How to explore your gender identity in the midst of “Don’t Say Gay”
By Sassafras Lowrey
As anti-drag and bills targeting gender exploration and transgender identities move through legislatures in multiple states, it is understandable to be afraid and worried about how these policies could have real-world implications on you, your friends and our community.
This scary news can even make it feel challenging to get excited about exploring your gender. The good thing to remember is there are LGBTQ+ people, organizations, advocates and allies who are working hard to fight these bills and find ways to protect all of us, and our rainbow spectrums of gender.
Something we all can do is to continue to find ways to play, explore, and live as authentically as possible in our genders despite the transphobic anti-drag culture that has gained traction.
Everyone Has Gender!
Everyone has a gender, gender presentation and pronouns, regardless of if you are transgender, nonbinary, or yes even cisgender. As you’re thinking about your gender, it can be fun and helpful to think about the different aspects of your history and identity. One way to do this is to plot how your gender feels today on a spectrum chart. There are a variety of versions of this chart that different advocates/educators make but here is a general version I like to play with.
Each of the lines on this chart is a unique spectrum you can plot yourself onto for how you’re feeling about your gender at this moment. Keep in mind that each spectrum is unique so where your identity falls on one of the lines has no correlation with where your identity might be on one of the other spectrums. For example, regardless of your sex assigned at birth, your gender identity might be far to the female side of the spectrum, but your gender expression might be on the masculine side of androgynous.
You can fill this chart out digitally or print it out and use stickers or other art supplies to plot yourself. This chart can be a fun way to think about your identities, but remember gender and sexuality are fluid. Where you put yourself on the chart today might not be how you would plot yourself on the chart tomorrow, next week, or in five years. This chart can be a useful way to start thinking about gender yourself or share it with friends to learn more about each other.
Searching For Gender Euphoria:
Unfortunately, the most common narrative about being nonbinary or transgender tends to be about how difficult it is. Although of course there are practical and emotional challenges for navigating transphobic worlds, there is also profound joy in having a gender-expansive or transgender identity and lived experience. The term gender euphoria refers to the pride and joy that can come from feeling at home in your gender. Specifically, gender euphoria generally is used in reference to moments in life where you feel very confident, comfortable and/or seen in your gender identity or expression. Gender euphoria might come on days when someone respects your pronouns or uses your new name. It can also be something more individual and private, like when you put on an outfit and you love how you feel and look.
Finding Gender Joy:
One of the ways that you can care for yourself and your gender is to find ways to incorporate gender joy into your regular routine. Think about ways that you can dress, accessorize, or find self-care items that you can incorporate into your day that help you to feel more at home in your body, regardless of how people see you. This might look like using a soap with a particular fragrance, an accessory or makeup item, a specific style of socks, or another item of clothing. Try to think about finding moments of gender joy as a form of self-care. When you prioritize small things that you can do in your own life that feels fun, or validating of how you understand your gender, regardless of if you are “out” or if other people respect- or even know- your full gender identity. Interested in thinking more about your gender? One of my favorite resources for thinking about gender and what gender identities and presentations look like in your life is My Gender Workbook “My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely” written by transgender trailblazer Kate Bornstein.
It’s Ok to Play!
In this cultural moment where there is so much transphobia being perpetuated by lawmakers and the media it can feel hard to think about gender as something that you can find joy in playing with. Contrary to the messages you might be hearing in the media, there is nothing wrong with having fun with gender and experimenting with different gender presentations. Experiment with dressing in drag or exploring gender in whatever ways feels safe, and affirming to you is a great way to play with gender. Some ways to do this include trying on different styles of dress or accessories that align with different gender presentations. Don’t feel comfortable doing this in person? You can experiment online by playing video game characters who have gender presentations different from your own. Want to try on a new gender-affirming name? Use that name when you go to pick up coffee or takeout. The barista will call out your new experimental name and you can get a taste of how it sounds to hear. This can be especially affirming for transgender and nonbinary people who are considering changing their name.
The Importance of Finding Community:
If you’re looking to add more gender play and gender joy into your life it can be inspiring to find a supportive community. This is especially true if that community includes other people who are exploring their gender and playing with gender. You can get involved with a supportive community in person, but if that’s not safe or possible where you are, look for others in supportive online spaces, and consume movies, music, and other art that uplifts gender diversity. By physically or virtually surrounding yourself with other people who are having fun with their gender you may find yourself feeling less isolated and inspired to embrace your own gender journey. Having a supportive community can also be beneficial with processing feelings that might come up when you see transphobic and queerphobic news about anti-drag and anti-transgender legislative movements that are happening now across the country. Being involved in community can help you to remember you aren’t alone and that there are advocates of all ages who are fighting hard to protect all of our rights to safely explore gender and live our authentic selves.
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. You can find more of her written works, including her edited collection exploring LGBTQ+ youth homelessness entitled Kicked Out, on her website www.SassafrasLowrey.com.