Many people have asked the question, how can you transition if you’re not male or female? What are you transitioning to?
The answer is different for every non-binary person. I know some people who have started hormones or had different surgeries. I know some people who started dressing differently. I know some people for whom the only transition they needed was to think of their gender in a different way, and shift their internal sense of themselves, without changing anything externally.
Some of what I personally did to transition has to do with dysphoria. Dysphoria is broadly defined as “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth” (World Professional Association for Transgender Health). Dysphoria for me can appear in many different ways, and often comes and goes without much rhyme or reason. On days I feel dysphoric, it can mean that I can’t find any clothes that make me feel comfortable with my presentation. It could also mean that I feel really uncomfortable with my chest, and can’t stand the feel or look of it. Dysphoria can leave me paralyzed, unable to move or dress myself. Some people feel dysphoria over their faces, voices, shoulders, hands, genitals, or any other part of their body.
But not all trans people experience dysphoria, or the same kind of dysphoria. They feel comfortable with some or all of their bodies. Some don’t feel the need to change in order to alleviate dysphoria. There are people who believe you need to have dysphoria to be transgender, but I am not one of those people. If you learn about gender, and explore your own and find you are more comfortable with a different label than the one given to you at birth, that’s all I believe you need to be transgender.
There are definitely some things I changed because to continue as I had would be too painful. But as someone who deals with dysphoria off and on, I don’t feel that my entire transitioning process has been dictated by dysphoria. And that brings me back to the original question I want to ponder – how does one transition while non-binary?
It might be easy to say, well, if you’re assigned female at birth, then binding, buying clothes from the men’s section, and cutting your hair means that you’re transitioning from feminine to masculine. And someone who was assigned male at birth identifying as non-binary and starting to wear more makeup and feminine clothes could be seen as transitioning from one end of the spectrum to the other side. Some non-binary people do identify that way. But personally, I dislike dichotomies. It’s true, I threw out some skirts and dresses. I own more v-necks. I cut my hair short. But I also have been buying new colors of lipstick recently and picking out cute dresses on thrift store hunts, so I don’t consider myself to be transitioning toward masculinity. I’m non-binary, in all the ways I dress and present myself and all the ways I change my body and appearance to better suit my internal sense of myself.
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It used to stress me out, thinking about having to prove to people that I am transgender and that I am transitioning. But I’m starting to realize and truly internalize that I don’t need to do anything to prove that I am trans, especially if it’s for the benefit of other people and not myself.
I don’t think I’ll ever be done transitioning, and I don’t think that, for me, transitioning means not doing x, or starting y. I transitioned by leaving the tiny box I had been forced into. I transitioned by looking at myself in the mirror and knowing I didn’t want to be a boy or a girl. I transitioned by not wearing clothes that made me uncomfortable anymore. I transitioned by asking people to use a different name and different pronouns. I transitioned by fighting for those pronouns. I transitioned by starting to wear sports bras – something that has changed the shape of my chest permanently. I transitioned by letting my body hair grow out in the ways I wanted it to. I transitioned by growing my nails out and learning to give myself manicures. I transitioned by buying more pink clothes. I transitioned by working out more so my arms looked the way I wanted them to. I transitioned by making myself pins, patches, and shirts with my pronouns on them. I transitioned by standing up for my gender in the classroom. I transitioned by telling my mom to only use my chosen name and pronouns.
I feel like transitioning isn’t quite the right word for what I do. I reify my gender through these actions and in my actions every day. It isn’t showy, its components change daily, and it will never be finished.
One thing that helped me validate my own tiny transitions is the realization that cisgender people reify their gender too. There is a quote I love from a piece called Dress to Kill, Fight to Win: “First, there is no naturalized gendered body. All of our bodies are modified with regard to gender, whether we seek out surgery or take hormones or not. All of us engage in or have engaged in processes of gender body modification (diets, shaving, exercise regimes, clothing choices, vitamins, birth control. etc) that alter our bodies, just as we’ve all been subjected to gender related processes that altered our bodies (being fed differently because of our gender, being given or denied proper medical care because of our gender, using dangerous products that are on the market only because of their relationship to gender norms, etc). The isolating of only some of these processes for critique, while ignoring others, is a classic exercise in domination. To see trans body alteration as participating and furthering binary gender, to put trans people’s gender practices under a microscope while maintaining blindness to more familiar and traditional, but no less active and important gender practices of non-trans people, is exactly what the transphobic medical establishment has always done.”
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We are all valid in our bodies and genders. The way we see ourselves and dress ourselves and take care of ourselves should be what makes us happy. It can be a struggle, for both cis and trans people, to love ourselves and our bodies. But I believe in each of our abilities to support one another and ourselves on our journeys to self-love.
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[Headline image: The photograph shows an art gallery in which several large photos on white canvas display various faces with both masculine and feminine attributes. The image to the far left is the side of a fair-skinned face with brownish red short hair. The next painting is a white masculine face with a blonde bob wig and a black mustache. The next image is an olive-skinned face with shoulder-length black hair. The next image is a feminine-presenting white face with short light brown hair and a brown mustache with a pink shirt. The image furthest to the right is the side of a feminine-presenting face with long black hair. There is a female presenting person standing in front of the far left image. She has dark wavy hair pulled in a high ponytail. She is wearing a blue sweater, jeans, and a red satchel.]