This is a repost of my Pride Month post from 2018. I wanted to tidy it up a little and add a couple of photos. So, here’s the finished result.
Who I am
Welcome, one and all, to today’s Pride Month posting. Whether to write this or not was a topic that I debated heavily with myself before posting the original version of the article. The reason was thus: while it covered something that I’d mentioned in passing in a number of public forums (usually in interviews about my books), I hadn’t really gone into detail about it before.
Really, there was no need to avoid it though. I’m happy in myself, and I understand myself a lot better than I used to, but for some reason, I had always avoided it as a major talking point.
So, here it is. I identify as genderfluid. 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 a time, go to bed, and wake up the next day feeling different again. This has been going on for a long time too. Since my teenage years in fact.
From High School To The Office
My teen years were very confusing. Trying to understand being attracted to people of any gender was hard. Having my gender issues pop up at the same time made it all that much more complicated. 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 a little 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 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? And if boys want to dance, and girls want to play international soccer? Well, that’s cool too. The problem was, back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, a lot of people cared about stuff like that. Boys were boys, girls were girls, and that was that. Or that was how things were presented by the mainstream media, anyway. And if you crossdressed, or engaged in other types of breaking the gender stereotypes? That was seen as a sign of homosexuality. Given my aforementioned sexual orientation issues, views like that didn’t really help me make sense of my life.
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. I’m thinking that my friends did have an inkling too, to a degree. In a way, I was lucky with that. My parents’ generation was one where homosexuality was still viewed as a very bad thing. While my parents have always been a lot more open, not everyone from their age group was. I do feel like my generation were far more open than the previous one in that regard. There were a few kids in my high school that weren’t heterosexual, and it was rarely an issue.
Remember this though; While my gender and sexuality issues were not linked (they simply popped up around the same time), the TV said they were the same thing. As such, I think that it was more likely that they simply thought I was gay. In fact, chance meetings with a few old school friends saw them express surprise that I’m pansexual and in a long-term relationship with a woman rather than being homosexual and dating a man. In truth, even my parents have since said that that day was part of how they knew I wasn’t straight. People understand the difference better now, but back then, it was all very entwined.
As a second point, 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 things. 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 to others believing 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 also, it was important for me. I know it’s a selfish way to view it, and I do agree that drag-for-charity is on the whole bad, but here’s the thing. 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 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. This gave me that.
But, it 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 someone who did. 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. Societal norms didn’t want me, and the people that were supposed to care about me didn’t want me either. Even the person heading the Transgender Network where I worked was initially unsure how to take me. Why? This is a quote from an actual e-mail I received from them.
“Crossdressing muddies the waters and makes it harder to explain what being trans means to non-trans people. They have enough trouble understanding us without throwing that in. It would be wrong of me to refuse your membership based on that though, so just don’t make a big deal out of it.”
Had the term genderfluid been around at the time, would I have had a different response? I don’t know for sure, but I doubt it. A couple of members of the network outright told me that they felt the same way initially, but that they eventually realized they were trans. They were certain I would too. The problem was, I honestly believe that they were trying to help. And the whole thing about it making it harder for people to understand makes sense. So, I let it all slide for a long time.
When the person heading the network changed, I started speaking up a little more. By the time I left that job, things had changed too, so that was good. Sure, I still kinda felt out of place, but at least discussions took place and we all gained a better understanding of each other.
Understanding At Last
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. They’ve never had an issue with me dressing as the opposite gender, and had no complaints about my shifting perception.
Then, one day, I stumbled across the idea that gender isn’t a binary but a spectrum. It was when I was reading through a couple of articles about the subject that I found the term genderfluid. That was a wonderful moment. Finally, something fit. I knew what I was. Most importantly though, I knew that I wasn’t alone in how I felt. While I’ve never been a huge fan of labels being so prevalent, it’s times like that that remind you how important they can be.
That sounds very anticlimactic, doesn’t it? The thing is, I always knew what was going on, I just didn’t understand it. Simply finding out that there were others like me and that a name existed for how I felt? That was enough for the pieces to fall into place. That easy finish was all I needed.
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 genderfluid 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 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. Maybe that’s cowardly of me, but it’s how I feel.
Many gender-fluid people use neutral pronouns like they and them. Does that apply to you?
Sort of, I guess? 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. 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? How do you go about presenting as a gender other than male?
It really depends where I am. If I’m at home, I can dress how I like. Given that I currently do some work from home, that’s actually quite wonderful. Being able to dress how I feel actually makes me a little more productive.
There have been days that I’ve gone out dressed as the opposite of my physical gender too. For example, late last year, my partner and I went shopping at one of the biggest malls in the UK. I was in full girl mode from the moment we left the house. That meant women’s clothing, some make-up, and breast forms. I’m happy to say that we had no problems from other people; Not during the walk, at the mall, or on the bus.
As a general thing though, shaving is a big thing for me; If I’m not clean-shaven, I don’t feel right, no matter how I feel gender-wise. In my late teens, I was okay with it, and I did once grow an intentionally terrible goatee just to annoy fans at the wrestling shows, but generally speaking, it feels wrong. For what it’s worth, my chest is the hardest part to shave, far more so than the legs, simply because I can’t see all of it without a mirror.
Even had I been born a girl, I wouldn’t have been the flowing dresses type. Goth/rock clothing is more my style. Sportswear works too, especially sports bras and leggings. Sometimes, underlayers are enough for me to feel right, especially if I’m feeling more in the middle. 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 are the most common for me.
When it comes to 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.
It seems weird that you’re saying this in your 30’s. Isn’t ‘genderfluid’ just something young people claim to be to get attention?
No, it’s not. The cry of ‘attention-seeking’ has been thrown at all sorts of things over the years, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. It’s not acceptable. If you think this, then you may want to consider something: A lot of the time, views like this arise because of a lack of understanding. I get that the concept of gender not being binary can be hard to grasp, especially as the mainstream view has always been that there are only two genders. Over time though, our understanding of complex issues improves, and we learn new things. That’s why new classifications come up for things that we previously thought were rigidly one way or another.
It’s also worth noting that, if that’s the case, not understanding something does not exclude it from existence. I do not understand Italian, how microchips work, or why my husky likes to sleep in such bizarre positions. Just because they make no sense to me doesn’t mean they don’t exist. This is much the same thing.
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?