In this Featured Voices theme, our guest authors share their Inspiration: the catalyst, the motivator, the fire behind a gender that doesn’t seem to exist in the world. For Alyx, inspiration came in the form of a gender role model, but only after a winding introspective journey of coming out.
Winding My Way Back to Myself
It’s funny — when I first saw this theme about gender role models, I was immediately a bit disappointed. My mind has been bursting with well-too-many thoughts on the daily and I’ve really wanted to get some of them into writing. But to write about a gender role model? I wish. The longer and harder I tried to think about who has inspired me, the less I seemed to come up with. Most of my inspiration has come after my decision to transition, and most of that inspiration has been in the form of support from friends. None of it felt very role model-y, I guess.
‘Oh well,’ I thought. And I forgot about reading blogs for some months.
In the meantime, my gender has been through a rollercoaster of feelings eluding definition, but certain things have become increasingly clear. Over the summer, I came out to the faculty of my department via email. I told them that I was transgender and requested neutral pronouns. I also provided usage examples for convenience (e.g. ‘where is Alyx?’ — ‘oh, I think I just saw them in their office.’)
That went over well enough. I only got a couple replies, but they were the only ones I needed: confirmation from the department chair that I would be introduced to the new students at the beginning of the school year by my requested pronouns. Sending that email was terrifying, but that response was exactly what I needed. I felt relieved.
Later I came out to more of my colleagues over lunch. They were supportive and again I was relieved. I started to associate ‘coming out’ with relief. It was uncomfortable, but seemed to be better than the agony of keeping it all under wraps. A month or so later I decided to come out on facebook.
One of the worst days ever, to be honest. I phrased things differently to how I had previously. ‘I’m a boy,’ I said, and requested neutral pronouns. I threw some humour in there to lighten it up, and I submitted it to the world. Well… I untagged all of my family, because I wasn’t ready for that. But at least the world of my childhood friends, my school friends, my university friends, and anyone else I had happened to add on facebook over the past 7 years (which was a lot of people). I was waiting for the rush of relief, but it never came. I went on a long bike ride.
When I got back, my partner was getting ready to leave, and I could tell something was wrong. He was unresponsive to anything I said to him, and I was fairly certain that this had something to do with my facebook post. He had been very supportive when I told him I was genderqueer, and when I talked with him about starting testosterone. But I had never said the word ‘boy’.
I guess I didn’t realise it would be such a big deal. But the weeks preceding my big facebook post were spent coming to terms with feelings that I’ve always had: that I’ve always wanted to be a boy, that I’ve always connected to male characters, that I was always jealous of my childhood friends’ big brothers for some reason that I never understood, and always just assumed was some form of crush. But I didn’t want to be with them; I wanted to be them — and I couldn’t.
I talked a lot with some friends of mine who are trans guys and their experiences really resonated with me. I started thinking rather strongly that perhaps I was really just a trans guy after all. Maybe I was resistant to that idea before because it felt like such a commitment, transitioning all the way to the other end of the spectrum. It was scary. But at the same time, it was so clear.
Nobody seemed to take me seriously when I came out as genderqueer. They were like ‘oh, cool — you do you!’ and then went right back to misgendering me, as if the conversation never happened. They didn’t seem to grasp the fact that I was telling them I’m not a girl.
Besides, I liked the sound of ‘boy’. It’s not girl. It’s sort of cute and playful. The word felt right. So I came out to facebook, and immediately regretted it. That crushing feeling of admitting something so personal to everyone I had ever known from all different walks of my life — all sorts of people, most of whom I really only added for networking purposes.
One of the scariest parts was feeling that all of the various identities that I’ve held throughout my life, and each of their associated social spheres, were collapsing together into this singular, contradictory declaration. I was left wondering what all these different people thought when each of them had an entirely different conception of me. The people who knew me as the fat, eccentric child who was good at creative stuff but nobody’s first choice to hang out with. Or the quiet recluse who played music alone and only talked to internet friends. Or the somewhat more outgoing hippie with the accent. Or the blue-haired anime girl. Or the short-haired illustrator who organised language clubs. All of these worlds collided at once and I couldn’t quite handle my entire history being publicly available for scrutiny, so I just…
My relationship went back to normal. Some of my colleagues were confused about why I wanted neutral pronouns if I was a guy. It was too complicated to explain; I tried and didn’t really get anywhere and felt bad afterwards. Overall, though, not having facebook was great, if a bit isolating.
But the trans guy thing, I liked how clear it was. I followed lots of trans guys on instagram, and lots of trans guys followed me, and I felt increasingly good about my appearance. Approaching three months on testosterone, I was starting to get some new, very faint hair in places it hadn’t been. My muscles were growing, making my new gym routine very encouraging with visible progress and noticeable increases in strength. My face was beginning to change in very subtle ways, becoming very slightly more angular, and I was finally starting to figure out what hairstyles worked for me. My voice was becoming a bit deeper.
The better I felt, the more masculine I dressed, and I was feeling increasingly good overall.
One night, my partner stopped mid-sentence and stared intently at my face. I asked what it was, but he just kept staring. Finally, I said: ‘Seriously, what?!’
‘Is your face changing?’
‘… probably a little? What does it look like?’
‘It looks a bit more square.’
This comment made me secretly very giddy. The next day I dressed my best to meet a couple friends for the first free coffee social of the school year. When I arrived and gave my greetings, my friend immediately remarked that my voice was lower. I was so pleased. I felt utterly suave, really, that whole day. I was wearing my favourite shirt, a faded blue banana republic button-up with a very subtle print, tucked into sandy coloured trousers (also the comfiest thing I own) that matched my sandals, and a large- faced, simple wristwatch. Hair was on point. Afterwards we stopped at my favourite second-hand shop and I found — finally — the perfect waistcoat, perfectly fitted, perfect style, functional pockets, even a perfect match to my current attire. It was too hot that day for what I was wearing but I wore it anyway because I felt damned magnificent.
That evening when I met up with my partner, he seemed a bit off-put, but I shrugged it off. He was most likely dealing with other things that day. Later when we talked, it turned out that was indeed the case, but I still felt that his reaction was at least partly due to my appearance. The next evening, the same thing happened, but more noticeably. I was dressed similarly — markedly male — and it seemed like he didn’t want to see me.
Later that evening he approached me about my gender, something we hadn’t talked much about at all. He opened the conversation in a manner that was kind but very direct, and told me that he had recently felt increasingly uncomfortable with my appearance. He wasn’t sure of my intentions anymore and asked for clarification. I told him, timidly, that I sort of… wanted to be…
An androgynous boy.
Or something like that.
‘I’m not attracted to men,’ he said. I had half-hoped that all the gay jokes we made were at least partly true, and I mentioned that sort of half in jest. But my heart sunk. It was the conversation I knew would come eventually, but I dreaded it, and I hoped that somehow, magically, it would all just work out.
We left it at that; there wasn’t much more to say in that moment. I biked home in the dark, utterly defeated, sometimes gasping for air at the thought of losing my favourite human — and probably my parents, too (but that’s another story). What would feeling good about myself accomplish if I lost everything else? That line of thinking was sort of fatalistic and dramatic, admittedly. But I had never had a conversation like that with my partner, and I’d always envisioned spending my whole life with him. Nevertheless, our relationship went on more or less as normal later that evening, despite any lingering melancholy, and the next day I was surprisingly optimistic given the circumstances.
I spent a lot of time thinking and kept returning to the same questions I’ve been asking myself for months now:
Do I think I’m a trans guy because it’s easier than being nonbinary? Or do I think I’m nonbinary because it’s easier than being a trans guy?
Amidst all the confusion involved in discovering the truth of my gender, I have at least settled on two solid feelings:
I am not female, and I am nonbinary.
I got to thinking that perhaps a transition to the other side of the spectrum wouldn’t ultimately accomplish all that much for me. I’ve discovered that I could transition all the way, though; I have it in me, and I would probably be happy (social repercussions aside). But even living as a guy, I would still deep down be nonbinary — and for all I know, the same dysphoria I feel now could resurface in other ways. Hopping over to the other side doesn’t solve the fact that I don’t feel right on either side, even if I do feel better with a more masculine presentation.
The underlying problem, though, is that there are very few places in this world for people with nonbinary identities. They’re largely unrecognised. Other people feel uncomfortable using neutral pronouns. There are generally no changing rooms or toilets or options on forms or on identification cards (although some of that is changing in some places!).
It’s so appealing for me to move towards an identity that distances myself from what I’m Not (female) whilst still enjoying the benefits of being recognised as a Real Thing (a guy). But at the expense of my closest relationships, it was sounding far less agreeable.
I’m trying to be careful not to make decisions for myself based on other people’s expectations for me. But I’m also trying not to succumb to the overwhelming pressure of the gender binary forcing me into a box that I don’t fit in. Since the scary topic was finally breached, I started brainstorming ways to communicate my gender more clearly to my partner. Our two to three brief conversations over the course of the past six months could in no way give a clear impression of something that occupies my thoughts nearly every waking moment, and it was unrealistic to consider its potentially dire impacts on our relationship when the thing itself hadn’t even been thoroughly discussed.
I started considering more tangible ways of describing my gender, like using real people as examples. I thought back on a person we had known from before we moved — someone we never knew very well, but whom we mutually admired. They possessed this profound beauty that transcended gender, and to me they embodied the perfect man and the perfect woman and the perfect human all in one body. Their mannerisms were thoughtful and patient and they were always kind to me. Something about their presence was inspirational and special. Somehow I had forgotten how influential they had been to me in my life, and how their influence was an underlying force in most of my feelings about gender even when I didn’t always acknowledge it consciously.
That’s when I realised it:
They were my gender role model.
The next evening I met my partner at our favourite hangout spot and pulled him aside to clarify a few things about what was going on with me. I told him that I had been thinking whether there was a person who embodied how I felt and how I wanted to be, and I realised it was——
And then he cut me off, because he knew. And he said their name before I even could. And though there are many things about my gender that he still doesn’t understand, and so many more conversations to be had, in some sense he really does get it — and I find that tremendously encouraging.
In this particular case, the person who inspired my gender so profoundly also helped to bring the abstract into reality by simply existing as the kind of person I feel that I am and want to be. And by inadvertently providing an example for my feelings, I was able to better communicate my gender to others.
I’m still sorting out my gender, and I probably always will be. But it does help to realise that it’s real, and it’s valid, and there are others out there who are similar to me.
Rediscovering my personal gender role model has given me a fresh perspective on some of the biggest challenges I face in transitioning to a more authentic version of myself, and I’m reminded that sometimes my most difficult hurdles are caused by limitations that don’t need to be there in the first place.
Alyx is a neutrois illustrator and graduate student interested in how identity is negotiated via language, and also how language can be explored visually through sequential art and design. They have two bird children — a pigeon and a budgie — and also a variety of other animal friends. Two of their favourite things are sand gardens and coffee, and photos and drawings related to all of the above can be found on their instagram @spidergarden.
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