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Genderqueer: Not Better or Worse, Just Different

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By , 14, Contributor Originally Published: September 2, 2010 Revised: September 5, 2012

It’s the weekend after the fourth of July, and my mother and I are in colonial Williamsburg, the reconstructed part. We’re standing in a tent with souvenir goods, and I’m trying on three corner hats with feathers sticking out of them.

My mom calls me over to a stand of dress-up clothing. “Here’s a man’s work hat,” she tells me. “It’s for a huge head, though.”

It’s taken us a while to get here—to the point where my mother calls me over for a man’s hat instead of a girl’s bonnet. I was born biologically female. (In the trans/genderqueer community, someone might say, “I was assigned female at birth.”) I now identify as genderqueer. This means that my gender identity, my sense of being a boy or a girl, doesn’t quite fit in either one of the traditional categories.

Specifically, I identify as gender fluid, meaning that some days I feel like a boy, some days like a girl and some days neither. Lately, I’ve identified as male more often; I’ve got a boy’s haircut and clothing. I’m also saving for a breast binder (a broad bandage worn over the breast to reduce their appearance), so I can present fully as male.

I’ve walked a thin line through most of my life, refusing to either commit to girlhood or cross over and become one of the boys.

Always Known

I came out as genderqueer six months ago. I discovered the term, “genderqueer” about a year ago, but I’ve always known I wasn’t supposed to be a girl. When I was a young child, I didn’t often want to play dress-up or house with the girls and almost never touched the dolls handed down to me from my two older sisters. I wasn’t brave enough to join the boys. Most days, if there wasn’t a co-ed group playing tag or four-square, I hid in a corner and read.

I fought puberty’s advances bitterly, refusing to wear bras—until my mother stepped in and told me I had to—and denying my period when it first came. Instead of admitting what it was and using the pads my mother had given me, I stuffed clean toilet paper into my underwear!

I was often the odd one out, when forced to wear clothing other than jeans or cut offs and a T-shirt. I played violin in Suzuki school concerts from the age of eight and was often the only one who wasn’t dressed in either skirts or a tie. Fortunately, that was the only regular occasion when I had to stick out in my dressy slacks and shirts, and when I graduated to the advanced group, the other girls were usually dressed more like me than the little ones in their party dresses.

Gender Spectrum

I’ve walked a thin line through most of my life, refusing to either commit to girlhood or cross over and become one of the boys. As I’ve gotten more open about my gender bending, my steps to each side have become more obvious, however. I shaved off my mid-back length hair last February, and I’m also a performing belly dancer. (Now that I’m out, I’m actually more comfortable in skirts; I’m not a girl, I’m a boi in drag.)

We live in a binary world—male or female, boy or girl, masculine or feminine. Genderqueer people are the people who aren’t binary. Not all of us assume both genders, however. A friend of mine, 20-year-old Danny of Pittsburgh uses male pronouns, but defines himself as totally outside the gender spectrum.

“It’s like looking at somebody when they draw a spectrum of gender [from masculine to feminine] and having them look at you and ask you where you’d fit and you point to another completely different and undrawn on piece of paper,” he writes on his blog.

I’ve defined the genderqueer identity I have as something that has nothing to do with the spectrum at all. My gender-fluid identity sometimes feels a little bit like constantly dressing in drag, one gender or the other. What genderqueer means to me is something that’s outside of gender; most people think of it as a third gender, but it’s something else entirely. Not better or worse, just different.

Leo is a Sex, Etc. contributor from Pittsburgh.

Photo by celesteh

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