"There is something you should know," Ann, our sitter, whispered to my parents. The news was embarrassing; something to be ashamed of. "Danny said he wants to be a girl when he grows up."
This wasn't exactly news to them. I was seven. And since I was three I wore towels or blankets on my head and pretended it was long hair. The longer the better. My parents responded by making sure my hair was buzzed year round for the next ten years of my life. But they couldn't take away the towels and blankets. I loved playing dress up. And I had really frilly taste. I loved pink and long flowing dresses and gowns.
I played Barbies with my friends and cousins. Of course I had my own. My parents always refused to get me them, but every time I broke something (and I have brittle bone disease so I broke something quite often) or was hospitalized I played on their sympathies. By the fourth grade my mother had thrown out my dolls and Barbies three times. Each time, I lost those eight to twelve dolls and all of their clothes and accessories, and had to start over.
By the sixth grade I had amassed another collection of sixteen Barbies. I kept their clothes and accessories hidden in six different places. Six Barbies were in the "expected" place but all of the others were stashed around my room in pairs -- I believed in "the buddy system".
I was convinced I had been born in the wrong body. God made a mistake.
"God doesn't make mistakes," everyone told me. My parents. My extended family. Other adults in my life like the sitter.
I remember thinking, "Well maybe he had the day off when he made me?"
All my friends were girls. I wanted to marry a boy. Not yet of course, because cooties were a thing, and I didn't want to catch it. But eventually. We'd have a two-story house with a white picket fence next to a small church. Two kids, one dog. No I didn't know where kids came from and when I learned I thought it was a colossal joke. "You're kidding me, right?"
I didn't hear the term "Trans" until I was twelve. At first I thought, "Oh, well that's me." But it was already hard enough being gay in Nebraska back then. Why be something "worse"?
By the time I was in high school, things were as confusing as ever. I didn't date, or when I did it was this quasi-nonphysical-romantic-longing-confusing kind of relationship with one too many straight guys. It wasn't one-sided, some of them even got jealous when I would talk to other guys, just like a boyfriend. But they were legitimately straight so nothing ever happened either. Just those awkward moments and "almost kisses".
"You're like, the perfect woman. I would totally marry you if you were a chick." I didn't hear this from one guy, but from six -- repeatedly. If this isn't enough to really mess with someone's head I don't know what is.
The gay community wasn't any better. I seemed like a "black eye" to the larger community. Here they were trying to fight stereotypes and I was a walking billboard for the effeminate gay man. I wasn't masculine enough. ("Straight acting" was a phrase used for it, which I hate. Gay men can be super masculine but they are not straight acting or they wouldn't be gay.)
And the gay guys who were "into that" were typically jerks. The overbearing, dominant guys that just wanted someone to control. Which was unfortunate for them because I am quite uncontrollable: A little defiant, super sassy and so stubborn you'll want to bang your head against the nearest wall. (Just ask my husband.)
In college things became a little clearer. I grew my wild curls out -- like immediately. After my freshmen year in college I started wearing women's clothing. But it had nothing to do with being a woman. It was the clothes that spoke to me. Every outfit I put on is my armor. My superhero costume. I am strong and protected. I am invincible. My shirts say things like "In Your Dreams Loser" and "Tell Your Boyfriend To Stop Calling Me". "Boybuster" is a favorite.
I was even a Women's Studies major, and I called myself (quite proudly) a vaginally challenged feminist. (Though can I just point out that everyone came from women, why isn't EVERYONE a feminist?)
While everything I started doing made it seem like I was embracing being a woman, I was actually never more certain that that identity didn't belong to me. Suddenly I realized that perhaps I wasn't transgender after all. I spent ages twelve to twenty convinced I was just that. But I think that was only because I felt I had to be that in order to feel the way that I do.
For the longest time I felt there were two camps: Men and Women. I had to pick a side, but I couldn't. And this is when I started to realize, "Screw sides. I'm just me."
Trans is an identity, and that identity is beautiful, but not chosen. Just like being gay isn't a choice. Or being disabled. Pride and beauty can come from something involuntary -- it's called acceptance. But for me it was a choice and an internal debate, which is how I knew it just wasn't me.
And trust me, I spent a lot of time mulling it over. Did I reject being trans because I never fully embraced, or was allowed to embrace, that part of myself? Was it just conditioning?
I doubt it. I've been openly gay since I was nine. I've been hard of hearing (now profoundly deaf) since birth. Disabled since birth, though I've added quite a bit to my medical resume since then. These are all labels or terms making me "the other". I've been harassed or bullied or treated like less for all of them, but they all stuck. I'm the kind of person that doesn't back down. I am who I am, to hell with what other people think. So for me to think: "Transgender? Maybe not after all..." That is answer enough for me.
I don't want to claim an identity that isn't mine. Not just because it isn't me or it shouldn't be necessary to claim it, but I feel like it's disrespectful to people who truly identify as such.
Still I often have people ask me what I am. Like I still have to choose: Man or woman?
How do I answer? Both? Neither? It's complicated?
See, I don't have male privilege. Yes, I have certain privileges (and it is important to be aware of this), but despite my biology, male isn't one of them I can claim.
Most people who meet me think I am a woman. My hair, my petite build, my long eyelashes (why does it always come up?), my voice and clothes. I'm called "Miss" all the time. And if I'm on the phone people are like, "Wait, who is the patient? I thought the patient was a he?"
I've been denied jobs before, just because of my gender identity:
"Your long hair is off-putting and unprofessional. I don't want to confuse our customers."
"I don't know how other employees would feel with you here. What bathroom would you use? [leaning in] You should probably have an escort to the bathroom, just so nothing happens."
In my marriage, I'm in charge of the money. But I'm constantly treated like "the little woman". When we were checking out security systems the salesmen blew right past me. If I asked a question, they answered looking at my husband, Roy.
Four years ago, Roy needed new brake pads. I budgeted it at a couple hundred dollars. The mechanic quoted him $1250. So I called.
"Look, I already explained all of this to your husband."
I didn't like his tone, but we needed the brake pads and Roy wanted to go to this person so I bit back what I wanted to say and tried to be nice.
"I'm the money, so you're going to have to break it down for me."
And then he explained his complex mechanics. The final cost ended up being $200, with an apology and a coupon for a free oil change.
As often as I'm mistaken for a woman in person or on the phone it doesn't mean that I count as a woman. (And I'm not saying it should.) Sometimes that sucks, to be left out of a conversation I feel (mostly) a part of. Writer groups or other organizations that share resources, support each other, talk about issues I am passionate about. But I'm not welcome if it is just for women.
And if it is a group that caters to the larger gender spectrum, I find that I constantly have to defend myself. Because I use my legal name on social media, mostly so old friends can find me if they wish to. And I use male pronouns. I don't care what other people call me: he/him, she/her, they/them. As long as you don't call me "it", we're good. But I use he/him because it's convenient.
I'm always at a doctor's or hospital for some such reason I don't want to have a gender conversation each and every time. And just like I use my legal name on social media, if an old friend tracked me down and they knew me while I was still under the control of a repressive parental regime, they expect male pronouns. They may think I'm someone else if I go by "she" or "they". I mean I already look the part of someone else; I don't want to confuse anyone further. And I'm fine with that. But it obviously doesn't help things on that front.
Whenever I'm asked what I am or for clarification my brain automatically does a little inventory of sorts.
I look like a woman or at least incredibly androgynous. I don't take crap from anyone. I think like a woman. (I don't know how to explain this well. In general, men and women see the world differently, they interpret things and their responses -- my processes and interpretations of data -- the world is more in line with women.) I am a fierce protector, as in I'm more likely to defend my husband's honor than the other way around. I'm incredibly intuitive and sensitive. I have commitment issues. I am dominant. I am soft. I am independent. I have a strong maternal (not paternal) drive and desperately want children one day. I need a career away from the home and to be successful in it to be completely content. I love baking, cooking, decorating, design (clothing, interior, crafts) and all things domestic.
I'm not a man. I'm not a woman. I'm not trans. So what the hell am I?
Indefinable. I like that answer. For me gender is something completely different from biology. Biologically, I'm male. I can't ignore that; there is no disputing it either. I don't intend to change my biology. But gender isn't biology; it's a limiting and restrictive social construct that varies from culture to culture. Personally I reject gender entirely.
Gender nonconforming is the label I use when I have to. Or gender queer. Or gender fluid. (We've covered that I'm a tad lax with labels -- yes?) Really, I just want to be me. I am secure being me.
Labels and boxes are just chains and cages. I want to be free.
This post is part of HuffPost's Journey Beyond the Binary blog series, an editorial effort to bring diverse trans and gender non-conforming voices to the HuffPost Blog during and after Pride month. As the LGBTQIA community celebrates great strides forward this June, it's important to acknowledge the struggles still pertinent to trans and gender variant members of the community. Please email any pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org