" My Pride, My Skin" - Ara Zapanta

For all the people who bear their truth, have yet to step into their truth, or who may not be able to do so, I love you.

You know when you finally discover that a term exists for a deep, all encompassing feeling you have always experienced? The clarity can be alarming; a relief, and also a doorway into more unknowns. It’s how I felt not too long ago, when I learned what gender dysphoria was. Gender dysphoria is described as feelings of distress that one experiences when their gender identity/expression does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. Learning more about this, it came as an undeniable inner knowing that that was what I had been experiencing my whole life. Shortly after, it also led me to accept my being non-binary, and thus, I felt called to come out.

Coming out is both one of the most liberating, and terrifying things one can do for themselves. At the time of writing this, I have only been “out” for three weeks, and I’m grateful to find myself having stepped fully into my truth a few months before Pride Month. This is still so fresh to me, and yet, it is something that has been seeking acknowledgement, always existing within. I am in celebration, and I am in mourning. This, I know, is part of the unravelling process. In it, we find a deeply intimate pain, and also, strength.

For many of my juvenile years, I would consider myself having been a “tomboy.” For many more, I had a propensity towards hyper-feminine behavior, as I was a sexual trauma survivor. And for years into adulthood, I thought that claiming my womanhood was what I was supposed to do. I do have a rather strong, healthy understanding of my feminine energy and the role it plays as a non-binary person, however I began to question why I was still experiencing so much pain. I will admit that I’ve often found myself in environments that have bred homophobic or transphobic rhetoric, and on some subconscious level, I had internalized a certain level of transphobia. So it had never occurred to me to think of myself as existing outside of the binaries.

I have learned over the years that the areas of our lives that cause us the most pain are often simply due to our resistance. I’ve always been a stubborn person, so it serves as little surprise to me that I spent many years clinging to the comfort of social norms, despite some of them clearly not serving me. I have often put myself through rigorous self hatred for feeling unable to fulfill the roles that are often tied to femininity and womanhood. In more recent times, I had asked myself: What does it feel like when I stop trying so hard to fit into this box of gender norms? What does it look like when I let go of these mindsets that I have clung so dearly to? What does it feel like when I allow myself the grace of not being pressured into situations or mindsets that simply don’t align with me?

The answers, when I allowed them to come, surprised, and then nourished me. For so long, I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t connect to the image in the mirror. I would avoid getting too close to the mirror or lingering for too long because it brought up a violent sadness, and a visceral disconnect that I learned to mask through the use of makeup and other “womanly” behaviors. My bare face and body felt like a war zone, for the simple fact that I was attempting to shove myself through learned expectations of societal norms. I have often thought that I’ve never been “woman” enough, which actually caused me to run even more towards femininity and gender binaries-- in hopes that if I tried hard enough, I would eventually find peace. I just wanted to feel at home in my skin. The truth was, of course, much the opposite. I found that the more I tried to become what I thought I was supposed to be, the more I was harming myself. For the sake of my well being, I had to let those ideals go. And what arose was a gentle, beautiful truth.

Thankfully, since coming into full awareness and acceptance of my trans-ness to myself, and then to others, I’ve begun to feel connected to myself in ways I never have before. I have begun to experience life with a childlike wonder; new and reborn. Where once the mirror brought me immense pain or numbness, I now often feel great joy. Acceptance. Love. The feelings of inadequacy have not completely dissipated, but instead they begin to take on a new meaning. I no longer find myself beating myself up for not looking “womanly” or “beautiful” enough. I embrace my fluidity. Now, I truly believe and know that I am not only beautiful, but handsome too, and any number of other adjectives. The person in the mirror never truly changed, only the mindset within them.

It’s not easy to come out and continuously bare this truth unapologetically. The air can sometimes feel uncertain; the ground, shaky, as I take each new step. There are times when I feel uncomfortable. But one thing that I am not, is ashamed. I am proud. I bare this pride, knowing that I am not, and never have been truly alone on this path. I know that accepting who I am gives me the tools to combat feelings of dysphoria, and that the road does indeed get easier.

Gender dysphoria has attributed greatly to the blockages between me and a healthier, happier life. It has led me to complete and utter breakdowns, it has sometimes been a weight confining me to the bed; it has been violently present in my relationships and has caused much unnecessary strife. Therefore, accepting and claiming my fluid gender expression and sexuality has given me the desire to truly show up for myself; the willingness to change habits, create routine and self care rituals where once there was only sadness and confusion. I now look forward with renewed appreciation at things like taking proper care of my skin and my body. I look forward to showing up and being more present in my relationships. I look forward to continuing on this journey of self love.

I’m young, and I’m still learning and unravelling so much about myself, but the road is paved in rainbows; iridescent with the infinite expressions that exist in our world. I’m privileged and grateful for the ability to bear my truth, and I’m proud. I’m very excited to be collaborating with Callyssee to share my story!

Happy Pride Month 🏳️‍🌈

- Ara

 Pronouns: They/She

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