Today I want to share a little story with, and some musings on gender.
I was standing on the dance floor in Los Angeles — talking to a striking human with a shaved head and silver eyeshadow — when I first realized I was transgender.
It was the first person I had gotten the chance to hang out with socially with who went by them/them pronouns, and I found my brain doing a lot of very strange things as we spent time together. It was like my mind was buffering; it kept trying to figure them out and put them into one category or another.
The question of what their gender really was popped up (despite knowing full well that the question itself was unbelievably offensive, invalid, and problematic), and I felt myself looking at their face looking for “clues” about whether they had “started” as a man or a woman.
I should probably mention that, by this point, I was already identifying as genderqueer and gender-fluid, both of which fall under the non-binary umbrella. And while I never bothered change my pronouns, I was both extremely well educated about gender identity, and personally invested in moving away from the gender binary as a concept.
Why then did my brain keep trying to figure this person’s face out?? Why did I keep accidentally saying “she” instead of “they” when referring to them? Just because their face was beautiful, their features delicate, and their voice light? Just because I felt connected to them in a way I only ever seem to feel connected to women?
I was so offended by my own thoughts; horrified that someone as progressive and queer as myself still had thoughts like that.
Basically, my brain was doing a bunch of gymnastics to make sense of them according to the old rules and the gender binary. Because no matter how much I knew and what I believed about gender as an adult, I was still conditioned with the gender binary.
Our brains are always looking for relevant categories, boxes, and labels to apply to what we see in the world, and one thing we’ve all learned for sure is that gender is both a binary, and an extremely important part of who a person is.
My subconscious mind didn’t give a fuck that I had rejected all that. I had to put (they/them) next to my new friend’s name in my phone, and people still had to correct me every time I misgendered them over the next few weeks.
Given what I do and who I am, this was honestly really embarrassing. Like, get with the program, mind! We’ve moved on! Good gracious.
I share this with you because I want you to know that if you struggle with they/them pronouns and gender in a similar way, it’s normal and ok. Also though, this is the exact work required to normalize it and get used to non-binary language! You haveto let your mind buffer, explore the confusing subconscious programming that comes up around it, and be kind to yourself when you make mistakes.
Correct yourself when you misgender someone, but don’t make it a whole thing, apologize profusely, or beat yourself up. We’re all re-learning this stuff together as a culture, and shame and guilt will only hold us back. So just correct yourself and move on.
Anyway, back to the moment on the dance floor, because that’s what I really wanted to talk about today.
This wonderful human was talking about something, and started a sentence with “as a transgender person I sometimes find…”
I honestly don’t know what they said after that because my mind has stopped.
Wait a second. You’re non-binary. You’re not trans.
I asked them what they meant, how they could be both non-binary and trans, and their explanation kind of turned my world upside down.
“Being transgender is about not identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth, right? About sort of crossing from one thing to another?
Well we usually think of that as crossing the gender binary from one side to the other, like a man to a woman or a woman to a man. But that just gives more power to the idea that gender is a binary.
I was assigned a gender at birth, and I identify as something else. My journey has been from “girl” as other people understood me, to “non-binary” as I understand me, you know? I crossed from one thing to another.
So… I’m trans.”
This moment was so simple, and so powerful. Of course being trans can’t be defined by the gender binary, that would be absurd! Being trans is about gender liberation!
I realized in that moment that separating myself from my trans siblings could serve no possible purpose other than to uphold gender oppression.
A few months later I first called myself transgender out loud, to a cis-gender straight white guy – a tinder date I believe. I said it in passing, like it was no big deal, but my heart was pounding in my chest and I couldn’t believe it. OMG I said I’m trans. And now this random guy of no consequence in the world knows! Ahhh!!
This gender journey is wild and ever-evolving. For several years I identified as genderfluid and trans, but insisted that I didn’t want to bother changing pronouns. This last year though I started feeling called to try out both they/them and he/him, and every time someone used these pronouns I felt exhilarated and giddy. Like my little secret with myself, one I’ve known since I was about five, is creeping into the world…. slowly, jerkily… but creeping.
A few weeks ago I officially told my mom: I’m transgender. I’m not a woman, so I’m not your daughter. I’m your child.
I’ve started suggesting to the closest people in my life that they use they/them or he/him as my pronouns so that I can start hearing it and see how it feels, with the understanding that she/her is also still fine.
Honestly it’s wonderful. My partner calls me his boyfriend sometimes, and my heart overflows. My brother uses they/them when referring to me sometimes, and I feel so cared for.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the words, the labels, the implications. I still don’t have elegant solutions to things like – what label am I to my brother’s children? There is no non-binary word for an aunt or uncle.
My mind buffers when I explore different pronouns or gendered words for myself, exactly like it did on the dance floor in Los Angeles. Subconscious programming still comes up, and I have to explore and unpack it.
But the feeling of being seen and understood, accepted and loved by the people in my life? The freedom to try new concepts and evolve them and move toward whatever feels good without judgement? The space to play with language and labels and identity?
And so now, dear internet friends, let me come out one tiny step further with you too by hitting send on this email. To normalize it, and invite you to explore your own mind’s programming as you have a response to it. To invite curiosity and understanding, and to offer representation.
And most importantly, to stay true to myself, and my value for #transparency.
Sending you big love today. (And welcoming any questions that arose for you upon reading this – feel free to hit reply.)