“I am not my masculinity”

Project Description:

Growing up, I always knew that I was different. While the other boys spent their time kicking soccer balls and skateboarding, I always sat on the sidelines. Unlike so many of my peers, I never felt entirely comfortable with masculinity. At the age of six, my ideal day would consist of playing in the woods behind my house, getting dirty looking for bugs and animals, then getting some clay from the creek, making a pot for my mom, filling it with flowers and playing with Barbie’s. From a very early age, I was trapped in the middle of the gender spectrum—I loved and cherished as much of femininity as I did of masculinity.

For many of my friends, masculinity seemed effortless. They blended in with the other boys in a way that felt alien to me. I struggled desperately to be like them, to fit within the gender boundaries that society had drawn for me.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop myself from breaking the rules. Many of my best friends were girls at a time when girls were marked with indelible ‘cooties.’ From them, I learned femininity, playing dress up, playing with dolls, and once even painting my nails. In femininity, I found freedom. Playing with girls instead of boys, I connected with a part of myself that felt as natural—or perhaps more natural—than my masculine self.

But my gender-transcendent fantasy couldn’t continue indefinitely. Soon enough, the other boys in the neighborhood found out that I had been playing with girls. That’s when the word “sissy” first entered my life. When other boys found out that I enjoyed and related to femininity, the word sissy seemed to lurk around every corner. Any misstep in gender performance, any slip into femininity, would be harshly punished by the other boys in my neighborhood. Sometimes they would call me a sissy, sometimes they would punch me, but more often than not, they would simply isolate me.

Because of the bullying that I experienced, I was forced to cut off my friendships with my best friends, both of whom happened to be girls. By the time I was seven or so, I didn’t have any real friends to speak of. Because I was a gender non-conforming child, I was denied the love, affirmation, and friendship that I needed from my peers.

There was a point when the isolation became too painful. I locked away my femininity, hid it away so that no one could see. I tried to be a masculine child. I tried to be the boy that everyone expected me to be. This repression continued throughout elementary school, middle school, and into high school. I felt that, if I expressed my true gender identity, I would be ostracized from my peers and the life I had created would come crashing down around me.

Luckily, throughout my time in college I was able to break free. In college, I began to acknowledge that, whether I liked it or not, I am gender non-conforming. Though my body was assigned male at birth, my gender is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and femininity feels truest to who I am.

Masculinity and its expectation have always been something that I’ve struggled with. But I am more than my gender, and I am more than the gender that others have attempted to force me into. Through learning to embrace my gender identity in its entirety, I have learned that I am not a “freak,” like so many people tried to tell me growing up.

I am not a sissy; I am a queen.