It’s 6:00 in the morning as I’m writing this; I am jet-lagged and haven’t yet fallen asleep.
This is day four of this charming schedule; I am out of my mind, and ready to get real.
So let’s talk about something that has no place being discussed so early in the morning: gender identity.
This is likely a topic that you have heard a lot about recently, with transphobia rearing its ugly head in the most unlikely of places. But there’s a reason gender identity is such a hot topic: it’s important. It’s really important.
About half a year ago, I was in Costa Rica with my partner. I’d always thought of myself as a girl, albeit begrudgingly, because I was born with female parts. My sex is female. But as we laid in our hammocks on the porch, and the sounds of the rainforest echoed off the tin roof, my partner said, casually, “Maybe you’re not a woman. Maybe you’re non-gendered.”
And as soon as he did, it was like the world grew sharper—the rainforest greener; the sounds richer; my breathing deeper. Something inside of me freed up, and I knew he was right.
I am not a woman, and I am not a man.
I immediately wrote as much on Facebook (like you do), in what turned out to be something of a “coming out.” I told my friends and family, typing away from my cell phone in the tiniest village-town in Costa Rica:
For those of you who know me well, this probably won’t come as a surprise—but this morning, it came as something of a shock to me. I’m not a woman. And I’m not a man.
It feels edgy to put this out there—and yet, it’s something that I’ve known forever, deep in my bones, and it changes nothing, but perhaps opens a door for me. I’ve struggled for years with this idealized, expected version of “femininity.” I am not especially nurturing. I am not friends with many women. I don’t have any desire to have babies. I clearly am not doing this right.
And yet, I’ve never wanted to be male. Never even considered it. And yes, I’m still attracted exclusively to men (sorry, ladies).
But—I’m not a woman. And I’m not a man.
The message was not intended to be a coming out—I wasn’t asking for a new pronoun (she/her is fine, they/them, unicorn/wolf princess, whatever)—I just wanted to open up a discussion.
And what happened was pretty miraculous: Friends from far and wide were open, curious, and almost entirely understanding, supportive, and completely unfazed.
For me, gender only ever comes up in life when it is forced on me. When I was five, I had a very short haircut (the result of my taking scissors to my own long hair), and I remember some kids saying, “Is she a boy or a girl?!”
“Hmm. Who cares?” I thought, and went back to pretending I was a cheetah.
In later years, it has come up as expectation: “When will you get married?” “When are you having kids?” “When will you get married and have kids?!”
The whole title of “woman” has always been so wrapped up, for me, in judgements, demands, and expectations about me as a person. It’s a title that I adopted without thinking, simply because I was born female—when my whole life, it has mattered to me about as much as it probably matters to my puppy, Roonil.
So I dropped it.
I am not a woman, and I am not a man.
The transition has been easy—because there hasn’t been a transition at all. I’ve never thought of myself as a woman, not truly, but was simply going along with the title out of habit. I haven’t had a desire to dress any differently or stop wearing makeup. I still love rom-coms, and I still wrestle with my dog in the mud.
Through my accidental “coming out,” I’ve been lucky to get close to friends in their own processes with gender identity.
A male-bodied friend of mine realized there’s a woman inside of him, dying to be expressed. Another friend decided once and for all to ditch their pronoun and, while they were at it, stop shaving their pits. And another friend has started dressing to express his true self—skinny jeans, tube tops—and hot damn if he doesn’t look fierce in heels.
It’s a joy to see so much shifting in the world, where it’s becoming more okay. Where it’s starting to be safer. But we’re still transitioning, and in many parts of the world, and in various circles, the transition is slower than others.
I like to think that in 30 or even 15 years, gender fluidity will be the norm and things like “masculinity” and “femininity” will be mere signposts for both sexes, if not vanished completely. I’d like to think that by then, the whole bathroom debate will seem embarrassingly outdated, and we will no longer challenge men for being vulnerable or objectify women for merely being female. And I’d like to think that then, there won’t be that one guy who, after reading a Facebook post, responds, “I hear you’re not a woman anymore or something. WTF?”
But like I said, we’re still transitioning.
Author: Natalie Grigson
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina