When I was a child, I recall a lack of connection to gender identity. I looked at my aunts and uncles and all their differences and similarities and felt a connection of some sort to each of their identities. They taught me to sew and bake, to climb trees and love summer camp, to listen to rock & roll, and how to play with both "boy" and "girl" toys at the same time. When it came to clothing, I preferred the comfortable, be it jeans and t-shirts or a jersey knit dress. I despised pink, frills, scratchy lace and horrible sweaters, but my childhood wasn't entirely lacking of these. I tried a lacy pink dress once, and only once.
What is more significant than the exterior of my childhood reality is how I felt on the inside. Until a week before my 12th birthday, when my period began much to my horror and shock, I truly held the belief that I could be both genders. I saw myself living forever as a free agent, changing gender identity as I felt necessary. I kept this self story inside, as I wasn't a child prone to talking much about my inner dialogue. I deflected any mention of gender, glossed over by a life of being called a girl, answering to the pronoun "she" by default and habit. I knew of no other option.
Now, as an adult in my thirties, immersed in a queer community that encompasses more genders than I have limbs, I can look back on my childhood and speculate how I came to where I am today from the tomboy child I was. I can see from here, after hearing so many stories from my lovers, friends, and acquaintances who have struggled with gender identity, that the openness and freedom I was given as a child definitely impacted how I traveled this road. Choice of clothing and activity opened up for me a realm of childhood masculinity to try on. Behind that I was able to feel my own masculinity come through and it materialized as more than mere dress-up or a girl in boy's shoes. But I could also travel back to my feminine side whenever I felt the urge to. More so, I could define for myself what both of those meant to me. I wonder sometimes now how I would have been impacted by a more forced femininity. Knowing the power of my rebellious nature, I believe I would have likely strayed further into masculinity, possibly even entering adulthood with the desire & need to transition to male.
So what did happen? At the age of 12 I felt suddenly stuck in the feminine permanently and it scared me and pissed me off. By this time I had already realized that I was attracted to girls (as well as boys) and even acted upon that attraction. It didn't take me long to get into trouble for my actions there. The messages started hitting home, gender and sexuality had rules and I was breaking them. When I was 15 I found my first queer community and began to explore the new options I found there. I learned about butch and femme, lesbians and faggots and bisexuals... but there I also learned that I wasn't entirely accepted because I still didn't fit in a neat and tidy identity box. I was a fence sitter. I'm not too fond of being seen that way. So it was time to make some choices...
By the time I was 18, I had chosen to identify as feminine. I still dabbled in options for a bit, but I had made this choice because I wanted to be a mother and I was looking into becoming a midwife and I felt it was a necessary choice for this path. I chose to embrace my femaleness, but still retained much of my tomboy nature. I got married (to a man) and had kids and went through many standard society rituals in the process. I played the game, and that's how I saw it from the inside of my identity. I played a role that I though was necessary in order to be a "good mom". I connected with goddesses and other strong women. I learned to open up again about my sexual identity and started to find new words to describe who I was that were far more appropriate than the choices I was handed at 15.
Shortly after separating from my marriage, I became suddenly immersed in a 'new and improved' queer community full of fluidity in gender and sexuality. It felt like "my people" had suddenly emerged from the mists to take me home. I'm still negotiating my journey here with them. I'm opening up to the freedom to be more of who I really am. I am even feeling more comfortable with my feminine side now that I know I can access my masculine side whenever I need to. So I feel like I am still teaching my masculine side how to be itself. I stopped worrying about being a woman with facial hair when a cute trans guy told me I should let it grow because he thought it was sexy. So I did and I feel very good about it now. Just this one thing has done so much for me being able to access and express my masculine side at least a little bit every day. I know it makes some people uncomfortable and I do get judgement for it, but I hope my presence can help pave the way for more acceptance of gender expression fluidity.
Out of this new emergence, I have found new identity labels with bigger and more fluid "boxes". I have adopted the labels of pansexual and genderqueer because they more accurately define me and my journey. I love to have long discussions about pronoun usage with people of multiple gender and sexuality expressions and identities. I still use the female pronoun "she" because of that default and habit of a lifetime of being seen as a girl/female/woman, but I'm not opposed to "they" or "he" if the person using the pronoun is perceiving me in that way in that moment. I don't in any way intend to take away from the journey of the transgendered folk out there by being this "fencesitter" that I've always been. I love many transgendered folks, some very very dearly. And it is their presence in my world that has opened up these doors for me. I honor them with a great deal of gratitude for their difficult journeys. I still look to them for guidance in bringing more balance to my gender expression and teaching my masculine side how to be the "man" it wants to be. I am thankful for the queer community that has also helped me find comfort in the female body I travel in.
That said, I have also found it to be important to embrace my femininity because there is still residual tension in the queer community about the feminine aspects in all genders. So, part of my feminine expression is a political act within a subculture. I realize that I outwardly represent that from a cisgendered female point of view, but my masculine side is a bit of a queen too. I think I was about 18 years old the year my queer youth group held a Lavender Prom and we all got dressed up in our best finery. I borrowed a tux shirt and pants from a gay boy friend of mine who happened to be my size and my girlfriend wore similar black pants and white dress shirt. In that drag I felt so fabulous that my flaming faggot-y side kicked in and I just couldn't hold back the gestures and mannerisms that came with that. I felt self-conscious and some of my friends giggled at my antics. I was not acting like a dyke. But, then, I never do fit well in boxes...