Work, Gender, Dysphoria And The Self-Articulation Of A Non-Binary Person

So I’m currently bussing tables in a restaurant, but next week I’m going to start hosting which means more hours, a schedule that can more easily be tailored to my liking and more money. Unfortunately it also means I have to dress up. Well, ok, not “dress up” really all that much by normal, cisgender, feminine woman standards, but I’m not a feminine cis woman.

I need this work. I really do. I’m getting by on what I make right now, but my roommate and I are looking to move out of our terrible (and by terrible I mean our landlord seems to be of the opinion that the funny pages constitute building material) apartment and in order for us to do that I will need to make more money. Unfortunately the cost of the dollars is going to be trading in my generic work uniform for clothes that make me look like a well-dressed young woman, aka the kind of clothes I never wear, ever. In the state where I live this is kind of my only option if I want to host. The gender marker on all of my legal documents is “F” and I can legally be fired for being transgender or refusing to dress like a girl on the job.

I’ve helped host a couple of times before and worse than the clothes is the attitude and behavior that is expected of me. It makes me feel like I’m developing a split personality, like I’m pulling someone else’s skin on over my own and wearing it around, trying to make people believe that I am that person. I’ve started referring to it as my “Sarah suit” (sarah is my legal first name). Wearing it is emotionally draining and just all around exhausting. It’s been a long time since the last time I tried to socialize with other people in a feminine way or conform to the social expectations of my assigned gender at all and I’d forgotten how much it took out of me, how much work it was. How it makes me feel slightly off-balance or out of sync, like the only person clapping off-beat in a room of people clapping in rhythm.

Or maybe I didn’t forget, maybe the sensation is more acute now that it exists in contrast to my nascent to find my way to an understanding of my gender without using man and woman as trail markers.

I am beginning to be able to envision my gender without having to rely on terms and ideas made out of the binary’s spare parts. Unlike earlier in my journey, when I was struggling to move away from relying on terms like “androgynous” to describe my internal sense of self, I can now, more than ever before, consistently perceive my body and self as something strange and alien, something new, something outside of and fully detached from the gender binary.

As I develop this more fully formed sense of my gender the experience of trying to pass as anything else becomes more acutely uncomfortable. Formerly, before I knew that there were more than two genders, my dysphoria was a vaguer sense of unease. Now it is becoming ever more particular and specific, I can say what exactly makes me feel dysphoric and what does not, but it also seems that those things that do make me feel dysphoric trigger a stronger reaction than they used to. I can’t really be sure if this is because I am so infrequently exposed to them that I have lost some tolerance that I used to have for them when these things were a more regular part of my life or if it is because I now I have an alternative to compare those things to; I know just how good I can have it without those things in my life.

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