My Dream Body Has Always Been Gender-Fluid
My need is less to come out than it is to add to.
I dreamed my body into being when I was still a round sturdy tiny potato of a human. I was always aware of my body, that it was too small to play real football, that my thighs held me up and helped me dance. I knew my crooked pinky toes with the weird little nails.
I knew my body.
I dreamed about the body I wanted to have when I grew up. I wanted to be big and Black and beautiful. I wanted a glamorous body with big boobs and an occasional penis.
My dream grown-up body was physically fluid. My choice at puberty would naturally be boy — so I could play hockey — and then girl maybe when I was 18 — so I could grow huge boobs. I dreamed that my physical self, the Black body I wanted to inhabit, would grow with the shapeshifting capabilities of my emotions.
I wanted a glamorous body with big boobs and an occasional penis.
I did not think my genders, I felt them. I dreamed them. I created them in my complicated childhood hopes for the future of the body I would have to move around in forever. I was never confused until my ideas about the capabilities of the human body were corrected. I knew I would not just be “her” or “him” — I would be whatever I wanted to be.
The first time I saw a grown woman who was not my mother naked, it was my neighbor’s mother. Her father was a painter and sometimes I would sit and watch them work for as long as I was allowed. I remember her brown nipples, her beige-y pale skin, her long straight dark hair and little round pot belly.
What I most remember is her bush.
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When I found out that women other than my mother had breasts and that other women had pubic hair, I was in pure and absolute awe. I thought it was so beautiful and womanly that I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days. And then I looked between my own legs at my smooth hairless pudenda and cried my eyes out. I was, for the first time, completely destroyed by a failing in my body.
I wailed, I freaked out, and I sulked after I was told that when I got to puberty and started to become a woman, then I would have pubic hair and periods and boobs and get to be a woman.
No option B, no choice, no growing up to be a combination of Lando Calrissian and Superman and Josephine Baker and therefore be the most beautiful Black man/woman to have ever lived, who would then have the most beautiful husbands and wives ever.
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When I fully understood the limitations of my physical body, I was repelled and angry with our creators that they would put such limits on us.
Even then I had an aversion to binary things. I fundamentally and spiritually do not want to entertain binarist anything. I did not then nor do I now want to be a Man or Woman, Gay or Straight — I buck against the constraints of neat categorization. It’s not where my heart and soul live. I have tried to “correct” this part of myself many times, because we are not taught that it is okay to thrive in the grey areas, in the margins.
I reach back into my childhood because what was the most intimately true of me then is the most intimately true of me now. The big difference is that now I have the language and the strength of character to talk about these things without shame or confusion. My reality is that it’s most natural for me to think of myself in terms of varying pronouns and gender identities. I am she, I am them, I am him. I dream myself this way the same way I did when I was heartbroken that my body could not match my heart and my brain.
I learned to feel my gender because I had no language to speak about it. Even after learning about transgender people, I felt that it might be disrespectful to people I loved to talk about my state of genders. I decided in my teens that my feelings about genders, my own genders and other folks’ genders, were not more important than the experience of people I felt were far more entitled to be talking and thinking about genders than me.
I spent long nights thinking and dreaming about my genders. I decided that I was just weird and possibly kinky and very queer.
I learned to feel my gender because I had no language to speak about it.
This was the early ’90s, and I was just starting to discover Queer literature. Most of the time when I was reading mainly gay cis, white male writers, I felt the discomfort of zero representation of myself — but also titillation when I dreamed myself into being the boys they wanted. When I read those books, I wanted to be a pretty, underage hustler at the mercy of some very experienced beautiful older man. My budding views of Queerness and desire were there but, in many ways, I was not.
When I masturbated to the gay erotica I started reading at that age, I was not in my body or feeling like a woman. I was the man in the story, that was my cock in my hand. In those moments, I allowed myself full freedom to be Boy. A pretty gay boy who liked rough trade and deep dicking. As long as I kept my boyness to my clandestine reading and masturbating time, I could deal with it.
I molded my genders into the framework I understood the most — my sexuality. My all-encompassing Queerness was far simpler to feel and experience if I put it into a box that I could label a fetish. If it was a fetish, I could understand it without going deeper. It was easy.
My “fetish” soon became an integral part of how I expressed my Queerness. As I got older, I found people who accepted without blinking when I asked to be called “him” or “boy.” In the context of the kinky people I was sleeping with, I could be Daddy Shannon with a big black dick and it was not only fine, it was hot and embraced.
Having lovers who looked at my assigned female-at-birth body and call me Daddy, and mean it, satisfied my gender feelings.
That path of sexual experience led me into gender fuckery. I got to try on being Princess Boy and Daddy Girl and Femme Boy and Butch Lady Daddy and a number of other permutations as easily as changing condoms and dental dams.
I will be forever thankful for those lovers.
Through them and their tolerance of my demands to be boy, Daddy, Princess, nasty girl, I learned to inhabit my floating genders as easily as I wore the shiny black accoutrements to my kinks.
It was hedonistic pleasure that I didn’t have to think about. I read my Queer smut and glided through genders in my fantasies, while in my workday life I was still trying to figure out what face to present to the world.
When I was too thin, I tried dressing butch. I wore baggy jeans and baseball hats, I limited my mascara to two coats, and I put away my red lipstick for job interviews. I remember one night being called “young man” as I got on a bus, and it felt a little victorious. I had passed at 11 o’clock at night as a young Black boy.
Ultimately, though, neither my thin body, that was sometimes read as androgynous, nor my chubby body, that never fit the mold of androgyny (because if we believe what we see in Queer media, chubby bodies are not androgynous), satisfied me; I did not feel seen. My body as I moved through disordered eating and ever-changing weights let me down.
I did not fit the image I held of being a young Stud or baby butch. I liked my glitter and tiaras too much and there were no images for me to see that reflected these ideas.
I also did not feel like I was really femme. I tried to give up makeup, and I walked around pretending to feel pretty and femme when I felt like nothing.
I was rarely recognized as belonging in Queer spaces unless I was very loud about just how Queer I was, and that too was uncomfortable.
I was confused. I had nothing to touch or feel that helped me sort out my genders and sexuality in a way that really helped me. So I worked hard at just being a woman. I dated straight men, I stopped idolizing gay erotica writers, I stopped feeling the flow of my genders. I had no connection to that part of myself because I just didn’t know how to feel or talk about it.
I had nothing to touch or feel that helped me sort out my genders and sexuality in a way that really helped me.
Again, I turned to sex. I had a gay lover who slapped me around and called me boy. He dragged me into being a leather-wearing cock-swinging boy with a bad attitude, and I loved him for it. He was the first person I ever sat down and talked about my genders in depth with. He didn’t understand exactly, but he understood.
Beyond the kinky shenanigans we got up to, he taught me something very valuable: My genders belong to me. I don’t have to fit a narrative that does not belong to me. I could be a fairy princess femme boy or Queen Bitch Femme woman as I please — as I feel.
That lesson set me free. I started to really think about my genders beyond my next lay — about how they mattered to my life. I started to think about how my prescriptivist ideas about masculinity and presentation were hurting me. I started to understand that my femininity did not have to be tied to hetero ideas of what a woman should be. I began to dig into body politics and stop fantasizing about a body I would never have. I thought about how fantasy held me back from inhabiting my genders in a way that gave me peace.
I also began reading about gender beyond White Western ideas. I found that there is a precedent and a history of gender that does not demonize those of us who exist outside of the binary. That we, as diverse as we are, are not in fact anomalies of the modern world or made up by Tumblr or any such thing. We have always existed — and will continue to.
At 38 years old, I am at peace with my genders. I use my writing to play with my genders, I have people of many genders in my life, and through them I have learned that I have the right to speak about my genders because there is no single gender narrative. There never has been.
This is not me coming out of the closet.
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My need here is less to come out than it is to add to. Finally, at almost 40 years old, I understand that my voice can be part of the conversation. There are so many of us with so many feelings and dreams about our genders. There is room in the world for all of us to speak the truth of our bodies and souls.
Now there is the question of: What is Shannon’s gender? I am he, she, them, hir, him, etc. I am privileged to have people like my best friend of a decade who, beyond pronouns, understands my gender and accepts it as it is and how it happens.
What I’ve settled on as the most apt and comfortable gender for me is Femme. I am Femme when I feel like a boy, when I feel like a big brute man, when I feel like a woman. Femme covers it all for me in a fine layer of lipstick, and is a damn good place in my soul to call home.
I have survived myself and my fears and worries about my gender. I have learned to love how I present myself to the world, whether or not the world knows or sees my genders.
For me, peace in my own gender identity is enough.