I am a non-binary person. My gender identity is a mix of both male and female. My gender expression is an andryongouns, mostly masculine incarnation of this. I like to appear gentle, but not soft. I like to appear strong, but not intimidating. I would like to look in the mirror and not see the defined muscles in my chest give way to round, jiggly breasts. I wish my hips were slimmer and my curves were flat. These are the unwanted expressions of having a female body. These traits are what cause my body dysphoria.
I’m tempted to say I drank more in the cold months because of my clothes. The more clothes I had to wear, the more restricted and caged my body felt. Jeans chafed against the curve of my hips, and the bulk of a sweater seemed to add cup sizes to my breasts. Winter reminded me of the fact that I had breasts at all, and how much I hated them. Local IPAs and gin made it better.
But I drank a lot in the warmer months, too. My T-shirts stuck to my sweaty skin and revealed the outline of my sports bra. They clung to doughy parts of my belly, revealing the indents of my female waist. And swim suits caused me to panic. They still do. For a masculine-presenting queer, I wear board shorts on the bottom, but finding a suitable top is nearly impossible. No matter what I do, I can’t hide the fact that I have breasts.
Summer reminded me of the curves I hate. Gin and Miller Lite made it bearable. Drinking throughout the seasons kept me in appropriate clothing but out of my body.
When I was a kid, maybe a tween or early teen, I would put a crayon down my pants. I would slip it between my labia and hike up my girls’ underwear up to keep it in place. I can remember the waxy, dirty smell of the dull crayon.
I’d only do this in my room with my door closed. I knew it wasn’t the right size or feel of an actual penis, but the crayon was as close as I thought I could get. I would wedge the crayon in place, look down to see the external part of me that I knew was fake and feel a sense of shameful relief. I liked the phallic outline. I liked the sense of power I felt. It wasn’t a sense of domination, but rather a sense of completion. Feeling complete.
I’d walk around my room and enjoy having something between my legs. I’d crawl into bed with a book and read. I touched the hardness in my pants and nervously relished the time I had with my pretend penis.
Drinking throughout the seasons kept me in appropriate clothing, but out of my body.
This was around the time I was obsessed with the movie Just One of the Guys, in which pretty-girl Terry switched schools and gender to be taken seriously as a writer to win a journalism scholarship. Seeing a girl first becoming, then being seen as a boy was overwhelmingly intoxicating to me. It made sense in a way nothing else did.
I understood this desire to be seen as a boy. Her motivation was to defeat sexism, but mine was different. I already felt like a boy, at least partly. I didn’t have language to process what that meant, but I happily wore the labels of athletic, tough, and tomboy. Being those things let me embody the characteristics of what it meant to be a boy.
I watched Terry cut her hair, stuff socks down her pants, and wear blazers. That movie was the closest thing I had to having something tangible to examine; it was almost a reflection of what I was feeling and of what I wanted. Almost.
Over time, I replaced my crayon with a pair of socks. I wanted a bulge. I wanted that thing to grab on to. I wanted to temporarily feel the weight of what I thought was missing.
I put posters on my wall of Donnie Wahlberg and Luke Perry. I wanted to be in a boy band. I wanted to be Dylan McKay in 90210. I thought it was just because I was gay. I thought I wanted the female admiration that came with being a hot guy. I didn’t realize I how much I was longing to be seen as a hot guy.
I knew I liked girls from a very young age. When a kindergarten student-teacher gave me a Snoopy sticker, I almost died from my heart bursting with admiration and affection. She was my first crush. I felt warm and tingly when she was near me. I never told anyone about my feelings for her, but I had no choice but to commit to the idea of being different. I was assigned female at birth, so liking other girls meant I was gay.
And I equated my masculine side with my sexuality. Being gay meant being butch.
College allowed me to be out. I slowly started to embrace my male energy in a way that looked butch. I cut my hair and started to wear men’s clothing. I carried myself with a bit more confidence. I focused on being gay. But when I would see a transmasculine queer, I felt inadequate. I felt soft. I began to hate the word “lesbian.”
I was drinking away the fact that I wasn’t female, but after years of researching, knowing I wasn’t a transgender man, either.
Before my addiction to alcohol took hold, I became addicted to the gym and to counting calories. I spent my early 20s trying to make my body what I wanted it to be. I tried to sweat off my curves. If I could just get thin enough, I could pass as less feminine. I lifted and ran my way to a weight that was probably unhealthy, but it let my jeans fall on my waist the way I liked. My boobs got smaller, and my jawline and cheekbones seemed more angular with little fat on my face.
My 30s were spent in the bottle. I replaced working out with drinking. I hated my body so much that it was easier to drink away the feelings of that hate and discomfort than trying to keep it slim and less curvy. But the weight I gained from drinking only made me hate my body more.
So, I kept drinking.
I got rounder and physically farther away from the body I wanted to represent the identity that was coming into focus. The birth of my first child triggered my OCD and PTSD from years of childhood abuse in new ways. I was seeing myself as a kid when I looked at my own child. My memories of childhood are painful, and I assumed I was only drinking to hide that pain. I knew I hated my body, but I thought the sexual abuse I experienced for many years as a kid was the only thing contributing to me wanting to dissociate from my body.
I didn’t have the words to explain or understand body dysphoria. I was drinking because I didn’t feel at home in my body. I was drinking away the reasons for the crayons, the socks, the feelings of being male. I was drinking away the fact that I wasn’t female, but after years of researching, knowing I wasn’t a transgender man, either.
I didn’t have the language for what I was. I was drinking away an identity I couldn’t define.
In February 2017, I looked at myself in the mirror and hated everything I saw. I was filled with so much self-loathing and fear that I contemplated suicide. But I have three kids. I couldn’t do that to them.
Instead, I went on a diet. I gave up alcohol and sugar for two weeks. I lost weight. I also lost the charade of thinking I could control my drinking. I was miserable. I journaled my experience for those two weeks and within a few days I saw how dependent I was on alcohol. I used humor at first, but then I was in pain, agitated, and anxious. I told myself I would get through the two weeks, and I did. But I mourned alcohol. I missed my nerve soother, my dinner-prep friend, and my evening companion. I wrote how hard it was to stay sober. I didn’t feel better without booze, I felt worse.
After completing the two-week detox, I treated myself to a dinner out with friends. I also treated myself to drinks. Before going out I told myself I would only have three, but I was so cranky about it that I didn’t see the point of drinking if I wasn’t going to be drinking to get drunk. I did this dance for a few months, sometimes getting drunk and sometimes just having one drink, but each time realizing just how much I relied on alcohol.
It took several months to fully realize the severity of my problem. I am an alcoholic.
I also realized just how much I hated my body. I felt an incredible sense of loneliness and being misunderstood while not fully understanding myself. When I was drinking I didn’t realize how much of my anxiety and discomfort came from body dysphoria. I hadn’t made the emotional connection to my physical appearance and the resulting desire to drink away the anxiety of being uncomfortable in my body. But being sober meant I had to face all of the things making me feel miserable. I had to sit in those feelings. I had to accept the fact that my body is not what I want or need it to be.
Sobriety has allowed me to see myself clearly, but it makes it hard to be seen when you don’t fit in anywhere.
I was forced to admit to myself what I have always subconsciously known. I am neither female nor male. I am non-binary. But until I knew this word and what it meant, I didn’t have the ability to give myself permission to own the label. I didn’t realize I was drinking away my identity. Sobriety has allowed me to see myself clearly, but it makes it hard to be seen when you don’t fit in anywhere.
It took almost a year of sobriety to realize that most of my pain comes from feeling like a stranger in my own body. I lost 30 pounds and gained a toned, strong body, but I still hate most things about it. My body has the strength to flow through 75 minutes of heated yoga and run four miles at a time. But my brain doesn’t have the strength to accept my body.
My heart, however, has determined what it can and cannot accept.
I need people in my life to see me, and that had to start with seeing myself. I have switched to they/them pronouns and will have top surgery to remove my breasts. I am starting to advocate for my identity in conjunction with my sobriety. I miss drinking, but I don’t miss hiding. I miss the numbness that comes with alcohol when I am not respected or understood, but I love the elation when someone not only sees me as non-binary but also gets my pronouns right.
A friend recently told me that my pain has purpose. Right now its purpose is to push me to a place where I finally feel at home.