Guest Post - Being Genderqueer
Another Guest Post!! You'd almost think that this is a real blog! Our guest poster today is my oldest child, Lydia. So, away we go!
My name is Lydia. I am Catherine’s oldest biological child; the college drop-out and wannabe cat whisperer. I’m also the genderqueer member of the gang and Mom asked me to write something for you all for Pride Month.
So. Hi, Mom’s followers! Happy Pride!
Of course, I say this as I start writing this on the 2nd-to-last day of Pride Month. It’ll probably be well into July before it gets posted. (Catherine here - I actually got it posted on the last day of June, so we just slipped in under the wire.) Oops. I, procrastinator-extraordinaire, proudly claim the label of Disaster Bisexual™* and we’re just going to leave it there. Yes? Yes.
*Disaster Bisexual™: A silly term some of us bi people like to use for ourselves. Particularly popular on the internet. Please take care with silly things like these, and don’t use them to describe your friends/family without asking them first. Be nice, y’all.
So, silliness aside, I’m honored Mom asked me to write something for her blog. We talk a lot about my sexuality, gender, and how that makes my worldview different from hers. I have so many thoughts and feelings and THINGS to talk about related to Pride, and I’m thrilled to be able to share some of them with all of you.
If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you’ll remember that Jesi wrote a wonderful post about Growing Up Gay. Obviously, everyone’s experience is different, but I think you’ve gotten a good idea of what it might be to have a different sexuality from “straight”.
Here, I want to talk about what it can feel like to have a different gender from the one you got stuck with from the get-go—I’m going to talk about being transgender. More specifically, I want to share some of my experience of being genderqueer, or nonbinary.
We’re going to start this with a super-quick vocabulary lesson.
Sex = Biology; chromosomes; what identifies you as girl or boy, male or female when you first come out of the womb. I most likely have chromosomes that look like this: XX. So my sex is female. Tada!
Gender = The social box you fit in: male/female/etc; usually corresponds with the above sex, but not always. I am one of those “not always”s
Sexuality = Who you love/are sexually attracted to; gay/lesbian/bisexual/etc. I’m bi. This is not terribly relevant in this article, but yay!
Now that’s out of the way. There are so many ways I could try and sum up what it feels like to not fit in your own skin, to grow up feeling a bit “off” the whole time, but it’s not something you can really sum up. So, I’ll tell you a story instead, about a little not-girl who read a book.
Okay fine, I read a lot of books, but this book really made me think. The book was called Alanna, by Tamora Pierce. It’s the first book in a series about a girl who dressed as a boy to become a knight. This girl’s name was Alanna, but all of her friends knew her as Alan.
All through Alanna I felt connected to this girl. She gladly dressed as a boy, swapped places with her twin brother, and played the part of Alan, a page-boy in the palace. She learned to fight, to dance, to use magic. As most stories like this go, she also encountered the physical changes that puberty brings, and she raged against them. Breasts hurt and changed her center of balance; her period was terrifying and forced her to come out before she was ready just to find out what was wrong with her.
I felt that. I felt that so hard. Not out loud, but I did.
She made close, strong friendships with other boys as Alan, friendships so strong I didn’t worry about them breaking when she inevitably had to reveal herself. But I also didn’t think about the endgame. I was happy with Alanna-as-Alan. Even when, at the end of the book, she’s forced to reveal her true sex—in a humiliating manner by the villains of the piece—her best friend professes not to care about the lie. He doesn’t care because she wasn’t really lying about anything other than what was under her clothes.
I really liked that. I liked the idea of being seen as “me” rather than as “a girl”.
Mid-way through the book, as mentioned above, Alanna started her monthly cycle. Panicked, she revealed herself to a close friend, George, and begged to be brought to a healing woman. After everything was settled, George challenged her, “Surely you don’t plan on staying a pretty young man forever?”
And Alanna scoffed; said, “Of course not!”
That brought me up short. Until that point, all of Alanna’s decisions had made perfect sense to me. I would have made the same choices, given the situation. This one, though? I couldn’t say for certain that Lydia would leave Alan behind to live as Alanna, Lady-Knight.
I didn’t think too deeply about this, of course. I read the rest of the series, cheered Alanna on as she became the first Lady-Knight of the kingdom in 100 years. But something about it stuck.
I was always pretty-boy Link, or genderfluid Mulan in my imaginary games, not Zelda or any of the other Disney princesses. I stopped choosing female halloween costumes after the age of 8. I dressed comfortably androgynous in jeans, t-shirts, and sweatpants for my entire teen years, quietly wishing for a body that would fit my style better.
But for all of that, I was still my parents’ daughter, my Grams’s only granddaughter, the slightly awkward girl who wore pretty dresses to nice events. Every time the dresses chafed my sense of self, I told myself I would grow into them eventually, that this was just part of being a teenager.
My first year of college, I chopped off all of my hair. I’d been wearing it under a hat, Eponine-style for months, but a tangled hair-tie ripped out of my head was the last straw. That night, walking to the dining hall with my friends, a new member of our group referred to me as “other dude” before I and my friends laughingly corrected him.
That exchange made something glow a little in my chest. It felt very right, somehow.
That glow came back occasionally, usually when children got confused and asked if I was a boy or a girl. I always told them “girl”, because I didn’t really consider any other options. For all that “girl” and “woman” felt not-good, “boy” and “man” were also off the table. Besides, I was distracted by the much more encompasing act of coming to terms with being bisexual.
That’s how I lived for a long time. It’s only recently that I’ve started exploring my sense of self enough to think of how I fit into the concept of “gender”. Maybe because of the disconnect I tried to describe above, gender was never a social category I let myself identify with. For a long time, I was a pianist, I was a tap dancer, I was an aspiring composer; I was a teacher, I was a friend, I was bisexual. It was when some of those identifiers fell out of true that I was forced to consider the ones I had left:
Girl. Daughter. Girlfriend. Granddaughter. Sister.
Nope, none of those work. But neither do their opposites. I’m not a boy, a man, a son or a brother.
And it’s not because of rampant misogyny. Not because of what women can and cannot do. I wondered, sometimes, if I’m not just like Alanna—refusing to be a woman because a woman cannot do what I want with my life—but that’s not it.
I could love a woman, a man, someone neither or both and still be a woman. But I’m not.
I could choose not to bear my own children, to only ever adopt and still be a woman. But I’m not.
I could excel in any professional field of my choice and still be a woman. But I’m not.
For a year or so, I thought maybe I was different things at different times; a woman some days and...something not quite either on others: genderfluid. From where I stand now, even that’s not right.
I’m the “something not quite” all of the time. If gender is a spectrum, I’m wobbling along in the middle of it, sometimes between the Female-Male binary, sometimes falling off the beam entirely. The more recent and easily-grasped term for this is “nonbinary”. Personally, I prefer the older word “genderqueer”.
In practical terms, being genderqueer and knowing it is just about as uncomfortable as not knowing. As a friend of mine put it once, there is no way to pass as nonbinary in our society. We don’t have the language or constructs for it. I have to come out to be myself, and the closest to “passing” I’ll ever get is inciting deep confusion in those I first meet.
(I’ll admit, my mischievous streak does enjoy that a tiny bit.)
It’s uncomfortable. I prefer neutral pronouns, they/them/theirs, but I don’t have it in me to demand they be used or wear a pronoun badge. I introduce myself as Lydia; I speak for myself when I can so no-one gets the chance to misgender me; I laugh off jokes about “girl’s weekend” at work with a gentle push of well, not really.
It’s wonderful. I felt that glow in my chest when someone called me “this esteemed person” in passing, and now I have a reason for that glow. I know there are others like me, that I’m not alone.
It’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I look in the mirror on a bad day and the shame of weight that all girls catch growing up compounds onto the fact that estrogen puts fat in curves I don’t want. On a bad day, being called “she” sends twinge through me—like a catcall on the street but I can’t be mad at the caller. They don’t know better, after all.
It’s wonderful. On a good day, even a medium day, I know that I’m a genderqueer adult who’s living their truth. Even on bad days, I remember all the baby queers at the dance studio who find me and talk to me about their experiences as young people who are not straight, not cis-gender. I know they do that because I’m secure enough in myself to be myself.
I’m still my parents’ eldest child—sorta. Eldest biological one, anyway. I’m still my brother’s older sibling who will never let him live down being a sore loser at quidditch. I’m still Grams’s only grandchild who’s not a boy. I am all of this, and I’ve always been all of this.
I don’t think I’ll ever change my name. The name Lydia was mine before my brain let any gender norms get their grabby hands on it. It will always be mine; genderqueer, nonbinary, and mine.
Mom asked me to write something about being genderqueer because a lot of you readers know me, and have known me through all of this. I am still everything you know me to be, and I’m also everything you’ve just read.