“It’s just a phase”: How to forgive yourself for changing

by Sultana M.E (they/them/theirs)

Most young queer kids have experienced it before, that sinking feeling, like someone tossed 10 pounds of nickels and dimes into your stomach. The panicked moment when your feelings shift away from the identity you’ve been clinging to. Am I wrong? Am I faking this? We all want to feel validated in who we are. With identities that are constantly under scrutiny by those looking for a reason to say it’s just a phase, it’s easy to feel like your first instinct has to be right. Because, after all, if you were truly born that way, surely it would be a solid and undeniable constant?

I can still remember being 12 and feeling those first few trickles of something I would later name dysphoria. I did what every good Gen Z kid did, hopping onto Tumblr and searching, desperately, for something that explained that horrible feeling. After some digging around hashtags and askblogs, I found something to cling to: transgender. Being a trans man made sense. It explained the dysphoria and the lean towards masculinity in my dress and hobbies. The trans boys I met in those days quickly became some of the most influential people in my life. I moderated an advice blog, throwing myself wholeheartedly into the community until everything I did and said in some way came back to my identity. I came out to my mom, my friends, and started going by a new name and he/him pronouns. I did everything I could to convince everyone around me that I was who I was with no room for debate.

I started seeing a therapist throughout high school and talked about my struggles with gender and the ways my body betrayed me. After experimenting with birth control and failing to manage the most dysphoric aspects of my menstrual cycle, we decided to start testosterone. I can still remember that bus ride home, glowing with the realization that everything I had wanted was finally going to happen. I told everyone around me and they were happy for me. All I had to do now was call my doctor and pick a time. The first week passed and I told myself I didn’t call my therapist to set up that first testosterone consultation because I was too busy with school. The next week I went out with friends. The week after that, well, I couldn’t find the time. Before I knew it, it had been a couple months and my friends were wondering why I hadn’t started yet. I told myself it was anxiety, or scheduling, or plain laziness but the horrifying truth was I didn’t want to.

So what do you do then? You make it all but 2 steps away from the finish line and realize you never wanted to be in the race to begin with. It’s a life-altering realization. Most adults in my life had told me I was too young to know my identity, and even people my own age seemed to believe that I was doing this for attention. “Phase” was a dirty word for me, it implied a childish performance of identity, like a costume I would eventually grow out of. Over time I became defensive, hammering down the finality of my transition to anyone who even dared broach the subject. So realizing that I no longer identified with it stung. It was as if the entire foundation of who I was was ripped out from under me like a rug. I had spent the last five years of my life fighting for an identity that never belonged to me. I spent months agonizing over it, trying to find the courage to tell everyone. How could I just backpedal all the work I had done over the years? What was I saying about all my trans friends? Was I betraying them too? We all shared the burden of that ugly word, every one of us had been accused of going through a phase at one point in our lives and I feared that if I admitted to it I would bring them down with me. As strange as it sounds now, I was scared of in some way damaging the validity of the trans experience by giving up on it.

There is a pressure, when you’re queer, to have all the answers right out the gate. Even if you’re young and just pulling back the edges of who you are, the world expects you to be able to defend your position otherwise be labelled as a liar or an immature kid trying to be special. I was scared of letting down the people I had bonded with over our shared gender experience. Scared of opening myself up to the criticism and judgement that came along with being wrong. I pulled away from the communities I had put my all into, took my pronouns down from every bio, and retreated into my own world to do damage control. I found myself with an impossible question. If I wasn’t a man, what was I? I still shrunk away from womanhood, but now this feeling had no name. I was, for all intents and purposes, void of any identity.

For a long time, when I looked back on that era I felt ashamed. I did everything to kill the man I was during those years. I buried his name and wiped his image from the internet, but he lingered in the back of my head. He hovered in that foreboding eerie way only a ghost can, peering over my shoulder as I tried to rediscover myself. If that version of myself wasn’t the true me, how could I trust my instincts ever again? I wish I could tell you I fixed it, that I found a switch somewhere between the wrinkles of my brain and made that guilt go away, but what really did it was time.

I sat with the old version of me for a long time, and after avoidance, denial, and some anger, I finally gave myself space to look at him. When I did, I realized we weren’t that different. I wasn’t lying, being lied to, or experiencing some long-term delusion caused by my environment. For those years, I was that boy. I was authentically, totally, and entirely him. The reason I couldn’t get rid of him was because he hadn’t died, he’d grown up. Who he was had everything to do with who I am now and those things I learned while under that umbrella still informed the way I navigated my present life. My desire to feel solid in my identity had so quickly become a fear of fluidity.

I wonder nowadays, if I would have found my current identity sooner if I had given myself more opportunity for exploration, but I no longer regret the guy I used to be. We are a sum of all the people we have ever been and the foundation for all the people we are going to be. The uncomfortable truth at the end of the tunnel is that sometimes, it is a phase. Sometimes you’re so sure about something and it turns out to not be your permanent identity. Sometimes you change pronouns every year, and your name every other. Whether or not you hold your identity for a decade or a couple weeks, that time matters because it’s all part of who you are. Right now I am non-binary, and maybe I won’t always be, but I owe it to the person I am now to give it my all.

About the Author:

Sultana M.E is an African/American immigrant and writer whose work focuses largely on the queer and POC experience. They’re a nerdy ball of energy who can usually be found in the corner of some cafe, three oat milk lattes deep, working on their D&D campaign and writing lengthy articles about their gender and sexuality struggles. 

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2 thoughts on ““It’s just a phase”: How to forgive yourself for changing”

  1. this is lovely, thank you for writing. i went through almost exactly the same thing – had a struggle with gender, found my answers on the internet, and they seemed so easy and welcoming, and the journey laid out before me as a binary trans man, of hormones and surgery, felt clear enough, but also something i HAD to do, like a trial or initiation to pass through. and i felt that i had to prove my transness to the people around me, which only made my dysphoria worse. like you, i made a lot of friends around that time as a boy, sometimes posing as a cis boy, and i lost a lot of them when i felt i couldn’t embody that boy anymore and withdrew. non-binary feels comfortable for me now, and that’s enough 🙂

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