As a teenager, I remember lying in bed wishing that my anatomy was different. I hated the downstairs plumbing and desperately wished for the alternative. I would lay their imagining what it would be like to live as a man. While it never felt quite right, neither did living as a woman.
Growing up in a small town in New Hampshire, I had never heard of transgender nor was I aware that there were genders other than man and woman. The thoughts I had in the dark of night were a tightly held secret steeped in shame. It’s a secret still not fully divulged. Before this I have told no one the extent of the longings I once felt. While not as strong or desperate as they were in my teenager years, I still get pangs of longing for a different body.
My senior year of high school, a friend came out to me as a trans. I was the first person he told and felt honored to be entrusted with such a personal secret. It wasn’t until after we graduated that he transitioned but it was an amazing process to watch. I saw him become happier and more confident as his body transformed to match him. Secretly, I harbored slight jealously that I didn’t fully understand.
During college, I began to learn more about gender. I learned about trans people, gender dysphoria, gender identity, and the falsehood of the gender binary. When I learned of nonbinary identities, something resonated deep within and I reflected back to all those nights of longing. Yet, I didn’t feel comfortable identifying as nonbinary. I feared being viewed as just another trend follower. It felt like a lie to identify as such because while I sometimes wished for a different body, I’ve never had strong gender dysphoria.
More recently, emboldened by the supportive community on Tumblr, I have begun to explore my gender identity which has left me with more questions than answers. You see, my exploration of gender has left me questioning the role my neurodivergence and chronic illness plays in my perception (or lack thereof) of my own gender.
I have endometriosis, a chronic and invisible illness in which endometrial cells grow outside of the uterus. While if affects different people in different ways, the effects range from infertility to chronic pain. I, personally, am in near constant pain as a result of this illness, pain that is focused in pelvic region. This pain has greatly impacted my quality of life and has made everyday tasks a struggle. I am receiving treatment now that helps to lessen these effects but it is still an ever present struggle for me.
As a disease that that centers around “woman” parts, I have to question how this has affected my perception of my body and myself. With the severe pain I experience from my uterus and ovaries, it makes sense that I would have some level of disdain for these parts. Is my desire for alternative plumbing related to my gender or is it a desire to escape the pain and suffering associated with the parts I do have?
I don’t have a clear answer on this yet, but I have some thoughts. While my periods were always bad, it wasn’t until my 20s that the pain become severe and increased in frequency. Prior to this, I thought that the pain I was experiencing every month was a normal part of being a woman. While my period was rough throughout high school, I didn’t have the same bad associations with my internal organs that I have now. Meanwhile, I was experiencing strong desires to change my body during that time. I think that this makes the two mostly unrelated, but I’m not sure. Perhaps there were subconscious associations that I was unaware of that made me dislike my parts.
Aside from endometriosis, my exploration of gender has been further complicated by my neurodivergence. I am autistic as well as having ADHD, PTSD, schizoaffective disorder, and anxiety. My mixed bag of neurodivergence comes with benefits and challenges and affects every aspect of my life and who I am. Of course, I should have expected this to apply to gender as well, but it took me a little while to connect the dots.
I understand gender as it applies to others. The gender spectrum makes sense to me and I fully support those who are trans or nonbinary as well as those who are comfortable with the gender they were assigned. However, when it comes to my own gender, I struggle to conceptualize it. I know that when people refer to me as a woman it feels strange. I know that I’ve never felt like femininity fit me. I know that in my own head I don’t think of myself as a woman. But I also know that man doesn’t really fit either. I know that pronouns don’t really matter to me. I’m ok being referred to as he, she, or they. I know that I likely won’t ever actually change my body. But I don’t know what I am.
When I try to think about gender in regards to myself, nothing seems to fit right. I feel like I draw a big blank. I think a lot of this is related to my neurodivergence. As a part of my autism, I struggle with alexithymia which makes it difficult for me to identify what I’m feeling. As a part of my schizoaffective disorder, my sense of self changes drastically as my moods fluctuate. As a part of my PTSD, I struggle with womanhood because part of me thinks that if I were perceived as a man I wouldn’t have been raped (though I do know that men are also victims of rape). My different neurodivergencies intermingle in such a way that I struggle to understand my gender.
I currently consider myself nonbinary gendervague. Gendervague is a gender identity for neurodivergent people who feel their neurodivergence affects their ability to understand their own gender. When I found this word, I finally had my aha! moment. I had finally found a gender identity that I could see myself in.
My gender may be a confusing mess for me, but that’s ok. Gender can be a journey and we don’t need to perfectly understand our gender to be valid.