Since I was very young, I was uncomfortable with my femininity. I was acutely aware that I was unlike the other girls, experimenting with makeup, wearing all the pretty dresses, doing whatever they could to be “pretty.” I hated the idea of “pretty,” I threw tantrums when forced to wear frilly holiday dresses, I angrily rejected any compliment directed at me that was riddled with language like “gorgeous,” and “she” and “little girl.” I didn’t feel like a little girl, and I detested anyone who implied that I was. I was described by others as a tomboy, while my sister reveled in her tulle-colored dresses and her devotion to the color pink. I only liked “boy colors.”
This continued well into my teens, which fostered a time of feeling like nothing I wore made sense. As I became older and more sexually mature, as people who are assigned female at birth are taught, I made a conscious effort to wear things that were perceived as more feminine. Dresses and awkward hair accessories flooded my wardrobe, and I realized pretty quickly, to my dismay, that I didn’t really know how to “do” femininity. At least in the way that it was being presented around me. I hated my clothes, I hated my body, I hated myself.
When I went to college, I slowly began embracing my masculine side by not trying to force femininity in what I wore, and cutting my once waist-length hair to just above my shoulders. At my school, I learned a lot about different gender identities and presentations that I wasn’t entirely aware of. My peers, who were genderqueer and trans, began reflecting what I was feeling about myself. Discussions of pronouns and gender fluidity crowded the air around me, and opened up my world to new possibilities.
However, I felt that identifying as cisgender for so long, even when we had all discussed gender at length with each other, would make me an impostor if I was to come out. Around this time, I had come out as queer, but I continued denying my gender feelings, enduring partners’ many demands to know if I’m “100% straight” or “100% cis.” I didn’t know the answer.
The longer I became comfortable with and educated about the gender identities of those around me, I started slowly coming to terms with my own. And the more I eased into my gender fluidity, the more I felt incredibly misgendered when my family and friends would use “she” when referring to me. I knew I had to come out.
It took me months to finally say something about it as I realized (once again) that it’s pretty hard to work a coming out statement into everyday conversation. If my best friend and I were talking about how much we both love the band Bleachers, I couldn’t just blurt out “I want to use they/them pronouns now!” Whenever I thought I would be able to say it or craftily work it into conversation, I choked.
Last April, my partner, who is also genderqueer, walked me to work. I had planned to say it on the walk. I’d been alluding at my genderqueerness for a few weeks to them in conversation, and I finally felt ready to come out to them. But I felt so sick to my stomach with nerves about it, worrying I would invalidate their own experience as a genderqueer person by claiming an identity I couldn’t seem to make up my mind about. So I kissed them goodbye and went to work.
My secret sat inside my stomach like piece of lead, making me feeling queasy and weighed down. So I decided I’d communicate it in the only way I could manage to in this moment: over text. With my head spinning, I typed out one of the longest and scariest messages I had ever composed, and hit “send.” I waited anxiously for their response for what felt like hours, until they finally replied, saying they supported and loved me and would be down to talk with me about it whenever I feel ready to in person. I exhaled deeply, and felt surer about myself than I ever had before.
I slowly began coming out to other people in my life after that, and finally had that conversation with my partner face to face. And ever since, everyone (but especially my partner) have been nothing but supportive and validating about my identity. Having spent the city in the summer, I decided it was time to visit home to tell my parents the news.
In the middle of summer, I sat my parents down and told them I use they/them pronouns, and that I am genderqueer. My mom, who has been a little confused but ultimately supportive since the beginning of my hinting at this for some time responded very well. She told me she was glad that I was comfortable to tell her and change my pronouns so that now I can feel more comfortable in my parents’ home. My dad, on the other hand, had a less comforting reaction. He cried through much of what I said, which was insulting to me because this wasn’t a sad situation. I was coming out and I was asserting myself in terms of how I wanted to be perceived, and it felt awesome. It felt as if his tears were over mourning the loss of a daughter. A daughter, I had pointed out, that he had never had. I had always felt this way about myself, there wasn’t just a sudden shift where one morning I just woke up thinking “From today and here on out, I will not be a cisgender woman.” I explained to him that I would always be his kid, and he told me it would be hard for him to start thinking of me as “they.” He also asked me what this meant about my sexuality, as if the two correlated. “So you still like men and women, right?” he asked. I sighed, “yes.” He was missing the point.
Coming out of the closet, while liberating, can subject you to some dangers and prejudices you didn’t previously have to deal with. Besides strained relationships, and sometimes lost relationships, it can put a strain on your social and professional life. Referring specifically to gender, demanding the correct pronouns can be tiring when much of the world continues to misgender you, and effectively erase you from conversations.
And it’s good to remember that coming out is not safe for everyone. They may not be in a safe place to share all of themselves, and may suffer the consequences financially or physically if they do decide to come out. We need to understand that it’s not as simple as a Facebook status for everyone, and to support those who are making a conscious choice to stay in the closet for their safety. We don’t just need to encourage people to come out—we need to make the world a place where people can be safe and supported when they choose to do so.
Coming out is a hugely important thing, and always a life-changing event. It’s wonderful to finally feel free to be able to be yourself without hiding anything, without being misgendered, without having to hide partners. As a white person and a cis-passing person as well as a consistent support system, I have the privilege of coming out and being well received (by those who matter at least). It felt liberating to inform the whole world last Coming Out Day that I was in fact not heterosexual. And it will feel just as liberating to come out this time about my genderqueerness.
[Image via iStock]