I’m going to start by taking a bold step and talking about the topic that is the most difficult for me to talk about to anyone, the topic that causes and has caused me the most anguish and unease in my day-to-day life. It is something extremely fundamental to who we are, how we perceive others, and how we decide on our own behaviours and reactions to the people around us. It is something that is normally so basic and straightforward that it is usually taken for granted.
If you haven’t already guessed, my topic for this post is gender identity.
Just to clarify briefly what I mean by that, gender identity is the gender or genders that you personally identify with. It’s how you feel on the inside. It can be different from biological sex, which is the genetics and anatomy that you were born with.
Most people assume that if you’re born with boy parts, you’re a boy, and if you’re born with girl parts you’re a girl. And for the majority of the population, this is a reasonably safe assumption. But gender identity is not something that is openly talked about usually, and so you may not even be aware that there are a significant number of people around you for whom this assumption is not true. From the safety of hiding behind my screen, I can put my hand right up and say:
“Hi! I am one of those people! Nice to meet you.”
So, I suppose I should tell a little bit about my gender.
I am biologically female. So I have boobs, and estrogen, and two X chromosomes, and I tick the box marked “Female” on forms and documents. But from a very young age, I have not been completely comfortable with the last item on that list.
When I was about 3 or 4 years old, I got a doll for Christmas. I immediately threw it across the room. Now, when you are about 3 or 4 years old, you think that your parents are the highest form of divine being. In your eyes, they know everything, and they are showing you to the path that is right for you. They are basically God. (Or at least that is my experience.) Of course, I never asked for things that I wanted, so in reality my parents couldn’t have known that I wanted building blocks, or toy dinosaurs, but I felt like they knew everything so they must know. I felt like maybe I hadn’t been good enough that year, that maybe I was being pusnished by receiving a present that I couldn’t really use or enjoy. Yes, you can judge me and say I should have been grateful I got anything at all, but really, I probably would have been happier not getting anything than having to face the realisation that:
a) my parents didn’t know everything and weren’t God (yeah, this was bound to happen eventually but it still hurt!)
and b) that I was a girl, and this was a girl toy, but we weren’t right for each other so… something wasn’t right here.
I didn’t get any more dolls as presents. And as soon as I started dressing myself, I stopped wearing dresses, skirts, or pink. This was made much easier because almost all of my clothes were hand-me-downs from a male family friend, but I think I would have avoided thoses items of clothing regardless. It wasn’t that I refused to wear them if I was required to for some occasion like a wedding, but I just preferred not to wear overly feminine clothes. Soemtimes my school friends would ask me why I always wore my trademark shorts and tee shirt and sandals and I would just tell them that it was comfy and practical, and that you can’t climb trees or monkey bars in a dress. Because at Primary School it was really only the clothing and hair that differentiated boys and girls. Anatomically there wasn’t much difference in size, strength and shape. I had the choice about my clothing. If I had the choice about my hair, it would have been short too. But at this age, just dressing and acting ‘male’ was enough for me.
Intermediate was much more challenging. We were introduced to school uniforms. To this day, I am extremely grateful that I went to such a realxed and tolerant intermediate school. The girls were allowed to wear skirts or shorts. I was told that none of the girls wear the shorts, but I didn’t care. I bought a pair of each. And within 2 weeks of school starting and me wearing my shorts alone among the girls, a handful of other girls had bought shorts too. I had gotten a few odd looks in the first few days, but after that nothing. And that acceptance was a beautiful thing to come so easily from 11 and 12 year old kids. Unfortunately, Intermediate school became challenging in other ways because girls and boys were starting to differentiate in appearance. And, (heaven forbid!) we were beginning to get hormones. (GASP) I felt, more than ever, that I would have to pick a side. It was becoming more and more difficult to get along with both boys and girls, and I didn’t really feel like I belonged with either. The girls were into suntans and makeup and shaving their legs and boys. The boys just wanted to muck around, run around, and play. I knew which side I wanted to be on. (Here’s a clue: I couldn’t care less about suntans or makeup!) But it was quickly becoming harder for me to pass myself off as “one of the guys”. They were all getting bigger and stronger, and I was getting curvier. Probably the most upsetting thing to me at the time was that I could no longer win any wrestling matches. (I know, so sad. I’ll never be a pro wrestler)
High school was a big mess for me. I’m pretty sure it’s a big mess for everyone. I think it’s meant to be. I stopped trying to be “one of the guys”. I kind of just stopped trying in general, socially. I drifted from group to group, and decided to focus instead on my schoolwork. As a result, I got amazing grades, but had practically no social life.
With these amazing grades, I was able to get into the most male dominated degree: Engineering. People often ask me if its difficult being in a class with so few girls, but honestly, we don’t really notice the gender imbalance. The girls in engineering do tend to stick together for numerous reasons, but in class we find that we all think alike. We don’t think like girls or like guys. We simply think like engineers. And, for the most part, (there are a few exceptions, but very few) we are not treated differently.
So after all of that confused mess of flashbacks, I still haven’t really given you a label for my gender identity. I think that that’s an important thing to note, because many of you may have come up with some possible labels while reading this story. It’s important to realise that it’s human nature to try to label things as it makes it easier for you to react to them and deal with them appropriately. But it’s equally important to remember that my gender identity is the label that I personally identify best with. Looking back at my story, I’m sure that there are many labels that could apply, and I could also argue that the only label I need is my name, that I am me, unique, and that’s okay. But I also find comfort in having a label for myself, because it means that there is a category for me. That I’m not alone, or wrong, or broken. That there are other people out there who are like me. And the label that I think best describes myself is genderqueer.
What does that mean? It means that I don’t really identify as exclusively male or female. Neither gender is strongly representative of how I feel on the inside, but rather I feel as though I am somewhere in the middle, enjoying traits of both genders. I feel that instictively I am more male on the inside, but over time I have ‘learnt’ (in a sense) how to be more female (helped along by being biologically female). I don’t really know if this is what I wanted to become or not, but it is who I am now, and I’m happy to accept that. When I was younger, I would sometimes entertain the thought of taking steps to actually become male, but the process seems so unnatural and destructive to me (I didn’t even really want to get my ears pierced for a long while!) and I don’t really want to put my body through that, or risk in any way the health and safety of the body that I have been given. I really want to add here that I don’t have anything at all against people who do decide to take steps to change their sex – quite the opposite in fact! I admire wholeheartedly the bravery and determination required for that kind of decision. You are much stronger people than I could be. And I respect that everyone has the right to make the decision for themself.
The other reason I chose this label to identify with is that I feel like this is a challenge that has been given to me – that I have been given this conflicting set of identities in my body and mind as a test that I must overcome personally. And it has been given to me to help me to better understand people and their diversity. Really, I have learnt so much about accepting other people through coming to terms with my own identity that I feel it would be taking a step backwards in my own personal progress if I were to decide to change my sex at this stage.
So this is who I am. It wasn’t really that difficult for me to talk about after all. But I still feel like it’s something you can’t voice out loud, whether because the suject is taboo, or because many people simply don’t understand (or don’t want to). All the same it feels good to get it off my chest.
There aren’t a lot of well-known genderqueer role models to look up to in the world. I don’t know of any and I haven’t personally met anyone that has told me they identify as genderqueer, but this doesn’t really surprise me since I haven’t really told anyone that I am (except for you guys)! Based on this, chances are that this could be the first genderqueer life story you’ve heard and I hope that I’ve shown you something new through my perspective on life. And to anyone reading who is genderqueer, or gender non-binary in some way, I would love to hear from you, and I would like to say to you that you are not alone in your struggles 🙂
To anyone reading (gender identity of any kind, including everyone who is thinking ‘but I’m just a regular guy/girl’), I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on what I have shared today.
Thank you so much for reading!