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Exploring your gender identity
by TeenHelp January 1st 2018, 07:19 PM

Exploring your gender identity
By Chess (Narrative.)

For most people, their innate sense of gender is consistent with the gender they were assigned at birth – in most cases, either male or female. This is known as being cisgender. Although this is often seen as the default, there is a lot more diversity in terms of gender than many people realise. In recent years there has been an increase in the visibility of gender diverse individuals, and an improvement in general knowledge of what it means to be something other than cisgender. Still, it can be difficult and confusing to question your gender identity, especially for those who don’t have access to relevant resources. This article aims to provide some general advice on how to safely and positively explore your gender identity.

Do as much research as you can
Learn about different gender identities, read stories from people who identify in different ways, and, if possible, talk to people who are genderqueer, nonbinary, or otherwise not cisgender. It can help to keep a list of terms and labels that you feel attracted to or a connection with during this process. You could even look for fictional representations of different identities in books, movies, video games, or anywhere else, but be aware that these representations may not always be accurate. Remember that if you choose to use a label to define or explain your identity (and there is absolutely no obligation for you to do so), it can be as simple or as complex as you like. Someone who identifies as simply nonbinary is every bit as valid as somebody who identifies as a demifluid agenderflux person.

Try different things
In order to find out what feels right and what doesn’t, you might like to try different ways of understanding and expressing yourself. Try different labels, pronouns, names, styles, and whatever else you feel comfortable with. You could start by saying to yourself “I am [label]” or “I am not [label]” to see how it feels. If it would be safe to do so, you could also ask somebody you’re close to if they would be able to refer to you using these new labels, names, or pronouns (even if only in certain circumstances, such as when there’s nobody else around). You could even try something such as going to a local LGBT+ group where you will find like-minded people who will be able to offer support and advice, or going by a new name or pronouns in situations where you’re relatively anonymous (such as online or giving your name when ordering a coffee). Also, keep in mind that even if you do realise that you’re not cisgender, you don’t have to change your name, pronouns, appearance, or anything else about yourself. Do so if it feels right, but don’t feel obligated to in order to be valid.

Don’t rush the process
It can be tempting to latch onto the first label that you feel a connection with, but remember that it may not be the one that best fits you. Perhaps you just haven’t found the right label for you, or perhaps there isn’t a “right” label for you and you may have to invent something yourself. There is plenty of time to discover yourself, and you don’t have to have all the answers right away. It’s okay to use broad terms to describe your identity, even if that term is just “questioning”. There’s no time limit, so take as long as you need in order to feel comfortable with and confident in your identity.

Give yourself permission to make mistakes
During this process you may find yourself changing your labels a lot, and it’s important to recognise that there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes people outgrow labels, or realise that there’s something that fits them better, or otherwise decide not to identify in a particular way anymore, and that’s totally fine. Claiming a label doesn’t need to be a permanent thing. If you want to change how you identify, then you have every right to do so. Think of it like a shopping cart: you might put different items into it while you’re shopping, but if you change your mind you can always return them to the shelf. The same is true for labels: if you no longer feel like a particular label fits you, or that you don’t want to be known by it, then you can simply return it and find something else that you prefer. Even if you feel like you’ve already “bought” an identity, be aware that it’s never too late to “return” it. You can change your name, pronouns, labels, appearance, and anything else as many times as you feel you need to in order to be happy with who you are.

Explore every avenue that you can
Even if you have previously dismissed a particular identity or label, you can always come back to it later if you realise that it does apply to you after all. It can be easy to listen to thoughts such as “This doesn’t sound like me” or “I don’t want to identify this way”, but those are often superficial - and if you dig a little bit deeper you might find that the term does have some relevance to you. Although it may feel strange at first, exploring avenues you might otherwise have ignored will ultimately give you a better sense of your identity.

The most important thing to remember is that no matter where you end up, the journey is worthwhile. Even if you decide that you are in fact cisgender, you will still know yourself better than you did before you started questioning. If you decide that you want to identify as genderqueer, nonbinary, transgender, or anything else under the umbrella of “not cisgender”, there may be people who don’t understand or respect your identity, but there will also be people who will love and respect you for being true to yourself.

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