In Short: Confusing.
Gender is a thing that everyone thinks they understand until they try to get a grip on it, especially these days. Then it’s like trying to get a grip on a particularly slippery fish. Being openly trans is much more accepted, and it’s becoming better understood by the world at large. But there are other categories of gender that are still pretty misunderstood — demigirl, demiboy, agender, nonbinary, gender non-conforming, and what I am — genderqueer.
Growing up, I knew I was a girl because that’s what my family and society told me I was. I was born with a certain configuration of parts, so I must be a woman. But I’ve never been particularly attached to that identification, and those things that I did to look or behave more “feminine” always felt more performative than anything else.
Then I came across the term “genderqueer” when reading about queer theory and had an “aha” moment. Genderqueer means I don’t necessarily identify as any particular gender at any given time. I’m not really a woman (though I look like one) and I have no desire to be a man. I’m just… me.
If you want a mental image of a celebrity who’s genderqueer, look at Sam Smith, the singer. They describe themself as spending “a lifetime at war with [their] gender.”
My first active clue that I wasn’t happy being considered a woman was when I cut off all my hair — going from waist length to about two inches in a few strategic cuts from a pair of scissors. My husband was convinced that that was a passing phase, and that I’d grow it back, but I loved the freedom that the short hair gave me.
Then there was a lot of talking to my therapist about why I loved something so simple. There was also a lot of talking to my husband about what I consider “being a woman” to be (or not) and how I don’t fit most of them.
A lot of this was pretty stressful to realize when I was already in my forties, and you’d think that it was pretty set. But being true to yourself can happen at any time, and I’m now happier when I think about myself than I’ve been in a long time.
It’s a bit puzzling to people who’ve known me for a long time — how could they not have known something like this when they’ve known me five, ten, twenty years? The answer is that I didn’t know. I just knew that the way I fit in my skin felt… wrong, no matter what I did. And trust me, I tried just as hard as I could to be a woman — makeup, long hair, heels, dresses. I was just as much at war with my gender as Sam Smith.
These days, I live in leggings and T-shirts. My hair is practically a crew cut. I’ve gotten rid of all my heels and makeup. I’m still married, going on 23 years, to a kind man who says he knew when he met me that I was a bit odd, and this is just an extension of that. And while I’ll respond to “she” and “her,” I’d rather you’d use “they” or “them.” I’d rather not be considered “one of the girls.” I’m just me, and that’s good enough.
Karen Hennigan spends their days battling paperwork in a federal agency. At night, they spend time with their husband, dog, and five cats. They’re also an amateur writer, knitter, crocheter, and cross stitcher, out of fear that they might get bored if they sit still for too long with nothing in their hands.
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