I got some praise for the last piece I wrote about my experiences with anxiety. It was certainly difficult to write. The stigma against mental illness is pervasive and even though I’d never think or say it about anyone else, I always worry people will think I’m just making shit up to be a “special snowflake.”
That feeling is significantly amplified when I even think about talking or writing out my experience with gender. I’ve always had a pretty complicated relationship with gender and gender roles — it sticks out to me even more than my struggles with anxiety, which are comparatively newer. But in some corners of the internet expressing that you don’t feel like you fall into the man/woman gender binary sets you up to be mocked at best and doggedly harassed at worse. It’s frustrating. And in the new political climate? It’s only going to get worse. But I keep thinking, what harm does it do to anyone how I view and identify myself? Why do I have to settle into one of two choices? Gender roles are a complete social construct anyway, so why do people get so upset about someone else not falling into the perceived line?
Somewhere in the middle is where I’ve always been, even when I had no vocabulary for it. I guess it’s easy to write off a little girl being mistakenly called a boy because kids all kind of look the same, right? But I can still so vividly remember my kindergarten class at Halloween, wearing the same bee costume I’d worn the past few years, and one of the teachers walking by saying, “Oh what a cute little boy!”
“I’m not a boy!” I said indignantly, but the teacher just kept walking. It was the first time I became really aware of how others perceived me in a gendered way. That’s just the first instance. There are so many instances like that I experienced as a little kid, as a teenager, and even as an adult.
As a pre-teen and early teenager I frequently got clothes from the boys’ section. I was lucky that my mom — normally incredibly picky about what I wore — was fine with it and even encouraged it, I feel like. Early high school was the time my gender confusion was at its peak. I didn’t know anything about gender then. I was very adamant about gay rights, but knew nothing of gender issues. I remember at 15 feeling so much angst because I ‘realized’ that I was a gay guy trapped in a girl’s body. I never told anyone that though because I felt like a weirdo. I had never heard the word ‘transgender’ before. If you had told 15-year-old-me that was a thing, then maybe my life would have turned out very very differently.
I’m not going to list every instance of these weird gender-confusion situations. I could fill a book with them. A small book, mind you. But still a book! And at the end of it everyone would be confused, including myself.
Sometimes I like wearing dresses and heels and putting on lots of makeup. I love wearing lipstick and winged eyeliner. But sometimes I don’t. A lot of times I just wear black jeans and black sneakers and black hoodies and no makeup. I try to style my hair like the Doctor a la David Tenant. I wish I was flat chested. Generally I (try to) present somewhere very near the middle of a feminine/masculine spectrum.
But if that was where my gender-confusion began and ended — at how I dress and present myself — then I would just be a tomboy-tending lady, maybe. But it’s more about how I view myself as an individual and how I compare to others.
When I try and think about whether I “feel” like a woman or a man, I realize I don’t feel like either. Again going back to my experiences growing up, I never really felt like I fit in with the boys or with the girls. The phrase, “I’m not like other girls,” was definitely something I said — loud and often. In retrospect, a part of that feeling was certainly a whole heap of internalized misogyny. But also in retrospect, maybe I didn’t feel like other girls because I wasn’t. While many of my experiences align closely with what women experience, I’ve never felt that sisterhood or innate draw to be with other women that I see many woman-identifying people talk about. When I try to internally label myself as “a woman” it just doesn’t feel right. But “man” doesn’t feel right either!
So I’ve done a lot of contemplation on my own part as well as educating myself more — go read Gender and Sexuality for Beginners, regardless of how confused you are about your own identities.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am genderqueer.
Genderqueer: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity is outside of or beyond the binary of female and male; Gender non-conformity through expression, behavior, social roles, and/or identity.
There are a variety of similar terms that mean similar things — gender fluid, non-binary, agender, etc. I’ve settled on genderqueer because it’s more of an overarching label rather than something so specific, I feel. I am neither here nor there. I am somewhere in between.