Gender Games

Before you play

In the beginning, there was gender. There was Hot Wheels and Barbie, princes and princesses, and later on “girly-girls” and “tomboys”. Even though I was fortunate to have a gender-neutral nursery (yellow instead of pink and decorated in vintage Winnie the Pooh), I still had a subtle-ish identity crisis when it came time to choose between the science toy or the Barbie merch. I was a nightmare to stand behind in line for the cash register. The debate would go on for half an hour.

In the ‘90s, your gender was closely tied to what you consumed and what toys you had. You stated your gender by your toy chest and expressed it through how you played with your toys. Ask anyone who mutilated their Barbies. They’ll be happy to tell you about it. Growing up, I thought my affinity for Barbie made me the “girly-girl” type. And any deviation from that (like my microscope or Fear Factor school supplies) was a deviation from my gender, my people. These breaks in the code were to be outed by my comrades and used to banish me to Tomboy Land. But Tomboy Land didn’t take too kindly to all of my pink and glitter. I learned quickly I straddled a delicate line, and I had to choose a side if not for convenience, for survival.

Don’t let the other players see your hand

With enough practice, I got very creative in finding justification for what I now know to be my inner trans person. I made peace with my previous “choice” and had decided I was like every other cis-woman, hoping I could ignore what was different until it went away. Just a little different. I just happened to be really into Jeffrey Marsh. I found their Vine account early on and latched onto it for no reason in particular. Their videos gave me an unsettling comfort, not unlike when I stole my brother’s shorts that one time in high school. But supporting trans people is part of being a feminist and an ally. Some of my closest friends are trans, so I have to support them and call out TERF-y behavior and trans-exclusionary rhetoric. It’s, like, the rules of feminism.

So when the first Trans Ban came along in 2017, of course I felt anxiety shoot through my body. Everyone did. At this point, I had already identified as bisexual for a couple of years, so my outrage and fear was for my fellow LGBTQ siblings. I was probably feeling the same amount as my cis-gender cohorts. They were just quieter about it.

I remember looking back on my time in women-only spaces, safe spaces, and never feeling completely “at one” among the strong women around me. I couldn’t settle into my womanhood. But that’s because I entered my womanhood later in life, and honestly, the patriarchy had probably ruined it because I was trained to fear my femininity for male consumption. The patriarchy ruins everything. And didn’t everyone have a bi-gender Tommy doll growing up? I was really stretching.

Your turn

Last Halloween, I had run out of redheads to portray and settled on one of my favorite queer icons, David Bowie. And that gave me a lot of feelings. Maybe it was the drag makeup. Maybe it was how much I liked it. Maybe it was how comfortable I felt in it. One day, mid-lightning bolt, I faced myself. It wasn’t impossible that I had hidden this secret for the last two decades. I admitted there was something…not quite cis about me. But I couldn’t figure out what it was or where it came from. And to be honest, I was scared.

Growing up in a small Illinois town, gay was one thing. Trans was another, especially if you’re nonbinary. When I came out as bisexual, I was hit with personal questions and inappropriate assumptions. I could only imagine what the transphobia would feel like. Even at work, I didn’t feel safe to come out as any letter in the LGBTQ acronym. I didn’t know how I was going to tell my folks back home, and I still don’t. It felt like this new discovery was like the final nail in my comfortable coffin. I couldn’t go back. Wasn’t this supposed to be a positive experience?

I tried every reason I could to think of how to explain how I felt. It was all of the masculine planets in my birth chart. I was just a cis-woman who’s a little bit butch every now and then. I pinned it on growing up surrounded by men. I am the only granddaughter out of a total of twelve grandchildren. All that Sun Energy had rubbed off on me through my ten male cousins with no female outlet. Like trickle-down masculinity.

Pick your playing piece

But was I masculine? Sure, I never felt completely comfortable in women-only spaces, but men-only spaces weren’t much better. I have too much Sun Energy for some and too much Moon Energy for others. “He” didn’t quite fit, but sometimes neither did “she”.

There was only one option left. But I didn’t have the trademark non-binary “look”. Puberty granted me a very female-presenting body type. And while nonbinary people look just like everyone else, media and the internet paint a different picture. I didn’t look like most of the people I saw who share my gender identity. My long hair, gender-specific clothes, and bare denim jacket lit up “LIAR” in neon above me. I felt like my coming out would be easier if I “looked the part”.

But maybe I don’t have to choose. The more I thought about my gender identity, the more I felt the expectations of each label dig into me like bra strap that’s a little too tight. I view gender as spaces to play. Sometimes I want to play in my Moon Energy. Sometimes I want to play in my Sun Energy. But most of the time, I want to play in a field of my own making where the sun and the moon can exist in the same space. I’m still very early on this journey, and I’m finding out more about myself as I explore my new green gender pastures.

I go by she, they, and (when I’m feeling particularly entitled) he. But so long as the pronouns are said with love and respect, I don’t mind. I know who I am, and that’s enough for me.

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