“I swear. I look like Benjamin Franklin in my middle school yearbook pictures.”
This one sentence sums up my entire experience of adolescent puberty. Shoulder length wavy hair, unkempt eyebrows, and thick-rimmed glasses (my bifocals) served as the markers for this self-reflective characterization. Joking about my uncanny physical similarity to one of America’s Founding Fathers not only entertains my friends but allows me to process the history of my gender expression through humor.
Looking back, I spent my middle school days exclusively wearing basketball shorts and a swim team hoodie, paired with (to my mother’s dismay) flip flops, no matter if the days were sunny or if it had snowed six-inches the night before. Interestingly, I presented more masculinely during my pre-adolescent years than I did before I began identifying as a trans man.
Rarely do I ever have the chance to think about my gender expression in my adolescent years. In my experience, understanding my gender identity as one outside of “woman” really began when I was almost 17 years old, which will be discussed later in Relearning Sexy. Prior to that, I cannot think of any moments in my life where I felt hyperaware of any gender identity. Yes, I went through a time in my life where I rolled my eyes in defiance when I was asked to wear a dress. I loathed the color pink. Someone might point to these instances of not conforming to femininity as a “sign” of my forthcoming trans-ness. But I never felt aware of how my expression did (or did not) impact my gender identity. For me, the hoodie, the basketball shorts, and even the flip flops were just practical and comfortable, the byproduct of being a student athlete.
But looking back, maybe my gender nonconformity did impact how I was being perceived by my peers sexually. I rarely found myself desirable to boys my age. Rather, I found that they viewed me in more of a friend role. When I did try to express my desire for a romantic relationship, I was shut down. I remember being told that I wasn’t “feminine” enough to be considered a girlfriend. A family friend warned me that in high school, I wouldn’t get away with wearing what made me feel comfortable. They told me I should “grow up” and “stop wearing boy’s clothes.” These experiences of rejection and negative comments about my appearance really impacted my overall body self-satisfaction, impeding my ability to see my body as sexually desirable.
An important part of my awareness of my trans identity lies in how I discovered myself. Every trans person’s experience of identity awakening is different. For me, my sexuality and how I interacted with my romantic and sexual partners influenced how I interpreted my gender identity. My gender presentation changed when I began dating my first serious boyfriend, Nate+, at the beginning of high school. My presentation shifted from masculinely gender nonconforming to ultra femme as quickly as the lightning-struck key on Mr. Franklin’s kite ignited the night sky. I will be discussing this drastic shift in the next installment of Relearning Sexy.
Coming up next, examining the impact of sexualized desexualization on women of color.
+ Name has been changed.