Dear Papa Bear,
I've got quite a personal issue I've never really come to a conclusion on. From a very young age, I've never been truly able to identify with myself as a female. When my father lived with us, he constantly discouraged me from my passion, weightlifting, terrified of the thought of me becoming “bulky.” My mother always tried to bully me into wearing more “girly” or slutty clothing, and still does at present, even when I go out in a dress I consider to be cute.
I was very self-conscious of my body until I was about 16, so I tended to wear very baggy clothing to “mask” my figure (I leaned on the chubby side up until that age). When I started getting serious about fitness and eating clean, in addition to all the weightlifting I was doing, I began and maintain to this day a body that I'm proud of. I became a lot more accepting of my female body, although not quite completely. I brought up my concerns with my mother, who was very supporting and said it didn't matter to her whether I was male or female.
Then I started dating my first boyfriend (who I'm still very happily with), and the sexual aspects of our relationship only served to make me even more comfortable with my female body.
I do not identify with the female stereotype in any way, nor have I ever attempted to, but some days, when I reflect upon myself, I find it incredibly difficult to muster up any definitive “acceptance” of myself as a woman. I don't MIND having breasts or female genitalia, but sometimes I wonder if I'd be happier not having them, too. I've brought this up with my boyfriend in the past, and I remember him being quite neutral on the subject. He more or less just heard me out on it.
I'm not sure why I'm having these thoughts. I think that when I was younger and less happy with my body, I thought it'd be easier to simply not have to be a female because they're held to such high expectations to look good and be sexy and all that crap, and then as I matured and realized I don't care about any of that, those feelings faded away, but not completely.
What do you think, Papa Bear?
The Gryphon (18)
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My first impression of your letter is that you are not having a gender-identity issue so much as you are experiencing an issue with your family's, and society’s, expectations of what it is to be a woman. According to you, you are (mostly) fine with being anatomically a woman, and you are fine with having a boyfriend (even, it sounds like, enjoying the sexual part of it), so I don’t think you are a lesbian, nor do I see you as destined to be a transsexual.
What you don’t like is being made to dress up in girly things and act in a feminine manner. You don't like being pressured by parents to be something you are not. I suspect you only kind of resent having breasts and a vagina because they lead others to categorize you and make demands on you as to how you should behave. They are, in a way, symbols of oppression that are literally attached to your body and therefore difficult to ignore. I suspect that if your parents and others had no problem with your lifting weights and being fit, wearing jeans or less “girly” clothes, etc. you would be less stressed and upset about being a woman.
At 18, you are more accepting of your female body than you were earlier in life. Given this and the other things you have said (and I don’t know whether you were asking me about the possibility of a sex change operation), I would definitely not recommend anything drastic for you. You should only pursue that possibility if you are absolutely 100% unhappy with being your current gender and feel you cannot be who you truly are without that operation. You must be completely certain, too, that you are doing it for yourself and not because of what others say.
Your case is not nearly so extreme to warrant surgery, and I believe that, as you get older and less pressured by parents, and feel less pressure from others to fit a certain stereotype of a women, you will be more comfortable in your current skin. Although some feelings of discomfort still remain at present, I would definitely relax a bit if I were you and see how you feel in, say, three years when you’re 21. I'd be most curious to receive a letter from you then.
The key is to make yourself happy with who you really are, not what others see you as or want you to be.
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