Confessions of an Anxiety Case Part Two: Anxiety and Gender Identity
It was a long time before I thought directly about gender.
Well, really I had been thinking about it directly for a very long time. I just didn’t know that that’s what I was thinking directly about. I thought about it a lot, actually. For a while I was just one of those people who think that sex and gender are synonymous and interchangeable.
When I was very young I can remember having some interesting views on things. I moved here in 1989, and I was six. A few days after moving in, I met the next door neighbors. A boy my brother’s age, a girl my age and another boy my younger sister’s age. I hung out with the girl, she was my age. And she wasn’t intimidating.
I had this whole post outlined and I just typed the intimidating part off the top of my head. That bit about her not being intimidating wasn’t included. I just sort of free wrote it and it fits. I’m going to think about it for a while now.
Anyway, so when I was six, I had this suit. For church or some crap like that. I don’t know. I had a suit. So we were playing, and I went in and put it on. I wanted to seem like a man. It was playing house type stuff. But I think back and find it interesting that instead of trying to show off and show her how awesome I was by hitting a baseball or running fast or something…I put on a suit and acted like I wasn’t a dickbag, because I wasn’t intimidated by acting that way, whereas I would have been had I tried to be a sports star or some garbage. Dressing up is less emotionally challenging than performing, basically.
But I still wanted to seem manly. Well, more accurately, I didn’t want to seem as though I were not. I was six and was worried about coming across like “less” than I should. Anxiety starts early, but this is an interesting aspect of it and I want to spend the next 1,500-29,000 words, roughly, discussing and exploring it.
When I was a kid, I didn’t like sports. I still don’t. I love cycling, but the why I do, and the how I found it are topics for another day.
I didn’t like sports. I didn’t like team-ish video games as much. I preferred the immersion of solo games. The kind of old RPG that you had to read in its entirety. That was my kind of game. Still is.
Even swimming. I preferred swimming alone.
Flash forward a whole bunch of years. My first girlfriend. We dated a good long time. It was a real relationship, especially for such young people. I was a junior in high school and she was a freshman.
And I worried about the dumbest shit. The. Dumbest. Shit.
There were plenty of legitimate things. Stuff that you find out about when you start getting hot and heavy. You worry in new ways when you first start getting into that type of situation. When you’re an anxious person, it’s different. But I’m not here to talk about sexual performance anxieties. I’m here to talk about performative gender anxieties.
Here are two examples of what made me anxious.
When she would make suggestions of food.
Yeah. When she would suggest food. Chicken Caesar wraps, to be exact. I had never heard of them before. We were at D’Angelos, and I didn’t know what to get. She suggested a Caesar wrap. And changed my life. They’re one of my favorite foods, even now, and I try to get one or two a week when I have the option.
But I worried it was somehow a girly food. No, this had nothing to do with not liking girls. This had everything to do with me being perceived as not manly. And it was weird.
Around her, I was all about them. If her mom was like, “Joey (she could get away with calling me that), what do you want for dinner? I’m gonna go pick up some sandwiches.” “ChickenfuckinCAESAR!”
Away from her, I would think my friends would think something was wrong with me.
Why? Because I had never heard of them until she had suggested them. Just like if I wore a skirt. It just wasn’t associated with guys to me so I thought my guy friends would think something was off.
Turns out everyone loves Caesar wraps…but really, this bugged me for years.
Then. Sitting on her lap. Yep. I worried that that role reversal would be an issue to people. It confused me and made me uncomfortable, despite knowing it was just nice being intimate with her.
But, at the same time, I wore her necklace. All the time. A later girlfriend gave me another necklace which I wore as a bracelet.
At one point I was sitting on her mom’s boyfriend’s chair, and she was sitting on the floor because she was painting her nails and “NOT ON THE COUCH!”
She reached over and started painting my toes and was amazed that I let her. And I had no problem with it.
See. These issues weren’t her. I loved and respected her (I still respect her and in some ways love her to this day). I was completely comfortable around her in ways that have been very seldom reproduced.
It wasn’t just me, either.
It was what I thought others would think. And that’s what this all comes down to.
Even dumb shit like body hair. I’m a guy. I have chest and leg hair. One of my tattoo guys described me as “a moderately hairy gent.” I got a kick out of it.
I’ve always been uncomfortable with it though. I would rather have less hair. Or no hair. Or fine/light hair. I couldn’t do anything about that so whatever. But I also wasn’t about to shave. I hate shaving in general but if I were to shave, say, my legs? No way. At the same time, when someone (a lady friend) would say they liked it, I would be even more uncomfortable about it.
I didn’t want to be perceived as unmanly, despite the fact that in some ways I was.
I didn’t want to be outspoken and obnoxious. I didn’t want to stand out and have attention drawn to me. I didn’t want to come across as “dude-like” but I didn’t want anybody to get the impression that I didn’t.
I felt constantly sidelined by the fact that I didn’t feel that most of what was expected of me as a guy fit my personality at all, while simultaneously not wanting to portray that fact and be thought less of.
We broke up. That first girlfriend and I.I say we broke up, and I mean it. I didn’t dump her, and she didn’t dump me. We broke up because we recognized how young we were and that we wanted different things out of life. We weren’t ready for the type of relationship we had. So we broke each other’s hearts and now we sit in our living rooms over a decade later and think about each other sometimes. That’s just how it goes.
Shortly after we broke up, I started trying to meet new people. Friends or dating. I just needed a change of scenery.
I met Vanessa, Brianna, Mindy, Lexxy, Liz, Leah, Melody, Lily, Carlye, Naomi, Najwa, Sarah, Cheshire, Betsy, Jasmine and Rachel. And plenty of others that I didn’t talk to for nearly as along.
My mom used to have dinner at her place every Sunday, and often times I would bring a friend. My friends were women. My mom would joke that I would probably be the first one to give her a grandchild. That might be true, but not for the reasons she was joking about.
I dated very few of the women listed above. I’m still friends with all but two. I dated those two, haha.
I’m 32 in a couple months. I dated my first girlfriend for almost 3 years. Another for almost 1. Three more make another almost one. And then one in particular was 6.5. That’s over eleven years with only a few ladies. In between there were a few, but nothing serious…mostly just friends I made out with.
My male friends thought I was a manwhore. Not even close.
When Myspace came around, you could have a headline. I had, “Sorry boys, I’m a lesbian, ” as mine. It was mostly a joke, then, but not really. At least a decade ago, I started more actively questioning my gender identity.
At this point I don’t know if my views on gender were driven by my anxiety, or if my anxiety was driven by my views on gender. But I’m inclined to think the latter. I didn’t feel comfortable doing the types of things that were expected of me as a guy, and that drove my anxiety. I think.
I’m happy with who I am.
I have the respect and friendship of a good deal of people whose opinions matter to me.
Women find me approachable and unintimidating because I don’t present myself as disgusting.
(here’s a tip, guys: they can tell)
For a while, despite just wanting to be friends with someone, I felt pressured to be open about my platonic intentions. And that sucked. If it’s friendly and fun, leave it there. Don’t make it awkward. But I found that difficult because I kinda sorta identified with something I wasn’t and it kinda messed with things mentally. Since realizing that I fall somewhere on the non-binary spectrum of gender (neutral works), my anxiety has dropped to an unrealistic level.
That pressure I just mentioned is gone. Sure, guys are assholes with creepy intentions 99% of the time. But when it comes down to it, I know what my own intentions are. If you and I are talking and having a nice time and I’ve given you no reason to think that my intentions are anything other than platonic, at some point it’s not my problem to assuade you otherwise.
Know what I mean?
Shedding the male gender label has helped me with that, and unexpectedly. It’s also affected the ways I behave with my partner when we’re around other people. It’s affected the ways I am intimate and experience intimacy. Across the board, my baseline of anxiety is lower, anxiety provoking situations are noticeably less so, and I’m generally just more at ease across the board.
It really wasn’t a decision though. It was more of a retrospective realization. On Myspace I jokingly said I was a lesbian. For years that joke kinda kept on. I called myself cis for far longer than probably I should have and I think it was more trouble and more damaging than it was worth.
I don’t need a different pronoun. I like they/them because it’s sort of under the radar, but at the same time it feels detached somehow…likely for the same reason. Ze/zim/zir I think would throw too many people off and attention is often the last thing I want. And I don’t prefer she/her.
I don’t really have a male identity. Not specifically anyway, although there are aspects of me that I consider masculine. Same with female.It’s more both and neither, simultaneously. But not really fluid..there’s no oscillation there. And it doesn’t really matter to me how you think of it…male, transgender, neutral, nonbinary, neutrois, androgyne. Don’t care, or maybe I’m not there yet. For now, at least, this is for me.
I should also point out that I have a privilege not afforded to many. I may not feel male, but biologically speaking, I am. I look male. I am heterosexual. To top it off, I’m a white dude. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable I am in my own skin at times–I am well aware that that same skin is an excellent mask. I am not in danger of being murdered because of my choice of partner. Or the amount of pigment in my skin. Or how I present myself. I’m not in danger of being denied a job because of my reproductive capacities, or because a hiring manager for some reason worries about my genitalia not matching up with what they think it should be.
That can be a tough thing at times. Yes, it’s a lame thing to do…whine about one’s privilege. It doesn’t approach guilt. I’m not at fault. But I’m aware that there are a good amount of people who feel as I do but don’t have the luxury of blending in. Whose appearance doesn’t match up with what society prefers. Or whose bodies don’t match up with how they feel. In other words, nobody has to know. To that avail, I am endlessly fortunate.
At this point I’m still exploring things. Thinking about what all this means and what it doesn’t. How it affects me going forward and how I was affected in the past. So far, I haven’t seen anything going forward that isn’t positive. Really, though…nothing has changed. Outwardly anyway. Only the ways in which I orient myself with everything gong on around me.
My partner is a big part of this. She has been incredible. I have had nothing but support from her in every aspect of my life and it’s something I’ve never had before; and honestly, it’s a big part of why I’ve been able to look at these different aspects of my anxiety.
Posted on 05/08/2015, in anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, introspection, mental health, Sex and Gender and tagged anthropology, anxiety, confessions of an anxiety case, feminism, gender, mental health, personal perspectives, psychology, sexuality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.