When I first learned the word “agender,” I immediately recognized myself in it. I never expected to find a word for my experience—I just figured I was different in a way that nobody could perceive or understand, so it would never really count. I just needed to be a good sport about it. Life is hard, yada yada.
But finding that word changed my mind.
It took a few years of holding that surprisingly resonant word to myself before I was ready to share it with a few close friends—friends who, like everyone in my life, had incorrectly known me as a woman. I had a word to describe who I really was, but I didn’t think they would believe me when I told them. And even if they did, I figured they would find it far too inconvenient and uncomfortable to actually deal with changing how they thought to make room for me.
It might’ve taken me much longer to share it if one friend in particular hadn’t overtly told me he thought I was genderqueer, completely unprompted. That sped up my process, because it showed me that there was a chance other people would be open to the idea that I didn’t experience gender the way everyone else seemed to take for granted as the only way. Until that point it seemed as though my “womanhood” was a given to every single person but me. I was afraid that talking about my lone perspective would lead to friends and family questioning my mental acuity. That had happened to me before, with ugly consequences.
Thankfully, when I finally started opening up, most of the people I told did believe me, though for some it took some warming up to actually see it, and many unintentionally shut me down or demonstrated that the truth about me was inconvenient for them to integrate into their thinking.
But as people close to me did integrate it, it showed me what it was like to actually get to be myself around people. I became more and more disturbed by anyone imposing the female gender on me instead of giving me a chance to be real. Standing up for myself a little showed me just how much more standing up for myself I had to do. It highlighted the burden I’d been carrying all my life that was still being lashed onto me: a fake gender that blocked me from being me. And I was allowing it.
All the isolation that I’d experienced in all my years of being misgendered by everyone I’d ever met started swarming into my awareness, and I realized that I was fed up.
I didn’t want to have dozens of individual conversations and deal with all the draining and awkward reactions one on one. So at the beginning of 2019, I came out publicly on social media. As expected, this incited all kinds of reactions. Some overwhelmingly positive, some disturbingly negative, many strange and uncomfortable. Some a wacky mix of all three. Many people in my life just ghosted me and haven’t said a word to me since.
It’s been awkward. No surprises there.
The coming out post I made had nothing to do with trying to do activism. I did it because I’m just trying to take care of my basic needs for survival.
See, there’s this weird, thrilling, horrifying, and awkward-as-hell fact that has defined my entire experience of life so far: I was born countercultural.
For whatever reason, that’s just what happened, whether I like it or not.
In a society designed for men and women, I turned out to be neither. The community and family I was raised in was just not equipped to support me unless it could define me as a girl based on the parts I was born with. But I wasn’t a girl, so I knew the support I got was conditional on a piece of false information. It was clear that I was on my own.
You can’t be born into a culture without that culture effecting you. It got in and messed with my head. My culture built the framework for my thoughts, like the words to shape my ideas, for instance.
Those words demonstrated that there was no room anywhere for ideas in which I was even a real person.
Bro, that’ll screw with ya.
(This is why building a lexicon of terms to talk about different gender identities is so important—and probably why so many more people are coming out nowadays. Having words to describe your experience makes a huge difference in being able to contemplate it—let alone discuss it.)
If your very existence is countercultural, you only have three choices:
- Stop existing
- Stand up to your entire culture
I made a decision at age 21 that I wouldn’t be the person that ended my life. Maybe I’ll tell that story someday. From that point on, that ruled out option number one.
You know how I feel about option number two. Truly conforming isn’t really possible; the closest you can get is to lie to yourself about who you are and die having lived a fake life. That’s a no-go.
Option number three was all I had left, but you gotta be tough as hell for that. And I’d sustained a good deal of damage right out the gate. Top it off with the fact that I’d lived among strict conservative Christians my whole life, and didn’t seek shelter from their toxic views on LGBTQ+ people because my spirituality was (and still is) very important to me. I didn’t want to abandon my beliefs. So I just took that damage, too.
I took a lot of damage.
I didn’t have the strength I needed left over for option number three.
For years, I wasn’t strong enough to manage the only option available to me. So I ended up in a creepy sort of dissociative limbo where I tried to be true to myself, but I couldn’t be myself. It was really weird, and really dark. Being able to make art is the only way I got through.
I can’t tell you how beyond worn down I got. My hair started falling out. I struggled to eat and sleep. I dropped out of school and couldn’t manage my living situation well. I fell into poverty and barely escaped homelessness. Nobody in my life had a clue what I was going through—but a lot of them sure liked to give me advice. It was meant well, but boy did other peoples’ ideas of what I needed mess with me. Especially the conservative Christian ones.
Somewhere along the lines, though, I started gaining more ground than I was losing. A few shocking experiences jolted me into intense scrambles for survival. And I got just enough help along the way in various forms from a huge variety of people—many of whom had no idea that they helped me at all.
After a slow gain with all kinds of clumsy setbacks, finally, I reached a tipping point where I felt capable of doing more of the work it took to just be.
That’s when I came out online, and that’s why I started this site, and that’s why I got top surgery, and that’s why I keep writing and speaking and sharing.
My agenda isn’t very complicated.
I’m just doing just what it takes to be me.