I had no thought of writing this until my friend Thedude3445 wrote a great coming-out post and made the point that personal stories all along the gender spectrum need to be shared. But I’m not writing this post hoping to twitch the needle in any big way. I just hope it can be one interesting action, perhaps valuable in its small way, in a sea of actions, in a general movement.
I am agender and gender apathetic. Leaning quoigender, to be honest, because my own gender is more a decision than a definite sense or a need. I don’t feel any strong leanings or attachments toward the concept of gender. Now that it’s widely accepted that gender is a social construct, I feel less bound to it than ever. So if anyone asks, I have an army of answers depending on the situation (whether I’m filling out a legal form, talking to parents, or talking to friends). But I’m ambivalent. Use any pronouns for me.
Before I go on, I think I should mention that my life is steeped in privilege. When I talk about pretty much any of my demographical disadvantages, a “counteracting” force of privilege is always at the ready. I’m Black, broke, and still have acne, yet I’ve been able to have and do anything I cared to.
That extends to the way I was raised. I grew up as a girl allowed to be boyish. Tomboy-ness is a privileged space for a lot of non-normative identities, I’m sure. I hated makeup and bras and shaving my legs, had no love for my long hair, and did not care at all for puberty. I didn’t feel distinctly that I was a man, or distinctly that I was anything. I didn’t even reflect on it. I just knew the roles I had to fill—I knew that I had to shave or do my hair when, and because, my mom told me to.
I guess the reason I didn’t get my hair cut short until late in high school was because I tended to be adrift in life—very deeply unreflective. I mean, my mom had short hair this whole time, yet it had never seemed an option in my own mind for almost two decades. Yet once she’d cut it off, I remember a friend seeing me in the hall and saying, “It’s so…you!”
Soon after that, a classmate strolled over to me and asked, “You prefer they/them pronouns, right?” I felt confused and caught off-guard—and then I defended the femininity that I was apparently born to safeguard. I’d never heard of that phrase “they/them pronouns” before that moment. (I guess I wasn’t that heavy a Tumblr user…?)
I dismissed the exchange with a thought of, “Huh, weird, guess I’ll never know why my classmate asked that.”
Months afterward, I was taking a Greyhound bus next to a man who gave me a lot of life advice. He told me that it was important for a young man to have strong character and moral values—many generalities—and you can debate for yourself whether or not he should have lectured me, but I took it in with quiet interest.
When we got to the station and parted ways, my last words to him were, “Thank you, but I’m a girl.”
It wasn’t just extremely awkward. I hated the moment. It made me uncomfortable in a new way. That was how I discovered that I didn’t care about defending some essential femininity within me—whatever that even means for me—at all.
So I made a conscious decision not to care about gendered words ascribed or addressed to me—never to be adamant that I was a woman, likewise never to be adamant that I wasn’t a man, and declaring none of the vice-versas—and if gender is what the individual declares within what society has constructed, I guess that’s as much as saying I have no gender at all. It’s declaring a profound ambivalence. I’ve consented to just float adrift on others’ claims about me.
Are cis people supposed to care very much about gender? I’m sure that if self-introspection about gender were more common, so would various forms and “levels” of gender ambivalence in people who are otherwise “normal.” To this day I’m an average tomboy, and again I’m steeped in the privilege of that socially acceptable identity. Is there a “point” to saying I’m trans?
I remember telling someone, “I’m not trans. I shouldn’t consider myself trans because I don’t do any advocacy for trans people.” I could have added something about dysphoria, which is something I’ve only felt extremely rarely (I did not expect to cry when my partner did my hair—the emotion sprang upon me). At the same time, I remember someone telling me that transness is not defined by suffering. And I hope that in the near future, this truth can be borne out by a world where trans people everywhere can live in safety.
I’ve been meaning to read T Cooper’s trans narrative Real Man Adventures for the longest, and in fact I have a copy on my shelf, but I’ve never opened it. I’m afraid that I’ll see myself in it and that it’ll cut too deep—and also that it will be the “proof” that I do belong to this socially unacceptable identity. My self-centered, selfish fear of becoming a new other.
What would it mean for me to be “out?” At this point in time, almost nothing. But clearly I sense that it will, in years or months from now, when I leave the ivory towers of grad school.
For now, though, accepting that I’m trans, non-binary, agender, quoigender is more than a tool for avoiding awkward moments. This is weird to say (and I’m already predicting how weird it will be to read), but…it seems to generate a different kind of awkward moment, one that I’m much more willing to examine and even play with. A waiter at a restaurant pats me on the back and talks to me in such a way that I know the waiter thinks I’m a teenage boy. I come away from the moment not annoyed or confused, but thinking about why he did it and about how I presented. My student does or doesn’t call me “Mx.” and I enjoy wondering about it.
I’m not saying this to shame or dismiss others, nor to exalt myself. I would never downplay someone else’s trans experiences by saying, “Well, I didn’t do that and I didn’t feel that way, so you shouldn’t either.”
There are as many different experiences of gender as there are things under the sun. There are many narratives. This is another one. Please don’t silence it.