When we think about gender, we usually think of it as a strict binary with two opposing ends: male on one side, female on the other. What you might not know is that gender actually exists on a spectrum, and someone isn’t always one or the other.
When most of us were born, we were assigned a gender. That gender assignment usually had to do with what sits between our legs. I grew up believing that because I was born with a vagina, then I must be a girl, despite what I felt inside. I couldn’t put it into words at the time, I just knew there was something about me, something fundamental that rejected girlhood, that didn’t identify with it. It was, and remains to this day, an intangible and unquantifiable quality that girls seem to possess that I seem to be lacking. These feelings left me feeling confused and alone. It felt as though there were some divine mysteries (which I had cautiously dubbed “The Secrets of Girlhood”) that every girl knew that I hadn’t been privy to. I didn’t understand why I felt that way, I just knew one thing: I wasn’t a girl. Sure, my body and voice had fooled the world into thinking I was one, but I knew in my heart that I wasn’t.
At first, this realization bothered me. Why couldn’t I be a girl? What was wrong with me? Why did I lack that unknowable quality, that je ne sais quoi that would make me like other girls? I tried to subtly study the girls around me to find answers. They seemed to be able to find the perfect clothes, do the perfect hairstyles, and have the perfect makeup. Meanwhile, I was struggling to get to their level. I recall attempting to put on makeup to disastrous results. I tried to study my friends as we went shopping at the mall, discreetly noting what they tried on and how it fit them. I was dismayed to find that those same clothes didn’t hug my (non-existent) curves the same way they did my friends.
When I was in the fifth grade, we started learning about puberty in school. When the school nurse told us about menstruation and how it lead to womanhood, I thought all of my prayers had been answered. Finally, I understood why I couldn’t feel like a real girl: I hadn’t had my period yet! Once I got it, I thought, all these problems would magically vanish and I would feel comfortable in my own skin. I was so excited, and prepared for that eventual day by organizing the pads and tampons we had been given in class. As days went on, each of my friends seemed to emerge from the bathroom, a knowing smile on their lips, a strut in the step, bearing the type of confidence that could only come from a first period. I prayed that I would be the next one to be blessed with a visit from Mother Nature.
Finally, on the last day of spring break, my period arrived unceremoniously during a trip to the mall with my mom and best friend. I was so proud I practically screamed the news to the whole food court. That night, I lay awake in bed waiting for the changes to take hold. I was shocked and disappointed the next morning when I woke up feeling the exact same as I always had.
I spent years living and thinking like this. It wasn’t until the end of my teens that I found some relief. While browsing the internet, I came across articles on gender. Reading them, I discovered that gender encompasses so much more than the strict binary I was taught was the norm. I liked to think of myself as pretty progressive and informed back then, but I was shocked to discover the existence of terms like non-binary, genderfluid and genderqueer.
There exist gender identities outside of the “boy-girl” spectrum. There are people who feel they partially identify with those genders (called demiboy or demigirl), there are people who feel their gender vacillates across the spectrum depending on how they feel for a certain period of time (called genderfluid), and there are some people who feel that their gender exists completely outside of the binary (called non-binary). I was astounded! It had never occurred to me that there could be anything besides male and female. For a few brief moments after I read these articles, I began to wonder if this could possibly apply to me. I quickly shot that idea down, however. I told myself that I was at best being foolish and at worst appropriating other people’s real struggles with gender identity. This went on for quite some time.
It wasn’t until very recently that things changed for me. I was reading the Tumblr of popular teen actor Amandla Stenberg, who had recently revealed that they sometimes felt like a boy. I kept reading and later found out that they now identified as non-binary. Later, on my private Twitter, I was having a conversation with a friend I’ll call Lorry. Lorry and I were talking about gender and our feelings towards it and during that conversation, and subsequently, I realized something about myself. Something I had hidden away from the world and even myself. After that conversation and some deep thinking, research and soul-searching, I came to a conclusion that made sense of all my previous years of confusion: I wasn’t a girl. I wasn’t cisgender (someone who agree with the gender they were assigned at birth). All those years spent wondering why I didn’t feel like a girl finally yielded an answer. I am non-binary. My gender identity exists outside of the gender spectrum of male and female.
After I realized this truth about myself, I began to make some changes in my life that would more accurately reflect what I felt inside: I started asking people to call me by my chosen name, Lux. I decided to change up which pronouns I felt comfortable with. At first, I was using “she, they, and him,” but changed it to just they after I realized people were exclusively using “he” to refer to me, something I felt uncomfortable with. I started wearing my hair shorter than I normally did. And all of this, I did unburdened by the knowledge that I had to perform within the confines of one gender. It felt so liberating to do these things. I felt so light.
It came with its own set of challenges, however. People sometimes called me by my birth name instead of my chosen one. People would often refer to me with “she” pronouns or refer to me as a girl or woman. It put me in the awkward position of having to either grin and bear it, or call them out and risk a scene. Friends and colleagues have confessed to me that they sometimes get scared to talk to or about me, for fear of saying the wrong thing. While I understand these fears (I’ve accidentally misgendered people before, it happens), I wish people wouldn’t make these instances and therefore, my gender identity, into such a big deal. I understand that it will take people time to get used to a new name and appearance. However, I wish they and the rest of the world could see that I’m still the same person I always was. The only difference is that I’m living more authentically now.
I am still learning about my identity to this day. I recently re-introduced “she” pronouns into my preferred pronouns because it just felt right. After some more soul-searching, I’m realizing that I don’t want to distance myself wholly from womanhood. I still identify strongly with Black Womanhood, in particular. I know this seems contradictory, but it all makes sense to me.
I wish everyone reading this could peer into my thoughts and see the wordless, intangible thoughts and feeling I associate with my gender. I’m not a girl, but am still perceived and treated as one by the world at large, and that, in turn, informs and influences how I perceive myself, how I act and feel. I still have ties to womanhood despite myself. It’s something I’m still discovering and accepting. And that is the trend I hope to continue in discovering more about myself and my identity; doing what feels right. I know the journey of self-discovery is one that takes a lifetime. I realize that I’m still young, some would say too young to be making these kinds of decisions about myself and my life. But I say that I’m following my heart and listening to my mind when I tell people to call me Lux or acknowledge me as non-binary. I’m being myself.
Lux is a guest contributor to Gurl.com.