"Pull your shirt down!" came an adult female voice from off-field.
I was playing football with the boys again. It was summer. It was hot. They all had their shirts pulled up in that weird way where they just stuck their heads under the hems of their shirts and put them behind their necks to expose their stomachs. Silly, really. I never understood why they didn’t just take their shirts off, but I was one of them so whatever. And I was sweating. I think I knew, as I started to lift my shirt that it wasn’t going to fly, but I was young… and a boy, dammit.
This weekend some friends shared the story of a tween they know who has recently “come out” as gender fluid. My first reaction was to feel old. Man, it never occurred to me that I needed to “come out” as gender fluid. I feel like being gay was definitely a thing that felt like a dot I could put on my map. I am here. But being who I am is more of a daily, even momentary thing. Honestly, I’m still not sure I’m totally “out” in my fluidity.
What would that even mean?
We never really know what we’re getting ourselves into in these spaces though, do we? What does it mean to come out as ambiguous and constantly changing? I can’t speak for the person about whom my friends were telling me, but that’s what it is to be gender fluid.
And herein lies the rub. That’s actually what it means to be a person. Our need to define ourselves, even if it’s to define ourselves as constantly changing, is exhausting. Worse yet, it’s misleading.
When I began to more fully embrace my gender fluidity, very gently, very slowly, very cautiously, I wasn’t sure. How big will the ripples be? I wondered.
Many years down this road, I can say that “announcing” it tends to make me inaccurately specific in the minds of many people who interact with me. “Oh, they’re ‘different’ now.” When you say, “I am this,” and “this” is not the same as “everyone else,” you stop having the same needs, the same wants, the same desires and insecurities as people who are not so out there in their declarations. I am perceived as someone whose experience is foreign to people who are not gender fluid.
Let’s call our newly “out” friend, Jess. My friends went on to tell me that Jess had recently made a suicide attempt. They shared that Jess’ parents were very supportive of their expression and that school had also been very supportive, adopting Jess’ new name and pronouns. It sounded like all reasonable accommodations and recognitions were taking place. I asked if the suicide attempt had happened before or after Jess had come out. They said that it had happened after.
And this is the real problem, isn’t it? When you’re the parent of a queer hammer, everything’s a queer nail.
I don’t know about you, but being 13 is something you could not pay me to do again and I don’t think it had a whole lot to do with feeling queer exactly. I think it had everything to do with being 13 and with the way that nothing at all fit like it used to. Not my feelings. Not my clothes. Not my anything. I don’t know Jess or their parents and suicide is not typically a response to a single factor or incident, but I think the hard work for these parents… and for every single one of us is to keep seeing the whole person.
Remember that Jess is gender fluid. Also remember that Jess gets sad and Jess gets excited and Jess likes ice cream and Jess wants to be seen and heard and loved not because they’re gender fluid, not in spite of their gender fluidity, but because Jess is a person and people are complicated and need to be loved.
I pulled my shirt down. I still remember the shame. I felt wrong and bad for being me. I felt what I now know as a deep sense of “otherness.” I didn’t see other girls like me. The boys could do whatever they wanted. The boys got to feel the air on their chests and see each other’s bodies in uncovered motion. They felt that freedom.
Being me didn’t stop that day though. I’m resilient and frankly, irrepressible, so I kept going. Kept wondering and yes, in many ways, kept feeling like a freak. The more I sit with who I am and what it is to be me, the more I surrender to the truth that when I feel like a freak it’s because I want to be fully who I am, whatever that is. And when I look around, I don’t see other people like me. People who want to really and truly do that. No matter how many people get my pronouns right, no matter how many bathroom signs welcome me to any stall at all, it will feel hard and lonely out here as long as the “rest” of you keep hiding.