Hi there. I’m James. I’m a writer. I also make art (sometimes). I live in Chicago. I watch sports and enjoy opera and play tabletop roleplaying games. I’m a lifelong Doctor Who fan. I love dogs with an enthusiasm that will probably catch you off-guard. I’m a decent cook, I can’t resist making a pun, and I’m one of the worst procrastinators you will ever meet. I just turned 33 years old.
And I’m genderqueer.
I’ve been sitting with this for about a year and a half, but, if I’m being honest with myself, this probably goes back a lot farther. I’m still in the process of figuring things out, but I feel sure enough, and secure enough, to tell other people.
I started coming out to close friends last fall. This weekend I had a small birthday get-together and was able to be open about who I am in mixed company for the first time. By the time you read this, I will have gone public; I’ll have changed my pronouns on social media, sent a heads-up email to the editors I work with most often, and, of course, posted this letter.
I’m sure this is probably a little confusing for you. That’s okay. It is for me too.
I’m going to try and guess what questions you might have and answer them here.
Q: You’re a what now?
A: Genderqueer is a term used to describe people who do not identify unambiguously as men or women.
The term itself is relatively new, but there have always been gender variant individuals; in all cultures, in all periods of history, for as long as there have been people.
Genderqueer folks express their identity in any number of ways. Some identify as a third gender, some are agender, some are gender neutral or neutrois, some are two (or more) genders simultaneously, and some are genderfluid. (The latter is probably closest to where I land.) Genderqueer and nonbinary people are a very diverse group.
Q: So are you a boy or a girl?
Q: No seriously.
A: That’s the best answer I can come up with. I‘m not a man, and I haven’t felt comfortable calling myself one for a while now. But I’m also not a woman. I’m somewhere in the middle, and a little off to the side, and in a state of flux. Lately I’ve been leaning more femme, but, and I say this with a minimal amount of cheek, ask me again next week.
Q: So you’re trans?
A: The short answer is Yes. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, and I’ve gone back and forth a few times for complicated reasons that are beyond the scope of this letter. But, yes, I identify as trans (though I generally prefer genderqueer or nonbinary).
Q: Are you making this up?
A: No. We actually do exist, believe it or not.
Q: Are you changing your pronouns?
A: Yes! From now on I’ll be using the Singular They. I plan on giving those who’ve known me for a long time a generous grace period, but I’d like people to at least start making good faith efforts to refer to me as they/them/their.
(And since I know it will come up eventually: no, the Singular They is not grammatically incorrect.)
Q: Are you changing your name?
A: Yes! My first name will remain unchanged, and my last name will stay the same for now, but I’m changing my middle name to Bridget. I’m still deciding whether to make it legal, but for most professional and personal contexts I will be styling my name as James Bridget Gordon.
Q: Will you be changing how you present yourself in public?
A: Yes, but I don’t know what that will entail just yet. Unless we hang out fairly often (or you follow me on Instagram, I guess?) you probably won’t notice a difference anyway. I will say that I came across this amazing comic last year while I was trying to sort through some shit and the timing was uncanny.
Q: How does this affect your sexual orientation?
A: It doesn’t. I came out as bisexual when I was 14 and, while these days I would technically be considered pansexual, I still identify as bisexual for political reasons (which are also outside the scope of this letter). My gender identity has not really affected who I am sexually or romantically attracted to.
Q: How long have you known?
A: I started trying to parse this out in late 2014. l kept it to myself until last spring, when I told one or two people who I felt I could trust (because I needed to talk to someone about this) and then started the coming out process in earnest last fall.
I think I realized early on in life that I didn’t relate to gender the same way most people I knew did, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t really try to work that out until fairly recently. Part of that is I didn’t have a vocabulary or frame of reference to articulate it until a few years ago. It took me a long time to realize there were words to describe who I am, and a little while longer to realize those words could be applied to me.
Q: How open are you about your gender identity? Is it okay to talk about it with other people?
A: For the most part I am publicly out as of today. There are some people — mostly relatives with whom I have a somewhat strained relationship — who I’m not going to go out of my way to reach out to. But I’m not actively concealing anything anymore.
Q: Why are you coming out publicly?
A: Honestly, I seriously considered not going public with this. I was originally going to tell close friends first, and from there on a need-to-know basis.
There are three reasons why I decided to come out publicly.
First, because my burgeoning career as a writer has resulted in my having a public identity (fledgling though it may be). I gave it a lot of thought and realized that trying to stay in the closet would create more problems than it would solve.
Second, because there are a lot of conversations happening now about trans and gender variant people, and I’d like to be able to participate in those conversations as a member of the community, something which I’ve been unable to do until now because I’ve kept my gender identity private.
And third, because visibility and solidarity matter. Visibility matters because there’s a concerted cultural and political push to banish transgender people from public life, and solidarity matters because the only way we’re going to survive is if we stick together and support one another. I believe that one day, perhaps in my lifetime, we’ll get to something resembling social and legal equality.
Q: What are you looking for from other people?
A: I mean. At the very least, don’t be a jerk. If your initial reaction involves snark or eye-rolling or any commentary that includes the phrase “I’m just being honest” or “I’m just concerned about you,” keep it to yourself. I’m also not interested in subjecting myself to identity policing; if you have a test to see if I meet your particular Standards of Queerness, I will probably flunk it, and also I do not care.
Beyond that, I guess what I’m looking for is continuity. If we’re in contact now, stay in contact. Make plans with me for brunch or watching Doctor Who. Poke me on Twitter or GChat. Send me pictures of your dog. (Or any dog, tbh.) Whatever we do now, let’s keep doing it.
And if I need anything specific from you, I’ll let you know. Cool?
(Also, uh, if you could maybe reach out to your elected representatives about this I’d really appreciate it.)
Q: You’re just doing all this to get attention. Stop being such a special snowflake.
A: I’m sorry you feel that way. Also, fuck you.
Q: So now what?
A: I’m still figuring it out. Aren’t we all?
I mean, look. I’m old. I’m tired. I am an old, tired hobbit. All I want out of life is to have a stable home, make good art, cook good food, tell bad jokes, and spend as much time with the people I love as I can.
I’m sharing this with those I know because I want to be fully present for the people in my life, and I’m sharing this with those I don’t know because there’s power in visibility. But beyond that, I don’t actually care what other people think about my gender identity or expression. And I don’t say this out of a sense of defiance, or to champion the cause of radical self-expression. I say this because I’m tired and I don’t want to fight anymore. I only care about other people’s opinions on my gender identity to the extent that they’ve decided it’s a problem and that they’re willing to use violence (personal or institutional) in order to “solve” it.
I recently read Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques. One of the points she makes in her book is that big life-changing things — in her case, transition — end up not changing your life very much in day-to-day terms. Some things are going to change for me, like how I present, how I’m treated by strangers, and the kinds of politics I end up involved in. But I’m expecting — and am honestly hoping — my life will be more or less the same after coming out as it was before.
The only real difference is that I can stop pretending to be something I’m not.
The weird thing is that this seems like a bigger deal than it actually is. I realize I’m complicit in this by way of making a big announcement, but it doesn’t feel like a big deal. Coming out has mostly felt like a way of describing something that was always there.
I hope that the people I love will come to treat this as just another part of me, and that they welcome me into their lives not in spite of my gender identity but because of it. And I hope that the people I don’t know will take a cue from John Green and try to Imagine Others Complexly.
In any event, thank you for humoring me while I got all this out. I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time. Every so often, we all have to do a thing that’s hard and scary. This was my Hard And Scary Thing, and I’m glad you were here while I did it.
And to everyone who’s given me support and love during this process, know that I will never be able to express the full measure of my gratitude. You know who you are.
So, that’s all I’ve got to say for now. It’s nice to meet you. Again.
If you have more questions or you’re just completely confused, I have some (hopefully useful) links down below.
Genderqueer Identities is a blog and resource site for genderqueer folks. This is a useful starting point if you want a deep dive into the subject.
Micah at Neutrois.Me wrote an excellent post on explaining genderqueer identities to outsiders. Useful if you not sure what to make of all this OR if someone asks you what genderqueer means and want to have something for a response.
YouTuber Ashley Mardell has a great “ABCs of LGBT” vlog series. I highly recommend her videos on gender identity and expression — here’s Part One and Part Two. (Genderqueer people are covered near the beginning of Part Two.)
Finally, I want to give a mention to Howard Brown, the Chicago-based nonprofit that serves as one of the country’s largest providers of health care and social services for LGBT people. If you have the time and resources, they’re always in need of donations and volunteers.