Trigger warning: this article contains an open and frank discussion about self-harm, suicidal thoughts and gender confusion
“Stop acting like a girl.”
“You’re worse than a woman.”
Since I was a kid, I have heard those words more times than I can count, said to me by family members, friends, teachers and almost every media outlet. I didn’t really take it as an insult from people I know, but instead I looked inside every time and thought, “am I really not a male?”.
What I learnt growing up is that boys aren’t allowed to feel, they aren’t allowed to dislike sports or cars and they aren’t allowed to cry. Huh?
Socially, gender roles are bullshit. Scientifically and medically, yes the categories most of the time are relevant in diagnosing a physical problem. But in terms of personality, they don’t mean anything because someone with a penis can be into stuff that society deems should only be liked by people with vaginas. A girl can be better at sports than a guy. A girl can like cars more than a guy. A girl can work whilst a guy looks after the kids. It’s all based on an individual personality, and since there are over seven billion of us then it means there are over seven billion variables.
Despite social gender being bullshit, the effect physical gender can have on trans people is severe. I am aware that I don’t have to fit in to stereotypes of what a boy should and shouldn’t be, but it gets far more complicated and upsetting when I want to actually be female in the physical sense.
There was this guy called Jonathan, who I used to be. He was a young, scared kid who knew something was wrong, but he went along with it because it was easier than accepting that he was different to other boys. There was something off with the way he spoke, the way he carried himself, the way he let people treat him, the way he treated others. It was all a lie for him, every day for such a long time, just so he could fit in with others. The more he lived the lie, the deeper the lie got. He didn’t let himself be who he was inside, because others had criticised who he was inside whenever it came to the surface. He was in touch with his emotions and didn’t understand why; he hated himself and didn’t understand why; he never felt comfortable around boys and didn’t understand why. Girls always drew him in and not because of sexuality: there was something else there that made him want to hang around with them.
Jonathan is gone now. He was real once, had thoughts and feelings conditioned by school and the media. I’d say all that’s left is his shell and that won’t be around for too long. I’m growing out of it.
I am Jess. Or J. Or JB. And I haven’t been a guy for a while, not inside anyway. When the surgeons inevitably have their way with me, I guess I will only be a guy in my past. For now, I am a 22 year old girl trapped in a guy’s body.
I used to be part of an all-female team at the place I worked. One day about two years ago, something occurred to me. One of the girls was wearing a sick outfit, which she usually does and I always would compliment her on them. My original thought started as just that, a thought. And then something clung to it. I started noticing things I had done in secret since I was a kid, stuff that must have been natural but my brain suppressed, like staring at myself in the mirror whilst posing effeminately, like the models do in magazines. I had done this because I liked the way my face and body looked when I did it. Or how I would look at a girl and want their hair, their lips, their eyes, their bone structure. It was all since I was a kid and I would suppress it.
That feeling developed and I tried to fight it. Before then, whenever I was emotional I thought there was just something off with me. It turns out I’m over emotional for a few reasons none of which really have much to do with gender. I have Borderline Personality Disorder which explains it. But my sensitivity and understanding, my intelligence, principles and view on the world seemed to match that of the women around me.
I remember living with it for a long while. Often struggling with it and not understanding each new revelation. Then when I finally came out as bisexual late last year, it opened up a whole can of worms.
I continued to hurt on my own. At work, I would want to wear their outfits, have their hair, their makeup, their bodies, do their social activities like going for cocktails or other “girly” things. I’d see women in the media and want to be them too. I wanted to be a woman. I didn’t talk to anyone about it.
It became more physical. My body felt wrong. It didn’t fit. It was a cage. My genitals were wrong and stopped working like they once did. I became, for the most part, asexual and still am, only able to have feelings emotionally for people. I couldn’t and still can’t imagine myself having sex with a male or a female anymore. Not in this body, anyway. I began looking at myself in the mirror naked and feeling around. It only felt right when I posed effeminately or covered my male body parts up. I knew I needed my body to be different. I began to feel unnatural without a vagina or breasts. This is where the difference between physical and societal gender comes in to play. When I say I’m female, I mean it in the physical way, where it counts.
I kept joking about being a girl to people, subtly and in a non-serious way as if it wasn’t real. I felt so alone and confused with it and had no idea what it meant. At a New Year’s party, I got drunk and jokingly asked a doctor there if it was possible for a guy to physically turn into a girl, because that’s genuinely what I wanted to happen. Prayed to happen.
The confusion had been spurning my depression for a long time but actually realising what it was sent me into a full-on spiral. I’ve been suicidal for most of the past four years due to my previously mentioned BPD. But this was something else, mainly because it didn’t have a foreseeable fix that I could eventually use to get out. Telling people was incredibly difficult, unlike my sexuality which was done mostly through texting. This was a lot of face-to-face chats with family and friends, all of which broke me. They all were supportive, if a little confused, and some still struggle with it, but I got lucky. I almost ended my life over it as I couldn’t see a way out though. I self-harmed worse than I ever had before over the pain I had with it.
I felt like I was born wrong. Months went by of trying to cope with it and it still kills me daily. It kills me most knowing that even when I get the change, some will still see me as a boy and not a girl. I fear that I will be one of those people, still able to see the male physical bone structure underneath the changes. I wish I had been born female, It sometimes feels like a cruel joke the universe played on me.
Although I have a long journey ahead of me, it’s one that will lead to a better place. A place where I am happy with my physical gender. Being out of hiding with it for so long I have begun to feel far more comfortable in my own skin, even if every day has all that pain. I’ve changed my name on most social media platforms to Jess, which my friends mostly call me, J or JB. I am embracing the feminine clothing and lifestyle a lot more too. I’ve also been to the doctors who have referred me to a psychiatrist that will start off the procedures. It may take a few years to even start the change, but it will be worth it to feel like the real me. It will get better. One day I will look at my body in the mirror and feel right. One day.
There is a woman writing this. A woman called Jess.
Words and art by Jess Brown