I’ve always liked to think of myself as brave — by which I mean as a kid I did all the sorting hat quizzes I could find and bragged about my Gryffindor credentials to everyone. I’ve always prided myself in standing up for what I believe, in calling people out for being shitty but I’ve never been able to be brave when it mattered.
When I was little, I didn’t understand there was a difference between men and women.
Oh, I knew all about the physical ones. I knew men had beards and women had breasts, men wore ties and suits and women wore dresses and high heels and make-up. I knew that women liked fashion and babies and getting their hair done and men liked football and beer. There were movies for boys and movies for girls, books for boys and books for girls, there were things it was okay for my brother to do but not for me, there were things it was okay for me to do and not him.
I knew my brother would grow up to be a man and that I would grow up to be a woman.
But even with all those arbitrary rules and regulations, it still felt like everyone knew something I didn’t. It still felt like I was missing something.
It still does, if I’m honest only nowadays I have more of an idea of what I’m missing.
If you talk to transgender individuals, often they’ll talk about how they knew they’d been born in the wrong gender from an early age and well, from an early age I didn’t really feel like I fit into either gender. I was content as a kid, I could have the best of both worlds as a tomboy (much to the annoyance of my mother who I think, despite it all, would still prefer to have a child that took an interest in make-up and skirts and dresses and let me be clear, I am not saying that in a demeaning way, I am not trivialising anyone’s interest in dresses and make-up or looking ready to conquer the whole damn world in heels and fake lashes and I am not saying that to be a woman you must take interest in such things, all I am saying is that for me, those things are so unimaginably dysphoria inducing you would not believe…)
I played it safe though. For every book about spies or super heroes or dragons I asked for, for every purchase I made in the boys section, I made sure to ask for a barbie or two, a tshirt with cute cats on. To my parent’s credit, they never tried to force anything on me (no matter how despairing my mother was) they were happy to indulge my love of dinosaurs and x-men (in fact, it probably made things a whole lot easier since my brother and I were so close in age.) There were still occasional screaming matches over dresses and skirts in fact, since I was seven, I can count the number of times I’ve worn a dress on one hand (it’s three by the way, my graduation, my prom and the last meal we had on our first holiday abroad when I was seven and very maturely agreed to wear the dress my parents had packed for me. It says a lot, I think, that I can still recall that moment so clearly in the fog that encompasses much of my childhood.)
But when I was about nine or ten I remember thinking that at some point, I’d have to make a choice. Not because I wanted to, because I thought I had to. There was no in-between at that point. There was blue or pink.
For a long time, I wanted blue. My favourite characters had always been boys. Robin Hood, Prince Caspian, King Arthur, Harry Potter, the Flash (and I still remember the sting that accompanied every, but you can’t be Robin Hood, you’re a girl. You can be Maid Marian.) Boys didn’t need rescuing. Boys got to be the hero. The only girl hero I had at that age was Mulan (though Buffy and Sailor Moon would change that soon.) I’d go to sleep every night praying I’d wake up a boy, I’d wake up always having been a boy. My name was going to be Riley, I think. Or Aiden. Or something.
But everyday I’d wake up in the same body and everyday I’d pray a little harder (two sets of deities because I was the child of a self-proclaimed catholic atheist and a hindu agnositc) and then puberty hit.
It took me two years to settle on pink. To accept I would always be pink.
It was easier, I told myself, to be pink. And I would do that for years in all areas of my life, it was easier to pretend it was only boys I kissed, easier to pretend I enjoyed their fumblings, easier not to talk about the chasm, the black expanse, that had opened in my chest and kept getting bigger no matter how hard I tried to fill it with alcohol and psychoactive substances, drown it out with loud music and platitudes.
I wore baggy clothes to hide my chest and my hips. I circled ‘f’ on forms. I stopped eating for a few months because I’d heard from a friend online that would stop your breasts from growing. I created a world for myself in my head where I could look how I was supposed to, where everyone would see me right, I skimmed by in reality on auto-pilot, all smiles and misdirection.
(I think deep down everyone knew. It’s that uncanny valley thing you see, the lights being on but no one being home. If not hell, if I was white I’d be up for an Oscar by now.)
Living like that creates this disconnect between your mind and your body, between fantasy and reality. I knew what was real and what was not, it was just that I preferred the fantasy; there was nothing for me in reality. Friends, boyfriends, family, all of them paled in comparison to the ones in my head so why bother with them? Why bother being real, being genuine?
By this point I had the internet, of course. I would spend hours watching anything I could find on gender on youtube, on quicksilverscreen or whatever it was we were using back then. Documentaries, vlogs, trashy talk shows; whatever I could get my hands on. It was all on transgender individuals, there still wasn’t an in between and I remember thinking no, that’s not me. I’m not like that. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.
When I was nineteen I was watching a group of friends get ready for a night out at uni and as they curled their hair and brushed powder into their cheeks and I thought: I wish I was a girl and that — well that changed things a bit.
There’s this term in psychology — splitting. Not the kind you think, the kind that means black and white thinking. It refers to the inability of the sufferer to see things in their full complexity; people are either all good or all evil. Naturally, it doesn’t lend itself to a particularly healthy state of mind.
For the past few years I’ve been trapped by the exact opposite problem. Everything is all and nothing. I’m paralysed, obsessing over the myriads of greys between the black and white, caught up in the minutiae of it all, trying to come up with some solid ground to set myself up on.
And things are different now. There are in betweens.
I think when I was younger, I had this odd idea that I’d die before things got to crisis point, before hiding wasn’t an option anymore, before the fantasy wasn’t enough, before I got so godamned tired of pretending to be something I’m not I regularly plotted out ways to disappear forever. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) for little me, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.
So I’m not a girl. Woman. Whatever. I’m not a guy, either. I’m somewhere in between. Genderqueer. Genderneutral. Genderfluid. Some combination of all of them and none of them but the thing is, I have no idea what to do about that.
I’ve been trying to come out for years but I have no idea how.
Do I ask people to start using they/them? Do I talk to my family about it? Do I announce it at work?
Do I get to ask my surgeon when I go for a breast reduction in a few months to just slice the damn things off and give me the flat chest I’ve been dreaming of since I was twelve? Will I regret that?
Do I change my name?
The problem is, I think, with this black/white, blue/pink divide, landing somewhere in the middle just feels less than. I feel like my struggles are less than because I’m not going the whole haul and turning blue (just like I feel less than because I’m pan rather than gay, less than because my skin is pale enough that I can mostly get away with it, less than because adhd is something eight year old boys struggle with, it’s nothing serious, it’s not major depression or bipolar or schizophrenia, so why is it still so damn hard?)
The problem is I’m convinced no one will buy it. No one will look at me and think yes, that’s what a gender neutral individual looks like — I think, anyway. There’ll be questions. There’ll be snide comments. There’ll be people who simply ignore it so mostly; I just can’t see the point.
It’s still easier to pretend even if it means living life in suspended animation, even if it means feeling empty and hollow.