Have you ever questioned your own gender identity?
As visibility and representation of gender diversity increases in media and mainstream culture, many people are finding more space to explore parts of their own gender experience that may have previously been left unquestioned. Given the prevalence of cissexism and the corresponding biases that tend to live inside most of us, it may feel overwhelming, scary, or, confusing to realize that your gender may not be what you had always thought—or were always told—it was. It might also feel exciting and liberating! Or you may just feel ambivalent, detached, or neutral. No one emotion is right or wrong throughout the journey of gender exploration.
We can begin to question and re-discover our gender at any age, and for any reason. The process of self-discovery and re-discovery can be lifelong; gender often shifts and fluctuates over time. While there’s no “how to” guide for discovering your gender, no one way to question and explore your gender, and no guarantee of resolution, spending some intentional time reflecting on your formative experiences, innate biases, fears, and beliefs can create more space for revelations and self-understanding. If you don’t know where to start, here are some questions to consider. There are no right or wrong answers, and it’s okay to not know.
- How do I define gender? What does gender mean to me?
- What are my first memories of learning about gender?
- How am I expected to behave because of my gender? How do I feel about these expectations?
- How many genders do I believe there are?
- What qualities and traits do I associate with women, men, and nonbinary individuals?
- What do I consider “masculinity”? What do I consider “femininity”?
- Do I believe in the gender binary? Why or why not?
- How would I describe my gender if I couldn’t use words like “girl,” “boy,” “woman,” “man,” “female,” “male,” “feminine,” or “masculine”? (Consider colors, textures, inanimate objects, experiences, etc.)
- When I hear other people describe their gender experience, does anything in particular resonate with me, or feel comfortable and settled in my body?
- When I hear other people describe their gender experience, does anything in particular not resonate with me, or feel uncomfortable and unsettled in my body?
- What is most scary to me when I consider my shifting gender identity? What is most exciting?
- Do I believe in gender socialization?
- How do I feel when I witness someone perpetuating the gender binary or cissexism? What ways do I perpetuate the gender binary or engage in cissexism? How does that make me feel?
- Are there any parts of my body that I have learned are gendered that I feel connected to or disconnected from? What do I think that means?
- How do my different identity markers (e.g. race, sexual orientation, ability, body size/shape, class status, etc.) influence or interact with my experience of gender?
- If my gender is ever misidentified (e.g. someone assumes my pronouns; someone refers to me as “sir” or “ma’am”), how does that make me feel? What comes up in my body?
- What would a world look like without gender?
- Does gender matter? Why, why not?
Sophie Pellegrini, MSW, LMSW, is a new clinician and sexuality educator at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT who specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ individuals. If you are seeking guidance and support in the exploration of your gender identity, you can contact Sophie with any questions at Sophie@mindfulstl.com, or contact our Client Care Coordinator, Andrea, at Andrea@mindfulstl.com, to set up a session.