I Was Supposed to Be Pretty, Feminine, Nice, and Straight

From a very early age, I had a sense of being gendered by the world. But I don’t feel like a woman or a man.

Raye Stoeve gets their head shaved by their friend Erika Lundahl. Photo courtesy of Raye Stoeve.

In the mirror, my chest looks flat. I hold up the camera, pull at my silver button-up shirt, square my shoulders. Click. Another me looks back from the picture, the me I really am, or want to be, or think I might be. I’m not sure. All I know is I don’t feel like a girl, that I like my chest like this, bound by a too-small sports bra and a roll of ACE Bandages. Flat. Like a boy’s chest.

I took that picture in 2008, a few months after the July day I realized I was Transgender.

From a very early age, I had an acute sense of being gendered by the world and understood that my body and how the world perceived it made me a target for violence. Even as I fought against stereotypes, I internalized them: I was supposed to be pretty, feminine, nice, and straight. My body was not for me. It was for men.

By the time I got to college, I was suffocating. I stopped wearing makeup and clothes I deemed girly, cut my hair short, and wore T-shirts and basketball shorts to class every day. The difference wrought by my masculine presentation was stark: Men stopped smiling at me, staring at me, catcalling me. I was no longer presumed straight, presumed female, presumed available. It was both disorienting and relieving. I had lived my entire life under that scrutiny. Suddenly, it was gone.

My gender awakening deepened from there. I found online communities centered around identities like genderqueer, androgynous, and transgender—feelings I had always experienced but had never been able to name. These terms helped explain why I didn’t feel like a boy or girl. I was excited—and scared. I told only a few people before deciding not to come out, but my gender confusion would submerge and resurface again and again, presenting questions without definitive answers.

The questions always came back to my body—how I felt in it, whether it felt like mine, who it was for. I was Queer, but I felt trapped in heterosexuality. For me, this had solidified in high school as social pressure to have a boyfriend and adhere to feminine beauty standards ramped up. The media reinforced these ideas, and dating men became a habit, even though it never felt right. My last serious relationship with a cis man was utterly toxic. Although I was still burying my gender feelings, I knew I could never be myself if I stayed with him.

I was Queer, but I felt trapped in heterosexuality. 

In spring 2014, I ended the relationship and ran for the ridges of southern Oregon, where I found myself as a volunteer on a Queer homestead. There, I felt like I was living the life I was meant to live. Tending the land, surrounded by other Queer folks, I came back to my body. The physical nature of homesteading—digging in the garden, chopping wood for the rocket stove, painting the house—grounded and restored me. I went home to Seattle newly confident and self-aware and threw myself into the Queer community there.

As I made friends and became involved in social justice organizing, I started to wonder again if it was time to come out. Then, I fell in love and dated a Queer person for the first time.

Like some of my new friends, this person used “they” as a gender pronoun and identified as genderqueer. Their openness in being who they were, and their acceptance of me, helped me step toward my own unfolding identity.

In September 2015, I decided to come out as genderqueer, change my first name to something gender-ambiguous, and change my pronouns to “they.” I cut my hair short, bought a chest binder, and started wearing makeup and calling myself femme. I’m experimenting with all the different ways my gender manifests to see what feels right—and by right, I mean right for me, not what society deems correct. I’m still not sure if I want to have top surgery or take hormones, but I know I don’t feel like a woman. Neither do I feel like a man. I just feel like a person, navigating the uncertainty and excitement of life in transition.