I have a confession to make: I am an extrovert.
You are most likely, understandably, impossibly underwhelmed. I on the other hand have only come to this knowledge quite recently. When I let it sink in, it rocked my world.
There is much debate and speculation from minds much more educated than mine about the introvert vs. extrovert dichotomy. If you were to look up definitions and information about introverts vs. extroverts online (don't), you'll come across a vast amount of opinions, analyses and definitions. All of them are somewhat different in their interpretations. The dictionary definition is the simplest one I could find: an outgoing, gregarious person. I guess that helps? Well, not really. It doesn't feel conclusive. To actually understand it, I might as well write about it.
I like the definition of extroverts as people who get energised and are motivated when they're around people. Likewise, introverts are energised by being alone and motivated by being able to figure things out for themselves. That's the best definition that I have at least.
As a transgender woman, I don't feel the pressure to be stuck to binaries. Nor do I feel it's healthy to reinforce any kind of binary that may serve to separate people. However, I do feel that there is great value in using language and analysis to better understand myself so I can lead a more enriching life. The life unexamined and junk. So with that said I don't think I 100% go into the extrovert camp because I don't think that anybody is truly 100% anything all the time. What more, thinking about individuals in absolutes is a surefire way to limit your perception of others. So I feel like using introvert and extrovert like I would use words like femme, queer, or person of colour. It's a huge blanket statement that begs for refinement, and only the person who individually identifies with those words will be the best authority. It's really about defining things ourselves.
There's a thing that happens as a queer person (at lest people I've talked to) when you look back on your life and play a detective in your personal development. When did I have the first feelings of feeling queer? Did I do anything that transgressed gender norms? How did I interact in interpersonal relationships and how did that change once I came out? What were the signs? All very common questions one may be answering for the rest of their lives. However, it's the feelings that when you connect them to your experience now and understand them through a different lens do life events become clearer. For me, I look back at my own life and look at how I acted around social situations and people when I was younger.
To say that I was a shy child was an understatement. I had so many feelings that were alien to the people around me and I never thought that I would be understood. It took me a long time to come to terms with how many of those feelings were transgender feelings. I thought there was something deeply, fundamentally wrong with me as a human being. As if everyone else on planet Earth got an instruction manual on how to interact with others that I didn't get. What more, whenever I would have a chance to be the centre of attention I wilted away from the opportunity very quickly. Having others watch me felt like they were judging me. I would build up an image of who I was so much that I didn't know I was holding myself back. It just felt like I was keeping myself safe. But when I look at videos or remember things from my past there was a spirit of being an outgoing person at a very young age, but also being a very sensitive person. I believe those things aren't mutually exclusive. I believe you can be sensitive, shy, and a little bit anxious as a extroverted person just as much as you can be a bold, direct and confident introvert. It all depends on one's experience with putting out their true nature into the world.
I feel like I incline more towards getting more energy from others. I look back on my life and I see ways I lead groups and connected to a community. I would sometimes join clubs, seek community work, or just wander around the city looking for adventure. The trouble was that I still had to carry all that baggage of self-loathing and devastating dysphoria wherever I went. Looking back on it now, how can any extrovert expect to be outgoing or gregarious if they have to contend with that being in their face on a constant basis? It's a lot to ask. But as I got older it became easier and easier to be a person that I constructed and I felt safe presenting to others. And when that person was validated more and more the easier and easier it came to being more outgoing and gregarious. Granted, social skills are skill and they have to be practiced like any other ability. Whether or not your are extroverted social skills do not come out of a vacuum. But it wasn't me, and what was worse is that it didn't feel like me. Not truly. I felt that I looked at elements that people expected out of men and I tried desperately hard to fit into that the best I could. When I eventually did come out though, I was engrossed in a world of emotional expression that even a few years ago would have seemed completely foreign to me. When I looked at what kind of job I had I was the social butterfly of the company. The role I had was one where I did interact with every member of the company but it was the fact that I made the effort to interact with as many people in the company that I see my extroversion showing.
I think what happened when I look back at my younger self is that I felt soul crushingly lonely feeling so different on the inside that I couldn't handle it. I see a kid in pain. I thought that makes you an introvert, not wanting to be around people and feeling safer by yourself. But that's not true. Introverts love having deep personal connections with people and they like having company. Introverts can be very expressive people. It's just in the way that they show it is different is all. We all have the basic needs of connection and inclusion that feeds our well being. I was denying that to myself believing that me being introverted meant walling myself from others in a very emotionally unhealthy way. That pathos came from a deep seeded mistrust of others. Something that does not mean you are an introvert, because introverts can be very trusting people. They just develop trust in a different way. Perhaps at one point or at some points in my life I was introverted. And I do things today that may be interpreted as introverted behavior. However, I look back at my younger self and the time I spent alone didn't feel like I was gaining energy to feed into my own well being. It felt lonely, absent and miserable. Now I can wrap my head around more of why it felt that way. I wanted to be around others. More importantly, I wanted to me myself around others. My true self in all her glory. That was not something I was ready for at the age of 9. That was not something I was ready for last year. But sometimes there are events in life you can't possibly be ready for. You just go through it.
I reflect on the person that I continue to become after coming out and it's a whole new person. I can communicate with greater ease and immediacy that I once could. I can develop more fulfilling friendships with those I share my values with. I can finally write without the crippling self criticism that consistently held me back. Or at the very lest less of it. I can find a quality of leadership inside me. And I can finally learn to value myself so that I can extend self-care to myself. The love, understanding and insight I have cultivated for others can now be directed towards me. I finally enjoy being with other people. More importantly, I enjoy being myself around other people. The feeling of liberation of finally feeling seen puts a part of my psyche at ease. I can be the expressive extrovert I always dreamed of being deep down in my heart. I just never thought I would allow myself that exploration. Strange how a small amount of time will change someone given a big enough life event.
It surprised me when I was coming out that there were people around me that said that I was still the same person essentially deep down inside. In some ways, behaviors and habits I exhibit I before transition continue even after beginning transition. But I am not the same person I was before I came out, and I mean that in a very literal and all encompassing way. At the core of my being, so many things have shifted in a direction I was not prepared for. I went from being an introvert to WAY more of an extrovert. Part of that may be me being more comfortable with myself, but a bigger part is accepting myself. The changes that I feel that were monumental were the intangible things. Things like how emotions feel like inside me, how I approach problems, what I think is important in life, how I see myself, and how I relate to people. There's most likely more things that have and will change. For now, I feel the biggest change is that I'm finally comfortable in my own skin. That's a rare gift, and I don't take it for granted.
It's going to take some time to get used to being an extrovert. I don't want to be completely dependent on other people, and I do view myself as a very independent individual. It's not healthy to be needy for the attention of others and their validation for your own sense of self-worth. I have felt the limitations of that experience first hand. However, I do need to cultivate or tap into a community of people I can gain energy from. I got energised when I gave my time to others, when I helped them accomplished their goals, and when I could be there for them. I get energised from adding value to the lives of others whenever I can. That's who I am and I'm not going to fight it anymore. But I want to do it without compromising my own identity. I am still apprehensive of being my genuine self in a world that still doesn't understand me. There are those that still wish ill will upon me. So it's all the more important to develop friendships with queer, trans, and individuals of colour. Why would I keep subjecting myself to more isolation? It's essential that I reach out to those who struggle as I have struggled. It's also important too to interact with people I can draw those qualities of positivity from even if they don't share any components of my identity. I need the momentum in my life to be people power. The opposite has only felt draining and dis-empowering. I expect setbacks, I expect to get shy, I expect it to be awkward maybe. I just see it so clearly that it's the way I navigate though the world and what I'm naturally drawn to that I was totally caught off guard with how right that realization feels.
I'm an extrovert, and that's okay.