How to explore your gender identity as an adult : Life Kit If you're an adult starting to explore your gender identity, it can be tough knowing where to begin. Here's some advice from trans people to help you on this intimate and powerful journey.

COMIC: How to explore your gender identity as an adult

COMIC: How to explore your gender identity as an adult

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Look, identity is intimate — especially when it comes to gender.

Some people have known since childhood that their identity falls outside of society's expectations.

For others, the idea of questioning their gender is relatively new.

Whatever the case, it's important to remember that it's never too late to explore your identity. In fact, doing so can be a great way to get to know yourself better — even if you aren't trans or nonbinary.

Life Kit spoke with Imara Jones, Alok Vaid-Menon and Matt Rice about their own processes for exploring gender identity, and they share a few tips on how to begin.

Imara Jones, trans journalist and founder of TransLash Media, is a black woman with braids and hoop earrings. "I think that whenever we can be ourselves fully as human beings, that it's always healing because it's in alignment," she says. She says that's about the connection between who we are, what we do and how we exist in the world. Frames show her talking at an event and looking into a mirror.
For her, transitioning meant coming into alignment. The frames join into one Imara. For some, exploring your gender means reaching back to your childhood. An adult reaches out to their inner child. Here are some tools for exploring your gender and identity before you even consider things like medical changes. We'll use "trans" as shorthand for various gender-expansive identities, like nonbinary.
There is no one-size-fits-all to your gender journey. "You get to take your time. You get to explore," Imara says. Light glows from a changing room. "You get to change your mind. You get to change your mind again," Imara says from a crowd of many different trans people. She says that one of the things she loves about being trans is that there isn't one particular way to look or model being trans.
"There's been a multi-century PR campaign that tells us that if we express ourselves and cultivate a life around authenticity, then we will suffer," says Alok Vaid-Menon, gender-nonconforming and transfeminine artist. It's easy to internalize that and maybe be afraid of exploring. If so, check who that fear belongs to. If it's others, let it go to make space for feelings like joy and possibility.
Remember what made a younger version of yourself light up, that maybe you weren't allowed to fully embrace. "Why was I drawn to this person? What does that mean for how I want to be in the world?" Imara asks. As a kid, Imara stares at Wonder Woman on TV. As you sift through previous versions of yourself, some grief might kick up. Lean into and honor those feelings.
Experiment with small acts of permission. ALOK remembers when they weren't okay yet with wearing a dress outside. So in their room, they'd put on lipstick. "It's just really about assessing your comfort level and then slowly, gently dancing with that and allowing yourself to be expansive," they say. Be sure to do this in a safe place. Ask what feels joyful. Remember, you get to change your mind.
Find people in your life who can support you. The people closest to you might not be able to do this. When teacher Matt Rice transitioned 30 years ago, some of his existing friendships ended. But he found unexpected support from his workplace, a popular bar for men in the bear* community. *A subculture of gay men who are large and hairy. Matt chats to a patron in a crowded bar.
"I once explained to someone it was like having 1,500 grandmothers who would come up to you every week and go, 'My god, you look so cute! Look, your facial hair is coming in.'" Matt says. Two men smile as they say those words. These men invited him to holiday gatherings and vacations every year. Matt said they taught him about unconditional love and support. A hand helps set a table full of food.
One way to find support is to connect with similar people. You can read about trans people in the past and LGBTQ+ history. Or connect with or follow other trans folks on social media, especially those who share other identities with you. You can also meet other trans people via support groups in person or virtually. Finally, you can ask your friends if they know any trans people you can chat with.
There will likely be some ups and downs on your journey. Just because it feels hard doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. "Ultimately, though, you're going to be able to find a place that accepts you and loves you and where you're able to be yourself," says Imara. Evolutions of a person stand before a colorful sky. One's body is full of stars, another a setting sun, a third a bright glow.
Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR

This comic was written and illustrated by Connie Hanzhang Jin based on the Life Kit podcast episode reported and hosted by Kyle Norris, produced by Mia Venkat and edited by Meghan Keane.

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