May 15, 2000

Me in the summer of 2000 at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Festival in San Jose, CA, sitting on the ground against a large concrete sphere, wearing a bandana, sunglasses, a blue shirt, freedom rings, multi-colored shorts, and tennis shoes, with a green jacket tied around my waist
Me in the summer of 2000 at the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses Festival in San Jose, CA

This stuff here is some of what i’ve picked up from my classes and readings and discussions and lots of thought over the past four years or so. And i think it’s pretty cool and amazing and really love it. And then it started to affect me on a more personal level. I’ve attended three of the four annual True Spirit Conferences, held each year in the DC area since 1996 and sponsored by the American Boyz. During the last two (1999 and 2000), i’ve had an extremely difficult time with “reentry” — going back into the “real world” where everyone i meet tries to force me to be either a “man” or a “woman.” The week immediately following True Spirit has proven since then to be among the hardest weeks of the year for me. It’s incredibly difficult to leave a space where at least some of the attendees are open to gender fluidity, to people not fitting into either given gender category, where some people either think i’m trans myself (i’ve had a few folks ask me when i was going to start hormones) or, even better, are okay with my being neither.

My feelings are certainly not happening in a vacuum, however. My gender presentation (how i choose to look, act, and dress) is relatively androgynous. I’ve certainly never been a “good woman” in the Phyllis Schlafly sense of the word. I’ve worn relatively gender-neutral clothing for as long as i can remember (i always chafed when i was younger and Mom insisted that i wear dresses to movies or church), and i’ve never enjoyed either sports or dressing up. I claimed the label “feminist” in sixth grade and stopped shaving my legs and armpits during my senior year in high school. I did, however, always identify solidly as a girl/woman. (And that’s not a history that i’m interested in rewriting. Unlike when i came out as a dyke and looked back and found lots of hints of baby-dykeness, i’m relatively content to let me-in-the-past be as much of a girl/woman as anyone ever can be.)\

I was somewhat surprised when i left Vassar in 1995 and found myself out in the “real world” where i got stared at occasionally, in large part, i’m sure, due to my unabashedly hairy legs. Then i shaved my head in June of 1998. (Love it! It’s great! The only thing between the washin’ and the goin’ is the towelin’ off. And as someone who used to sing in my chorus, Bread & Roses Feminist Singers said, it’s “pet-me hair.” I love getting my head rubbed by my friends — or by strange women to whom i’ve been introduced and whom i find attractive. It’s a wonderfully sensual experience. :::bashfully grinning:::) But, oooo boy, did the staring increase after that! What with my usually-androgynous clothing, hairy legs, small breasts, and shaved head, i get that “Is it a boy or a girl?” look a lot. Half the children i volunteer with are convinced i’m a boy; most of the others aren’t sure. On the days i show up in a skirt (which i will wear when it gets too miserably hot for pants and since i can’t wear shorts to work), the kids laugh at me for being “a boy in a dress.” Sometimes random children on the street will ask me “which” i am. Adults do that covert i’ve-learned-not-to-stare stare. And i even get “Sir’d” on occasion, which always weirds me out because i can’t “pass” as a boy for anything once i start talking, nor do i feel like one.

One of the most difficult parts of this whole process has been dealing with the fact that everyone is trying to put me into a box, a box that i don’t want to fit into. Based upon my female genitalia, i’m certainly supposed to know what “feeling like a woman” is like. I don’t, though. If anyone can tell me what it’s like to, in the words of Aretha Franklin, “feel like a natural woman” (or a man, for that matter), you’d probably be eligible for some big award or something. So i don’t know what it feels like to be a woman. But i’ve never wanted to be or be seen as a boy/man. And i don’t want to change my body; i’m comfortable in my own skin. (These last two are the reason i don’t identify as trans.) And the gender that i “do” (a cool sociological concept that highlights the fact that gender is, however unconsciously, something we do to send out messages about ourselves) is obviously falling off people’s radar screens.

On one level, i’m perfectly happy being outside our binary sex/gender system (the idea that everyone is either only a man or only a woman and has either only something that is obviously a penis or something that is obviously a clitoris and that penis = man and clitoris = woman). It’s subversive. I want to help explode the restricting, constricting, confining gender boxes. It allows me to be and act however i want to, without worrying about whether or not i’m being too “feminine” or too “masculine” (although, admittedly, i have a long way to go until i get rid of my internalized, knee-jerk reactions against all that is hyper-feminine). And being genderqueer has the potential to be a hell of a lot of fun. I do feel very much that i’m in the vanguard of a new movement, a new way of seeing gender and being gendered that most of our society hasn’t yet begun to contemplate. And that’s exciting. I love the idea of being part of a serious cultural/social revolution, a revolution very different from the limited goals of the gay & lesbian movement.

The really hard part of this journey so far has been trying to figure out how to live in the world as neither “M” nor “F,” neither man nor woman. The Western world (indeed, probably most of the world, period) is based upon people fitting into one of those two boxes. And if i don’t, it’s kind of like i cease to socially exist. Most people will have no idea how to interact with me or talk about me if i say i’m neither. Or they’ll just stare at me blankly, assuming i’m crazy to be thinking like i am, that i’ve done entirely too much reading in graduate school, or that i’ll grow out of it. I still don’t know how to deal with all of that. So i’m frustrated and frightened and discouraged and lonely — and a little bit scared, too, that the more androgynous my gender presentation gets, the more vulnerable i am going to be to physical/emotional/psychological queer-bashing. I know i’m walking a line that most people in our society don’t even know exists. And doing so is subversive. And that very subversion puts both our very social/cultural fabric and me at risk.

I long for a world where i don’t feel every day like i’m “the only one.” I know i’m not because i’ve met other genderqueers. (Some of them even have webpages!) But i don’t have any in my daily personal life, and that’s hard. I want to walk down the street and not feel like folks are trying to place me in a box, to figure out what i am. I want to sit on the Metro and see lots of other people like me who defy the gender system. The friends that i’ve told have all been amazingly supportive and wonderful, and i’m incredibly grateful that i have them in my life. For all but one of them, however, i have to do some educating when i talk about being genderqueer. And that takes a lot of energy. I long for a world where there are more than just a few of us who know that this whole man/woman thing is a crock. I long for a world when neither i nor anyone else has to choose either “M” or “F,” where gender doesn’t matter as much, and where anyone can be any gender(s) ze wants to.

In the meantime, however, i’m struggling to find my place, to create a space for myself in the world we currently have. Join the revolution, won’t you?

If you identify as genderqueer, i would so much love to hear about your identity and experiences. I am yearning to hear from others like me. Please drop me a line. I would be eternally grateful to hear how this is all working out for you. 🙂