Don’t Panic! Troubleshooting Sexuality & Gender Confusion

Are you or a loved one questioning one or all of your orientations?

Is your head buzzing with unanswerable questions and concerns?

Are you worried that any decision you make might result in catastrophe?

I remember when I had a big “oh NO” moment about my orientation. I was in my late 20s, and working through some of my experiences. I realized that I had unresolved issues around my gender. I knew those feelings had always been there, but it was a situation where I couldn’t ignore these feelings anymore.

I felt liberated! I felt exhilarated! I felt… awful!

Suddenly, all these fears around how my entire life was going to change jumped into my mind. Yes, there’d be people who loved me and would stand by me, but there’d also be folks who could not and would not accept me as a trans person. Worst of all, I wouldn’t be able to necessarily know which of my loved ones would feel that way, before coming out!

I know, this sounds like a pretty bad way to start an article meant to help you clear up your questions about yourself, but addressing the reasons for your anxiety can be immensely helpful in getting to better understand your own desires and identity.

So take a seat if you aren’t already. I’m here to help you through this dark night of queer questioning. While I certainly can’t tell you exactly what your orientation is, I promise to try my absolute best to direct you to the person who would know best: yourself.

You are the expert of yourself

God, I know. You want to reach through the screen and grab my Claire’s mall goth choker and tell me how cringe that sounds. I agree! But cringe can still be true, and baby, this is true.

When I initially started my latest orientation journey into Translandia, I expected that I’d need a professional to “diagnose” and validate my transness. 

Looking back, my behavior makes sense; decisions on gender presentation and identity have profound implications on the rest of our lives. I, like so many others, was overwhelmed and scared to make “the wrong decision”. I felt like it was vital for me to seek out permission to be able to act on my gender identity.

That’s not true! You are your own expert. You’re really the only one who will be able to completely know your identity and desires. Give yourself power to accept that responsibility, and relish in the freedom it gives.This doesn’t mean you should ignore concerns from loved ones with your best interest at heart. When I started to transition, my parents were concerned that I’d be ostracized from polite society and wanted to protect me from what they thought a trans life would be– difficult, dangerous, and disrespected. 

For years, I took those concerns to heart but the longer I let myself sit in discomfort, the longer I found myself realizing my parents wouldn’t want me to feel uncomfortable in my own body.

Maybe your friends are scared you’ll change. Maybe your boyfriend is worried what your gender exploration might reveal about his orientation. Maybe your grandmother is genuinely confused. You get to take all of these concerns in, filter out the points that are true and real and set aside the ones that aren’t coming from a place of dignity and respect.


CRUCIAL STEP: Get comfortable!

So, you’ve admitted that you have unbaked questions about your gender and/or orientation. Now what?

Get really comfortable. You’re going to be doing some challenging and possibly scary emotional work, and I’ve always found that being as cozy as possible helps me ease into a difficult task, whether that’s addressing discomfort or washing the dishes (hello podcasts!). 

This isn’t going to be a sprint, either. For most people, this period of existential crossroads and exploration isn’t a flash in the pan, but rather a long slow simmering stew of feelings and ideas.
You’re setting yourself up for failure (and possibly self-sabotage) if you expect it to be resolved by Sunday brunch with the girls. This is a marathon, ma’am!

So what you should be hoping to do is support yourself through this possibly long journey by prioritizing your comfort. What makes you feel good about your body? What experiences do you want to prioritize? What words do you want to use for yourself or your desires? Find them, and try them out.

What you’re looking to achieve with the feeling of comfort is the reassurance of security; you don’t have to worry about going off too far into painful feelings when you can reassure yourself that you’re surrounded with things you love or familiar sensory experiences.


Start making friends with your feelings

Questioning your desires or identity can be an extremely destabilizing period of your life. While it can be easy to get wrapped up in the idea that avoiding your feelings is the only way to survive, it isn’t! 

I’ve seen this, especially with people who might be considered “late bloomers” in the LGBTQIA community, but there’s no such thing in the grand scheme of things. As cliche as it sounds, your feelings and desires are valid! They matter, even if it means you might have to make life feel a bit wobbly before things settle into a new normal. 

It’s vital for you to pay attention to what those nagging feelings and thoughts are telling you about yourself.


Take a deep breath: you’re going to be okay.

Let’s start this off with a kind of grounding blessing. You will be okay.

Wherever this gender and sexuality orientation journey takes you, know that you can survive the initial shock and flourish. 

Contrary to popular belief, queer people aren’t out here to try and “convert people into homosexuals” or yassify the youth. (Well, actually, there is one and it’s RuPaul because children now say “slay queen” and I think RuPaul is to blame.)

If someone thought they were trans, then realized they weren’t… I’m glad for them! That’s fantastic! No one should live in discomfort around their body, so if you’ve gotten one step closer to feeling safe in your own skin, hell yeah. That’s the goal!

So know this: you can’t mess this up.


Make a case file

When I first started having serious “life or death” gender discomfort, I decided I wanted to settle the matter forever within myself. I was tired of constantly having to re-address my feelings every couple of years, I wanted something concrete. 

I decided I needed to make a case for transitioning, so I did. I made a 50 page document, full of every moment logged into my journal as a youngin’ where I mentioned having discomfort with my gender.

I dug through old photos, picking the one where I remember beaming with pride at how my hair looked (I thought I looked like a Disney prince and I was happy to feel handsome). I even included relevant screenshots of conversations I had with friends or comments I made in relative anonymity.

It helped give me confidence in the steps I took moving forward, like a board meeting with all my past selves. (Cool thing about these members of the board? We all have the same income, so it’s really more of a co-op.)


Dig into the past (Remember: you’re not limited by it!)

Were you the sort of person who kept diaries as a child? Do you have important memories tied up in feeling discomfort or happiness when being seen as one gender over another? Did you have a “best friend” in high school that you occasionally kissed (and secretly loved)?

Having said that, don’t necessarily put too much stock in the past. I know, emotional whiplash here but hear me out: the past desires or identities are a part of your present so long as it still feels relevant. How do you feel looking or thinking about what your younger self wanted? Did teenage-you have the full story about what values or desires you currently hold dearest? 

You’re growing, and sometimes that means you need to shed what no longer serves you even if it was really important at one point in your life.

There’s also a pressure for people, especially people questioning their gender, to have “known” their gender identity by an extremely early age.

Sometimes kids don’t think about gender! Or they’re not uncomfortable until they hit puberty because that’s when secondary sex characteristics develop! If you weren’t a kid who knew at a young age, that’s okay!

We don’t hold people to the jobs they said they wanted as kids, so why would we necessarily expect that “showing signs of transness in youth” is the gold standard for “real transness”? (Pro tip: if you ever see someone call it “transgenderism”, they’re either doing it out of bigotry or they’re a medical textbook without an LGBTQIA consultant on staff.) 

So if you were happily wanting to marry a girl in your youth, only to realize that didn’t still ring true for you know? That’s okay! You can change your mind!


Mood board

Some of us are visual thinkers and need visual reminders for us to muse over. For that, may I suggest mood boarding your questioning away?

The goal is simple, and it’s not to manifest over. I just want you to come up with a list of people and aesthetics and looks and media that you feel connected to. Have you ever found yourself perplexed by a certain actor or character or person in history, and weren’t sure if you wanted to be them or be with them?  Put it on your list! Was someone an inspiration for you in an almost iconoclastic way? Note it down. You can even include favorite songs, the songs that give you that deep shimmering effervescent desire for a life not currently congruent with yours.

(My list included David Bowie, The Breadwinner, Joan of Arc, female pirates under disguise… you get it.)

Here I am!

Now either get some magazines or log into Pinterest or make a folder on your phone–start searching for pictures! Don’t worry about doing it all quickly, you can keep adding to your mood board as your feelings come more into focus. This is all about pinpointing the things you want more present in your life.

When you look over all your visuals, what comes to mind? Sometimes people might realize that they weren’t gay, only wanted to be the person in question (oops gender stuff)! Others might realize they’re straight and cis but would love to rock the hell out of a dress.

Fun fact: trans people really care about your gender. Be cis! Be trans! Be nonbinary! Whatever!


Take your time!

Queer people tend to have an accelerating desire to “make up for lost time” not being able to live as their authentic selves in fundamental life stages. It can be easy to feel like we have to go from “questioning” to “hungry hungry bottoms at the glory hole” possibly overnight, but we don’t!

You can take all the time in the world to figure out what feels right and true to you. If someone wants to pressure you into making a decision before you’re ready, tell them to take Michael Jackson’s advice and beat it. You’re on your timeline, not theirs.


Ignore labels (at least for a bit)

Yes, you read correctly.

Step away from the labels for a moment, and consider instead your feelings without connection to whether you fit neatly into a category.

Labels are tools to help us communicate our desires and experiences, not to become limiting cages so if you’re finding yourself more confused than ever, place a pause on that for the moment.