LOOK LIKE YOURSELF

THEIR STORIES: Oliver

When did you realize you didn’t relate to your birth gender?

Well, my birth gender is nonbinary. I know that some people may feel differently, but I’ve heard from lots of other trans people who agree that terms such as “birth gender” tend to add to the stigma that we “choose” to be trans. Just because the doctors assigned me female at birth doesn’t mean they were correct.
That being said, one of my earliest memories is of me probably around age five thinking to myself, “When I’m older, I’m going to get a sex change.” I remember looking back on that once I started exploring my gender more…hindsight is 20/20.
The real catalyst was when I was 19 and scrolling through tumblr when I found one of those info-graphic things describing all the different genders. I looked through it, hoping to get some knowledge so I could become a better ally, when the section on being agender popped up. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I remember thinking that I couldn’t deal with that right now, and pushed it to the back of my mind. Six months later, I was sitting in class while wearing a shirt that said “Trans? Fine by me!” My teacher was interested when he saw my shirt, and asked me if I knew any trans people. I answered “no” as a knee-jerk reaction, but after the teacher moved on, everything that I had pushed away came rushing back. Internally I was like “Oh, wait. I think I do know someone who is trans. I should probably figure that out. Hm.” And it’s all history from there!

How did you deal with that mentally & physically?

For a long time, I really didn’t deal with it well. When I first started coming out in college, it would be in drunken one-on-ones with friends; we would be walking home from the bars, or maybe we would be in a corner at a party, and before I knew it, it would just come pouring out. At that point, it was just the only way I could open up about something so scary and personal. I came out publicly a little over a year and a half after I realized my true gender, but it took way longer to realize that I needed to go on testosterone so that the rest of the world would see me for who I really was.

Give me glimpse of the inside you verse your outward appearance.

For years I didn’t realize that there was such a disparity between what I saw when I looked in the mirror, and what the general public saw when they looked at me. I had thought about going on testosterone for years, but never acted on it out of fear of losing my singing voice. When it finally hit me that people would really only see me as a woman unless I did hormone therapy, that was kind of the final straw, voice be damned. So far, things have been rocky, but I am in speech and voice therapy, and am working as hard as I can to make sure I still have something left to sing with. It’s scary, and it has been hard at times, but it feels like people are finally starting to see what I always have when I’ve looked in the mirror. And that feels pretty great.

How would you prefer people to address you? pronouns, preferred name etc

I use they/them pronouns! And I’ve gone by “Oliver” for almost three years now.

What does gender identity mean to you?

So it’s kind of wild to me that we are trained from birth to look at people and assess what genitals they have. It’s so rarely put that way to cisgender people. The times when I’ve brought this up to the cisgender people I know, I’ve gotten shocked faces; but that’s what we do, isn’t it? We are taught to look at someone, figure out what genitals they have, and relate to them through that. And if you stop and think about that for half a second, you’ll realize how incredibly invasive and creepy that is. And if that isn’t weird enough, society expects people to act in certain ways, according to what genitals they supposedly have. So, in many ways, the expectations that society has when it comes to gender are just constructs that mean nothing; I think that’s what trans people mean when they say that gender isn’t real.
However, gender is very real, at least in my opinion. Aaron Ansuini, a trans youtuber, put it really well when he said that gender is like love; it’s a feeling, and it’s not tangible, so it can be difficult to really define. But just because it is intangible doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
Gender is something that, in an ideal world, everybody should be allowed to explore for themselves. There are as many genders as there are people; it’s a scale, and some people are on one side or another, some are in the middle, and some are even outside the scale. I’m still figuring it out for myself, but accepting that a lot of what we associate with gender is really just social constructs was one of the first things that really helped me to look inward and discover myself.

Was there someone in your life that helped you start to see your authentic/true self? Tell me about how they helped you/who they are/

I was very lucky to have the support group that I did when I was first figuring myself out in college. My best friend, Stephen, was pretty integral to keeping my confidence up when I would get down about how people perceived me versus how I perceived myself. He was able to validate me in a way that a lot of people weren’t at that time, and even now that I have grown more confident in myself and my journey, he usually knows just what to say when I am in that really dark place.
Another close friend of mine, Ben, is the first person I think of when recounting good coming out experiences. I remember he was driving me home from our friends’ house one night, and I had wanted to come out to him so badly for months. After describing how I was feeling, I remember saying “I know it’s hard to understand,” and his immediate response was “…uh, no it’s not?” It might seem like such a small thing, but it was the first time I was confronted with the idea that my gender (which at that time very much defined who I was as a person) was not a burden; I’ll never forget how that made me feel.

Talk to me about your struggles with identity and how you've grown to overcome them. Also include anything you want within your story

I had to push really hard to get to be taken seriously by my family. They love me, and they always accepted me for what I was, but it took them a few years to really take my name and pronouns seriously. A lot of my family members still don’t really make an effort with my pronouns in particular. I think my recent experiences with getting harassed in bathrooms and also with the dangerous political climate have made my tolerance for the “it’s so hard!” excuse to steadily drop in the past few months; it’s getting to the point where they could put me in a dangerous situation by referring to me as “she,” and after three years, it’s kind of sad that they still don’t see what it does to me.
I also have difficulty not getting discouraged when I still get perceived as a woman in public, even after fourteen months of being on testosterone. I don’t think I realized how long it would take for some changes to happen, and it can get frustrating sometimes.
I get through it by focusing on my music, and by spending time with the people who love me. I’m so grateful to have music as an outlet; even as my voice changes, I can’t imagine a life without singing. My family, my roommates, and close friendships are what keep me going when I lose sight of myself.
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