I’d known I was agender for a while before that. I’ve been conscious of my lack of gender since I was four years old. I just didn’t have the words for it, and figured that since gender was so important to everyone else, I must just have some loose gender wires that I needed to figure out how to plug in. The world shoved me into the “girl” box, and I tried to be one like I was supposed to.
I never figured it out.
It took me decades to get to a point of accepting my lack of gender, despite all the pressure to conform to the binary system.
But accepting my genderlessness didn’t mean I got to just start living as myself. Because everything about my life had been forcibly shoved into a box defined by a gender that I’ve never had.
I’m still in the middle of figuring out how to get myself out of that box while society as a whole works to keep me inside it.
It’s the biggest, hardest, most dystopian project I’ve ever managed.
Here’s what it’s looked like so far.
Changing how I present myself
I’d been criticized and punished for not presenting feminine enough since I was a toddler. I finally stopped limiting my style choices to protect myself from others’ judgement. Now, I wear what I want and cut my hair how I want. I recognize peoples’ weird reactions as the fears of a constricted society, not evidence that there’s something wrong with me (like I was taught). I appreciate that people are less likely to take it upon themselves to punish me for being me like they did when I was younger. They still do it, but I’m not as powerless as I was then.
I also got top surgery. This was quite the ordeal, and I write about it more in another post. I’ll probably write about it more in a future post, because there’s still a lot to say.
I’m not making a roadmap of changes in how I present myself, I’m just listening to myself more than I’m listening to outside opinions, and letting things happen organically. People might not like the person I am, and they might make it very obvious to me that they prefer something else. But that’s no longer motivating me to hide.
Changing my name
I’ve asked people to refer to me by a name that better represents me as a person: Adrien. This name was given to me as my middle name when I was born, just with a feminine spelling. It wouldn’t be a very complex name change at all, if it weren’t for the fact that I changed my last name when I got married, then changed it back to my original last name when I shifted the spelling of my middle name. Now everything official still has the first name “Laura” on it with a mixture of the two last names I’ve had. “Laura-” anything doesn’t feel right anymore, and it feels super weird when the bartender calls me that because it happens to be the name on my credit card.
It’s a big pile of chaos that one day hopefully I will sort out. Tedium and paperwork and fees and being on hold and hanging out in public waiting areas are a huge part of this gender transition mess and I’ve had enough of it for a lifetime, but unfortunately I’m definitely not done yet.
Coming out over and over
One thing that gets exhausting about being nonbinary is that people assume I’m a binary-gendered person unless I tell them otherwise. The binary is ingrained, even though it’s an extremely limited picture of reality. (Seriously, most of us even stuff the concept of “god” into a male gender.)
So this means I come out a lot. To varying degrees of acceptance.
Also, a lot of people met me before I was out, back when I wasn’t ready to correct them when they’d call me a woman.
Those people can be the toughest to come out to, because a lot of times they seem to assume they know me better than I know myself (especially since their opinion of me is more socially accepted than what I know about myself). Not everyone is willing to rebuild their mental model of you when you tell them something true that’s been hidden. I’ve had to step away from a lot of relationships because of that.
All that to say, I come out to at least one person or another on the daily. The coming out conversations don’t end. There’s my accountants, my dentist, my landlord, my clients, my attorney, my neighbors, the person I buy bread from … you get the picture.
Some people are wonderful and accepting and kind. Some people give me the ol’ eyeroll + “I really don’t get this trend.” Some people pretend I didn’t even say anything. It’s a mixed bag.
I tell people that I’m a transgender nonbinary person, and I ask them to use gender-neutral pronouns to describe me.
I’m really grateful for social media, because it’s allowed me to do a bunch of that in one place, and to create articles and resources to help educate people who struggle to conceive of someone like me even being real.
Writing descriptions, explanations, and stories
I’ve been skeptical of gender as a concept for my whole life, but for a lot of folks, this is something that has never been questioned, so it’s hard for them to hear what I’m saying.
Really hearing what I’m saying can bring on some existential terror.
I can’t just tell people to dismantle their system of understanding the world in a single coming out conversation. It’s a lot for anyone to work through.
Earlier I described transition as getting myself out of the box I’ve been shoved into. A big part of getting myself out of that box is helping people see how they’re shoving me (and others, and themselves) into those boxes. So many of us don’t WANT to do that to each other—we just do it because that’s how we learned things were done.
What I’ve done here—starting this website and sharing more of myself and my story on social media—feels like barely a start in what I envision. It’s a lot of work to try to unpack all this stuff, and I’ve hardly scratched the surface of sharing the kind of expansion of understanding I hope to one day share. But I’ll keep plugging away.
There are still a lot of loose ends.
And this is more or less where I’m at right now: fighting my way out of the box bit by bit. It’s slow going, and I’ll probably be doing it my whole life, but I’m making progress. And I can be grateful for that, even if I am f*cking tired.
Right now my real gender is completely unrecognized by the government, and I have the fake gender I was arbitrarily assigned when I was born on all my documentation.
I think I’m legally allowed to remove the false gender on my birth certificate, since I was born in the state of California and they are one of the states that allow that. More paperwork to figure out.
But otherwise, like many transgender people, I’m forced by the government to maintain a fake gender on my passport and drivers’ license.
My medical record states that I have a mental disorder (gender identity disorder) and that I “identify with the opposite sex.”
Maybe more paperwork and fees and waiting rooms will one day allow me to fix these problems with how I’m defined by our infrastructure.
There are people in my life who don’t acknowledge my real gender as real and are still committed to perceiving only the fake version of me that feels safer to them.
These and more things.
If there’s anything I’ve learned through this whole process it’s this:
We are not a free society. We are shackled by chains of our own making. And if you don’t feel those chains holding you down? Well, that’s probably because you’re not tugging against them like I am.