...the "you" of now is not an academic revelation, it is the "you" of always...
I was in my last year of college when my advisor, a sturdy old school feminist, told me the story of a novelist whose first published work had resulted from scraps of thoughts collected in a desk drawer. For six years, this writer (I can’t remember who now), dropped scribbled writings into the drawer until, one day, she realized she had written a book.
“You see,” my advisor told me. “You just keep writing in little pieces. Eventually they all add up. Eventually you have the big point, the message, the argument, the story.”
And so I have tried to write in little pieces. I try to listen to their squeaks and whispers in order to hear myself.
Some little homophobic comment spit over a sidewalk one night later becomes the charged moment that convinced you to change the world. The sight of a domestic slap through dancing curtains in your dead-end hometown turns into your justification for dislike of heterosexual gender scripts. The curse that preceded your grandfather’s specification of one man’s race informs the white shame you will walk with and against for life.
We grow in little pieces, in inching moments that we must replay and dramatize in order to feel compelled towards change. If we listen closely, watch carefully, we become privy to a system of images and sounds that dictate our sense of injustice.
Lately, I am picking up these little pieces from childhood in order to understand myself as genderqueer. The term is so strict and academic sounding. I have to remind myself that it is not due the privilege of my education and access that I am genderqueer. It is due to the privilege of my education that I know a word for it, that I can speak my pain with other people and form community.
“You have to be patient with people,” I am told by the whole world over and over again. “Some people just don’t know what that is. It’s too much for them to take in.”
It’s funny to me, though. I knew genderqueer before I knew “girl” or “boy” as strict facts of “nature.” For years, I mourned the loss of Patrick, the childhood boy version of myself that climbed trees, decapitated Barbies, and insisted on male pronouns. I was scolded for playing baseball shirtless, for refusing to wear a training bra, for sitting with my legs open when they should have been crossed.
For so long, these things were oddities. I was a funny kid, a dorky kid, a too-smart-for-my-own-good kid. I was gawky. I hadn’t grown into myself. These gender errors were no more significant than other adolescent errors. No different than wearing pants that were floods or overdoing the “spirit” part of school spirit days.
“I used to fear you would be a transsexual,” my mother admitted to me one day, her hands lax on the steering wheel of her Mom-mobile minivan. “You had that Patrick thing for three years. I will never forget, you told the teachers at school to call you Patrick. I was like, ‘uhhh, Katie.’”
And so another little piece was planted. Patrick was remembered. Patrick was filed under “things that make me genderqueer” along with short hair, boy briefs, and extreme discomfort in dresses.
The more I stumble upon these “little pieces” the more I realize how silenced they have been. I start to understand my poor posture and discomfort in bathing suits. And the more this happens, the angrier I become. I don’t want to give anyone the patience or education to “learn” this strange burdensome oddness that is me. I’ve been asking my whole life for the right to just be.
Please don’t make me put that dress on. Please don’t make me take my swim suit cover-up off. Please don’t ask me to grow out my hair. Please don’t ask me to put on high heels. Please don’t make me go to the manicure birthday party. Please don’t ask me to play Pretty, Pretty, Princess Game. Please don’t take me into Victoria Secret. Please, please, please.
There is no debate to be had about who needs to be educated in what. Why is it the burden of trangender, genderqueer, and other gender non-conforming people to patiently allow others to back off after treading upon us? Academic language is not necessary. What is necessary is the respect of withholding judgement, the recognition that it is not the blindness of genderqueer people but the abuse of enforced gender codes that hurts all of us, and the openness to accept the fury of those who have never been able to exist as is.
I will not stop picking up these pieces because when I look back at my last 2.5 decades, I see them lying all over. And I will take them now, accept them finally, love them wholly, and allow their message and meaning to echo: this is not my fault, this has got to change.