Growing up non-binary in a gendered world

June 3, 2021

Photograph by Rosemary Ketchum from Pexels

Jamie Aldridge shares what it feels like to be dissatisfied with the label ‘female’

Like a lot of young people, I first heard the word ‘trans’ and what it means to be ‘transgender’ on the Internet.

Transgender people are individuals who have a gender identity that differs from their assigned sex – male, female or intersex.

I’m non-binary. What that essentially means is that I feel like my gender identity is different from the two ‘main’ or socially accepted ‘binary’ genders — male and female.

I’m not a boy or a girl.

Non-binary people may consider themselves transgender. I do.

I was born female but I don’t want to transition to male – I just don’t want to be a girl or be seen as one by society. I’ve never felt like ‘female’ or ‘girl’ or ‘women’ are words that describe how I feel about myself. My pronouns are they / them and my name is purposefully gender-neutral.

I’ve always had body image issues, at least since I was in primary school. I was ashamed to change with the girls for swimming lessons. I didn’t like undressing and showing my body around other people.

At secondary school, I’d change for PE in the toilets and come to the lesson in my kit. It was at this all-girls secondary school where I felt the most awkward and out of place. I was unhappy and confused because I couldn’t understand why I seemed to be so much more uncomfortable in my body than all the other girls.

I felt very self-conscious, and my body felt ‘wrong’ as if it didn’t belong to me.

For years my friends and family assumed that my problems were normal; just the usual discomfort that girls feel when their bodies are changing during adolescence. I realised it was much more than that.

I don’t want to transition to male – I just don’t want to be a girl

“Your puppy fat will drop away as you grow and develop into young adults, and you’ll transform into strong and independent women.” I heard this stuff a lot from encouraging female teachers.

I was thankful to hear about these positive changes. I’d mature with strength and independence. I just wasn’t happy with becoming a woman.

I knew on some level that my problems ran deeper than the usual pressures put on young girls in our society: to be thin, tall, and gorgeous.

As I felt disconnected from my gender from a young age, I’ve known from very early on that the labels of ‘girl’ ‘woman’ or ‘female’ don’t describe how I feel about my body and my gender. Because of this, I experience a lot of gender dysphoria.

Dysphoria is a general term meaning ‘a profound state of unease or dissatisfaction’. Gender dysphoria is a specific term relating to the extreme unhappiness, discomfort or distress caused by someone’s gender or biological sex, or a certain aspect of his or her body, which they feel, doesn’t fit their gender identity.

Not every trans person experiences dysphoria about every aspect of their body. You don’t have to experience dysphoria in order to identify as trans.

I don’t have a very feminine figure, so my body shape doesn’t really bother me, and I’ve been told I have a naturally low voice, too (for a female anyway), which I like.

I have a better understanding of why I am the way I am

The aspect of my body I dislike the most is my chest. I wear special undershirts called ‘binders’ which bind the female chest to give a flatter and more masculine (or androgynous) appearance. In June I’ll be having top surgery, so I’ll never have to wear a binder again!

I realise gender roles are much more diverse than girls wearing make-up and boys playing football, but I know I’m far more boyish than the average girl and always have been. I think my life would be easier, and I’d be happier now if I’d been born a boy.

Yet I don’t really want to be a boy. I just don’t want to be a girl.

I’m still self-conscious every moment of the day, to some extent. I researched online a lot to find experiences like mine.

Eventually, I came across articles by trans people about how diverse ‘gender’ can really be. There’s more to it than people being born ‘boys’ or ‘girls’. Not everyone feels the labels assigned to them at birth were correct.

It’s then that I realised how much I related to them. I suddenly thought to myself, “Wow, so this is the proper word for it?” and my feelings of ‘otherness’ made much more sense after that.

Thankfully, I’m in a much better place than I used to be. I’ve socially transitioned and am about to start my medical transition. I feel very lucky to have friends and colleagues who accept me for who I am.

I struggled to understand my identity before I knew what being trans meant. Now I’ve found a label I identify with, I feel more comfortable in myself and I have a more firm sense of self. I have a better understanding of why I am the way I am.