it's a boy girl thing


Up until a few months ago, I thought I was a man, I was pretty content with that.

Although gender was something that confused the shit out of me, it wasn’t something I was particularly stressed about. I viewed it more as an abstract, befuddling thing which affected other people. I have trans and non-binary friends and I was aware of the fact that gender is a spectrum, but it wasn’t something I’d ever really applied to myself.

I grew up comfortably queer. I never really felt the need to ‘come out’ as any particular thing, dating girls and boys and being quite comfortable in the fact that there were no labels which fit me particularly snugly. Up until a couple of months ago I was a long haired, T-shirt-wearing, seemingly cisgender boy with a slightly vague relationship with gender.

Hindsight is a real bitch.

Looking back through my childhood I see a lot of evidence which hinted that I was never really a boy. I detested gendered bathrooms, hated changing rooms. I hated PE, because classes were divided into boys and girls. The division made me uncomfortable because on some level I knew I didn’t fit into either class. These little signs didn’t register in my mind, I hadn’t questioned my gender identity until I moved to Manchester for university to study songwriting.

In my first week of freshers I met a boy at an open mic night, he came to speak to us about a gig he was putting on. A couple of my friends and I added him on Facebook, promising that we’d try to make it to the gig. Most of them were being polite, but I was intrigued, and genuinely wanted to go so that I could see him again. Through Facebook (the original hunting ground for lonely queers), I discovered that he’d be playing a gig with his band on Halloween. I convinced my friends that we should go. I was aware at this point that I was crushing on him harder than Lavender Brown in ‘The Half Blood Prince,’ and we got talking and eventually started dating.

Throughout our relationship my comfort and happiness meant that I became more comfortable with myself. As I delved into music more, putting a band together, planning gigs and writing songs, my image became a large factor in my perception of myself. As a student with good grades, the perfect boyfriend, wonderful friends and a band, I was in the perfect position to begin to explore and develop myself.  I did this through my appearance. I started wearing makeup and having more fun with clothes, aiming to look as androgynous as possible.

At one point during this period I found an old friend on Facebook who had come out as a trans man. He had been dating a girl since before coming out, and they had stayed together throughout his transition. Prompted by this, and at the time believing myself to be cisgender, I completely innocently asked him;
“If I ever came out as a trans would you stay with me?”

To which he replied something along the lines of:

“Well I probably couldn’t, because if I was going to respect your identity as a woman I couldn’t really stay with you. Because I’m gay.”

At the time I had no way of knowing that all of this was my subconscious Trans-ness speaking on my behalf, but I still didn’t notice. Even though my discomfort with masculinity and my own maleness in general was beginning to grow. The only person that realised what was happening was the boy I was quickly falling for. He knew me better than I knew myself, and one of the most difficult truths I’ve ever had to accept is that as I grew more into myself, I became less compatible with him.

It came to a peak when one day I painted on a harsh, glittery smoky eye and shaved my head. I had grown to hate my hair and the masculine connotation with it, and I wanted to create my own kind of bald-headed androgyny. This, for him, was the final straw. I looked too different, carried myself with a completely changed mentality. I felt beautiful for the first time in my life, and I wasn’t scared of looking feminine; in fact it was something I was actively exploring and enjoying. For me, and for most of my friends, we see gender as a non-factor when it comes to attraction. None of us have ever identified strictly as one thing or has having a particular preference. I knew that if he had come out as being trans it wouldn’t have had the slightest impact on my feelings for him. It was a stark reality check to realise that sexuality can be incredibly rigid and restrictive. Sometimes, when finding yourself, you lose people along the way.

This cycle repeated over the course of the next few weeks. Most nights I’d go out alone and get drunk, have random encounters with strangers, cry on their shoulders in the smoking area. I didn’t want to be in my flat; it was where I’d spent my entire relationship. It was stopping me from moving forward or forgetting. I’d find myself walking through town at 2am, blackout drunk, desperate to be anywhere but there.  This was rock bottom, it tasted of Jack Daniels, cigarettes and cheap wine.

Ironically, the fact that I had accepted that I was transgender was barely a factor during this time. For me, self-acceptance was something I had honed and perfected, and I was bitter about the fact that having my heart broken had eclipsed the fact that I had finally reached a point of complete alignment with my mind and body.

My friends began using my preferred pronouns (they/them), taking me dress shopping, sharing makeup tips. At no point did I think I was a trans woman; I had (and still have) no interest in transitioning. I felt more like I had unlocked an entire new map on a video game: a map full of dresses and shoes and beautifully and intrinsically feminine things which I had never had access to, simply because I had been told that they weren’t for me.

The following months were riddled with juxtaposition as I developed, grew and became more and more confident with my transness whilst continuing to grapple with the aftermath of the breakup. Despite the confusion of this, the two things fed into one another. I knew that he had been uncomfortable with my femininity, and in my state of emotional fission I figured that the only way I could spite him was by being so aggressively and authentically feminine that he’d be sick at the sight of me. I wrote the most spiteful, heartfelt and biting song I could muster and posted it online as a way to express the absolute devastation and consequential pride I felt in being trans. I’d wear the highest heels I could physically handle. I wore the glitteriest, prettiest dresses I could find, and even though he wasn’t there for any of it, and probably wasn’t even aware of what was happening, I found solace through it. Being trans ruined my relationship, but it was the very thing which pulled me through it.

Self-acceptance is something which should be intrinsically positive, but the road there isn’t an easy one to navigate. Even though I found it through heartbreak, I have to acknowledge how lucky I am. Many trans people don’t exist in an environment where they can be authentically themselves without being in real danger. I’m surrounded by a beautiful network of friends who have supported and understood me, and pieced me back together over time. Despite the fact that I’m more content with myself than I’ve ever been, I can’t say that the process is over, or that it ever necessarily will be. When it comes to wounds and grief, and when it comes to being queer and being happy, the line is not certainly not straight (pun intended), and it takes a lot more time than you might think you’ve got the capacity to put in.

Rather than being a fixed point where you achieve some sort of cinematic enlightenment, you will have moments, no matter how bleak things might look, where you take a step back and realise that the dark place that you thought you’d be stuck in forever is now miles behind you. Self-acceptance finds its way out of you one way or another, the only question is whether or not you’re ready to face it when it arrives. The most important piece of advice I can possibly give is that no man is worth you having to censor or filter yourself, and if you want to kill it in six inch heels and a smoky eye, don’t let a single motherfucker try to stop you.

Author: Avani James