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when i was a teenager (age 13-16 for this story) i would crossdress nearly every time i was home alone. the feel of womens clothing on my male body was exciting and new. deviant, and risky.
i had fairly standard and frankly boring ideas about gender roles, as expected of cishet men in their teens. women would do this, men do that. my outward gender presentation towards the world was simple and inoffensive, yet confused and off-kilter in ways that i was unable to articulate at the time. when i wasnt crossdressing, the concept of "gender" was not a thought in my brain. it was "just how things are".
in my brain, i had the idea that my crossdressing and my personal life were seperate concepts, not to be intertwined. when i would put on womens clothing, that wasnt breaking gender roles, it was "just a quirk" of mine. i was never a traditionally masculine man (in spite of my parents forcing me to participate in sports,) and so i assumed that it was some kind of fetish i had.
crossdressing as a fetish didnt really "make sense" to me at the time, but it was the only language that i had learned to explain my behavior. due to unrestricted childhood internet access, i ended up searching things that excited or confused me, and just hid it from my parents to the best of my ability. so, i would go into incognito mode in my browser and search forum posts, youtube videos, short stories, art, anything i could find that might explain why i felt drawn to womens clothing. unfortunately for me, a lot of crossdressing content online is explicitly sexual.
i began to invest my time into learning about the culture. in my brain, crossdressing was a fetish that people had and, for most, it never left the bedroom. but as i learned more i started to notice a split in the community. people who did it to get their rocks off, as i had previously learned, and people who did it for decidedly non-sexual reasons. to "explore their feminine side". this made a lot of sense to me at the time, if everyone had some yin yang-like inherent feminity and masculinity, it wouldnt make any sense to repress it.
and yet, upon this revelation, i felt a deep pain.
i grew up catholic to catholic parents. it meant a lot to them (and their parents) that i would go through the catholic confirmation ceremony. while my exploration with gender was occuring, i was going to classes at our church every wednesday. essentially, the youth pastors were going to "teach us how to be men" and all that bullshit that they like to peddle. this set me back very, very far. when the people that love you are telling you to believe in god, believe in your church, believe your pastors, you dont really have a choice. i learned all the regular regressive beliefs that they try to convince you of (mostly homophobia and sexism). and i started to drink the kool aid.
but deep down i really, really wanted to ask my youth pastors if dressing in womens clothing was sinful.
i figured it probably was, and i should probably keep my mouth shut. and yet, at confession† one day i told my priest that i had worn womens clothing. i looked at the floor. i couldnt bear to see what he might have thought about me. he told me that if i had the urge to crossdress again, i should pray to god instead. and so i did what i was told. i did not crossdress again.
thankfully, a few months after i got confirmed, religion became a far less prominent aspect of my life. the catholic guilt faded relatively quickly, potentially due to my reddit usage at the time. even so, crossdressing was something i didnt do. i was reformed. i was fixed.
then i figured out i was trans through a reddit thread and it was all fucked from there.
its kind of embarrassing, but i had stumbled upon r/asktransgender, and i had to poke around. this subreddit was the first time i really heard about transgender people. i knew what they were in the abstract but i learned how physical transition worked, what problems they go through, their experiences. and it all started to click.
the shame i had when i looked in a mirror, the crossdressing, the confused misunderstanding of masculinity, it all clicked just like that. i was pretty sure i was transgender.
when i told my best friend about thinking i was trans, he was confused and uncertain if i was making a joke. i just got confirmed, i had really short hair, i wasnt really all that feminine of a guy. thankfully, his brother had transitioned a couple years before, and i was able to talk to him. he was so insanely helpful to me, being the first transgender person i really knew in real life.
a few months later, when i had come out to my parents, i had a very cold response from them. my mom cried when i told her and was very dismissive of my feelings. and when i told my dad, he asked if i believed in god. i said i dont really know anymore. it drove a wedge between me and my parents.
their mistrust and dismissal of my feelings remains to this day, although to a much much smaller extent thanks to family therapy. they more or less understand that im not changing and they want whats best for me. but the words that i still remember the most from that night were my dad asking me if i believe in god. honestly, i still want to believe. but theres no compatible religious framework that i can share with my parents. and that fucking sucks.
†confession was like, really fucked up for us honestly? you have to confess to the priest and tell him your sins. every week they gave examples of what sins you might have commited, and they always made sure to mention masturbation. so you end up with a line of like 20 teenage boys telling this old priest that they jerked it last week. its like mad weird