My gender story as a non-binary queer woman
(*The above photo comes from the DC Capital Pride Parade )
“Gender has always been considered a fact, immutable. We now know, it’s actually more fluid, complex, and mysterious.” –Geena Rocero
I started puberty a little later than most of my peers. My period didn’t begin until I was almost 15 yrs old. I was always a skinny, short, athletic kid who didn’t “need” to wear a bra until junior year of high school. When that red river first flowed, everything changed. All of a sudden, I was “female” and would turn into a “woman,” two identities that were completely foreign to me. I knew that I was a “girl,” which didn’t seem to bother me too much because up until the point of puberty, I was pretty genderless. My body wasn’t particularly “marked” in a way that exuded gender, and I had always been gender fluid since the time I was a baby. I played with toys, dressed in clothes, and liked things that were considered “feminine” and “masculine.” I was never a “girly girl” but I was a girl’s girl who was more like a faggy tomboy. I liked it all and wanted it all from the barbie dolls and blue lipstick to the baseball caps and baggy jeans. I was a very creative kid with a variety of expressions.
When my body started to change and it was confirmed that I was in a “woman’s” body, I wanted to scream at the whole world “NO NO NO NO THIS ISN’T ME. MAKE IT STOP.” I resisted my bodily changes and clung to denial for dear life. When my period would strike, I would wear pads and change them, but in my mind, it wasn’t happening, I wasn’t female, and this wasn’t my body. People had always warned me that, one day, I would develop breasts and start my period, but I didn’t believe them. I thought that I was “special,” that it wouldn’t happen to me because it wasn’t who I was. I was different. And I was different, but not in the ways I had thought I would be.
I was different because the body that was developing wasn’t the body I identified with. But, as a teenager in the late 90s and early 2000s, I didn’t have the words to articulate my feelings. I didn’t even have the skills to acknowledge my feelings. I just knew that I felt uncomfortable, that something was “wrong,” but I didn’t know what or why. It wasn’t until my first year of college when I began to find more words for my strong discomfort.
I was a freshman at a Christian college pissed as all hell at “God” for making me this way. How could you, God? Why did you make me this way? I’m in the wrong body! I wasn’t familiar with the term transgender and I don’t remember when I was first introduced to it, but when I was, I clung to it. The Latin prefix "trans" meaning "beyond" or "changing thoroughly" deeply resonated with me. I felt like I wanted to move beyond gender, to transcend it. After a lot of yelling at God, I decided to see a counselor during my second year of college. I remember he asked me what brought me to counseling and I said “I have a lot of anger inside of me.” He said, “That sounds miserable.” It was, and he helped me uncover all of the feelings that were hiding underneath. With him, I realized that I never wanted to be “female,” that I never felt “female”, and that I had a lot of anger and resentment about that.
While I felt like the term transgender resonated with me deeply at the time, I was scared to come out to my friends and family. The term was more taboo during this time, and I was afraid that no one would understand or accept me. I did end up coming out to my best friend and roommate at the time, who seemed supportive though I don’t think they fully knew what being transgender meant. Rightly so, as I don’t think anyone who hasn’t felt like the gender that was assigned to them at birth can truly understand what it’s like though I do believe they can listen fully and have compassion and acceptance.
It took me another year to open up to my mom, who ended up telling my dad. My parents didn’t understand and didn’t talk about it. They didn’t ask me any questions, but my mom said “I don’t want a son.” Her words struck me in a complex way. On one hand, I felt hurt knowing that she would not accept me if I realized that I was her son. On the other hand, as a feminist who was aware of the patriarchal world we live in where sons are often more desirable, I was happy to hear that a daughter was her preference. I didn’t even know if I was a son though. I just knew that I wasn’t a daughter.
The more I unpacked my feelings through counseling, the more I realized that I didn’t want to be a girl or a boy. I thought about transitioning. I had been uncomfortable having breasts since I developed them as a teenager, and a mastectomy crossed my mind many times. I, also, thought about hormones, but decided against them because I didn’t want my face to change. All I knew was that I felt uncomfortable in my body and didn’t want to be a gender. I felt this way for a few years, then I made a firm decision that I wasn’t going to transition because I didn’t know what I would be transitioning into exactly, and didn’t want to make a big decision like this without feeling confident about it. I wanted to accept myself and my body for the way that it was and release feelings of self-hate. Now, this is where my story can get tricky. I don’t want to make it sound like there’s a “fix” for feeling trans or that trans folks just need to accept their bodies the way that they are. I don’t think or believe this at all. For me, though, I knew I didn’t want to transition and I wanted to love my body the way that it was, but I, honestly, believed that I would always feel uncomfortable in my body. However, that changed for me.
In my mid-20s, I don't know why or how it began to change, but I started to feel comfortable in my body. I wasn’t trying to feel comfortable because I had already accepted the "fact" that I would always feel uncomfortable in my body. I started to love and appreciate my breasts, and all parts of my body. I was accepting my body for what it was, and, at the same time, embracing that I didn’t have a gender identity. I stopped identifying as trans and took on “queer” instead. Queer seemed to encompass my gender fluidity/non-gender identity and my pansexuality all in one.
When I started feeling more comfortable in my body, I started to embrace all parts of me, including the more “feminine” ones that I had ignored because I felt like they presented me as a “woman” when I didn’t want to present that way. But, I started to care less about being perceived as a “woman” by others. I even began to reclaim it for myself.
I’m 32 now, and, while I’d rather have no gender identity at all, I seem to need one to operate in this world. Thus, I refer to myself as a non-binary woman. I like saying that I’m non-binary because I reject the binary as a concept and as a practice. I resist the gender binary in many different ways in my life even if I look “cis” to the public eye, BUT I do have the privilege of “passing” as cisgendered, and thus do not experience harassment or violence for living outside the gender binary on the outside. I’m aware that I “present” as a woman on the outside (whatever that really means), but I do not have an intrinsic gender and have never felt in alignment with the gender that was placed upon me. The “woman” part of my identity is a social and political one that acknowledges my experience with “women’s oppression” of sexism and misogyny, but I recognize that this gender has been imposed upon me and is not me at my essence. My soul was not born a gender, but society placed one upon me before I popped out of a vagina!
Gender is complex, and so is my relationship to it. I’m prouder than ever to call myself a woman and to identify with the social group of “women.” I’m, also, proud to call myself non-binary and queer to embrace my complexities with gender and my belief in it as a construct and performance. My ideal world is one that does not place a gender on me or anyone, one where I do not have to have a gender to survive or operate, one that sees beneath the complex layers to my soul and who I am at my core.
What is your gender story? Did you align with the gender that was placed upon you growing up? How/how not? Why/why not? Have you ever thought about sharing your story? It can be so healing and liberating to express our experiences and thoughts around our relationship to and how we've been affected by gender. I encourage you to think about your own experience with gender and express what needs to be expressed in a way that feels good (whether it's through writing, verbally telling a friend, art, dance, song......)