One Person’s Path To Nonbinary Identity: “Having Doubt and Uncertainty Doesn’t Make Me a Fraud. It Makes Me Human.”

by Rae McDaniel

Hi, my name is Rae McDaniel. I’m from Chicago, Illinois.

I was in a place in my life about four or five years ago where I was really questioning a lot about my gender identity and expression. I stood in front of the mirror one day and I put a binder on and I immediately panicked. What if everybody thought that I was a fake?

I was a therapist. I worked with a ton of trans clients and I was terrified that all of my clients, all of my colleagues, everybody in my community was going to think that I was putting on and appropriating a trans persona because I thought that it would get me more clout at work.

I didn’t know whether or not I identified as non-binary at that point. I just knew that I really liked the look of a flat chest. So I took the binder off. I put the binder back on. And this entire cycle probably repeated two or three times every time that I wanted to wear a binder for about six months. And eventually I got more comfortable with it. I got more comfortable choosing day-to-day if wearing a binder was something that I wanted to do. And as I got more comfortable with that, other things about my gender identity and expression kept coming up.

I was sitting on the couch with my girlfriend at the time. My head was laying on her chest. And I very shyly said that I had been thinking about being called Rae instead of Rena, which was the… my given name. And a few minutes later, she just casually ended a sentence using Rae. And I just remember that feeling in my gut, that feeling in my stomach of butterflies.

So I started to tell a few of my close friends about it and slowly started inching my way into telling more and more people that I was just trying out the name Rae to see if I liked it better. As other people started calling me Rae, specifically my close friends, it got really awkward. Their voice would go up about an octave because it was new to them. It was new to me. I think they were probably nervous about it. I realized that that discomfort that I was feeling was probably a little bit of both mine and theirs, but over time it dissipated.

And over time, it started to feel more and more right. So one day I just kind of said Fuck it out of the blue and I posted on Facebook that I wanted to be called Rae. I changed my name on Facebook. Nothing bad happened in my business. It was totally fine. Everybody was very chill about it. And Rae now just feels like my name.

Around the time that I got comfortable with my name, I started realizing that I was fantasizing more about starting low-dose T. I just wanted to see if taking T would make me feel just a little bit more comfortable in my own body. So my brain, of course, kicked up thinking, you know, Is that enough? Is it enough to take T as someone who’s non-binary without a clear transition plan? Was I being extra? Was I hopping on some trend of identifying as non-binary so about? 

A year and a half ago, I just had another “Fuck it” moment. I went to the local LGBTQ health center and got a prescription for testosterone gel. I didn’t really see any results with the gel because it was pretty low-dose, but I did notice that I liked the process of it. So eventually I got on testosterone auto-injectors instead, and really started to see a really tangible change in my body. I started noticing that I could feel my voice in my chest, and I really loved that.

Now I remember the first time that somebody mentioned that my voice had shifted. It was one of my closest friends and we hopped on the phone after not having talked on the phone for a couple of months. And the first thing that they said was, Oh my God, your voice! Over time though, people have stopped commenting on my voice first thing. They’ve gotten used to hearing it a little bit more. And it feels just a little bit more me.

I’ve also waffled for about four or five years about whether or not I wanted to get top surgery. I got a genetics test to see if I had the BRCA gene, which is the gene that causes breast cancer. And the reason I got it was a little bit of hope, which sounds strange, but hope that I had it so that I would have a legitimate medical reason for getting top surgery. And I didn’t have it and I remember feeling a little bit disappointed about that.

Also about three and a half, four years ago, I decided that I wanted to get a tattoo chest piece, like a pretty big one that covers my entire chest. I remember saying to the person that I was seeing at the time that this made that decision for me. I was definitely not getting top surgery because I couldn’t even bear the thought of my tattoo getting messed up.

I had for years kept this pro and con list in my head of, you know, here are the cons for why I don’t want top surgery, here are the pros for why I might want top surgery. And over time I realized that the cons for why I might not get top surgery started getting less and less. Sometime over quarantine, I decided that life is too short. I only get one body. I only get one life. It might as well be the life and the body that I want.

So I sat in this doctor’s office, it was meticulous and beautiful, which is exactly what you want in a plastic surgeon. He says that my chest is favorable for top surgery, whatever that means. And I decide in that moment that I’m going to do it. And now that surgery is just a few weeks away. It’s actually happening on my birthday this year at the end of December. I’m incredibly excited.

There’s also still those little kernels of uncertainty… of doubt. But what I’ve realized over this entire experience is that any time that I have made a significant decision about how I wanted to identify or present my gender, simply because I wanted to, I’ve never regretted that. And I’ve realized that having doubt and uncertainty in this process doesn’t make me a fraud. It just makes me human.

I just ask myself, will this make my life bigger? Will it make my life better? And will this get me one step closer to being the most authentic version of myself and the world? And if the answer is “yes,” or even if the answer is “eh… I’m pretty sure it will,” then I do it because that’s enough.

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