Self-Exploration: Navigating the Personal Shift from AFAB to Nonbinary

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Going from assigned female at birth (AFAB) to nonbinary is, in my experience, a somewhat quiet transition.

This is impacted by positions of complicated privilege.

For example, clothing. I grew up in private schools, wherein I wore uniforms and swam competitively when I wasn’t in school. The clothes I wore outside of my uniform were mostly lounge-wear, sweatpants and hoodies. I didn’t feel much of a need to explore clothing beyond that.

Now, I’m in college, where there is definitely not a uniform, and I’ve explored wearing what I like – and figuring out what I like. Between living in another country for several months, and adjusting to the culture there, and exploring both my gender and gender presentation, I’ve made a lot of subtle adjustments to my wardrobe.

And, of course, many things still stay the same. I still love sweaters, neutral colors (now including pastels) and stripes.

The largest difference with me is my integration of an internal dialogue – I try to be in constant awareness of myself.

Although I am within some minority groups, exploring my gender presentation has forced me to confront aspects of my privilege.

If I am going to be honest and open about myself, then I must also confront where my privilege benefits my exploration.

Despite personally identifying beyond the male-female gender binary, I am rarely assumed anything but female in public social situations. I cannot recall anyone assuming I was male, and there has never been an instance where someone asked for my preferred pronouns. Therefore, exploring clothing that isn’t inherently feminine doesn’t present the same danger as someone assumed male perusing feminine clothing.

I know I pass as a cis-het woman. I’ve had older men leer at me – in front of my family. I’ve dealt with sexist relatives talk down at me about everything from what I study to my future. On some level (much more manageable now that my mental health has improved significantly), I am always on alert in public, especially after dark.

However, I also benefit from these assumptions. These assumptions protect me – unless I wear something that outs me, I am assumed “normal.” If I am wearing a skirt or a dress, men usually go out of their way to be polite.

Sometimes I feel guilty about my ability to fly under the radar. I know that it protects me and that, even in my hometown, I could be a victim of hateful violence. Sometimes I wish I stood out more – then I am ashamed, because I know that, while this would help with my social dysphoria, there are those that cannot hide as easily and are subjected to far worse treatment.

This is what I mean when I say that my social transition is quiet.

It often feels very loud, and very vulnerable. Writing these articles is both cathartic and frightening. I am baring myself to anyone that might read this, and it is a blessing that I have not encountered direct slander for my openness.

For now, I’ve chosen to speak my truth where I can, and where I feel that I can’t, I let myself be assumed female.

Realistically, I don’t have a choice in being assumed female, but it comforts me to act like I have control over it.

My close friends are very upfront about using they/them pronouns with me, and it has spread to other friends. It is a little odd, sometimes, but I’m growing more comfortable with it, just as I am growing more comfortable with addressing myself as they/them.

If things were easier, more accepting, I’d probably make a bigger adjustment. I’d ask for pronouns that didn’t make me uncomfortable from my professors, from administration. I’d probably gently correct strangers more frequently.

These are the only changes I can imagine immediately, though I know that no longer being perceived female would change more than this. It would probably be just as unfamiliar as entering into a new culture.

For now, I feel a little like a fish in a fishbowl, staring at a distorted world and constantly feeling eyes on me.

Cover photo courtesy of socialsciencecollective.org.

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