Perspective is a fickle, interesting creature. It was just a few days ago when this line got thrown across my lap while sitting around a fine at a friend’s house. There I was, firmly comfortable in my squishy chair, playing with my backwards cap as I happily listened to the laughter of this rag-tag group of kids that I’ve grown fiercely protective of. I was, for the first time, comfortably clothed the way I wanted to be, and had spoken to a few more people about my gender identity. Not a huge coming out by any means, but a quick glance at me didn’t scream female and that made me happy. Comfy red, oversized flannel partially buttoned over a black tank top, dark blue jeans, black sneakers and a well-fitting Valken ball cap. I was feeling good all around, and dressed in a manner that you really couldn’t tell what my sex was. I was happy.
I’m not entirely sure how the conversation shifted to gender, or if someone was making a comment and my cousin was just responding, but in his easy-going manner that makes it difficult to both hate and love him at times, he responded to the person talking and waved his hand at me while saying “you don’t count you’re just confused.”
It is in these moments, these exact moments, that I explain to people the true destructive power of words. How words can destroy a kingdom without a weapon drawn. How words can split families and friends. How words can cause utter bloodshed. Seems dramatic, but it is a bitter reality. The joviality I was feeling from the night rushed out of my system as I felt my blood drain from my face. My heart started pounding, and I felt my stomach clench. I felt sick. I felt light-headed. Goose-bumps erupted all over my body and I felt the hair on my arms brush harshly against the fabric of my shirt. I felt my muscles stiffen as I dropped my head to my chest for a brief second, taking in a steadying breath.
I had to make a decision and I had to make it quickly. I was a lynchpin, forced into a position that could end in countless ways, with only a few outcomes being constructive and healthy. I could already hear the shifting of the few around me who knew me and my coming out process in regards to my gender identity. I had to speak before the situation got out of control. I had to deal with the reality that, once again, fear and panic were rising in my chest. I had to deal with the reality that, once again, it was a family member that was making me unsafe. That it was a family member that was invalidating me in front of others (even though they were friends) that I hadn’t decided yet to address personally. I could just laugh it off. I could withdraw. It’s been only 2 months. I could take the hit…right?
I’m done being a punching bag. I’m done with this verbal and physical violence that is thrust upon me on a daily basis.
Just to put time-period into perspective, it has been roughly 10 seconds since my cousin’s words were thrown into the air. I watched as his wife’s features twisted in disappointment? exasperation? anger? My friend, who had been leaning back, comfy in her chair was suddenly leaning forward, clutching her beer tightly. 15 seconds as an uncomfortable chuckle rippled through the group as eyes darted between my cousin and I. I couldn’t let his wife say something, or my friend. I mean, they did start to stay something, but this, this was a moment that I had to control. So another breath, and I turned my body towards my cousin as I placed my feet firmly on the ground. I needed to feel strong. I needed to appear controlled, calm, but powerful. 17 seconds.
“You crossed a line.”
I could feel the heat of the fire on my hands as I re-crossed my legs. A shift adjusted the cushion behind me as I brought my gaze to my cousin’s eyes, refusing to cower as his defenses came up. He’s a dominate creature, likes control and the perception of control. He is the leader of our para-military paintball crew. He is one of the older males in the family. A giant teddy bear, yes, but he holds status in the group and I am still a relatively new member in the fold. He likes to rattle confidence, a test if you will, in others’ ability to hold their grounds. Many fail. Sometimes I fail. But not tonight. I can’t fail tonight.
“How did I cross a line?”
It’s a legitimate question. How did he cross the line? What line, and who has authority over its boundary? His boyish face twisted from a grin to confusion and defensiveness. He wasn’t being cruel, just ignorant, but that didn’t stop the memories of violence, hatred and bigotry from racing through my mind. I could feel the ground beneath my feet. I could hear the crackle of the fire. I could hear the breathing of those around me as they watched my cousin and I interact. The weight of the hour hit my shoulders. It was late, past midnight. Everyone was laughing just minutes before this. Now a palpable tension rippled like a tide coming in.
“I’m not confused.”
My cousin has this look he gets on his face when he is facing someone who may pose a challenge to his intelligence and moral code. A look of superiority. It runs in the family, because I know I have it too. I get it when I’m confident enough in my knowledge that I know I’m going to break someone of their confidence in their thoughts. I’m not being arrogant about this knowledge about myself, and I do not boast it. I am aware of my intelligence; I’ve spent my life hiding it from those around it. But that is another issue.
“Well you are female.”
I have the justification to rant and rave. I have the justification to leave. I have the justification to cut off ties with my cousin, with whom I have had several conversations regarding who I am. I even have the justification to cry. He made this statement so matter-of-factly and it cut right through me. I want to rail against him. Instead, I quickly put that misconception to bed. By this time people had resumed their conversations, ignoring the quick back and forth between my cousin and I, chalking it up to family issues.
“I’m not female.”
You know those scenes in movies where there is a huge revelation at some gathering and everyone just stops and looks at you?
“Wait you’re not female?” asked one of the new young bucks to our paintball crew. He has a kind face and a sweet smile, and his girlfriend is such a sweetheart. I had everyone’s attention, and although I had not planned on coming out this way, I had the floor. However, instead of having the power completely stripped from me, I had the opportunity to mold my narrative in a way that educated those I loved the most without having to isolate myself. What started out in a negative way could be flipped into something empowering for those around me and I had a choice again. Take it or walk away.
I took a breath and dove.
“No I’m not female. I’m Androgyne; genderqueer. I’m neither male or female. If you have any questions please don’t be afraid to ask.”
And questions were asked.
“What is your sexuality?”
“What is the difference between sex and gender?”
“I thought gender was just what you think and has nothing to do with chemistry?”
“Is this like being trans?”
“But aren’t you female if your parts are female?”
“You’ve been with both men and women? Which do you prefer?”
Now, I know some people would get upset over some of these questions, and I’m not going to go into all of my answers at this time. I just want to emphasize that I asked for questions, and understood what I was asking for. Some of these questions simply reflect the ignorance some people have in regards to anything in the LGBTQ+ community; and some of them are just human curiosity over sex in general. I answered the questions. I shut down my cousin’s attempt to stop me from talking about my own sexual experiences because it made him uncomfortable (I know more about him and his wife’s sexploits than I ever wanted to know…that was one double standard I wasn’t going to tolerate.) I spoke about the pronouns (they,them, their) that I’ve chosen, and spoke about why I chose Faith as my name.
I was asked about my thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner. I explained how I was not transgendered. I explained the various labels people need to understand me, and how it hurt that human being was a rare label used. I outed everything about myself. That my biological sex is female. My sexuality is pansexual. My gender is Androgyne. I spoke about how overwhelming it is at times, to deal with others. How I won’t get mad if people accidentally use the wrong name or pronoun, but I will gently remind them who I am, because even I screw up at times. Years of heternormative training is hard to undo.
“Yes, I enjoy sleeping with men. Yes, I enjoy sleeping with women. Yes, it’s confusing. I think athletics should have the option for gender neutral competition. No I do not want to be on testosterone, because I do not want to be male….” and so forth.
(I think a lot of people are comfortable if someone they think is female still enjoys being with men, because it eases some unease about being different. As if eventually that female will eventually end up with a man. That may be my own bias opinion that I’ll explore later, but it’s a tone I picked up answering some of the questions I was asked. Considering I’m not a female, it makes the concept interesting.)
Eventually the conversation lost it’s edge and everyone relaxed back into the joking, family atmosphere it always takes when we are all together. I smiled out at these people. This collection of misfit toys. I know I’m lucky. I still am filled with utter terror, but lucky nonetheless.
My cousin had gotten contemplative during my question and answer session, occasionally asking questions and putting out his own opinions. Although I don’t agree with it all, I still love and respect him. I understand completely that I was surrounded by predominately straight, white 20-30 year olds whom have never faced down someone hating them for simply wearing a piece of clothing. I was aware of my audience. It doesn’t make them bad people, just uninformed. And let’s face it, I am a bomb in their world. A good bomb, filled with rainbows and I hope a warm smile.
You see, what I’ve learned in the last 15 years of being in the LGBTQ+ community, is that love is a powerful weapon against fear, confusion and ignorance. It isn’t always easy, but love never is.
My cousin, the one who told me I was confused, looked at me after a while and said the most wonderful, and sad truth, I’ve ever heard.
“I have a lot of assumptions. I’ve made a lot of assumptions about you. I see you here, strong and confident, and I never really thought of what you had to go through in order to be here; to be strong. I have to work on my assumptions. I love you.”
It has been two months since I first admitted the truth about my gender. Two months since I began taking down a piece of the wall I built so securely around myself. It won’t be easy. I’m going to get a lot of push-back; I’ve already experienced a lot of push-back. But there are thousands like me, fighting and educating and just living and that is what makes it worth talking about my experiences; my feelings. Having my cousin look into himself, because he loves me. Because I didn’t back down and hide. Because I challenged what he thought of this world, what he thought of me.
I’ll take all of the hatred and violence for the chance to reach someone like my cousin. To change one mind. To reveal another truth this world is offering as a piece to this puzzle we call humanity. What I’m doing is not new, or innovative. It’s living. It’s loving those around me, and showing them how they can love me better.
It is terrifying, and worth it.