A Letter to My 15-Year-Old Gender-Questioning Self
Dear 15-Year-Old Me,
I first want to say: thank you. Thank you for daring to take on the complexity of the world with such a genuine curiosity for how it works, how it should work, and how you might fit into its mess of confusion. You are courageous for the life that you are beginning to lead and inspire many around you, even if you aren’t aware of it.
That being said, I am aware of you, and if there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you are deeply insightful. You are perceptive of The Mess, of others, and especially of yourself. You are self-aware to the point where you question everything, because could anything really be simple enough to merely notice and “accept”?
You easily deconstruct social norms, systems, behaviors, and values, laughing boldly at their absurdity. It’s one of my favorite things about you that you can always find humor in the contradictions that make up existence. (And yes, I agree: your tweets are underrated masterpieces.)
You question the fabric of all major institutions, including religion, education, government, race, psychology, sociology, history, art, nature, love, and life itself, why wouldn’t you be questioning gender and sexuality? Let me assure you, you are absolutely correct in questioning these systems, gender and sex included. You are not some isolated brand of crazy, defective, or malformed for having doubts and insecurities about your gender and sexuality. You are on the right path in exploring how gender and sex function in society, and how you are involved in that particular mess.
Your quirky intuition is accurate; you are fabulous for going thrifting and picking out campy and gaudy shirts to pair with your pink and purple hair. You are hilarious for wearing snarky graphic tees and niche band shirts that your peers might not get the reference of. You are adorable wearing your button-down flannels from the men’s department, and your vintage vans sneakers. You are innovative in how you express your internal aesthetic, and how you playfully disturb the conventions of what it means to look feminine, masculine, and androgynous. You don’t need to doubt the fabrics, style, or personal artistry of what feeds your creative spirit; you’re clowning it up in the best ways.
Yet, despite how fun it is for you to be experimental with personal fashion and expression, I also know that adjacent to the irony and sarcasm, you are deeply sensitive, and are anxious about the implications that your aesthetic style might have, especially the aesthetics of what lies beneath the clothing and accessories. I know that lurking underneath all that “you” is something almost unbearable: the loathed “real” you, your actual body. Your physical form… and who the hell wants that, right? Who would ask to contain all this soul in such a limited vessel? A body which needs constant maintenance, nourishment, attention, grooming, pruning, and reasonably shallow efforts at conventional attractiveness? Not you; not anyone who wishes to transcend such restrictive structures.
Oh, to be a music note, an abstract painting, a rainbow, a fluid entity defined by nothing, least of all time and space… It is beyond a wonderful fantasy to imagine yourself being expansively free to exist only as pure energy, an unreserved spirit allowed to break through the contrivances society and those around you impose; permitted to be and be loved for your true self. I know you don’t want to feel stereotypical, but this is a universal symptom of the condition known as ‘being human’.
Sometimes you only disclose it in the sappy poetry you compose in your notes app or in an existentialist meme on Tumblr, but most often you can’t help but wear it on your sleeve: the misfortune that you are more human than you’d like to admit. You are emotional, and deeply so. You are sensitive to every instance of cruel suffering and every moment of joyous light. You carry the heavy burden of mixed feelings that route through every possible emotional stop, and this can be exhausting. Sometimes it feels easier to just lie down and rest, disappear, and escape from all the chaos, and put down the weight of your self, entirely.
I know that more than anything you yearn to be witnessed and understood, accepted and appreciated for all your strength, wisdom, heart, and individuality. To be loved unconditionally for your true self, despite the sense that your true self is somewhat flawed, a bit insecure, too human, is all you are trying to achieve.
If only you didn’t have to contend with your body: the weird, uncomfortable form you see in the mirror and in the selfies on your shameful camera roll. If only you could have a physical body that showed other people the truth of who you are, instead of representing you only with primary and secondary sex characteristics that shorthand you as “just some girl” — just some girl who is expected to “grow up” and become not only a girl, but a woman who has to make something of herself in a messed-up world which has not been set up for her. How could a gentle, non-conforming soul like yours possibly concede to the life of a girl, let alone a woman?
Surely there has to be another option, and amazingly you seemed to have found it. In fact, you’ve discovered a whole treasure trove of “options” and gender identity labels that you can adhere to your personality like glittery Lisa Frank stickers, and you have proudly and precisely discerned the most accurate descriptor that matches your true self. You are genderqueer, and you are now free to define yourself as abstractly, colorfully, defiantly as you want! You have an explanation to point to whenever someone questions why you aren’t fitting in, why you aren’t able to be categorized normally, and most importantly, why you aren’t expected to look, act, dress, think, or feel, like a girl. Everything seems so clear now: you can start living your authentic life.
If only you could have a physical body that showed other people the truth of who you are, instead of representing you only with primary and secondary sex characteristics that shorthand you as “just some girl”…
Nothing has really changed. You are still experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. You still long to feel at home in your body, and especially to have others view you as someone worth admiring, possibly even loving and desiring, the way you secretly hope for and yet assume no one will. You are still having doubts and worries about everything, and it’s all centered around yourself. The language you use to describe yourself isn’t taking away your human nature, nor your biological body and its subsequent flaws.
You still feel frustrated with the lack of understanding and connectivity you have with others, and you blame yourself for it. Even being queer, you feel alienated from yourself and are sad and lonely. You resent yourself for being so emotional, so weird, so needy, so withdrawn. You sometimes question whether it’s worth it to be your true self at all, if the authenticity and vulnerability mean disconsolation.
And yet, there is a fiery spark inside you that momentarily proclaims: “I am not the problem.” A small, underdeveloped part of you knows instinctively that who and what you are is totally fine. You are a good person, and you are worthy of love and acceptance despite your perceived flaws. Like many vibrant and sensitive human beings who are cognizant of this world, you are skilled at critique and analysis, so much so that you scrutinize yourself unjustly.
You want to make the world a better place, so you feel the need to improve and be the optimal version of yourself, fantasizing about a person that could move most effectively through society, and achieve everything that you hope for. You daydream of a self that could always be recognized and treated with the respect not often rewarded to a funky 15-year-old female, even one who adamantly flies a queer pride flag. It really isn’t fair…
But still, here I am now. A funky 24-year-old female, one who bizarrely even uses she/her pronouns and calls herself a woman. I know you might think I’m crazy, but I actually wear clothes from the men’s and women’s departments, paint my nails, wear earrings, and carry a purse around.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to indoctrinate you into a cult of girlishness, nor have I bent to the will of performative femininity and become slave to the patriarchy. Rest assured: I’m. Still. Wearing. The. Hawaiian. Shirts. I still don’t shave my body hair. I still don’t wear high heels. I still don’t put on a full face of makeup in order to participate in the circus of life. I’m still dedicated to being my true self above all, and I’m actually funkier than ever before!
And what’s really cool, is that I’m not even calling myself genderqueer anymore, nor genderfluid, agender, or transgender. After several years of searching for a gender identity that was most optimal for me, I realized that I didn’t even need one. The most ideal identity for me was the self that I already was, just by measure of being human. I looked everywhere around me searching for myself in others, and deeply inside, and then I looked in the mirror and saw myself for who and what I was; the body and biological form that housed my spirit, the vessel that not only contained my soul, but was fundamentally fused together with my soul.
It turns out that the sexed and gendered body that I never related to or wanted is actually the home I have always lived in. Every moment of peace and happiness I’ve felt has been experienced inside, with, and because of my female body. Thinking of myself as a woman no longer upsets me because I have finally started to recognize women to be as human as men, and I am no longer frightened of being human.
Every moment of peace and happiness I’ve felt has been experienced inside, with, and because of my female body.
And so, my weird and wonderful 15-year-old self, the only difference between you and me is that I have become radicalized in a way you have still to discover: the practice of acceptance. A radical acceptance and forgiveness of yourself for existing as human. For being a vastly complex girl with an eccentric flair, a tender heart, and a thoughtful enigma. I know you are far too skeptical to internalize anything at face value, but I posit this question for your rumination: What if you didn’t need gender?
What if you could truly wear whatever crazy stuff you wanted? Adorn yourself however you pleased? Say whatever was on your mind? Learn and practice whatever skill or hobby you liked? Group yourself with whatever friends you had the most fun with? Ask out anybody you want to take a shot at? All while feeling like you were allowed to do so. That you had the right body for it. That you had the right personality and temperament for it. That you were doing just fine surviving and thriving in your adolescence as young women have done for thousands of years.
This is what I have freed myself to do by radicalizing myself as a woman. By appreciating that my female form is the only natural source of my vitality, and that no gender identity label nor medical intervention could change this, I have learned how to lean into the funky energy of femininity, masculinity, androgyny, and humanness simultaneously. I don’t need to confine myself to standards imposed by society or impossible self-imposed desires to become someone or something that I cannot and need not be in order to find love for myself.
What I wish you could believe in was yourself. I wish you could believe that you could embrace your funky female self, and everything will fall into alignment.
Love Truly, Your 24-Year-Old Incarnation
This testimony was written by Laura Becker, a woman who stopped the transition, looking back at her pre-transition self. We thank Laura for her permission to publish this inspiring work. It was originally published on Genspect.