Preface: After 18 years of life, I’m finally in a place where I’m open enough with myself explore gender and what it means to me. It’s very liberating and exciting but also weird, uncomfortable and foreign.
I’m glad that I’m comfortable enough with myself to be asking these questions but the answers and conclusions I could come too could make things difficult. I think ultimately I’ll need to let go of looking for labels to box myself into because there aren’t enough boxes or labels to explain my or possibly anyone else’s unique experience of gender. I know it’s performative and that it isn’t related to my sex, and since I’ve learnt these things I’ve been opened up to trying to work out how I do identify, if I identify at all. Gender is a powerful form of self expression that I want to tap into.
I am queer. I’m gay and demisexual. I’m content within this identity. But recently I’ve been doing some thinking about gender. I don’t know how to identify as a woman when the past few years I’ve been working hard to break down these institutional ideas of gender in my head. I feel that I don’t know what being a woman means or what it feels like. I see gender as something you choose to express, in your hair, makeup and clothes. In the way you present yourself to the world. Gender is a fluid concept and can be anything you want it to be. But who do I want to be? How do I want to be seen? What do my clothes, hair, sexuality, pronouns and dysphoria tell me?
The clothes I wear range from dresses and stockings to jeans and dungarees. Some days I feel more feminine and am happy to wear ‘girly’ clothes but most days I prefer to dress more gender neutral. Sometimes I’ll put a suit jacket or blazer on in the morning but I’ll feel sick because I think I look too ‘gay’ or too masculine. Something I find attractive in others, I don’t find attractive in myself. I’ve been dyeing my hair a lot this year which has really allowed me to express myself and feel comfortable.
I’ve done pink, red, purple and it’s currently black. My hair is a big part of my identity. For the past 17 years I’ve been growing it, and it was all the way down to my waist, but in May of this year I cut it to my shoulders. I felt so free and calm. I felt like me. I’d been growing my hair long because that’s just what girls did, it made sense at the time but as soon as I’d cut it I wish I’d been ready to do so sooner. It was the best decision.
Cutting it short, like a pixie cut, has been on my mind. I have several friends who have short hair and look amazing with it. I’m afraid my face is too fat to pull it off or that I’ll hate my hair like that and just feel uncomfortable. Maybe in the future though.
I’m attracted to androgyny and the way it challenges gender norms and expectations but I’m not sure if that’s how I want to present myself. I’m also somewhat attracted to femininity but less so. Masculinity in women is far more attractive for me.
Something I’ve been thinking about is if I were to be genderqueer what does that mean for my sexual identity? Am I still gay? How do I express this part of myself to others? It’s a hard thought to get around. Even if maybe I don’t see myself as a woman, being gay as an identity draws me in and feels right.
I find labels really empowering. To me being queer means identifying as anything other than cisgendered and/or straight. It means freedom and ownership over your own identity. It means not having to fully understand your identity to find a label that fits. It gives me joy. Its empowering.
My pronouns are a bit up in the air. ‘He’ is out of the question and wouldn’t be right for me. ‘She’ is generally okay but the wider connotations occasionally make me uncomfortable. ‘They’ is nice, but I feel a bit distant from it and I need to spend some time associating it with myself before it could work. Ultimately I think I’m happy with she/her and they/them. Whenever I meet or hear about someone else using gender neutral pronouns, I get really excited. I want to know more about them and what they do. I want to be friends with them. And just maybe, I want to be them.
Something common about being non-binary is dysphoria, and most commonly body dysphoria. The only body dysphoria I’ve ever felt is around my breasts and around my period. When I started to need to wear bras, I would feel so uncomfortable that someone might see the straps or the back of it through my shirt and know that I was wearing one. Instead, I’d just not wear one. My mother had been buying them for me and had to keep encouraging me to actually wear them, because you could tell when I didn’t. But they made me want to be sick and on the days I did wear them to school they’d come off as soon as I got home. My period has also been something I’ve been paranoid about hiding. I never like to talk about it with friends or family, my anxiety gets so high when I’m menstruating and I feel unattractive and unhappy with myself. Maybe it’s not dysphoria but internalized sexism, which is possible, but I’m not sure of that yet.
I like the term demi-girl which is “a gender identity describing someone who partially, but not wholly, identifies as a woman, girl or otherwise feminine, whatever their assigned gender at birth. They may or may not identify as another gender in addition to feeling partially a girl or woman.” It makes sense to me and for me, but something about it just doesn’t feel right.
I also like the idea of me being genderqueer or genderfluid. These labels resonate deeply with me. They feel nice. They feel familiar. I know that I need more time to work over this and feel what I’m feeling. I want to keep thinking about this thought. I want to keep learning about myself. I want to keep being me, more and more everyday until I find something that finally feels just right.
The point of this piece is to encourage questioning and discussions over identity. Knowing that it’s okay to not know has helped me a lot. And that it’s also okay for identity to change.
iO Tillet Wright is someone I look up to quite a lot. They are are queer artist and activist. During a Tumblr Q&A I asked them: What would you say to a young person feeling uncomfortable with their gender identity?
I was lucky enough to get an answer which was “Give yourself time and space. It’s a journey, and the journey is the fun part. Whatever you feel today is ok, and if that changes tomorrow, that’s good too.”
I’m now trying to live by this advice and hope that if you are also questioning, that you can too.
A great place to start questioning your gender identity the Gender Tag Project created by Ashley Wylde. It helped me write this piece.
Genderqueer meaning: denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
Genderfluid meaning: a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time.