By Alex Masse
I spent the first 20 years of my life trying really hard to be a girl—even if it seems the only person I ever fooled was myself.
Before I came out, my mother often told me my gender-neutral birthname had “worked out.” Strangers asked for my pronouns all the time, even before that was particularly common.
It frustrated me because I didn’t get it! I was giving womanhood my best shot, even as it grated and chafed against my very being. In fact, I gave my cis girl self a last hurrah back in 2019. I was dating a butch lesbian and more than happy to be their femme. I dressed up, experimented with my hair, and tried whatever makeup I could endure for half a day. I even wore lingerie! I wasn’t just “girl,” I was “girlfriend,” which inexplicably fit a lot better than the former.
Funny enough, this relationship reopened the long-repressed gender confusion I’d felt throughout my life. My butch ex-partner was a nonbinary lesbian and was the first person I’d met who identified that way in real life. Our conversations around gender led me to question my own. I only got about as far as experimenting with she/they pronouns before we broke up.
Then the pandemic hit.
All of a sudden, I was alone with my thoughts—and they were the worst possible company. Many of them had to do with hating the person I saw in the mirror. At the time, I thought I was just insecure, but in hindsight, it was textbook dysphoria. I impulsively chopped off the hair on my head, and let it grow wild everywhere else. If I wasn’t on a Zoom call, I paid little mind to what I wore. After all, nobody saw me, and I avoided looking at myself too hard.
A lot of this changed when, on a whim, I tried a new creative outlet: live streaming. It seemed pleasant enough—a way to socialize from home or with strangers from all over the world. As a musician and general fan of performing, the format of having my own virtual audience was also exciting. My intention wasn’t vain—I just missed the chemistry and connection.
I tried Instagram, Tiktok, and even Twitch a few times. The one I found the most success on though was Reddit.
Success is a relative term, of course—I made about $12 total over a year’s worth of streams—but I had fun! For those not in the know, Reddit is an unconventional social media experience. It’s not about following people as much as it is following communities. These communities are called “subreddits.” So in a world where influencers dominate most other platforms, it stands out. There are few famous Redditors—but many famous “subs.”
Additionally, in 2020, Reddit launched RPAN. RPAN let anyone stream from their phone or computer with ease, and because of how Reddit works, you didn’t need a massive follower count to rack in views. I’d stream for an hour or two and get view counts in the tens of thousands. For the most part, these viewers were normal enough—they shared song requests and commented on my playing, that kind of thing.
However, I was a feminine-presenting person showing their face on the Internet. Specifically on Reddit, which spent a good deal of the late 2010s in hot water for being home to some major misogynist communities, among other things. The site even has a Wikipedia page dedicated to its “controversial” communities past and present.
In short: the insults were inevitable.
A lot of it was outright misogyny. Men asked weird personal questions, demanded I take off my clothes, and called me a bitch when I didn’t humor them. As a flautist, blowjob jokes were especially common. Due to my androgynous appearance, many viewers dipped into outright transphobia.
“Boy or girl?”
“What’s in your pants?”
“How old is it?” (I’d get called an “it” a lot.)
Transphobic slurs were also liberally hurled about—ones I don’t wish to repeat. To make it worse, after my streams, some men would berate me through direct messages. They would demand I shave and become a “real woman.”
While the misogynistic and sexually charged comments were uncomfortable, there was something oddly thrilling about the transphobic ones. I’d spent my whole life trying and failing to feel comfortable as a woman, and these complete strangers had called my bluff. It felt electric.
Soon, I was streaming on the regular, enduring “bad” insults to hear the “good” ones. I’d care less and less about my appearance, knowing it dragged in more insults, more people denying the womanhood I was too scared to deny on my own. When people asked, I’d say streaming was just a fun outlet and got me practicing my instruments, but that’s not the whole truth—I was addicted to how they interrogated my gender presentation.
Two major factors broke me out of this vicious cycle. First, the insults became more than mean comments. Strangers from Reddit would find my other social media accounts, or become unsettlingly sexually explicit in private messages. Grown men would rant about their pornography addictions, their insecurity surrounding their genitals, their fantasies about having sex with lesbians, and all kinds of things without my consent. I realized that while they didn’t really see me as a woman, they didn’t see me as a person, either.
Secondly, I reached out to my own support system. Despite my own confusion, I had plenty of out and proud trans friends by then. In fact, some of the first queer communities I found myself in were led by trans folks, and many of my childhood friends also ended up trans (which, in hindsight, should’ve told me something about myself).
Seeing trans people in my life explore their gender identities opened my eyes. I watched them deal with dysphoria, and find healthy ways to express their euphoria. When I shared my own experiences they were not only understanding, but validating. They gently nudged me towards dealing with my discomfort and finding less dangerous ways of confronting it. Lighthearted avenues to my own euphoria came about as I played with my clothes, hair, and other kinds of presentation.
The last major catalyst though—of all things—was a meme. My friend tagged me in a silly picture about the “different types of nonbinary friends,” putting my name beside an illustration of a particularly androgynous fey creature. For some reason, that’s what made it click: this picture of a pretty, genderless being, and my name right next to it. I realized my gender didn’t have to be repressed any longer, and it wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
These days, I continue to prioritize joy in my gender journey, and the only validation I need is from myself. Femininity and I are back on good terms—I’m a nonbinary femme dyke, and couldn’t be happier. I also make art about my nonbinary experiences—Happy art! Funny art! The kind of art that I think could help kids who are as confused as I once was. If I can help at least one trans kid not hurt themself online, I’ll have done a good job. No trans person should have to find euphoria in cruelty. I deserved better—and so do you.
Featured image by Karolina Grabowska.
Alex Masse, AKA Fairything, is a 21-year-old writer, musician, and student residing in what is colonially known as Vancouver, BC. The arts are a longtime love of theirs, and their work has been seen everywhere from the Scholastic Writing Awards to Vancouver Pride, as well as in collaboration with Penelope Scott, artsUNITE, She Does The City, and more. They’re also a neurodivergent nonbinary lesbian, which greatly affects their process.
When not writing, they’re making music, and when not making music, they’re writing. Occasionally though, they can be seen working on their Communication degree or cozied up with a good book. Find them on Instagram and TikTok.