Reevaluating my gender identity since early childhood

Genderqueer participants disclose a poignant theme of not having the language to express their experience of gender until late into adolescence or early adulthood. This experience is also repeatedly described as a feeling of something being 'wrong.'

Liam P. Malone: Gender identity and childhood experiences: an introductory quantitative study of the relationship between gender identity and adverse childhood experiences

My re-encounter with my inner child a fortnight ago and my work with my inner child has made me rethink my gender identity development since childhood. Until now I understood that I have always had some problems with fitting into masculinity (or one of the masculinities), but I had never considered that I might have felt unhappy with being a boy or a man - depending on my age. Now I don't know. The issue becomes even more complicated as I have absolutely no memories until the age of 10, and then very few, let alone in relation to how I felt, as I lived most of my childhood and adolescence very disconnected from my emotions.

Does it make sense to re-evaluate my past? What for?

I feel it does. At first the issue clearly disturbs me. Not in the sense that I am rethinking my genderqueer identity today. I feel comfortable with both my identity and my decision more than three years ago to take estrogen and thus queer my body. But I'm moved with respect to my past, to my own history of how I've come to define myself as genderqueer. And I don't know if there is a trauma here too.

One of the things that has come up in my work or in my encounters with my inner child is that I almost always see them in a dress, and they are sad without their dress. Two days ago I wrote:

Almost two years ago I wrote about the trauma of masculinity, and that reflecting on the impact of sex assigned at birth brought me to tears. But I couldn't imagine a gender identity (or expression) issue even in my childhood.

When I think about this issue, I often feel a lot of emotions and I have to cry, or at least it makes me very tearful. As I have already written, I doubt very much that as a child I tried to live this way, that I only once wore a dress. It is very clear to me that the rejection of my parents would have been enormous. And this is probably where the emotions come from - from the fear as a child to express myself the way I felt. I don't want to say that I felt like a girl - I don't think things are that simple, and that wearing a dress automatically means that I felt like a girl. Maybe I just liked the dresses. In my encounters with my inner child, the dress makes my child smile - something that doesn't happen much. Or, maybe it was a reflection of a non-conformity with the (male) gender assigned to me at birth, without necessarily feeling like a girl. Maybe it was a feeling that something was 'wrong', in the words of Liam P. Malone.

We are talking about the early 1970s (I do focus on my inner child of seven or eight). I had no models, no language, for expressing non-conformity with male gender, neither at this age, nor in my teenage years (at perhaps 14, i.e. 1978). Obviously, trans people existed, but they were largely invisible. I doubt very much that in my childhood I had only a remote idea of what a trans person is. And I don't know about my adolescence. And, in those years, if there was a representation of trans people, it was very binary and generally a caricature.

Thinking back to my adolescence, I know that I felt uncomfortable with male expectations, or, rather, that they often made me feel bad. I think about physical education, I think about male posturing, I think about all-male groups... At the same time, I didn't have access to female spaces either, as girls read me as a boy... I don't know if I would have liked these spaces either. I don't know, many times I felt simply lost, and very alone. And I also suffered homophobic bullying from my (male) friends, probably from the age of 14 or so, which didn't exactly help to allow me to experiment more with my gender expression or identity. There wasn't a supportive or open environment.

I think I started to experiment more with how I dressed already in Oldenburg, when I was almost 30 years old. I didn't dress overtly feminine, but I had periods of dressing less masculine, with leggings and short jeans on top of the leggings. I remember buying my first (men's) tights in Oldenburg, but I never wore them openly. I took them with me to London, but initially, there it was the same, and when I entered into a relationship with a person then identified as male (which lasted eight years), I stopped experimenting. I remember feeling ashamed. I started to experiment more after the end of that relationship, but without going as far as wearing openly female clothes (no skirts, no dresses).

Discovering queer theory perhaps in the mid-1990s opened up another world for me, but it remained very internal, with a lot of fear of talking about it or living it. I think I was beginning to define myself as queer (rather than gay) in reference to queer theory (and not as a fashionable term for not saying gay or LGBT) in the late 1990s, with a critique of any masculinity, including new masculinities or gay masculinities. It was clear to me that I didn't want to fit into any masculinity, but, as Liam P. Malone also says, I didn't have the language to express my gender experience, I hadn't yet found either the term nonbinary or genderqueer. I didn't feel that anything was wrong, but I did feel that what was there was not my thing, that I felt neither male nor female. But I didn't really talk about it either.

This only changed in Sevilla, maybe seven years ago. Little by little I was able to put words to what I felt about my gender identity, until I publicly defined myself as genderqueer at the beginning of 2014. The truth is that it was a liberation to clearly step out of the binary framework that this cisheteropatriarchal society offers us. And I still feel it as a liberation. I have no desire to place myself back in the binary again.