This LGBT History Month, I’m taking some posts to discuss my gender identity. It’s my hope that sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences will help people to see not only beyond the gender binary, but that each gender identity can be split into as many different ‘types’ as there are people who assume that identity to describe themselves.
I mentioned in my introductory LGBT History Month post that ‘genderqueer’ is both who I am and who I choose to be. That identifying as genderqueer means that I identify as neither man nor woman. That identifying as genderqueer is not a phase, nor does it mean that I’ve not yet decided whether I’m a man or woman. That identifying as genderqueer permits my gender identity and expression a great degree of flexibility, fluidity and freedom.
It began the moment I was born, with the words ‘It’s a boy!’ They thought my penis was a dead giveaway – that my sex determined my gender. But my male body didn’t come pre-loaded with masculine thoughts and feelings, or desires to perform masculine actions. At school, at friends’ houses, in the media and whilst out shopping, these were forced upon me, made requirements of me.
I grew up being told that I was a boy, then a man, because of my sex. I was ‘educated’ and ‘indoctrinated’ in masculinity, manhood and machismo. None of that came from within; what did, however, was in conflict with a lot of what I was being told about myself, and that’s how I knew I was something – someone – different from what I was being told.
I recognised that the way I thought, felt and behaved was neither ‘boy’ nor ‘girl; it was somewhere outside of these two and yet contained elements of them both. As a teenager, I thought this was a ‘symptom’ of my emerging sexuality; it wasn’t until I started university and began reading feminist and queer texts that I began to understand gender identity as ‘a concept’, and it wasn’t until I began to expose myself to others’ experiences on the Internet that I felt comfortable to look at myself critically, exploring and interrogating my own sense of gender identity – something I still do on a regular basis.
I gave myself the education in sex, sexuality and gender that no one else did – that they should have. My parents couldn’t and my school wouldn’t, and so I had to spend my formative years simply waiting for an opportunity to learn about myself. This is why it’s so important to include every aspect of sex, sexuality and gender in all education from a young age – but I’ll not stop if I start talking about that here, so…
Throughout my life, and for as long as I can remember, there have been occasions on which I have felt more masculine than feminine and vice versa. It’s been this way since I was in single figures, fighting with my nursery school teacher about why a dinosaur couldn’t wear a dress.
I’ve wanted to masculate or feminise the same behavioural trait or my engagement with a certain item or element of my life, and I have wanted to create perfect balance between these two ends of the gender spectrum as well as performing agenderness. And when I understood that my gender was something both connected to and separate from both my sex and my sexuality, I felt both enlightened and confused in equal measure.
It took time to be able to separate my sex, my gender and my sexuality from one another. It took even more time to see how these worked together. It took effort to identify these on my own terms, and to contextualise and situate the relationships between and amongst these, as well as the relationship(s) I would hope to have both in and with the world in which I found myself based on the intersection(s) of these.
And do you want to know the interesting thing about all this? These identities, and these relationships, aren’t fixed – they’re in a state of gentle flux, adapting to the changes I encounter in my life, and the changes I create for myself – changes I have come to expect and know I will accept.
That’s why I describe myself as ‘genderqueer’. And proudly so, given how much work I’ve put in to understand myself. Whenever I have to explain what being genderqueer means, I say that it typically means a different thing for each genderqueer person but, for me, it means that am neither man nor woman, both, and somewhere between the two all at the same time; and that it may also mean taking those elements of what we call masculinity and femininity that resonate with who you are, and then making them part of your identity, whether this is ‘balanced’, ‘flexible’ or ‘fluid’.
That’s why, on the occasions I’m asked about the gender identity I’ve chosen (over the ‘correct’ one, the ‘proper’ one, the one dictated by my genitals), I reply with a correction: that I’ve not chosen a gender identity, but a way to identify my gender. Identifying as genderqueer feels comfortable whatever I feel like; it always feels like ‘me’ and that I’m describing my gender identity honestly, and with integrity and dignity whenever I might be required to do so.