This piece by Eloise LeBel originally appeared on The Establishment, an independent multimedia site founded and run by women.
First I was a tomboy. Then a teenybopper, a bisexual woman, a drag queen. Through my life I have struggled to find the right words, the right explanation for what I really am: a genderqueer, non-binary person, no gender and all genders at once. Just a straight-up, dope-ass li’l human who gets creative, spiritual, and sexual joy from performing femininity but can’t and won’t be limited by what that performance implies. I’ve known who I was on an essential level for many, many years, but now, as a 31-year-old Californian on antidepressants just out here trying to make a life writing about cumming, I’m finally coming out. While I am afraid of what could happen as a result in this new, impossibly unpredictable world, I refuse to be cowed.
My pronouns are they/them. For a long time I thought that since I’m comfortable in my feminine body, that since the world reads me loud and clear as a woman, I shouldn’t rock the boat. That I shouldn’t make other people have to put in the small amount of work it takes to gender me correctly. But I am done hiding. I am done keeping the boat steady at the expense of my own truth. I see trans folk getting murdered at a horrifying rate, I see non-binary friends being denied surgery because they have “a woman’s name,” I fall in love with a man despite myself because he’s the most wonderfully feminine man I’ve ever met, and I know that to fail to live boldly and openly in this moment would be to fail myself, my community, and my country.
I am not a woman. I’m not a man. I am a person. I am everything.
“I am done keeping the boat steady at the expense of my own truth.”
I’ve always had close male friends, but I was never one of those just-one-of-the-guys girls. Maybe it was my huge tits, maybe it was my tendency to fuck anyone I care at all about, but most likely it came down to my primal inability to sublimate the feminine parts of myself in order to get along better with boys, no matter how hard I tried. I also never really fit in with women the way I felt I was supposed to; I was too brash, too thoughtless, had too many crushes on too many straight girls.
For a while the only way I had to describe how I felt was as a drag queen, a person who uses the performance of femininity as art and rebellion and humor and commentary. This was years ago, before RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced me to the wide and wonderful spectrum of performers and before I learned about bio-queens, the controversial cis women performing feminine drag. But while the art form of drag is a complex combined expression of gender, politics, and beauty, drag queen isn’t a gender identity. Even when I tried to make it one, it never felt quite right, like I was trying to squeeze into someone else’s suit because it was the only one available. Bi-gendered was a term I tried to create for myself, but once I realized my sexuality was queer and non-binary as well, that kind of dichotomous limiting also felt inauthentic.
Part of the reason it’s been so hard for me to find a comfortably honest identity is that since basically forever non-binary gender has been inextricably linked to androgynous presentation. Tilda Swinton and Grace Jones, Prince and David Bowie, people who manage to appeal to all genders because they visually transcend their woman or manhood. When I was a child I was able to look androgynous, vacillating between frilly dresses and boyish garb; my favorite fancy outfit was a pair of black velour overalls. At age 10 I wanted to shave my head like Deb in Empire Records, but my parents refused and I settled for a bowl cut so convincing that girls at my new school refused to let me into the bathroom. But then along came boobs and hormones. I’ve always desired and admired the feminine form, and suddenly I had one, a body with the ability to express and fulfill my sexual desires. I grew out my hair and got seriously into makeup and ceased to be a tomboy. With my short, round, earth goddess shape I couldn’t even try to wear boy’s clothes anymore and besides, they were so much less fun.
I came out as bisexual at 15, and when I grew older I experimented with androgyny out of a desperation to be visually read as gay. Being a high femme bi girl, I had dealt with a lot of discrimination from lesbians, but as soon as I realized that muscle tanks and a faux hawk didn’t lessen the feeling of not fitting in, I went back to tulle and cleavage. There is simply nothing to be done about the inherent femininity of my body, and what’s more, I don’t want there to be. I love the ineffable uniqueness of my pussy, my smooth belly, my grabbable hips; I love glitter and hot rollers and the word decolletage and owning 22 different things to make my lips turn red. I will never feel sexy in a suit and I will never be Tilda Swinton because I am me, Eloise, whatever kind of person that I am.
This is why it’s been simple for me to go through life with a cis woman’s identity, despite it never fitting quite right. I “look like a woman,” therefore I am naturally assumed to be a woman and am awarded all of a cis woman’s privileges and prejudices. I’m privileged in that the genitals of my assigned-female-at-birth body match my inherent gender presentation in a way that keeps me from dealing with gender dysphoria, but I’m not nor have I ever been only a woman. I interact with society through a female-read body, sure. But I’m sick of passing for something I’m not, and I’m done inhabiting an exclusively female identity simply because my gender presentation happens to match my given sex.
Let’s be real: Far more of us, and by us I mean humans, are genderqueer than we realize. I just happen to have grown up in an exceedingly liberal and accepting family and community that allowed me the space and experience to explore who I really am. I’m fairly sure my boyfriend, 6 years older than me, is also non-binary, but he is only just beginning to ask himself those questions and become educated on the modern vagaries of gender identity. I see more and more grown cis men experimenting with makeup and placing value on their inherent femininity. I see children and teenagers refusing to let the established order of things define the course of their lives. I see a hopeful world that is fucking done allowing gender to dictate who they can be and what they can do, and it is time for me to join and shout and fight in the revolution we now find ourselves in.
“Far more of us, and by us I mean humans, are genderqueer than we realize.”
Am I scared? You sure as hell can bet I’m scared. It’s a scary world out there these days for anyone who believes in the possibilities and freedom of the future over the simplistic bigotry of the past. It’s scary to think about being rejected and hurt and misunderstood by people I care about and people I will never meet. But I recently changed my pronouns on Facebook, immediately forgot about it, then woke up this morning to see that “Eloise updated their profile picture,” and an unexpected and thrilling flutter ran through my heart. Friends and family might be annoyed or confused, fascists and monsters will try to terrorize, destroy, and deny, but I will not trade an honest life for safety and convenience. It’s because I’m frightened as shit that I’m telling the truth, flipping over the whole goddamn boat, and baring my genderqueer tits and glitter for everyone to see.
They/them, and no going back.
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