Today’s post deals with a subject for which I’m not sure much has been written. For all I know, it’s a term that describes something that is unique to me, although I suspect I’m not alone. For many months, I’ve sporadically had a sense that I do not fit in with either masculine or feminine genders. I struggled for a while to identify what this sense was, and at first, called it “social dysphoria”. But while researching, I came to understand that social dysphoria means something different: a sense of being not accepted by others as a member of the gender you are trying to present/express. Common causes for social dysphoria include being misgendered (someone using pronouns that don’t match the ones you prefer), being “deadnamed” (called a name that you used in the past but have since stopped using), or being treated in a way inconsistent with the gender you are expressing (directed to the wrong restroom, for example). Social Dysphoria is typically brought on by someone else.
But what I’ve experienced is more internally driven; it’s frequently related to me observing other people (inter)acting in normal ways. A thought pops into my head that they seem so satisfied and natural being themselves in those circumstances, and that the feeling of satisfaction and being at peace with themselves is something that I will never experience. This experience is distinct from Social Dysphoria because it’s not the result of someone intentionally (or even unintentionally) doing something which addresses my own sense of gender. This feeling, while perhaps triggered by external factors, is more of an internal struggle. After much thought (and a conversation about it with my therapist), I finally was able to put a name to this feeling: Gender Inferiority.
What is Gender Inferiority? For me, it’s a sense that I will never fit in to either of the binary genders in a way that allows me to feel I am expressing my true self, and at the same time, be affirmed and accepted as that gender. I have a sense that I don’t fit in with my assigned gender because it leaves no space for me to express how I feel inside. And at the same time, I feel that I wouldn’t fit in with the opposite gender because it is difficult to overcome some of my physical characteristics, and, because I believe my true self isn’t so far in that opposite gender that I can leave behind aspects of my assigned gender. More simply, I feel like my true self is a mixture of the binary genders. If you visualize gender as a rainbow from red to violet, my gender hangs around green, but sometimes meanders into yellow, and other times, blue.
The good news for me is that since I’ve found the right words to use to identify this feeling, I’ve also been able to identify the tools I need to work with it. How do I deal with a sense of inferiority? Affirmation, reassurance and self-acceptance. I’ve been learning to examine the thoughts I have when I experience the inferiority and dig to find the underlying fear or pain. Sometimes, this means facing and owning internalized shame and guilt; other times, it’s delving into old memories and looking at them with my new lens of gender. Wherever I identify a place where I’m feeling weak or scared, I’m trying to reassure myself that I am ok, that I will be ok, and that I am not alone with my feelings.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve dealt with feeling inferior far longer than I like to admit – for a large portion of my life. I can see it in my childhood writings; when I read them now, decades later, I am taken back to the emotions and pain I was experiencing when I wrote them. I’m surprised at the intensity of that emotion – still. At times, I was writing honestly; other times, I’m writing about a fantasy world which resembled the real world, but with my ideals imposed upon it. I see through the attempts to cover the pain, and wonder how others didn’t see that in my writing, too.
I find a lot of comfort in other people’s stories, especially as they are dealing with their own experiences and struggles with gender. In some cases, the stories are encouraging – the person has figured some things out and is happier now. In other cases, heartwarming – someone has acted with love and kindness. Others still, disturbing – something bad happened (which helps to keep me grounded and aware of potential dangers). But I learn something from each of them.
Getting back to gender inferiority, I’ve by no means tamed this particular beast, but I have learned a little better how to work with it and through it. I’ve also realized that pretty much everyone feels inferior in some way at some point. At least I’m able to put a name to my specific flavor of it. And someday, I will make my peace with it.