Self-identity: Putting the puzzle pieces into place

I see my identity as a jigsaw puzzle.

Each piece represents a part of who I am. Every day, I collect more pieces. Soon I’ll have the full picture of myself, but I still have some missing pieces. Most of them have to do with gender identity.

I am 15 years old. Four years ago, I started having tiny thoughts about my gender. At that time, I didn’t realize there were choices besides male or female. As the years went by, those thoughts took up the space in my head, crowding out thoughts about anything else.

When I was 14, I decided to figure it out.

Initially, I decided I am gender-fluid and want to be transgender when I get older. At that time, I thought I’d found the puzzle piece to fit an empty puzzle slot. I tried to make it fit, but it kept popping out. Now, I’m questioning my gender identity again.

comic illustration of young man holding a puzzle piece
Illustration by Tony Vue.

Lately, I think of myself as “cancegender,” also known as “agenderfluid.” Cancegender means my “base” gender is neither male nor female. Sometimes I might feel one gender or the other, but I’ll always return to feeling agender. It’s a new and an uncommon term. And for now, it’s a puzzle piece of my self-identity.

It’s been hard trying to tell my family about my gender identity. My aunts and uncles took a while to get used to the idea, but now they understand and support me. My dad is okay with it. My mom is a different story.

About a year ago, when I told my mom about my gender identity, her reaction was disgust and confusion. She couldn’t believe that one of her children is not who she thinks they should be. She’s traditional and still calls me a “girl.” It used to distress me a lot, but I stopped caring about it since I understand it will take a long time for my mother to fully accept who I am.

My friends are really supportive, and some of them are curious and want to know more. Some questions I get from them are about my preferred pronouns. They want to know if I would like to be called “he” or “she.” It doesn’t matter to me as much, but I prefer the pronouns “they/them” and sometimes “he/his.”

I was born Maie (pronounced “my-EE”). For the past two years, I’ve asked people to call me “Tony” instead of Maie. Tony replaces the puzzle piece of my name, and with a bit of squeezing it in, it fits quite well in my identity puzzle.

Some people ask if it is spelled “Toni” as a female name or the usual “Tony” as a male name. Some even ask why I prefer to be called that. At first it was hard for me to explain why I like to be called Tony, but eventually I got used to being asked about it, and I got comfortable answering those questions. A change of gender needs a change of name.

The people who support me make me feel glad. Even though I may be different from most, I am still a person. I have an upbeat personality, I have a creative imagination and I seek the greatness in myself. I want to be an artist and an animator. I have many goals and dreams I would like to achieve, as I can see a bright path ahead. I am hoping to be more open about myself and show my puzzle pieces to others, so they’ll see the whole picture of me.

I know there are many teens who are still finding their self-identity puzzle pieces, whether it is family, race, sexuality, gender or something else. It takes a while to find out who you are, but it is worth it once you’ve placed the last puzzle piece into the slot. With each piece I collect, the more I see the full image of my self-identity.