If you’ve ever met me in person, you know that I have a woman’s body, but I’m not 100% feminine. I wear cargo pants more often than I wear dresses. I don’t hardly ever wear makeup unless someone makes me, because it feels slimy and gross to me. But I’m not against wearing mini-skirts with leggings, or Renaissance fair dresses with corsets.
I’m not 100% woman, but not 100% man, either.
That statement might weird you out a bit. You’re probably used to the idea that girls are girls and boys are boys no matter what, and that all girls love pink and all boys love trucks.
I’m going to blow your mind a bit and say that gender (being boy or girl) is not fixed, and it’s not either/or. You can be a physical man who feels like you’re a woman, a boy who likes both trucks and glitter, or a girl who loves bugs and martial arts, or anything.
Now back to me because I want to talk about my experiences as a genderqueer person.
I grew up in the country, in southeast Ohio to be specific, by the Ohio River. There was a creek that flowed in front of our house, and our house sat between two hills. We had one neighbor, but the rest of the town was half of a mile away from us and had less than 300 people. Everyone knew everyone.
I knew I was different since I was wee little: I would play in the dirt and collect bugs, or cover my whole body in mud or paint, or go adventuring in the woods in my backyard pretending to be an explorer. The thing I did most often was crawl through a tunnel, because there was a tunnel that connected a stream next to our house to the creek in front of it. I would crawl through that and just play pirates or mermaids on the beach of the creek. Sometimes I roped my little sister into it, and when mom found us, she would forcibly bathe us and make us stay inside the house for the rest of the day. And staying inside was TORTURE.
My mom for the most part was tolerant (except for crawling through the tunnel. She hated that). She herself grew up as a tomboy, playing volleyball and softball and playing with two of her older brothers. She actually has six older brothers, but most of them were too old for her shenanigans when she was growing up. My point is, she was not adverse to doing more boyish things.
But she also grew up in the 60’s, and believe it or not, gender roles and what was expected of you to fit in them were pretty rigid in that time period. Everyone expected my mom to be a housewife, or at the most, a secretary.
These gender roles affected my dad, too. He grew up with an older sister in a household that fit the ideal of the 60’s mentality: mom and dad, sister and brother, nice house with a garden and a pet, etc. And on the surface, it was all…expected.
He probably didn’t expect to raise three girls, two of which were tomboys, with a tomboy wife.
I wasn’t completely boyish though. I remember watching The Little Mermaid on repeat from the ages of four to six, and I grew up watching the other Disney princesses. One time for Halloween, I went dressed as a mermaid. Of course, I was made fun of for it by a bunch of boys, which deterred me from doing a girly costume ever again (twelve year-olds are vicious no matter what people tell you).
Despite being teased, I still liked my girly stuff as much as I liked my boyish stuff. I still remember playing with Buzz Lightyear as much as I played with my Ariel doll.
One experience, however, stands out to me as the defining moment of my genderqueer-ness. When I knew that I had a LOT more boy in me than people expected, and when I felt more like a boy sometimes than I felt like a girl.
I started watching Dragonball Z.
The girl part of me went, “You know this is a stupid show right?” And yet the boy side of me was like, “I don’t care! I want to see Goku smash Frieza’s face in!”
When I tried to tell my friends (who were girls) about the show, I got the profound feeling that they thought I was dumb. Two of the three thought it was worthy of making fun of (and they did. A LOT) and the third was so into bubblegum pink that she didn’t know what to make of it. She certainly didn’t know what to make of me, who loved the show more intensely than even the boys in the class.
I still loved that show though. It made me want to learn martial arts to defend the people I cared about, to vanquish the enemies I saw in the Disney movies, to be the princess who could save herself.
Actually, I didn’t want to be a princess. I was the weird girl that wanted to be a knight in shining armor.
Growing up, I sometimes wondered if I was meant to be a boy rather than a girl. But I could never abandon the more feminine parts of me. Those were the parts that made me cry in public, that made me love princesses and Disney and cats, that wanted to make cookies so I could eat them all for myself.
Most people in my country town did not know what to make of me. I still remember being in first grade and saying, “I want to be a fireman when I grow up,” and people told me, “Girls don’t do that.” So I went, “Fine, I’ll be a spy.” And they said, “No, girls can’t do that.”
But if I said I wanted to do something more domestic, like being a writer or a painter, they said, “Oh, you can do that. But boys still do it better.”
This despite the fact that both of my parents told me I could be anything I wanted to be. They never discouraged my dreams of being a spy or wanting to learn how to kick people’s faces in.
Over time, my parents divorced, and my sisters and I moved to a larger town closer to central Ohio.
For the first two years of high school, I dressed like a boy: baggy T-shirts and jeans, my wild mane of a hair tied back into a pony tail. I kept my love for martial arts and boy stuff a secret, because I had learned to hide it after being teased for it throughout middle school.
I eventually made friends with the token lesbians of the high school, which OF COURSE prompted everyone to think I was a lesbian too.
At the time, I didn’t know if I was or not. But I never dated a girl and had no urge to, despite the fact that lesbians had crushes on me (and still do). I thought that girls were pretty, sure, but they didn’t strike my romantic fancy like boys did.
Over time, I changed my clothes to be more girly: I started wearing tighter T-shirts to show off my narrow waist, and even…skirts (skirts! The last refuge of vandals and scoundrels!). I hid my boyish side deep, deep down, never showing it to anyone.
It wasn’t until college that I started to embrace both my femininity AND my masculinity. I started having friends who understood that I wouldn’t fit the stereotype of what a woman should be. Not only that I wouldn’t fit the stereotype, but that I SHOULDN’T. And several of my friends were that way, too. There were boys who knitted and girls who adored shonen manga, and many people I came to knew started to explore and embrace the people they would become.
College was where I encountered trans people for the first time, which was entirely new to me. But I partially understood where they came from, because of my own experiences of not being certain of my own gender. Yes, I had pronoun slips a few times with them, but I was learning. I like to think I’m better about that now, even though everyday I learn something new about gender and how people embrace it or are hindered by it.
I have to add a caveat: I understood my trans friends’ emotions, but I could never fully understand everything about their experiences. I will never know what it’s like to have a man’s body but hate yourself for it, to long to be a woman in body AND spirit. I will never know what it’s like to want to be a man more than anything despite that your body still menstrates. I will never know the societal sting of going out in public presenting as the opposite gender and being harassed for it constantly. I will never know what it’s like to date someone as a trans person, because that has ALL KINDS of implications and complications.
Being genderqueer is an entirely different experience than being a trans person.
With that said, over the years I accepted both my masculine and feminine sides. There would be days I wore skirts, and days I wore camo pants and tank tops. I sometimes have half a mind to wear men’s deodorant or fragrances, and not just because men’s products are more effective and comfortable than women’s.
In fact, when I started working my summer job, drawing caricatures at an amusement park, there would be people who would think I was a man and address me as “Sir.”
And I didn’t mind.
I still don’t.
I’m fine with being called “he” OR “she” (or even “zhe,” if you want to get into the invented-but-not-quite-accepted pronouns. There’s a list, which you can find on this Wikipedia page).
I grew up being called “she,” so I’m used to that. I’m still getting used to being called “he” more often, but I don’t mind if you call me a “he.”
If there’s anything I hope you get out of this story, I hope that you understand that what I am as a person is not alien. Just because I fall in the middle of the gender spectrum doesn’t mean I’m less of a person, or a better person than you. It’s not that at all.
My identity may not fit what you expect, and I’m fine with that. And if my story has made you reconsider how you view your own gender or the gender of others, that’s cool.
We need to consider that a person’s gender is not black and white. People are complex and awesome, just as they should be.