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The Chemical Forceof Identify

by Imi Read

At the age of 19, I realised it was time to confront the conditioning I had faced as a child, and as a woman, to understand my identity.

Identity is a weird concept. It’s meant to be something that’s wholly ours, that we have control over, that we love. We’re meant to back ourselves 100%. But in a society that forms the basis of your identity before we take our first breath, how do we stand a chance of finding our truth?

For most of my life, I felt a little different. I didn’t gel with the ideals that had been set out for me. I was attracted to women. I hated wearing girls clothes. I was enchanted by the average teenage boy, thinking it was lust, but it was only jealousy. I wanted that overwhelming sense of confidence that came with a fresh surge of testosterone.

One night, at 5 years old, I cried in bed before going to sleep and asked my mum “Do I have to marry a boy?”. I’d never heard the term ‘gay’ before, but I already knew, I didn’t want to be with a boy forever. She hugged me, and said of course not, I could be with whomever I wanted.

It’s funny how one difficult experience can spiral you into a journey of dysphoria and confusion, how often a turbulent time, can force you to confront core-ideologies about yourself which have never aligned with your concept of ‘identity’.

I’ve always felt like ‘Virginity’ was a socially constructed concept. In a world that is beginning to support relationships of all kinds, how can we possibly define the term? I view gender in the same way. Our perception of gender is conditioned from the moment we’re born, and all the identity-binding experiences we have even in our earliest years, form a sub-conscious narrative in our minds of what gender ‘looks’ like. At the age of 19, I truly took ownership of my identity; but the funny thing is, I thought I already had.

I wasn’t even close. I wasn’t the woman I wanted to be, the partner I wanted to be or the artist I wanted to be. I had some real self-evaluation to do.

In the summer of 2018, I felt massive dysphoria and was forced to confront the role of gender within my identity. I began to physically feel the alternative chemicals flowing through my body, feeling surges of testosterone and lulls of oestrogen. I became conscious of the movement of these biological forces, and their relationship to my body and mind. It was such a strong force. But I was aware. For the first time, I started to understand these chemicals, and I felt such strong awareness of my own emotions.

Suddenly, I had strength, yet I surrendered to weakness. I was no longer ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. For the first time, I truly identified with myself. I no longer identified myself to a gender, but allowed myself to have qualities that were identified with being human.

As an artist, the therapeutic nature of drawing provided me with a grounding force to return to. Sometimes, I draw for the sake of it. But often, I pour a real sense of self into my artwork. For me, it was an essential outlet within my journey.

The illustrations accompanying this article, reflect my sense of self. They explore the visual and physical movement of chemical bonds, visualising my emotions and feelings through the journey I went on. They explore my identity.”

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