A Year Living As Queer

by Phil Hill
queer mental health

Rewind back to this time last year and I had just announced to the world how a life-changing therapy session only three months prior had me starting to question everything I had ever known about my gender. I had suddenly begun a journey of introspection like no other which had me excited and eager to share with those around me. 

As I look back on the last 12 months I feel reminiscent and it’s safe to say I’ve been on somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster.

Things began on a major high. Summer evenings were spent walking along listening to Gus Dapperton’s “Prune, You Talk Funny” as I felt overwhelmingly happy – happy that I was finally understanding who I really was. So happy that I literally walked with a spring in my step. I didn’t know there was a term for it at the time, but on reflection I know I was experiencing a period of gender euphoria; the positive sensation that stems from understanding your true gender identity and living it out authentically. 

I hold that time fond in my heart and luckily I have that song which will always take me back to summer 2018; a year that changed my life. 

But that high was transient and one I sorely miss.

Over time things became harder. I suddenly became hyper-aware of people using gender-specific language towards me. “She”, “Love”, “Darling”, “Dear” became words I repelled and so began the hardest part of my journey to date – the incessant misgendering. Initially, it would make me feel dejected, but as time has gone on it has become marginally easier. It usually just depends on my mood that day.

I began experiencing another feeling which again I didn’t know had a name at first; this time it was gender dysphoria; the negative sensation that stems from the mismatch between one’s biological sex and gender identity. 

I started to feel dysphoric every time I caught a glance of myself in shop reflections as all I could see was what looked like a woman, so eventually, with the support encouragement of a dear friend, I began somewhat of a physical (and in turn, emotional) transformation. 

It began with me cutting off my hair which let’s just say didn’t go exactly to plan at first! But after months of experimentation (and many costly trips to the barbers!), I finally found a style I was happy with. I decided to quit shaving too and stopped drawing on my eyebrows. I also abandoned my women’s perfume and switched to a more masculine scent. 

These changes were salient to my happiness and as my outer shell started to transform I had never felt more in tune or at peace with my appearance. In fact, what amazed me was that for all these years I thought I had been seeing someone I recognised staring back at me in the mirror, yet it was only once I made these changes that I realised I hadn’t. 

At the start of my journey labels were something that were never really on my radar. I was happy to say I was ‘Questioning’ and took great comfort in now being part of the LGBTQ+ community (the Q) for which I had always considered myself an ally. Other than that, the only other label I wanted to use was ‘human’.

But as time went on I felt I was no longer questioning my gender. I had reached a point where I fully understood it and was embracing it with every inch of my being. As I learnt that the Q in LGBTQ+ also stood for ‘Queer’, something clicked. Queer felt right to me. It felt empowering. ‘Gender non-conforming’ also resonated with me deeply. These are the only two labels I use to describe my identity now, although others would argue that I am trans and non-binary.

In addition to this, I adopted the pronouns ‘they/them’. Initially, I wasn’t a fan and felt I had to use by default. I mean if I wasn’t ‘he’ and I wasn’t a ‘she’ what other pronoun was I to use? But over time I grew into them and they felt right. However, it’s fair to say those around me have struggled to adjust to my new terminology. I feel I’ve been incredibly patient with them, but I cannot deny the toll it has taken on me and so a result I started wearing a pronoun badge to work. Sadly it didn’t help that much with the misgendering, but to my surprise, it started opening up conversations between myself and my customers to which I received great support. It created visibility for people like myself and it created awareness. To me that is key. 

The use of public restrooms was no longer just an issue I read about from struggling trans folk, but one I started to become all too familiar with. I swayed from feeling forced into using the ladies bathroom even though I knew I didn’t belong there, to refusing to enter that space altogether. I now use the disabled toilets and have justified this in my head, although originally I faced an internal moral dilemma as I was an able-bodied person using a space designed for those are not. 

As time went on my appearance became more masculine, which in turn led to strangers referring to me as ‘fella’ and Mothers saying to their kids “If you’d like to follow the man” as I walked them to their table in the restaurant I work in. I hated this just as much as being referred to as female. Masculinity is something I embrace whole-heartedly but is not a synonym for being a man for which I am not. I try and cope with this now by reminding myself that every time someone thinks I’m a man, at least they don’t think I’m a woman. I also feel much safer walking around at night as I am at less risk whilst being perceived as male. 

Although not a daily occurrence, in the last six months the dysphoria has risen significantly and I’ve had to find ways to cope. Sometimes I drop my voice to sound less female and that can be depressing; having to consciously make adjustments to my natural self as I just can’t bear the thought of being misgendered. But luckily some of these coping mechanisms have had the opposite effect. Binding my chest, for example, gives me a boost of euphoria.

At the end of the day, the world has cisgender people at the epicentre. The amount of things I never had to stress, worry or merely even think about when I thought I was cis seems lightyears away now and as individual who is so soon into their journey as well as one who struggles with mental health issues, for me it can be undisputedly hard at times. Gender consumes the majority of my daily thoughts and I’ve spent months walking down the street worrying about people thinking I’m a woman.

But despite all the difficulties I now have to face, I take immense pride and satisfaction in being queer. I cannot describe how good it feels to step out of my house and look down at my mammothlike legs when I once felt the pressure to shave. I cannot describe how good it feels to occasionally look in the mirror just after I’ve had my haircut and am able to pass as male. I cannot describe how good it feels to have a father ask me to explain my pronoun badge to his son. I cannot describe how good it feels to put on the most boyish outfit in my wardrobe and see myself in a way where it now all to comes together. THOSE are the moments that make all this worthwhile. To now be part of what feels like an incredibly free and fluid club that has enabled me to live my truth is honestly something I wouldn’t change for the world. 

The title of this piece is slightly misleading though, as one of the biggest realisations I’ve had since ‘coming out’ is not that I’ve only been queer for a year, but that I was born this way and it’s only the last year that I’ve been celebrating it.

Here’s to many more.

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