I don’t want to do this.
I stood in front of our middle school locker room door, tugging nervously at my ponytail.
I’m already wearing basketball shorts and a baggy t-shirt…why do I even have to change?
The other girls in my grade walked by me in their skirts and pretty blouses, each one of them with a unique sense of style but one thing seeming to unify them that I clearly didn’t have. I noticed everything; their hair, their legs, their smiles…sure, physically I looked like them, but something just didn’t feel right about going into their locker room.
I took a deep breath, and raced into my own personal hell. My fingers fumbled on my twist lock. I was shaking. I had complete tunnel vision.
Hurry up and get your clothes so you can get out of here. Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t.
As soon as I got my gym clothes (which looked exactly the same as the clothes I had stolen out of my brother’s closet this morning) I sprinted to the bathroom, changing behind the safety of the stall walls.
Honestly, I’d probably feel more at home in the boys' locker room. What’s wrong with me?
I was always the last one in the locker room and the first one out.
Nobody wants to spend time where they don’t belong.
Being gender–fluid is confusing. I can’t tell you how many times I had the thought “am I just gay?” before I knew what gender fluidity was. I was incapable of separating my gender identity from my sexuality. For years I assumed that I was just a girl, and something other than straight, but for some reason the pounding in my heart whenever I saw a boy or a girl I liked romantically felt distinctly different from how I felt about my own gender identity.
It wasn’t until I entered college that I found the courage and self–acceptance to try to understand why I felt different from many of the people around me. Still confused, I tried to simplify things for myself.
Okay, so…you like boys, but…you also like girls. That’s fine. No big deal. Romantic feelings and gender identity are probably totally separate.
I was still confused.
Of all places, my identity started to make sense in to me at the gym. My teammates and I always talked after practice.
“You should compete more! I’m pretty sure they have a women’s division.”
“I think it’s awesome that you’re sticking with the training. Not a lot of women are into combat sports.”
“It’s great that we have another woman on the team. I feel like our sport is slowly becoming a bit more diverse.”
I’m sure they had the best intentions in mind, but why did it hurt so much when they referred to me as a woman?
At first, I panicked. “Great,” I thought. “Now, I’m trans, I like boys and girls romantically, and I come from a ridiculously Catholic family.”
But no, I still wasn’t done being confused.
Fast forward to girl’s night in my apartment sophomore year.
I felt like a girl again.
Not because I was talking to female friends about boys, or because we all sat around the table painting our nails, but because I knew that in the moment, I was in the right body. I was fully confident during that day; I could have walked into a women’s locker room or bathroom and not felt like I was in the wrong place.
Midway through sophomore year, I met up with one of my non–binary friends from high school. I told them how confused I was; how one day I could be furious at a teammate for addressing me as a girl, but the next feel sad and uncomfortable when people would tell me to start dressing like a boy “if I really identified as male.” I even explained to them that I had considered going by they/them pronouns, but that didn’t seem right to me either.
It was almost like, instead of identifying as neither male nor female, or identifying as one or the other, I was both. The feeling of being male or female would change depending on my surroundings, my mood, or sometimes even the time of day.
By the time I finished explaining, I was in tears. Nothing was making sense to me. I was frustrated, and I didn’t want my confusion to annoy or upset my friends or others around me. I understood how hard it was for people to switch pronouns, when they had seen me as a female my entire life, so by switching back and forth, I certainly wasn’t making it any easier for myself or those around me. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like I had a choice to change how I felt.
“I know I have the right to choose my own pronouns, but why can’t I just decide which ones?!”
They just smiled at me. “It’s okay. It sounds like you’re just gender–fluid.”
What the hell is that?
According to Merriam Webster, a gender–fluidity is “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity is not fixed.”
Gender identity is a spectrum. For most people, they lie on the very ends of the spectrum, identifying totally as either male or female, regardless of the anatomy they were born with. For others like myself, we can fluctuate between the opposite ends.
Some days, I’ll feel extremely uncomfortable with the thought of being in a women’s bathroom. Other days, competing with guys in the gym makes me feel like I’m in the wrong division, and like I “fit in” better with the women around me even though my friends are just trying to accept the part of me that feels male.
Usually, I display traditionally male or traditionally female qualities not just because that’s what I like, but additionally because at those certain times, I genuinely feel like I should biologically be that sex.
Unfortunately, that’s only what I consider a “good day.”
There are particularly confusing days when I feel like I want to wear a dress, but that I should be addressed as a male. Even though a boy can wear a dress if he wants to, I have a hunch most of us wouldn’t see a curvy person with long hair, a choker, and earrings, wearing a floral dress and think “ah, yes. This human is a boy.”
Trust me, it’s just as annoying to me as it is to you. Regardless, I hope I cleared things up a bit for you, even though I’m still learning about myself.
To conclude, I’d like to give a final message to friends, family, and allies of gender–fluid people.
Please be patient. Understand that the confusion you go through as a result of never being 100 percent sure of your loved one’s pronouns is infinitely more frustrating and saddening to the person correcting you. At least for me, it’s hard to feel like I fit in anywhere. For others more at peace with their fluidity, this may not be the case. Understand that we don’t want to have to correct you when you get our pronouns wrong. It’s painful for us to be misgendered.
To other gender–fluid people; you must be patient as well. We have every right to be addressed with the proper pronouns, but with constant changing back and forth, it is understandable that your loved ones may not always get it right. The important thing is that they’re trying, they love you, and they support you, no matter which gender you are that day.