When I was about six or seven, my brothers were roughhousing and took off their shirts in order to more appropriately wrestle. Since I was playing with them, I also went to take off my shirt. One of my older brothers, who was in his teens, protested and said I should keep my shirt on.
I didn’t understand this. Both our chests looked the same. What was so objectionable about the situation?
Our mom came by the room and my brother asked her to tell me to keep my shirt on. I, of course, defended my position that what he was saying didn’t make any sense. Our mom said something about understanding what my brother was referring to but ultimately ruled in favour of me being able to wrestle shirtless that day. I considered that a victory.
I’m not sure if it was that same day or a different one when I noticed that my mom’s chest didn’t look like mine. In fact, I realized, while everyone around my age had a flat chest, I couldn’t think of a single woman who did.
Something must have changed when they grew up, I decided, but exactly how or when, I wasn’t sure. I wondered if it happened quickly or slowly and what the chest of someone in the middle of that process looked like. Maybe the extra bits just grew one day and there they were and now you had to take care of them.
The whole thing seemed weird to me and definitely beyond my ability to figure out right then, so I filed it under “things I will figure out when I’m older, either because someone will tell me first or because I’ll experience it,” (I had a very precise internal filing system) and decided in the meantime that at least I knew what to expect.
So when the time came, thanks to a book my mom had given me, I did know what to expect and wasn’t alarmed when my body changed exactly as I’d learned it would. It was how bodies worked, after all.
Because my puberty experience wasn’t traumatic, because I’ve never felt a sense of betrayal over what my body had done, and because I didn’t mind my period, I thought that well, of course I’m a girl. Of course I’m a woman. I didn’t want a man’s body. I definitely wanted the same freedoms and opportunities men and boys have that I kept seeing women and girls getting denied, and gender roles never made any logical sense to me, but I didn’t want to be a man.
And if I wasn’t upset with my body and I didn’t want to be a man, then of course I was a woman.
This is definitely how logic works.
As I got older, I kept having thoughts, feelings, experiences I was sure everyone had.
Seeing my chest and wondering, with an aching sort of longing, what it would look like without breasts, with my body otherwise as it was now… definitely just idle curiosity that’ll go away (it didn’t).
Feeling discomfort over being called a woman… that’s absolutely just insecurity over whether I’m really an adult and will fade as I work through that (it didn’t).
Experiencing a fascinated delight whenever I saw someone whose gender I couldn’t couldn’t identify, and whenever I heard about people getting asked by children “are you a boy or a girl?”… really just a sickening feeling in my gut over how this was Clearly Unnatural ™ (it wasn’t) (I mean, I did also have the sick feeling because of what I’d been taught and believed at the time, but that wasn’t the only thing I was feeling).
Having that quiet joy in my heart while reading about God encompassing both male and female, the Holy Spirit being referred to with a feminine noun and masculine pronouns, angels having no gender, and the spiritual and psychological importance (since we’re made in the image of God) of balancing and integrating the masculine and feminine… absolutely just me loving Jesus A Lot ™ as well as the ways God refused to be put in a box (it wasn’t).
Enjoying the utter thrill in writing stories where the gender of some or all of the characters are never revealed (ex. Gene Therapy, The Kitten Psychologist Collection), in creating languages where there are more genders than masculine/feminine or languages where gender is casually absent… just creative experimentation, that’s all (it wasn’t).
Just just just.
As if all those experiences could be flattened to a single data point conspicuously unrelated to gender itself, and especially my experience of it.
I argued for years that your body determines your gender, and whoever you are, whatever your personality, likes, dislikes, internal wiring was also that gender because gender roles are just a thing we all made up anyways and stereotypes don’t define us. But bodies do.
I didn’t understand.
Even now, it’s difficult not to second-guess myself, to wonder if what I’ve been thinking is maybe wrong. But I can’t stop the thoughts, the assessing of my past from happening. That’s the thing about facing things like your sexuality – everything else opens up for examination, too, and it would be dishonest of me to stop that journey once begun.
Still, accepting that you’re sapphic and at the same time realizing the only option before you that your conscience can live with is to vocally, visibly, affirm LGBTQ+ people… doesn’t mean you’ve worked through all the things you internalized growing up. The justs continue to plague you.
Like spending time with nonbinary people and feeling completely at ease, feeling kinship with them… definitely just feeling a connection because they’re also okay (nope).
But maybe I want to be a man? (Ugh! No! Freud, I know you’re dead, but I have no penis envy. I do not want a penis. You may keep all the penises).
But maybe this is body image issues? (No! I actually think more positively towards my body now than I did most of my life – thanks entirely to my appearance no longer being constantly criticized and to it being celebrated by my girlfriend, who thinks I’m hot af) (which I am).
But maybe but maybe
Just just just
I am not a man like my brothers.
I am not a woman, though my chest now looks like theirs.
I have been each when I dream, sometimes being a boy or a man, sometimes a girl or a woman. And other times, I find I wasn’t really either and it didn’t matter in the slightest and I didn’t mind. I was somehow both. I was somehow neither. I was me.
And when I wake, I am still me.