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 identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I experience gender dysphoria. That identifying as genderqueer does not make me trans*, although I do recognise it has its place on the trans* spectrum. That identifying as genderqueer does not mean that I ‘reject’ my sex, nor does it mean that I have a negative body image or that I experience body dysmorphic disorder. That identifying as genderqueer means, for me, that I am indifferent to my sex.
This post is more of an exploration of thought and feeling than a critical analysis with a conclusion. At 32, my relationship with my body is still developing. I’m still exploring what my body means for me and what my body means to other people; I’m still exploring its potential, and trying to find its purpose beyond what we might call the ‘biological imperative’.
It’s been a struggle to write this post, because a fair few of my thoughts on my body, my relationship with it, and its relationship with my gender identity and sexuality remain disjointed – incoherent and incomplete. I hope that writing this will allowed me to convey some of my thoughts on determining both how my body, my gender identity, my sexuality and my personality exist both separately and together.
I’ve often spoken about how I considered myself to be neither boy nor girl as I was growing up. This wasn’t only a case of looking inside myself, at what I thought and felt, but also looking at myself from outside, seeing myself as others saw me, and thinking about what they thought of me and who I was based on how I looked. Everyone told me that I was a boy because I had a boy body, and practically everyone both behaved towards me and expected me to behave in a certain way because of this.
I used to see how people behaved towards girls in very different ways. People didn’t expect girls to behave in the same way as they did me. It was peculiar seeing people stopping girls from doing boys things because, as far as I could see, they were simply stopping girls from doing things that I didn’t want to do and encouraging them to do those things I did want to do. My child logic told me that girls had a much easier, and much better, life. Girls could have long hair, wear make-up, wear dresses, play with dolls, enjoy shopping, enjoy cooking… No one was going to bully them for enjoying any one of these things. I did wonder, for a time, if I would be better off as one.
As I was growing up, I sometimes resented my body because, if I did the things that I wanted to do, at school or when I was in the company of other children or friends of my parents, I was attacked or criticised. I was a boy, so I should only have done boy things (boring), thought boy thoughts (stupid) or felt boy emotions (limited). I often thought about how having a girl body would have ‘given me the permission I needed’ to do all the things that I loved doing, and no one would have ever been able to say anything to me about it. No one would have ever been able to criticise or try to correct me, and no one would have bullied me; I would have been free to do the things I loved to do. At the same time, there were some boy things I loved to do, and I worried that if I were to somehow end up with a girl body, I’d no longer be able to do these.
It was around this time that my mum and I moved back to England from Spain, where I’d been growing up, and I was suddenly much more preoccupied with my emerging sexuality – and surviving school – to think about whether I’d be better off with a boy or girl body. As my sexuality developed, I thought to myself that, perhaps, all of my earlier childhood behaviour had been a symptom of being not heterosexual; and, now that my sexuality was manifesting, that I would understand this better – that I would understand it for what it actually was.
The development of my sexuality overrode every other kind of introspection and personal exploration that I thought I should be doing. It meant that I didn’t actually pay a lot of attention to what my body meant to me as I grew up; however, I did pay a lot of attention to the physical changes that puberty brought. They weren’t unwelcome, but they were surprising. As I changed and developed, I did think to myself about what I would look like if I had a girl body. These thoughts gave me a genuine curiosity about the female body, a wonderful appreciation for what it looks like, what it can do and what it means. As I’ve mentioned before, this did affect the way that I thought about my sexuality, but has also given me a sustained admiration and respect for the abilities and the meaning of the female body.
My relationship with my body changed when I began to look at my gender a bit more critically when I was at university, and I was finally really educating myself about sex, sexuality and gender. I learnt that all of these are both connected and separate at the same time, and no one is reliant on any of the others for significance or validity: This completely changed the way in which I looked at myself.
As my developing opinion that a person’s physical sex and their gender identity and/or sexuality didn’t have to be connected became legitimised through what I was reading, I couldn’t think of one reason why there should be a distinct and fixed relationship between these two. As I got older, in the years after finishing university, I realised that my gender identity didn’t correspond with my physical sex; however, I never felt as though my sex was somehow ‘wrong’. I didn’t feel as though I’d been born into, or with, the wrong body. I had no dysmorphia. I had no dysphoria. I had no phobia. I had no hatred.