For the past month or so, I’ve been debating a lot as to what I envisaged my first post being on this new blog. I imagined it being a lot of different things. A cop-out ‘about me’. An in-depth look at my recent conversion to vegetarianism, situated within the wider context of the mass meat industry. The lamentations of a third-year undergraduate on the cusp of graduating who has many mixed feelings about the ‘university experience’. I pictured it being all of these things over and over again but none of them ever felt quite right. I knew I wanted it to be something about me but couldn’t think what. But finally, at 2.30am on a Sunday night, it has come to me. What could be more personal and more intrinsic to me than my gender identity?
For those who know me, my gender musings will not be unfamiliar. And yet, I have not explicitly spoken about how I feel with actual labels or commitments recently. Anyone else who has experienced the gender musings may be familiar with the method of ‘skirting around the issue, dropping less than subtle hints, until one day you blurt it out, then pretend it never happened’. But as someone who has been experiencing a variety of gender musings for almost 10 years now they are not new to me, and yet I have still found it almost impossible to speak about my current feelings. Why?
I believe a big part of it has to do with a change in the culture of the queer community, at least in London, which is where I live and have always lived. Joining the Queer Youth Network around something like… 7 years ago? 8 years ago? (idk I don’t do dates) I first became exposed to the wonderful diversity of gender identity. Until that point, I never knew what transgender was but came to QYN for my other frequent identity conundrum – a little game called am I gay or am I bisexual, who the fuck knows? I had been expressing dissatisfaction with my gender in more or less concrete terms from the age of 15 (in expressing total commitment to the idea of wanting top surgery and feeling like I was entirely out of place at my all-girls school), and had been a very gender nonconforming child but had never had the understanding to situate my own feelings or put a name to them before. So, meeting trans people entirely by chance was a big step for me.
Even though I didn’t know about any gender stuff back then, I still introduced myself by the gender-neutral name Jay, which I proceeded to go by for a good 2 years or so. I could not even explain to you my excitement upon first stumbling across the icebreaker introduction of names and pronouns, along with a completely positive attitude towards people being able to change their name or pronoun at any given time. Over the next few years, I witnessed many friends (and myself included) experiment with different names and pronouns in an accepting environment. It didn’t matter what you looked like, how you dressed or whether you switched pronouns as frequently as the sun comes up. I have never felt so liberated and accepted as I did then. For a number of years, whilst still going by Jay and having chin length hair, I swapped between female, neutral and male pronouns. I identified as genderqueer for 2-3 years before I began identifying myself as trans masculine, exclusively used he/him, changed my name to Avery, then began the very lengthy process of medically transitioning so I could get testosterone and top surgery. But despite this very long process, I still didn’t feel quite comfortable with my gender yet was reluctant to publicly identify as anything else.
For the past few years, I had seen terms like genderqueer fall out of use as a result of the concretization of non-binary as a catch-all gender-neutral term, which in many cases replaced the myriad of self-descriptive terms that had previously been used. I both witnessed and experienced judgment towards perceived binary trans people, tension around using terms like genderqueer as opposed to non-binary, and the prevalence of gender assumptions based on gender expression and pronouns only. For anyone who knows me IRL, I am not the most masculine of people, despite trying really hard to suppress certain aspects of my personality and appearance, but dress majoritively ‘masculine’ due to severe dysphoria around other types of clothes (both gender dysphoria and weight-related anxieties). And as a result, I was strictly categorized as a MAN without much thought or wiggle room, even amongst people I called my friends. I found myself very suspiciously boxed up and labeled and had it very strongly reiterated to me on a regular basis about my MANness. It was very strongly alluded to throughout numerous conversations, imagery, events, and Gender Discourses that in order to be regarded as non-binary, gender-neutral or otherwise not binary, I needed to fit in with the aesthetic; usually short and/or multicoloured hair, more feminine presentation, happy to wear make up, and be a sparkly queer. Whilst I wasn’t a MAN, I definitely wasn’t a sparkly queer either.
I debated for a very long time about attempting to reclaim my original identity as genderqueer. Whilst I have never truly felt at home in the ‘male camp’, I had felt the genderqueer more accurately reflected who I was. Yet, because of a culmination of experiences over the past 3 years, I was afraid to. However, having had a decent amount of time to recover from some very oppressive friendships and rediscovering wonderful, magical and accepting friends I have started to feel more confident about opening up. I grew my hair long (very long, it reaches halfway down my back now!), stopped taking testosterone, stopped hiding more ambiguous aspects of myself, and have begun trying to branch out into clothing, etc which I know is more my style without worrying how I will be ‘read’.
10 years ago I looked into the mirror and felt sick at my reflection. I thought I was an ugly girl. I hated my clothes and the shape of my body. I hated my voice. I definitely hated my chest. And being called a girl sent waves of discomfort through me. Yet, after having been on T and becoming much more comfortable with my appearance I am still not happy. I still don’t see the person I feel like inside. When I watched movies, read books or played video games I never identified with the male characters but wholeheartedly saw myself reflected in the female characters. When watching the Force Awakens, I desperately wanted to be Rey. Yet watching the Hobbit, I also equally wanted to be both Tauriel AND Kili. I want to be able to wear biker boots, with jeans and shirts and be called ‘he’, but I also want to put my hair in plaits and wear kick-ass, flowy, dystopian clothes, you know?
After 10 years of struggling through inner turmoils and oppressive labeling from others, I finally feel like maybe (just maybe) I might be on the brink of a breakthrough. That after so long of feeling ashamed and afraid, I finally feel like it’s okay to come home to a Genderqueer identity regardless of what anyone else thinks. Maybe it’s OK to actually, finally be me?