Question: How do I know if it’s just a phase?

A reader asks…

I am in my early twenties but I have had gender confusion for several years now. A great concern of mine is the possibility that my parents are right, and this is all just a phase of my development that I will grow out of. How do I know this is for real?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on April 10th, 2011 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 25 comments »

25 Responses to “Question: How do I know if it’s just a phase?”

  1. Clare

    you cant know, and neither can your parents. Can you negotiate with them (and with yourself) to just be gentle, accept the situation – and just go with it?!! If its right, it’ll stay with you, if not, it will pass with time but for now – vive la difference!! Love yourself as a varied human!


  2. Nicole

    I agree with Clare – don’t worry about it. If it’s a phase, it’s a phase. The most important thing to do is to be true to yourself – deep down you may already know the answer to that, but may be scared of it because of your parents’ attitudes.

    Regardless of what your parents think, there are people out there who will support you no matter what the answer to that question is. If you’ve been questioning yourself for years, it may be time to stop questioning and accept the reality. :) And the community will be here if you need it.


    tigr replied:

    >_< I could've written just this same question, word. for. word! It's *exactly* what I'm continually asking myself. (Which again proves that we're not alone — I'm SO grateful to genderfork for showing me that there's lots of other strange and different people out there, some of whom are surprisingly like me :) SUCH a good feeling…)

    It really is difficult with parents, I love mine, and I get along -great- with them, except when it came to this one topic. :S

    Over the last few weeks I've gotten closer and closer to realizing and embracing that, yes, "it may be time to stop questioning and accept the reality."

    (I just wish it'd taken me less than six years!)


  3. Hilde/Zev

    there really is no way of knowing if something is just a phase. But you have to live it. If it stays in your head, you’ll never be happy. It’s better to try and find out you’re wrong than to not try and always be unsatisfied. I did this recently- I’ve always been genderqueer, but for a few months I was really struggling, and it wasn’t until i came out and asked friend to use male pronouns that I realized I truly was a female-identified gendderqueer. But i would’ve been miserable forever if I hadn’t tried.


  4. Ashtur

    Some parents cling very hard to the idea that gender variance is a phase because it means they don’t have to face the reality. If your parents are pushing you hard towards the idea that it’s not going to last, it could be helpful for you to get some distance from them and find people who will support you in experimenting more freely.


  5. Tory

    Just like others said, you have no way of knowing if you will feel this way forever, but it’s important to accept and love who you are now, whether or not it’s a constant part of your identity and hopefully your parents can love and accept this part of you as well. I think it’s important to explore this part of yourself to the fullest and even if you realize it’s not the real you, you will have learned important new things about yourself and could be a better person in the long run. Just try to be happy with who you are and whatever gender(s) you may or may not be will work itself out over time.


  6. Vicky

    In terms of psychological development, once people get through their early twenties they’ve pretty much developed their mental image, unless they have a drastic mid-life crisis. If you get to about twenty-five and still identify as whatever this “phase” is, it’s safe to say it’s not a phase, but will be with you at least until you’re forty. Unfortunately, that’s really the only way to definitively figure out whether or not this is a phase.


    Samson replied:

    Conversely, you can sort of see almost -everything- in your life as a phase–they just vary in length. Everything in your life is a valid experience, whether it becomes a longer-lasting part of you or not. I don’t think it’s a matter of “phases” that get in the way of who we truly are–who we truly are is a lot of phases strung together into a life.

    Personally I’m in my early 20s too. I remember being 16 and sitting in my psychologist’s office; my mom was trying to convince me that my bisexuality was a phase.

    “But I mean… when will I KNOW? How long?”

    My psychologist shrugged. “Well, eventually, you just will.”

    Pretty sure by now that this isn’t a phase, and that experience encouraged me to take a lot of other possible “phases” in my life seriously.

    I think parents’ fears are mostly based around the idea that we might do something drastic and crazy over something that’s just a phase. (My parents are personally obsessed with maintaining image and reputation… or maybe that’s just a human thing.) But as others have noted–sometimes making changes is a great way to test out your feelings–and even if it’s “just a phase,” it’ll mean you’re comfortable for the duration of it.

    The tl;dr version: It’s probably not a phase if you ask me, but even if it were, would that be so bad?


  7. Dan

    Identities can be fluid, and that includes being fluid over time. Even if your identity starts feeling more fixed and aligned with a traditional identity later, that doesn’t make whatever you feel now not “real.”


  8. Trevor

    I just sort of had to tell myself: “I can’t be sure about tomorrow. I can’t be sure about a year from now. I could end up being a girl, or genderqueer or anything, but I know that, right now, I’m a boy and I don’t want to waste time pretending when I could be being happy and myself.”


  9. Ryan

    I’m with Dan and Trevor (and several other people, actually). Gender isn’t a phase (well, I suppose I shouldn’t use absolutes, but mostly, it isn’t). No matter what happens in the future, if it feels real now, nothing can take that away.

    If how you feel about gender, and/or how you identify, changes in the future, that doesn’t make how you feel about gender now any less real. I know I’m repeating myself, but I really do believe this.


    Vicky replied:

    I agree wholeheartedly. If, even after much soul-searching and self-reflection, you ultimately discover that you are well-adjusted in the heteronormative gender role that you were born with and this was simply a “phase,” the time you spent trying to find yourself will be incredibly well-spent, because you will be as close to absolutely certain as is humanly possible. If you discover that you are in fact non-heteronormative, it will be equally well-spent, for the same reason. If, after such a period, you are still just as unsure, you’ll simply be at the same level of uncertainty that the vast majority of questioners are. That’s the paradox of “phases.” No matter what decision you ultimately make, chances are it’s the right one, or at least one that only really affects you.


  10. Poet

    I would suggest seeing a counselor. It’s what I’m doing. It just helps to be able to talk things out and I always leave feeling good about my decisions.


  11. George Grey

    I don’t know how you wish to identify, original poster, but I think that using the term genderqueer (or genderfluid) can free you up to worry less about whether what you’re experiencing is a phase. If you feel happy using so broad a label, it can encompass all your feelings and expressions of gender, and give you permission to stop worrying and start to work things out for yourself.

    There’s nothing to say a genderqueer person can’t vary in gender expression from week to week, or day to day, or feel that there gender identity is fluid while not changing in outward appearance. There’s no contract to look or act a certain way, and no one can say that you’re not ‘really’ genderqueer (how would they know?).

    It’s a slippery kind of label, but maybe helpful in bypassing the idea that you have to be utterly certain of an idea before you let it influence your behaviour.


  12. Tommy

    I’d say, try to experiment and see how you feel presenting in another gender, if it makes you feel more at ease or if it makes you more anxious, if it “feels right” or if it feels horribly wrong…

    I know it’s not the same thing, but I found that a semi-transition helped me clear my mind about what I needed to do about myself, when I first started wondering if I was a girl or a boy or what else; I started experimenting with clothes, haircuts and the like, and presenting as male online, deciding to stop whenever I would feel like “this is it, this is who I am, I don’t need to go any further”. This moment still hasn’t come, btw :/

    So, try to experiment if you can, because I know from experience that it can be really helpful.


  13. Theo

    I’ve faced a very similar situation. I think you should take their and any conflict in stride because experiencing contrast can actually be very helpful. Think of it like this– I went to a very gender-liberal women’s college. You could be any expression of gender you wanted and for a long time I tried to embrace my masculine-dyke identity, and people encouraged me. I was in a space where being any kind of woman you could possibly imagine was acceptable and yet STILL my gender-variance persisted. The idea stuck with me even in a space where I could be any type of woman I wanted, and this helped to reinforced the idea that I was not a woman.

    My parents think of my transmasculine identity as a phase, and it is in the face of their conflict and my contrasting experience at a women’s college that I understand myself. It’s very post-modern and post-structuralist in some ways, understanding oneself in relation to other things. Having to explain and justify my gender-variance to my parents helps me reach different states of clarity because I have to start from scratch, build a foundation of explanation and help them piece together the puzzle [when they are willing to talk about it, other times we all get frustrated and don’t talk about it and it feels like a huge elephant in the room]. If in the face of adversity the feeling stays with you, then I think there’s something there you should explore. Don’t let anyone ‘convince’ you something is a phase because you ‘aren’t sure’. Just be whatever feels best and don’t let the haters bring you down.

    Best of luck.


  14. Elias

    I’m with Tommy. Just go for it. Balls to the wall, if you will (it is an aviation term, after all :). Present as you are comfortable and see where it leads you. The most important things you can do are to stay true to and to love yourself. I spent most of my life ignoring gender and then came out as lesbian -> genderqueer -> transmale and fabulous. I couldn’t be happier :)


  15. Jessica

    This is what I would tell your parents:

    So what if it is a phase? It’s real now. It is tearing me up inside. I have two choices:

    a) I can repress my feelings, bury them deep and be normal. But denial will cause me to be self-destructive and insecure about myself for decades, pretending to be happy, hurting people and myself until the real needs finally surface again – and then watch out, because I won’t be able to exercise any restraint then. OR

    b) I can explore now, realize, discover, experiment,… not burn any bridges but make good, sound, well reasoned choices and tend to my development as a fully-rounded human being, whoever I turn out to be.

    I choose option B.

    Now you have a choice. You can choose to come along with me on my journey as loving and supportive people who will be there for me, be honest with me and help me to find my way or you can decide not to come with me and I will leave you behind. Choose.


    I did option A and I do not recommend it. I had thirty years of hurting myself and hurting others, trying desperately to find what was wrong with me. I was entirely centered on myself and could never reach out and touch the people in my life or really experience their stories. I was always agonizingly alone.

    Please do not do that.


    tigr replied:

    *thanks* =) Good suggestion to bear in mind next time I see my parents.

    [Now, I only need to figure out how to actually bring up this topic in the first place …… -.- Does anyone have any good suggestions? I kind of told them several years ago; wrote a letter, which didn’t work very well – they were shocked -, and after some months of family counselling we ended up just not talking about it anymore…]


    Jessica replied:

    I advise honesty, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Don’t let other people (well meaning or not) become a barrier to you in your life. In my experience, telling deeply intimate things in a letter doesn’t work very well.

    If it becomes important to you to clear this conflict before you can go on to other things, then go for it. But there is no point in just picking at the scab of their discomfort until you all say hateful things.


  16. Adair

    Even if your discomfort/confusion with your body/gender is a phase that you grow out of (by letting yourself experiment and explore), that doesn’t mean the phase won’t stay a part of your identity.

    I started identifying as an androgyne when I was 17, right after I discovered the term while googling trans-related things after a friend came out as a binary transperson. That was three years ago. Since then my views on gender have changed, and I’m much less repulsed by my assigned gender and more drawn to/approving of other people and things related to that gender.

    A week ago I attempted to refer to myself as my assigned gender, and that didn’t feel bad, just slightly unfamiliar for the 24 hours it lasted. I went back to non-binary identification when I thought, “Why should I have a binary gender identity? Even if I’m biologically cisgendered, why do I have to accept that as a social category?”

    And so I’m back to being a mostly-stealth androgyne, and a little more confident about it. ;) I think my original bi-genderedness *was* a phase, brought on by psychological pressure and my need to understand a sexist and transphobic world, but that doesn’t mean I have any desire to grow out of being a genderqueer.

    In the OP’s case, though, you’re in your twenties and have had this for years. That’s not the same as a teenager who recently heard of the question or learned their best friend was trans. (And even then “phase” shouldn’t be used to paralyze them or question their experience.) I don’t think worrying that it’s a “phase” is justified, even though it certainly *might* change in the future, or you might settle your gender confusion in any of several ways. At this point it’s worth taking action–and sometimes taking action is the only way to get past a phase, anyway.


    Jessica replied:

    Too right! I am a phase. You are a phase. What is really permanent in a life worth living besides wonder and death? Everything changes. Life is a phase.


  17. M

    It can still for real even if you do grow out of it.

    Your gender is not something you have to commit to for life – thats one of the awesome things people on this site seem to understand. “growing out of it”, which you are allowed to do, doesnt have to be like an admittance to some sort of fakery…

    And at the risk of confusing you: none of this gender thing, is really “for real”, anyway, is it? … by which i mean… y’know… play with it. you’ve been feeling this way for a while now, and it can’t hurt to experiment and have fun. it would be hurtful to bury it all done and deny yourself a part of yourself.

    ( I can totally understand your feeling by the way. its one of those “But will it be worth it in the end???” moments that can leave you stalled for life. even if you feel like you’re stumbling in blind. C: )

    my two cents, for what its worth.


  18. thesnakegod(dess)

    Life is just a phase – that doesn’t make it any less real!


  19. tino

    seems like this has already been said, but I want to also offer the idea that people aren’t always consistent, although our expectations pressure each other to be that way. But it’s totally alright to be inconsistent, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Doing what makes you happy and comfortable is what’s important, even if what that means changes later on in your life. just my 2 cents.


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