What kind of energy do I bring? Growing up in a religious household in the Deep South, self-discovery took time. First, I had to deconstruct the lessons of my childhood: That girls and boys are inherently different, and two girls or two boys certainly couldn’t do what a boy and a girl could do together. Then, I had to reconfigure the way I perceived gender in a non-binary system. This is my journey, and here’s what I learned.
My earliest lesson in heteronormative dynamics came at three or four years old when my sis and I made the mistake of thinking a gospel hymn was perfect ballroom music. We were at choir rehearsal. As we waltzed from the pews to the center aisle, half the congregation gasped in horror:
“Girls don’t dance with girls!”
(The other half made sure we knew waltzing was not an acceptable form of holy dance.) Then, Mom gave us That Look, and we hurried up and parked our butts in our seats where we should’ve been in the first place. Minor crisis averted.
Once puberty struck, I made sure I liked boys. In fact, I was one of those “fast-tail lil girls” your mama warned you about. But sometimes I would get online and pretend to be someone else. I’d strike up conversations with other girls far, far away, and I would be a cool California guy who drove a Malibu.
I liked that persona so much that one day I drummed up the courage to dress masculine for a trip to the mall. My parents vetoed that idea. The minute I stepped from my bedroom in baggy cargo pants and a fitted cap, I was marched right back in to change clothes.
I had to be feminine. Televangelists regularly preached on what that meant. I was to be stalwart, but gentle. Nurturing, rather than passionate. Wise, but not too smart. I was to dress like a woman, just nothing revealing. This was the foundation to being a good wife, even though my mom voiced skepticism any boy would want to marry *ahem* a “fast-tail lil girl” like me.
Lucky for me, I realized I wasn’t that into guys. I came out on the cusp of age thirty.
Now, as we waltz into the Roaring Twenties, gender identity seems an appropriate conversation for the times. But did you know our counterparts from a hundred years ago were having this discussion? In the 1920s, sex positive flappers shocked the mainstream. Gamine girls who looked like boys were in vogue. Back then, there was heavy push-back. These days, we have a beautiful LGBTQIA+ community with a plethora of identities and presentations where those lovely gamines would fit in perfectly.
However, if you’re not entirely sure where you fit in, you’re not alone. I’m still figuring myself out, too.
When I first heard the term “non-binary,” I was as clueless about what it meant as that kid slow dancing to a gospel hymn. I understood being transgender. Trans- is a Latin prefix that means “on the other side of,” while cis- is a Latin prefix that means “on the same side of.” Ergo, someone who is transgender identifies as their opposite gender of birth, and someone who is cisgender identifies as their same gender of birth. Where does the enby fit in? Somewhere in the middle?
Eventually, I came to understand we all fall somewhere along a slider. Gender is a spectrum. As much as it is an intimate detail of our identity, it is a combination of social cues that helps others navigate their response to our existence. In a patriarchal society that makes it a powerful signifier of the pecking order.
But, from that perspective, it’s almost logical for some people to assume gender is like a garment that can be switched to suit the occasion. Why wouldn’t a modern woman “try on” aggression to get a certain result, despite an innate passive nature? A savvy man reaps social benefits from “modeling” sensitivity; never mind he’s really less empathetic.
I feel like examining gender identity from the lens of the patriarchy is self-limiting because it reduces the concept to tribe and place within a hierarchy. In reality, gender is much more personal to me. It is the self we are most comfortable being. For some of us, that changes from time to time. Yet, embracing our fluidity is not performative. Rather, it is a declaration of self-awareness and self-acceptance, irrespective of the boundaries of public perception.
I don’t know if I will ever fully overcome public perception and the subconscious need to meet expectations. I tend to present feminine energy when interacting with my followers, and I regularly use the term cis when describing myself. My personality has always been a hybrid mix of conformist/rebel.
Yet, when I interact in anonymous forums, most people automatically assume I am male, and in real life I present in a more masculine way. When I’m not thinking about my gender, it just flows. The self I am most comfortable being feels genderfluid.
Perhaps, over time, I will settle into my place within the non-binary system with more certainty. I consider myself a work in progress, happy to explore gender expression through art, literature, and music. In the end, it’s like Audre Lorde says, “We must recognize and nurture the creative parts of each other without always understanding what will be created.”
What about you? What kind of energy do you bring?