, a ninja, and Robin Hood. I never went as a princess or a witch or anything even remotely feminine.

My mother, however, was always trying to work things in. She wanted me to wear bows in my hair. To wear dresses. To be in ballet and wear a pink tutu. To learn how to french braid. To learn how to cook and sew. Upon hitting puberty, she’d take me shopping in the girls section and insisted on buying me a few outfits that weren’t my older brother’s hand-me-downs. She made fun of me in front of my friends for not wanting to shave my legs or armpits. She tried to convince me to try on some makeup. She wanted to make a dress for me for prom, which I had no desire to attend. Even now, she often tries to get me to go shopping with her, and she’ll pick out pink lacy bras and underwear for me to try on. And she constantly tries to play matchmaker and set me up with guys I have no interest in dating.

While it was generally acceptable for me to enjoy doing “boy things”, it was apparently unacceptable for me to look like a boy while doing it, and it was equally unacceptable for me to NOT enjoy doing “girl things”. At church, I found comfort in songs like “Every Star is Different, and So is Every Child”, while I also had a message jammed down my throat that my gender was “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose” (The Family Proclamation). From 12 to 18, I participated in the Young Women’s program, designed to prepare the young women of the church for their divine roles as women and mothers. I found many of the activities dull, and pointless, and boring, and I wished I could be part of the boy scouts and join them in their pinewood derby, camping, and other more interesting activities.

Since that was not an option, I attempted to influence the activities we did as young women, participating in planning and brainstorming in the hopes that the other girls shared my desire to have activities on vehicle maintenance, edible plant identification, self defense, carpentry, etc. I reveled in the yearly “girls camp” as an opportunity to finally get out and “rough it”, enjoying two weeks of bliss out in the woods. It was not, however, quite what I’d expected. A couple years had us sleeping in cabins instead of tents. And we spent more time on arts and crafts than we did archery or hiking. Snipe hunting was noticeably absent, as was zip-lining, carving, trail blazing, orienteering, herping, and repelling.

Never once did I consider the possibility that this “system” was what was wrong. I assumed it was me. I assumed I was doing something wrong. That I was somehow missing something that would make me fit better into this feminine role everyone seemed to think was required of me because I had breasts and a uterus. I tolerated those things I really disliked, hoping that such tolerance would shape me into the person I was apparently meant to be. Because I made every effort to fit into the role that was expected of me, I entered a relationship that thrust me into the gender role for which I’d been prepared.

I did not like being called beautiful. I did not like being coddled or babied. I did not like being treated like I was some kind of fragile flower. And I especially did not like it when the “endearing” commentary turned abusive. I did not like it when my husband called me a slut. I did not like it when he claimed my attire meant I was “asking to be raped” (sweatpants? really??). I did not like being expected to passively submit. I did not like “servicing” his sexual needs and desires.

When I entered that relationship, I felt generally good about myself. I was pursuing my “tom-boy” interests, dressing comfortably, and not giving a hoot who felt offended by my lack of femininity. When I left that relationship, I felt awful, and it wasn’t just the emotional turmoil and distress of having been abused. It was the ever present feeling that I somehow did not belong in my own body. I looked in the mirror and I felt ashamed. I avoided pictures. I tried to satisfy my depression by trying to make myself feel beautiful – trying to find clothing that accentuated my curves. I tried diet and exercise in an effort to get my stress weight under control and feel lean, and toned, and fit again. But every effort I made only seemed to make me feel worse.

Trying to just be yourself in a world that doesn’t accept you the way you are is an emotional roller coaster. I had no words to explain my plight until recently. I did not even understand what was wrong. I did not understand why I was struggling so much to feel happy and complete. While I was warring with my own inner turmoil, I was becoming educated about homosexuality and gender identity in an effort to be supportive of my friends in the LGBTQ community. I supported them as an ally, but I had no idea that their battle was my own.

Deep down, I understood what it felt like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to being forced into conformity, but I still considered myself a straight woman. I was supportive, because what decent human being wouldn’t be supportive of individuals striving to overcome a social stigma that drives them to suicide?lgbtq_awareness001

I read stories like Leelah’s, and I was heartbroken. I came to realize that my own church was creating an environment that was hostile to people just trying to feel comfortable in their own skin. I realized that my tithes were funding an organization that was politicking for discrimination against their own children who were attempting and committing suicide at record rates in Utah, because of the teachings and doctrine of the church that told them their very existence was sinful and evil. I realized that countless parents have disowned their children and tossed them on the street for coming out queer, or bisexual, or transgender… or anything different from what the world expected them to be.

 As I started to educate myself on the biology of sexual and gender development (among other things), I found myself finally able to let go of the teachings I had long considered “true” but which had cause me and so many others distress. I accepted that my church leaders and teachers were WRONG about gender. It is not “divine”, and it does not always “match”. Sex and gender are two different things. While most people are either male identifying men or female identifying women, there are some who are male identifying women and female identifying men. Exactly how this gets “flipped” is still being studied, but it is clearly influenced by a combination of genetics, hormonal exposure, and environmental and cultural factors. Development isn’t “perfect”, and it does not always result in what would be considered normal and acceptable by the general populace.

In studying and accepting the facts, instead of assuming the teachings I grew up with were correct and trumped scientific evidences, I was finally able to evaluate my own experiences, feelings, and disparities and come to a conclusion that didn’t leave me wondering what was “wrong” with me. When I finally accepted that there was nothing wrong with me, and I do not need to force myself to fit into any stereotypical roles, everything fell into place.

Admitting that I was sexually attracted to women felt liberating. (For more information on that, you can read my post “Coming Out”.) For some reason though, admitting I was also transgender was terrifying. I think it was because, more than admitting being attracted to women, admitting this meant absolutely rejecting everything I was taught and brought up to be. It meant completely throwing away the stereotypes. It meant changing the way I try to present myself. And it meant facing a world-wide society that considers my deviation from the norm abhorrent.

However, despite the fear, it also meant I could let go of so many psychological chains that had been holding me back and pinning me down. I didn’t HAVE to be “beautiful”. I didn’t HAVE to feel “feminine”. I didn’t HAVE to even present myself as a woman! And I could also choose how far I was willing to take the transition. I don’t have to go through hormone replacement therapy or seek out a sex change if I don’t feel ready for or even desire such a huge change. I can just let go of everything society has always expected of me and just be the person I’m comfortable being.

I can accept myself and feel comfortable in my own skin, and it is amazing how just a few simple changes can make such a huge difference in how I feel about myself. I purchased men’s underwear, men’s hygiene products, stopped wearing a bra, bound my chest, and put on men’s attire, and I finally feel like I can look in the mirror and see ME. I finally feel comfortable taking pictures of myself. It doesn’t matter that the world will see me as an oddity. I’m accepting myself for who I am, and I don’t feel forced any more. I feel free.

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