Welcome, one and all, to another Pride Month posting. Whether to write this or not is a topic that I’ve been debating heavily with myself. The reason is that, while it covers something that I have mentioned in passing in a number of public forums (usually in interviews about my books), I’ve not really gone into detail about it before. Really, there’s no need to avoid it; I’m happy in myself, and I understand myself a lot better than I used to, but for some reason, I’ve always avoided it as a major talking point. Perhaps this is the time. Be warned though, the lack of long-form discussions I’ve had about this means that I may not be particularly eloquent here.
I identify as Gender-Fluid. Like I said, it’s not a secret. But what is it exactly? Well, the general definition is usually taken to be one of the following:
‘A person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender.’
‘A person whose internal gender perception is a mix of male and female. They may always feel like a mix of the two genders, or they may feel more one way than the other at different times.’
To go into more detail as to how it affects me personally, this means that how I view myself in terms of gender changes over time. Sometimes, I broadly identify as the same as the physical gender I was born with. In my case, that’s male. Then, there will be days that I feel like I was born with the wrong body, and that I identify more closely as female. There is never a time when I feel entirely male or female, it’s more of a severe leaning one way or the other, and there are certainly days that I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle of the gender spectrum.
There is no pattern to this; my perception changes at seemingly random times, meaning that I can feel one way for days or even weeks at time, got to bed, and wake up the next day feeling different again. This has been going on for a long time too. I’ve talked a little about my struggles with my sexuality in my teen years before, but I haven’t really spoken too much about the gender issues I had around the same time.
You see, my teen years were very confusing. Frankly, back then, I don’t think there was actually a term for someone who felt like their gender shifted. On top of that, the internet of the 56K dial-up era wasn’t exactly jam-packed with useful easy-to-find information about what it meant to be transgender, so I didn’t even really have a starting point to explore from. The only thing I knew for certain was that I sometimes didn’t even consider my gender, and other times I felt like mine was wrong, but couldn’t figure out why. I had daydreams about being female, and tried to quell the feelings with secret bouts of crossdressing. To further complicate things, I found that my tastes in things didn’t change with how I viewed myself. I was perhaps more comfortable enjoying things like Angelina Ballerina and My Little Pony when I felt more female, but the enjoyment was always there buried away when I felt more male. And football/soccer? I enjoyed playing it, regardless of how I felt.
Now, these days, that’s not a problem. The idea of gender stereotyping is slowly dying out, and that is a wonderful thing. Who cares if a boy wants to play house with the dolls and a girl wants to be a ninja rather pretend to cook the dinner, right? Well, back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, a lot of people did. Boys were boys and girls were girls, or that was how things were presented. On top of that, crossdressing and other types of breaking the gender stereotypes were essentially seen as a sign of homosexuality, which given my aforementioned sexual orientation issues didn’t really help me make sense of things.
So, I had this complex thing going on in my head, but I was left with very few outlets to explore it. The only time it became a public display was when my school ran a charity week and some of my friends asked if I’d be willing to crossdress in aid of it all. I didn’t want to seem too eager, so I agreed that I would if they could raise £50 in pledges by the end of the week. They raised over £150 by the end of the day. When I finally did it, my psychology teacher actually said to me, “I always thought that charity week was an excuse for some of the boys to dress as girls. Somehow, I knew that if anyone in this class did it, it would be you.”
So, a couple of points here. First up, my teacher obviously figured out something that I didn’t at the time, or at least had an idea of what I was going through. I should add as well that there was no directed negativity in his statement, he was a nice person, and was actually very easy to talk to. Second, I’m thinking that my friends did have an inkling too, to a degree. Thirdly, I know that the whole ‘dress in drag for charity’ thing is viewed negatively. Many see it as making a mockery of the struggles suffered by transgender people, and honestly, a lot of the time, that is a very real outcome, especially if a trans person who sees it is having a hard time of it. When it’s played for laughs, it does devalue that experience, and (even if inadvertently so) makes light of the real issues faced by those for whom gender is not as simple as accepting how you were born. In some cases, it even leads others to think that any person who they think may be dressing as the opposite of their birth gender is doing it for the same reason. Back then though, not only did people not tend to consider such things – which I’m convinced is entirely down to a lack of relevant education on the subject – but it was important for me. It was a way to present myself in a way that I felt comfortable with during a time when it really wasn’t an option to do so. Even having no control over when my perception of gender changes, knowing that I had that day coming was really freeing. Like I said, ever since this began, I’ve never felt entirely one way or the other, so there was always a part of me crying out for validation of some sort.
But, that was only one day. When I left school, I was back to not having any real outlet. Or, not until I moved out of my parent’s place and had my own private space, anyway. But then, other issues arose. The one person I dated in high school outright stated that they’d dump me if I crossdressed. The people that I dated after high school either said the same thing or essentially said that they had no issue with crossdressing but couldn’t date a crossdresser. At the time, that was the closest I had to a label that fit how I felt, so you can imagine how that went down for me. Not only did societal norms not want me, those that were supposed to care didn’t either. Even the person heading the Transgender Network where I worked were initially unsure how to take me, as crossdressing was seen as something that muddied the waters and made it harder to explain what being trans meant to non-trans people. By the time I left that, things had changed within the network, so that was good. I’d still had a long period of feeling out of place, but at least discussions took place and we all gained a better understanding of each other.
Eventually, things got better. I built up the courage to tell my current partner how I felt, and they’ve been entirely supportive from the get-go. When I stumbled across the idea that gender isn’t a binary but a spectrum, I found the term gender-fluid buried away in the mass of information that I was sifting through. Finally, something fit. I knew what I was. Most importantly though, I knew that I wasn’t alone in how I felt.
And so, here I am. What I’d like to do now is answer some questions that I’ve been asked regularly by people with regards to the subject. Please note though that this post relates to my own personal experiences and may not 100% match others who identify the same way. We live in a wonderfully varied world, and people’s experiences are equally as varied. So …
If you feel that you aren’t really male, why not go for gender reassignment?
I considered it. A lot. I’ve had many discussions about this with people, and I really did dedicate a great deal of time to trying to figure out whether it was right for me. The thing is, I do tend to identify as female more often than male right now, but it wasn’t always that way. And that’s the problem; by the nature of how being gender-fluid manifests for me, my perception changes over time. Gender reassignment would simply leave me in the same position but from the opposite angle. On top of that, the idea of lower surgery (and even the hormone therapy for that matter) scares me. As such, even if I felt that my gender had permanently shifted to female, I’m not certain I’d go through with anything other than top surgery.
Many gender-fluid people use neutral pronouns like they and them. Does that apply to you?
Not really, no. I try to take note of what pronouns people prefer and stick with using them around them. I am capable of screwing up sometimes, but I do my best not to, because accepting someone’s preferred pronouns is not only respectful, it’s what I believe people should do as default. For me though, they/them doesn’t feel particularly right or wrong. Maybe it’s the years of confusion talking, but I’ve always been more comfortable with people just referring to me as they view me. If I’m outwardly male to you, use he/him. If I’m outwardly female, use she/her. If they/them is honestly easier for you, use that. If you aren’t sure, or you mess up? I’m not bothered in most cases. I understand how difficult a concept it is for people to get their heads around, and that’s fine. How you refer to me isn’t a big deal for me, as long as you aren’t trying to be hurtful.
Given the positive differences in your life compared to years ago, how does this all manifest for you now?
It really depends where I am. If I’m at home, I can dress how I like, and that’s usually enough to leave me satisfied, regardless of how I feel. There have been days that I’ve intentionally gone out dressed as the opposite of my physical gender, such as the odd shopping trip, but in general, I keep things subtle. Shaving is a big thing for me; I don’t feel right, no matter how I feel gender wise, if I’m not clean shaven. Even had I been born a girl, I wouldn’t have been the flowing dresses type. Sportswear, or sometimes just underlayers is enough for me to feel right. I’ve never been a big fan of using much make-up either, so have tended to keep that very subtle; a little eye-liner and some mild use to neutralize the appearance of stubble is the most common. A lot of the time, I end up looking a little androgynous, I think. The bigger, more clearly feminine steps are usually for the cosplays because they, by nature, are a little more over the top.
Speaking of the cosplays, yours are almost always female. What if you feel male on the day of a convention?
If I feel male on the day of a con and I have a female costume? Well, look at what I’m doing. I’m essentially playing dress-up. It’s no different to when I wrestled and had to wear the spandex. I’m playing a character. Sure, it is an excellent way to express myself on my more femme days, but it’s fun regardless, even if I’m not leaning that way gender-wise on the day. Honestly, I always thought that the female characters usually had better costumes anyway.
And … that’s about all I wanted to say. To close though, I want to make it clear that while life was pretty rough for me as a teen, it isn’t now. I’m surrounded by supportive people, and I understand myself a lot better than I did in my younger days. A lot of that is due to the positive ways that society is changing. We have new terms, and more people are able to come forward about how they feel. If we keep going the way we are, we’ll hit a point where people don’t have to feel quite so confused for quite so long, and that is most excellent.
Thanks for reading everybody. If you have any questions that aren’t covered above, or want some more information or clarification, do feel free to ask in the comments below. It’d be rather silly of me to post this and not be willing to talk about it, eh?