It’s a strange thing, how often you can make new discoveries about yourself in such a short amount of time. Realizing I saw myself as agender was one of those times, although it wasn’t a gradual progression for me. It came to me, rather suddenly, as I was lying down to go to sleep one night. There’s always a common link between lying in bed at night and having these kinds of thoughts; having realizations about one’s life. It was like a sudden spotlight flicking on, revealing where I was on the stage, and showing me, finally, what character I was. In that moment, I realized I didn’t see myself as male or female. Neither of the words seemed to fit. As I thought on it more, I started thinking that they might never have to begin with.
I was thrilled to have had this revelation and gain a better understanding of myself, but it came with some degree of regret as well. I kept thinking, for months after realizing it and trying out neutral pronouns, that it would have been so much better if I had known this years ago and had more time to get comfortable with this new sense of self. I could have made use of the LGBT resource center at college. That could’ve been another way of making connections and meeting more people. People like myself.
Since graduating and moving back home, I’ve been struggling with depression and a kind of longing for the past. I kept wishing I could go back to where I was in college. I had friends there and a sense of purpose. I had a clear sense of who I was and who I wanted to be.
I felt I had lost that once I graduated. Many of my friends had moved away or moved on to new parts of their lives and it was harder to keep in contact with them. It’s not something I blame them for or hold against them, but it still didn’t make things easier. I became lost in my day job, which didn’t provide the same kind of stimulation, instead giving way to daily repetition. I didn’t feel like myself at all, or really like anyone at all. I had the usual outlets to keep me afloat; friends, family and hobbies, but it often felt like it wasn’t as effective, like the power that it once had was slowly dwindling.
Yet this sparked a sense of self in me again. There was something new I was realizing about myself that could, potentially, take my life in a new direction and break me out of the rut that I found myself mired in. This was in May 2017 and it has been just over a year since then. I found communities online, started attending pride events, and encountered people who were like me. My expansive social circle that had once dwindled started to grow again.
This fairly major discovery gave way to smaller discoveries that kept coming to me over the course of the next year. I kept finding new revelations that explained things about myself, things that I never fully understood when I was young. Invariably, it often had to do with how I presented myself online. It had become a convenient way to explore my identity, even if I wasn’t fully aware of it.
It’s more common for people to show what they look like when they’re on the internet now. People want to show their appearance, which there’s nothing wrong with. When I was a kid though, that wasn’t really the case. In school, I was encouraged to not show what I looked like online or even give out my real name. Everyone in my class was taught this, actually. We had to watch a whole presentation about how you never truly know who or how many people were on the other side of the monitor. They never said it outright, but the general default seemed to land on the other person being a murderer, so you never wanted them to know where you lived or what you looked like. Someone showing you a picture of themselves was a rare thing and a sign of trust, in my experience.
I had a few people ask me to show a picture, although I rarely actually used pictures of myself. There were people I was close to that earned that privilege, but more commonly I would use a picture of a random person, usually taking from street photography I found online. I wouldn’t claim to be the person in the photo, but I would claim that’s basically how I look. I thought I was very clever, but I’m sure it’s a ruse no one actually fell for.
Yet there was a common theme in all the photos I chose. Invariably, the person was someone whose gender could not be determined simply by looking at them. They were always more androgynous. At the time, I don’t think I was aware of any reason why. The photos I chose unearthed something in me, giving me that feeling of seeing myself even though I was fully aware it wasn’t and it wasn’t even close to how I actually looked. Yet, when I look on it now, it almost feels like I was showing how I wished I looked. My ideal face.
I’ve always struggled with having what was considered a generally masculine appearance. I’ve had frequent anxiety about having facial hair and body hair. I never wanted chest hair or arm hair, yet I have it all the same. It was a way of vicarious living, I suppose. Lately it’s been easier to find things I like about my body, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. Like most things, it takes practice, I imagine. Although, I get better as time goes on.
In a way, that was the advantage of having an online presence. I could cultivate this image I wanted of myself. Some saw it as deception, building relationships off of a lie, and it was. I didn’t think it was as harmful. Most of that attitude seemed to be from people who preferred I be female, because of the potential of an online relationship. I never pretended to be female or claimed to be. Most people assumed I was based off the way I spoke online. It came off as more feminine to people, as I’d been told. Yet somehow, I was fine with that. People mistaking me for a girl, strangely, didn’t get under my skin.
However, when I did consider myself male, only a few people actually knew, and sometimes they would tell strangers and I found that infuriating. I didn’t want people to know. I still didn’t want people to think I was female either. I didn’t want people to think anything. At the time, I justified it as people not wanting to form an opinion of me based on my gender. I wanted it to be thought of based on how I acted as a person. Though people seem to assume one or the other anyway. I suppose it’s a natural curiosity in people.
At the time, the only categories in my head were “male” and “female.” It could’ve been that, without realizing it, I was taking the only option I knew of that was the closest to saying “neither.” It didn’t make sense to me at the time. I didn’t understand why I was doing these things or why these things upset me, even as they were happening. It was just my natural, intrinsic reaction. It was not something I could explain.
It became clear to me as to why when I had the realization of who I was. For me, it explained all of those things and numerous others. More than I would’ve imagined, and seemingly more all the time. It should be overwhelming, it seems like, but it’s made my life feel more stable.
In the end, these little revelations helped ease my anxiety. The initial anxiety I felt was feeling like I discovered it too late. I felt as though I had wasted many years of my life not knowing who I was, and I kept thinking how many years I could have had and how much better it all would have been.
But the past is the past. That’s the important thing that I have to remember. As a hobby of mine, reading has often helped me understand myself at different times of my life, and this was no exception. The mantra that has been coming to mind, one I came across years ago in the series A Song of Ice and Fire, is a simple one: “If I look back, I am lost.” The important thing to remember is to not look to the past or what could have been. What matters is who we are going forward. Yet it’s hard not to wonder, which is how those revelations helped. Even if I didn’t have the word for it at the time, it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t who I discovered myself to be. Would it have been better? Possibly. There’s no way to tell. The way the past could have been has just as much uncertainty as the way the future can be. The only difference is that the future can be what you make of it. The way I’ve begun to see it, I was always who I am, even if I wasn’t aware of it. Going forward into the future, I can embrace it, and live that life now. It is never too late to start the life you want.