For a lot of trans people, including me, gender desire precedes gender identity.

Gender desire is:

  • I wish I was a woman/enby/man.
  • Look at that person, I wish I looked more like them (in a gender way).
  • Look at that trans person, I wish I was trans.
  • Imagine if someone would turn me into a woman/man. That’d be wonderful.

Gender identity is:

  • I am a woman/enby/man.
  • I’m going to present like this, because I’m a woman/enby/man.
  • I am trans.
  • I am non-binary.
  • These people are women/enbies/men/trans just like me.

I think gender desire often emerges before gender identity because one’s physical form and the expectations of society feel like evidence against one’s gender identity: “How can I be a woman/enby/man when I look like this? How can I be who I want to be when society treats me like this?”, says the voice of insecurity and dysphoria.

But physical evidence doesn’t change one’s desires. The heart wants what it wants. One’s dreams aren’t constrained by form or expectations. Dreams are free to float and fly.

Many people, like me, who eventually come to understand that they are trans, experience a period where the dreams are there, but the self-understanding and the self-acceptance aren’t yet present. This period can last a long time – years, maybe even a decade for me. It’s can be a rough period, painful, and often very lonely. It certainly was for me, at times. It’s too late for that to be any different for me. But it’s not too late for people who are in the midst of this period, or who will encounter it in the future.


A great example of this dynamic, of gender desire preceding gender self-knowledge, is demonstrated by the singer Addison Grace and his song “I Wanna Be A Boy”. When he wrote the initial version in December 2020, he discussed how the song was about gender exploration, and wishing he was a boy in certain circumstances, among other sentiments, but he also mentioned that the song wasn’t a coming-out song, and that he wasn’t identifying as male at the time. By the time he released the official version of the song, a year later in January 2022, he had come out as a nonbinary trans man.

The song is about gender desire. It’s about wishing he was a boy. When he wrote the initial version, he had the desire, but not yet the identity. The identity formed over time, with the song as a major exploratory step in that journey.

Another person who’s talked about this journey, about desire preceding identity, is Amanda Rowan. Her gender desire was always there, while her gender identity only solidified well after she’d come out and begun gender-affirming medicine.


Gender desire preceding gender identity is incredibly common in trans circles, and I don’t think this is well known outside of those circles. I’m talking about this because I want people who are experiencing that gender desire, who wish things were different, who wish they themselves were different, to know about this. To know they’re not alone. So the remainder of this essay is addressed to those people who are having that gender desire experience, and don’t know what it means or what to do.

If you feel that gender desire, if you wish you were nonbinary or a woman or a man, I want you to know that you’re valid. I accept you. I support you.

You are allowed to explore gender-related things, if you feel that desire. I give you that permission, whether or not you need it. (You can also explore if you don’t feel the gender desire, that’s fine too.)

You can try clothes or makeup or make a online pseudonym or write a self-insert story. You can listen to trans music or read trans essays or talk to trans people (Hi!) about their experiences and see if you vibe with them. If you feel the wish, you’re allowed to explore.

I wished I was more feminine and less masculine, long before I even heard of the concept of being nonbinary. Long, long before I seriously considered the possibility. Long, long before I understood who I was. My gender desire has been around far longer than my gender identity.

Maybe you’re just like me.

Also, remember that exploring your gender isn’t a commitment. You’re allowed to undertake that exploration and come out with any conclusion you like. You’re allowed to have the gender desire, and do some exploring, and discover that your gender identity, your sense of self, is the same as you previously thought. Maybe you have the same sense of gender but you want to express it differently. Or maybe there’s something else going on. You’re just looking around, there’s no pressure.

At the end of the day, I want you to know: If you wish things could be different, in a gender way, you’re not alone. We’re similar, you and I.