There wasn’t a kind word for who or what I was, but in elementary and junior high school, the labels were simple: weird, queer, mannish, boy, ugly, etc. I have to smile at some of the words not, because they do, in fact, have some positive or communal meaning to me now – but not to the awkward, tomboyish preteen I was some years ago.
My first name is Michal, “like the boy’s name,” as I often explain to others who are trying to pronounce it, but I wasn’t and am not currently a boy. But I never felt like a girl, either. I would spare you the tomboy sob stories – as I know there is more to genderqueer and trans* identity than an aversion to traditionally feminine notions – but I find the memories important in demonstrating that my truest self has, in fact, always been with me. (Not a “phase.”)
I was assigned a sex and a gender at birth – meaning that the doctors and society around me made a designation about what my body would mean for the rest of my life. I, however, never felt comfortable living within the confines of gender that were ascribed to me. To put it simply, I hated dresses and had short-lived interests in dolls or dress up. My stepmother once asked me to choose between ice cream or the mall to pick out purses; I chose the ice cream. My few stints with makeup resolved around a desire to be less harassed at school – failed attempts to be “normal.”
But more than these superficial instances, I felt a deep sense of confusion – was I a boy, as the kids taunted, or something else? What would it mean? Not only did I feel a lack of identity with “girlhood,” I also did not know how to connect with the body I lived through.
On most occasions presently, I glance in the mirror shyly and tilt my head, smile or smirk a little before looking away. But on others – the bad ones – I will turn away from myself in frustration, self-hatred or confusion. How can this body contain all of me – a spirit that exists as both, neither, or one or the other? Will it survive in a world that sees only the external and makes a classification, or holds me in disgust for presenting outside of what they have decided me to be?
I don’t write this to tell some tragic story or seek sympathy – in fact, I often feel empowered in my ability to shapeshift and present in whichever way feels good to me at the time. I write about my experiences not needing for every person in my life to understand my “differences” – I write to normalize. The lack of access to stories outside of dominant culture not only teaches us how to continue sexist cycles of oppression – it also teaches children and young people who may not identify with their birth-assigned sex and gender that they are wrong; unworthy of love and acceptance.
Because the fact of the matter is, there is nothing wrong with me, or the so many of us who identify in different and ever-expanding ways; there is something wrong with the limited, binary, all-or-nothing views of gender and sexuality that dominate mainstream culture. My gender is something that I make my own to align with what I feel inside; not something determined by biology or appearance.
But what can you do as someone who loves me? Rather than viewing this as an inconvenience, consider embracing all of my complexities. Consider asking what my preferred gender pronouns are, understanding that they may shift over time. Show patience with me, and I will do the same. And when the time comes, let me raise my children to identify and present however they want to. Let me tell you who I am.