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Discover your gender identity: 4 tips to help you find your authentic self

Discovering one’s gender identity can be confusing and overwhelming. Here are 4 tips to help guide you.

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Nov 23, 2021 UPDATED

The journey to discover our authentic selves is one we’re all on throughout the entire course of our lives. For the crucial puzzle piece of gender identity, experiencing uncertainty can be disruptive, confusing, and overwhelming.

If you have questions about your own gender identity and are seeking answers, here are four tips to get you started.

labels

1. Remove the labels (for now)

Starting with questions like “Am I transgender?” or “Am I nonbinary?” may seem logical, but they can actually over-complicate the process of discovering your true gender identity. 

They tend to be counterproductive and result in people feeling overwhelmed and confused by trying to fit into a certain definition or classification. 

In my book, You and your gender identity: A guide to discovery, I encourage readers to start with more open-ended questions that allow them to consider their relationship to the gender they were assigned at birth based on their sex. 

Ask yourself the question, “Am I socially, physically, and/or mentally uncomfortable with my gender assigned at birth?” 

If the answer is “maybe” or “yes,” this can be a satisfying way to answer at least one question you have about your relationship with your gender identity.

From here, you can explore more specific questions, such as:

  • In what ways am I uncomfortable with my gender assigned at birth? 

  • To what degree do I experience this discomfort? 

  • How often do I experience it, and in what circumstances?” 

By working through your thoughts and feelings using these types of questions, you can make this a more approachable process and give yourself plenty of room for your answers.

Once you’ve gathered enough information about how you experience your gender in the world, you can integrate these pieces together and see your “big picture”. 

Armed with this understanding, you can revisit what labels or terms best fit your description of your gender identity.

support system friends picnic

2. Build a support team

You don’t have to embark on this journey alone. Having support throughout your exploration is critical. 

Your support team should be trusted people who care about and respect you and your journey. It can be people you already know, such as family members (including “chosen family”), friends, teachers, counselors, colleagues, whomever you like.

If this type of support is currently lacking in your life, social media can be one way to find some like-minded people. Twitter is a great place to start. Spend some time finding tweets you support and comment and follow. Before long, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find supporters. Be connecting with new people who understand your experiences. 

Look online for trans/nonbinary support groups. You can attend groups that meet in-person or virtually, depending on what works best for you.

I also encourage you to seek what I call “hands-off mentors.” Many trans and/or nonbinary individuals share their experiences via social media like TikTok and YouTube—you can follow them for information and encouragement. 

From here, you can also find other gender-questioning individuals who are inspired by these role models. By reaching out to one another, you can greatly increase your sense of connection and community. 

If you have the means to access a therapist who is experienced in working with gender questioning individuals, I strongly recommend  having a professional on your support team as well. 

3. Reflect on your past

Although it can be challenging, taking a time machine back to your childhood, adolescent, and teenage years can resurface long-ago-buried experiences of discomfort with your gender identity.

Childhood 

Children don’t yet understand cultural norms. Exploring memories from your childhood can reveal clues as to how you moved through the world before you were told by society what was okay and not okay, as it relates to your sense of gender. 

Ask yourself: 

  • “Did I ever wish upon a star/have a birthday candle wish/pray that I could be a gender different from the one I was assigned at birth?” 

  • “Did I ever write stories/play pretend/create online avatars as a gender other than the one I was assigned at birth?” 

  • “Did I feel I could relate to characters in movies/books/TV who were different from my gender assigned at birth?”

Adolescence and teenage years

This period is often heavily influenced by puberty and the hormone changes. Looking back on this period is a chance to ask yourself how you felt about the secondary sex characteristics (either female or male) you developed during this time, such as breasts or facial hair. 

This is also a time during which cultural ideas about the supposed differences between boys and girls become especially pronounced and reinforced across many facets of society. 

  • Do you remember these experiences being difficult? 

  • What were potential coping mechanisms you used to fit in, and/or to separate yourself from discomfort or pain you were experiencing?

Note: While some may have plenty of memories to sift through, others may not. A lack of memories can be attributed to several factors, such as experiencing stress and trauma during these formative years. It’s important to remember that your current experiences are enough to validate an exploration about your gender identity.

monarch butterflies on beach

4. Explore what feels gender-affirming

Often a person will recognize their discomfort with the gender they were assigned at birth because society treats them in a way that feels incongruent with how they would rather be perceived, and how they perceive themselves. 

It’s also important to explore things that might allow you to feel more comfortable: things that are gender-affirming. Doing so can provide powerful insight as well into what feels “better” or “right” for you. 

It’s okay if you want to start off trying things like new ways of dressing or presenting yourself in private, or only with your most trusted friends. 

Examples of how you can explore gender-affirming behavior include: 

  • Create social media accounts using a name, pronouns, and images that feel more aligned with who you are, and seeing what it’s like to interact with people in this way

  • Dress in the privacy of your room/home in a way that feels more aligned with who you are, as well as wearing gender-affirming undergarments beneath your current clothing when you leave home

  • Ask trusted friends to use a different name and/or pronouns for you to see how it feels

  • Change aspects of your outer appearance to feel more aligned with who you are inside. These changes could include hairstyles, clothes, accessories, shaving or growing out body hair, using or removing nail polish and makeup, etc.

Your journey is just beginning

The journey of finding one’s authentic gender identity is going to look different from person to person. 

However, the same general advice applies to anyone who is embarking upon this quest:

  • Be patient—give yourself, and the process, time to unfold. 

  • Record your thoughts and discoveries so you can look back at how you felt. 

  • Make a list of the ways you can increase self-care and put them into practice as often as possible. 

Remember there are many, many other people out there going through this as well—you are not alone.

Article originally published Nov 22, 2021. Updated Nov 23, 2021.

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