Once upon a time a little human was born. This little human was happy and healthy. The parents of the little human thought she was a girl. They dressed her in dresses and pink and patent leather shoes. Those clothes felt uncomfortable for the little human but that is what they had to wear so they wore them. They were often told ‘girls don’t do that’, ‘girls are quiet’, ‘girls are weak’, ‘girls wear dresses’. A little time passes and the human decides they like short hair, they like wearing pants, they know they are strong and they also know that they don’t seem to fit in….anywhere. A long time passes and the human grows up and even starts to grow old. They dress as they like, they act as they like, they understand who they are, they are loved exactly as they are and they are very happy. The End.
Goodness, if only it had all been that easy. My gender journey was nowhere near as linear and simple. When I look at pictures of myself as a child I see the short hair, I see the more masculine gestures, I see someone who feels very uncomfortable in dresses but I don’t really see a gender rebel. I see someone who ignores the gender binary, who ignores expectations but I don’t see someone who actively flouts them. Getting to the point of feeling comfortable in my own skin, expressing who I feel as though I am in terms of my gender and finding language to express who I am took many long decades. It also took a vocabulary which helped expand and express who I am. I think of myself as non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid and, on some days, agender. I don’t feel particularly womanly but I don’t have a problem with the way my body is configured.
As a teenager, I refused to wear makeup, I would not wear high heels, I definitely stood out from the crowd at my all-girls high school as someone who did not fit in. I felt a little lonely but never felt as though anyone actively discriminated against me for how I chose to present myself. I was a little more likely to encounter bi-phobia than have someone question how I looked. I suppose, in retrospect, it could be that I was sort of dyke-y in my appearance and folks may have assumed I was a lesbian. Well, as much as folks in the mid-70s really thought in those terms regularly.
In college, I found some bi peeps and other queers with whom I hung out. I tried to express who I was, in terms of my gender, but androgynous did not really seem to match the abundant curves I had and using that terminology was something willowy demi-boys and demi-girls used. There just did not seem to be a vocabulary for who I was. Admittedly, being involved in ‘gay liberation’ as we called it back then took up a lot of my time and my sexual orientation took a front seat and my uncertainty about my gender sort of dropped off the radar.
As a working person, I ended up with a kind of ‘professional uniform’ which was mostly monochromatic, close fitting trousers, usually a white shirt or turtleneck or t shirt. Outside of work I expressed a dramatic flair that was not bound by gender, at all…berets, scarves, leotards, construction boots… I think it was my way of being a ‘character’ and by doing that no one expected me to look like a traditional female. It was about this time I started to feel that there was something missing in terms of language for how I saw myself and my gender. I spent time in the library trying to find a clue but didn’t. I am not sure I would have known what I was looking for but I spent time in the ‘human sexuality’ section thinking I might be able to find some information which would encompass me.
I married a cis gender man who never felt the need for me to be anyone other than who I am. There was comfort in that. We had three kids. My pregnancies were very easy and our kids were healthy. However, everything about pregnancy was sooooo gendered that for the first time in my life I felt truly dysphoric. I definitely felt ‘at variance’ with all the female terms and expectations pregnancy seemed to involve. Now, this was 3 decades ago and I know things have changed but while I found the pregnancies exciting and being a parent a welcome challenge the clothing and everything else associated with pregnancy just felt ‘off’. I managed by going back to more of a uniform look instead of the flowered and flouncy outfits available for most pregnant people.
And then slowly but surely, and thankfully, language started to expand. In high school, my daughter had friends who were trans and genderqueer. As always, if they were not welcome in their own homes they were supported in ours. I would hear them talking about their gender journeys and a great deal seemed to echo my experience. Even if, at first, the language and terminology seemed foreign to me I eventually had an ‘ah-ha’ moment when I realized that these young folx were experiencing precisely what I had done a long time ago. A feeling of discomfort with gender roles and a desire for a more encompassing universe for gender. I started to see language which felt like a definition of me. Non binary, gender expansive, agender. I still was not sure where I fit in, exactly, but the language felt like home. I know I am not cis gender woman. I usually say I am a bisexual, non-binary woman. Although some days I feel more gender-expansive and some days I feel more agender. My gender is as fluid and on a spectrum as my sexuality. While this journey took a long time it is actually, still ongoing, and has definitely been worth the uncertainty. One thing I am certain about though….I am glad the language has evolved and is helping many folks, not just me, understand who they are.