Genderfluid: a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, or any other gender, or some combination of identities.
I didn’t always know I was trans, but I always knew I was weird. I certainly didn’t fit in with the other guys from grade school onward. All I knew for sure was that I was more emotional, more sensitive, than the boys and then young men around me.
In my second long-term relationship, during my twenties, my girlfriend’s other boyfriends asked her more than once if I was gay. But I wasn’t attracted to them; in fact, I didn’t trust men in general and certainly didn’t feel safe opening up to them.
From everything I had heard, being trans meant a rather specific set of things, mostly involving surgery, hormones, and other mysteries. And I knew for sure that I wasn’t trans, because I didn’t want to be a female all the time, just some of the time. By the time I was in my mid-thirties, I absolutely despised the gender binary, but didn’t have a clue that there might be more to it than a disgust with the way that society trained and enforced gender norms.
I suspect the first inkling of my difference was a bit of gender play in the bedroom. The first time I tried it, I freaked out after a few sessions and locked it all away (physically and mentally) for several years. The second time I tried gender play with a trusted friend, however, I had a moment of realization: this wasn’t just bedroom play.
My friend encouraged me to start looking for community and information. This was where the Internet absolutely proved its worth, because I found the word “genderfluid” during my research, and it clicked in the way that nothing else had.
Meanwhile, I’d gone back to college in 2010 for a BA in Communication. I took my classes, got to know other people working on that major, and absolutely wanted to hide this part of myself from them, because I knew what happened to trans people. After all, Gwen Araujo had been killed in 2002 and she was local to me.
But in 2011, I couldn’t keep hiding this from myself anymore. I first came out to myself when I found that word on the Internet. Over the next several months, I came out to a couple of trusted friends, with generally positive results. By the time Fall quarter had started, I was very slowly, very awkwardly coming to grips with my gender. I mourned all the time I’d “wasted” before I came out, incredibly conscious that at 38, I was much older than other genderfluid people who were coming out at the same time.
That was also the quarter I took a conflict management class in my department. Our professor assigned us a project: to define and analyze a personal conflict, and then to propose a means of dealing with it and then critique that potential solution. I asked if I could do an internal conflict, and she provisionally agreed, as long as I could define my conflict as a conflict according to textbooks we were using.
When I came back next class, she told me that she wanted me to do this – my conflict about my gender, between my enculturated self and my genderfluid self – for my project. And I did, including presenting to the class as part of the project. The first presentation was easy. I just kept everything in the third person, the way I was supposed to. When the time came for my second presentation, I went back and forth on whether I should out myself to the class. I finally decided in favor, and when I did, I had several students come up during the break to tell me how brave I was for coming out like that.
I’ve been incredibly lucky, I know that. I live in a very liberal area in a liberal state, and the worst thing that has happened to me has been catcalling while I was in female mode. My friends have all been very supportive.
But even with all that, I still have days where I struggle with my identity. I’ll never look as good as the thin, waif-ish genderfluid people who seem to be able to pull off male and female modes with impunity. I probably won’t ever be able to take hormones, and surgery is right out, because my gender shifts are strong enough that I don’t want to risk changing my body in ways I can’t easily fix. And I still have to navigate a world where, if I go out in female mode, I’m seen as something of a freak.
But I can’t not do this. It took me years to figure out my gender identity, I’m not going to give it up just because it’s difficult.
My name is Dee, I’m genderfluid, and I’m 43.
Dee Shull got their MA in Communication; they did their thesis on how non-binary people communicate their identity on the Internet in spaces they control. They’ve also presented on their gender identity to a variety of audiences, because they believe that visibility is critical for acceptance.
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