Who am I?

Thoughts on gender identity

By Caroline Doerksen, Cecile Favron, Ana Maria Mejia Morales, Rebecca P., Jessica Pickering, and Nathan Ross

We are the resistance

In a world where queer youth are rendered invisible.
We resist.
“Teenage youth and their teenage angst,” we hear someone scoff at us as we walk to the coffee shop after our queer youth activist meeting.
We have been told that our tall rainbow mohawks, spiked collars, tattooed skin, and the barbells hanging from our ears, noses, and tongues scare people.

But, in a world that tries to subdue us, being visible, being different, and not adhering to normative standards of beauty becomes a part of who we are.
We have been told that our expression is “too extreme” and that we would be listened to if we “toned it down,” “looked normal,” or “tried to fit in.”
We are not interested in toning anything down for the appeal of the mainstream.
We are not interested in looking “normal,” because we are not.
We are not trying to fit in, we are trying to stand out.
My dark maroon lips, half-shaved head, long ombré fuchsia hair, thick false eyelashes, tattoos, and piercings is how I have shown my queer femme gender expression.
We come in all genders, sexual orientations, expressions, and identities.
We are the resistance. – CD


My non-binary identity is for me

The subject of my gender identity has essentially been a question I had no idea I was asking my whole life.

When you’re younger, you don’t know what gender dysphoria is, what body dysmorphia is. You don’t know why going clothes shopping gives you a sickly, mortified feeling. You don’t know why you constantly feel like a gorilla stuffed in a tutu, trying to pass itself off as a “real girl.” You don’t know why you can’t seem to squeeze yourself into the narrow, rigid boundaries of socially acceptable gender expression, like you’re trying to fit into a pair of jeans three sizes too small.

There were several factors that complicated my examination of my gender identity. For one thing, the dysphoria and dysmorphia was compounded by mental illness — or maybe it was the other way around. Anxiety would feed my problems with body image, my problems with body image would feed my anxiety, all of which would fuel my depression and dissociative episodes. For another, it was never a matter of going from one binary gender to another, which was my loose understanding of what the trans identity meant when I was in my late teens. I would be no happier as a male-presenting person, than I was as a female-presenting person. It felt too much like a cage on either end.

When I first started researching non-binary identities, it felt almost too on the nose. I’d grown up writing characters in stories who either switched from one gender to another, or had no gender at all, without realizing that was a possibility outside the realms of fiction. Most representations of non-binary people I was met with were thin, androgynous models, so for a while I was convinced that the non-binary identity couldn’t possibly represent my experience.

Even so, with friends online I started asking to be referred to by “they/them” pronouns. I found others who identified as “femme” non-binary, people like me who didn’t fit the androgynous mould. What I discovered at the end of the day was that my identity as a non-binary individual had nothing to do with what I looked like. I do still like to dress more masculine on occasion, but if anything, coming to terms with myself as a non-binary individual made me more comfortable dressing in a feminine way. I used to hate wearing dresses when I was younger because I felt like I was lying in some way, like I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. Now, I don’t often find myself feeling the sickly wash of dysphoria while trying on a skirt in a clothing store.

I don’t consider myself trans, but that’s a personal choice; many non-binary people I know do. I’m not even completely “out;” most people know me by “she/her” pronouns, and think of me as a cisgender woman. I don’t mind so much. At the end of the day, my non-binary identity is for me to understand and explore, and makes me feel far more comfortable in the skin I’m in. – RP


Retiring from gender

Gender is never really something I was comfortable with. I was born as the only grandson on both sides of the family, and so there was a lot of pressure to be the man leading into the next generation. That really only set the stage for a wealth of disappointment and a gradual resentment of having to be or perform anything that was explicitly male. I never really put much thought into it until I began to look at gender critically while taking gender, sexuality, and women’s studies courses at SFU, eventually turning it into an extended minor. Really, the biggest thing for me was reading Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote. When Coyote talks about retiring from gender, I thought, “An opt-out option would be much obliged, thanks.”

I don’t necessarily change much about myself or get too attached to any pronoun or grouping, because I think it’s important that anyone can decide what gender means to them and display that in any fashion. It’s led to all kinds of fun questions like “do ‘theys’ marry?” which is a pretty neat way for cis folks to show they don’t like to grasp things they don’t personally identify with. At the end of the day, though, it’s a lot easier to try and promote gender identity equality than convince myself that I’m shitty at being male and try and force myself into the binary. – NR


There vs. here

I’m from South America, a continent that, as fantastic as it is, is in many ways a place of retrograde thinking when it comes to some issues. One of them is gender, where —at least in my home country — you can only be a female or a male, a girl or a boy, pink or blue. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada that I understood I could question this: that I could choose and that gender is very much a socially constructed concept.

Growing up, I was a hell of a tomboy. I got my mum to buy me clothes from the boy’s section at my favourite store, I played soccer on the boy’s team, and all of my friends were boys. I think this was when I first realized that I was a girl. The boys would fight over who could be my BFF. “I am Ana’s best boy friend,” “No I am!” I would hear. They all wanted to be my best friend because according to them, I was the only “cool girl.”  – AMMM


This is privilege

When talking about gender, a lot of people talk about how they never felt ‘right’ or that they struggled to fit in. I am one of the privileged few that didn’t feel that way. And it is a privileged experience. I get to walk in public and no one questions who I am or what gender I might be. I’m not made to feel like I don’t belong in the spaces I feel comfortable in. I will never be denied a job because of how I identify. I get to live a comfortable life because, for whatever reason, I was OK with the gender society forced on me.

It’s upsetting to think that people who are trying to find happiness in exploring their gender identity are being made to feel bad by people that don’t understand: by people who haven’t stopped to think about how lucky they were to be OK with who they are and not have to fight bigots every single day just to feel comfortable in their own skin.

So if you ever feel uncomfortable with someone’s gender identity remember that it’s none of your business — and not your choice — how they identify. Realize why you’re uncomfortable and work on changing your viewpoint to a more accepting one (it’ll make life a lot better for everyone). Finally, if you’re unwilling to do those things, kindly go fuck yourself. – JP


I never really got anywhere in the binary system

I am not totally clear on the moment when I realized that gender is not a give-in.

It was certainly preceded by a recognition that there were folks whose gender identity did not align with their biological sex. For me, this disrupted the assumption that the identity of a man or woman was tied to being male or female, but did not breakdown the idea entirely.

As a high school student, transitioning between gender binaries or questioning sexuality were the only things that made sense. I had always felt a little out of place at school, and I think that contributed to my extensive worrying about how I identified. Despite the amount of time that I devoted to being an angsty teenager, I never really got anywhere in the binary system.

It was when I started going out with my partner that I saw myself in a more feminine role. This brought on a host of new anxieties that I carried with me into university. However, these worries were only normal, right? I remember being distinctly uncomfortable as relatives talked about my future as a young woman. However, as a bio-female, it seemed only natural.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I decided to distance myself from the whole binary gender thing. However, strangely, I do remember many months later when I searched out the terms non-binary and gender-queer. Seeing the words put to identities confirmed for me the spectrum of gender and biological sex that I knew existed.

I still would not say that I have a strong gender identity. I am generally not very concerned about pronouns, only assumptions made about me. While I still occasionally feel uncomfortable in my bio-female body, I am starting to understand that biological sex is too constructed into binaries linked closely to gender.

I have come to realize that artificial binaries — be they sexualities, genders, or sexes —  are not compatible with my own self perceptions.  – CF