Outside the Binary

I knew I was genderqueer long before the word found its way to me.

I visualized myself as sitting on a fence, with men on one side and women on the other. I didn’t understand men or masculinity, but that was okay, I wasn’t expected to understand them. I didn’t understand women or femininity, either, and that wasn’t okay because I was expected to understand and be part of femininity and I just wasn’t.

‘Women’ seemed to have some kind of sisterhood, some secret understanding of what it meant to move through the world as women that I wasn’t privy to. The misogyny I’d been raised with and internalized meant that I viewed this sisterhood of sorts with scorn. I referred to it as the ‘female hive mind’ and had no wish to be part of it. It would take many years and a lot of education to root out that misogyny and allow me to value friendships with cisgender women.

I didn’t have gender dysphoria when it came to my body. I was fully aware, and had been from a young age, that my life would be much more to my tastes, that it would have much more freedom, if I’d been born with a penis instead of a vagina, but aside from the cramps and bleeding, my body was okay, even aesthetically pleasing for the most part. I didn’t feel like I needed to be socially recognized as a particular gender.

The idea of waking up in a man’s body, when I considered it, was novel rather than disturbing, but even that simply seemed like it would be a fun holiday jaunt, not something I’d want to do on a permanent basis. I want a kind of freedom and gender-fluidity that can’t be achieved with current technology.

Bodies in general are kind of terrible, and I’ve disturbed friends and family over the years by saying that I’d like to be able to download my brain and emotions into a robot body. Apparently most people’s identities are tied into their physical body in a way that mine is not. I’m aware that scientifically speaking, there’s no separating my body from who I am as a person, but psychologically speaking, this meatsuit is just a vehicle I’m forced to ride around in.

In my dreams, I’ve often been someone else. I always have a sense of identity, that I am me and no one else, but the details of who that me is change – I might not remember anything about my waking life. I might be inhabiting a character with a backstory. I might be in a body recognized as female or I might be in a body recognized as male. I might know nothing about my perceived gender because it doesn’t matter. I love that about my dreams.

The way I dress and carry myself can come across as a little gay, apparently. It’s probably the plaid shirts. When I was a child I greatly admired my paternal grandfather and my father, both of whom often wore plaid shirts or jackets. I happily embraced that fashion choice myself, just in time for grunge to hit the scene and make it seem like I might be trying to be trendy.

Of course, I’ve also happily worn visibly feminine clothing, and remember being mad that my sister J got to be the princess the one year my mother was forced to allow us to celebrate Halloween. It turns out the purple fairy costume I wore was much more appropriate for me, personally, and I wouldn’t complain about a fairy costume these days.

There are times when I’ve wanted to buzz my hair, but vanity has always prevented it. I still want to look aesthetically pleasing and I’m afraid I won’t be a Sinead O’Connor or a Dolores O’Roirdan. I’d probably look more like a grown up version of that kid from A Christmas Story. So I usually present in a way that means I’ll be perceived as a woman.

I’ve been attracted to gender-fluid, non-binary and queer from a young age though. My first cinematic crush during puberty was Jay Davidson’s Ra on the movie Stargate. I loved the guyliner trend. I loved women in menswear, and when I met a pair of brothers that boldly walked around in long black skirts, I loved that, too. Tilda Swinton always drew my eye. When a gay friend of mine wore a red leather dress, I thought he looked stunning, in spite of how much internalized homophobia I was dealing with at the time.

Learning the term ‘genderqueer’ felt wonderful. I wasn’t the only one out there that felt like they existed somewhere outside of masculine and feminine. I was comfortable existing outside of that binary. Trying to fit into either one would have felt incorrect.

Since then the terms gender-fluid and non-binary have become common as well, and all of it has been placed under the trans umbrella. I feel a little awkward under that umbrella. My experiences as a genderqueer person assigned female at birth haven’t carried the stigma or the pain that many trans people have had to live with. It makes me feel like I need to ask other trans people if they’re sure they don’t mind my company.

When I feel that way, I’m just going to remind myself that if other trans people do mind my company it’ll have everything to do with my personality, and nothing at all to do with how I do or don’t express gender. That seems appropriate.

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