First Person: How I Told The World I'm Neither A Man Nor A Woman
A different kind of coming-out story.
BY SAM ESCOBAR | Aug 6, 2016 | Culture
I wasn't nervous when I typed out the Facebook status. I wasn't nervous when I hit the enter key, nor when I immediately began receiving calls and texts and comments. Honestly, I wasn't feeling much of anything because, with two close friends by my side, I'd consumed an entire bottle of red wine—okay, more like two. It was Christmas Eve, 2015, and with a brain humming on Cabernet, I'd just publicly come out as non-binary.
When I was young, I often thought about what it would feel like to be a boy. Not with regard to how I would be treated by others. I simply wanted to have a male body…some of the time, at least. And yet I truly appreciated aspects of the female body I had. For a kid in elementary school, this was very confusing—growing up is mystifying enough without the added puzzle of gender identity.
By the time I was around nine years old, I knew I wasn't exclusively attracted to boys. I didn't yet know the word "queer," let alone anything about gender identity—my Syracuse, New York elementary school wasn't exactly discussing gender normatively. And I wasn't daring enough to experiment with my gendered appearance—I've been laden with social anxiety my entire life, so standing out in a way that I knew could attract negative attention seemed counterintuitive at best and foolish at worst.
I only began investigating my curiosity when I got to college. After hours of combing through message boards and LGBTQ-centric sites, I realised that on top of being queer, I identified considerably with men. It had nothing to do sports, beer, or bro hugs. To be frank, I realised that, among other things, when I watched straight porn I saw myself from the male perspective.
Your brain can protect you from so much, even when what it's protecting you from is your own identity.
So I came halfway out of the closet, telling a few close friends, who were generally supportive albeit confused—they considered my love of makeup and fashion to be the antithesis of anything other than a cisgender female identity. I also discussed it my then-boyfriend, but while he tried to be supportive, my inner questioning intensified the already detrimental issues within our relationship, and we broke up.
The only way I knew how to express my difficult-to-name identity—the only way I could think to do so—was to look more androgynous. I started shopping in the men's section of my favourite stores. I contemplated cutting all my long, blue hair off, but determined that my face would look too round (I later became a beauty editor, so the assessment was very on-brand).
I also bought a cheap binder to strap down my chest, though I only ever wore it in private. The first time I put it on, zipping myself into it felt exciting…and then anticlimactic. I have 34E/F breasts that are beyond difficult to conceal. And even when I applied makeup in ways I felt made me look more masculine—again, privately—I would study myself in the mirror and simply feel disappointed. I felt like I didn't—I couldn't—fit the androgynous ideal that so often came up when I Googled "genderqueer" or "non-binary people." 22-year-old me didn't have the perspective to recognise that fitting into a specific standard shouldn't be intrinsic to one's identity.
So, as college came to a close, I went back into the closet. I opted out of my own evolution because I didn't feel adequate enough to continue. I've suffered from clinical depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder for most of my life, so transitional periods are always a bit tumultuous for me, and this was no different. I tossed away the binder and the men's clothes, I stopped attempting to contour my face in a masculine way, and I let my inclinations drift to the back of my mind. Your brain can protect you from so much, even when what it's protecting you from is your own identity.
Years later, once I had established myself in New York and found a community of friends who welcomed discussion on such issues, who asked preferred pronouns and respected all genders, I experienced an important self-discovery: I don't need to look a certain way to identify, and to feel, the way that I do. My identity and its expression are separate, and at times may even appear to contradict one another. Yes, I wear a lot of makeup, but beauty doesn't need to be ascribed to just one gender.
We're in the midst of a generational realisation, a collective acceptance of gender's spectrum. While I love the progress made in pop culture and the beauty industries, and how at ease that has made me with my own identity, it's important to acknowledge that I have a significant amount of privilege. Not only do I look generally feminine, but I also am typically perceived as white (my father is Latino and my mother is Caucasian), so I don't face the types of discrimination queer, non-binary people—particularly folks of colour—often do. Given the only recent visibility of non-binary identities, there isn't a ton of data on the subject. But in a 2008 survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Centre for Transgender Equality of 6,450 transgender and gender nonconforming people, twenty percent identified as "part time as one gender, part time as another" while thirteen percent identified as "a gender not listed here." (The rest either identified as male or as female.) The survey revealed key common experiences among gender nonconforming individuals, such as the finding that seventy percent had experienced harassment and discrimination at school.
I don't need to look a certain way to identify, and to feel, the way that I do.
I am overwhelmingly lucky and privileged not to have experienced harassment in the workplace, in school, or on public transit based on my gender identity. But there is such a long way to go before acceptance—and, if North Carolina's laws are any indication, even acknowledgment—of non-binary and trans people becomes the standard.
After months of soul-searching and friend-consulting on my long-suppressed feelings, I wrote a piece for one of my favourite feminist sites about how I had spent so much time censoring my queer and non-binary identity around straight acquaintances, coworkers, and even loved ones. When it was published, I was thrilled at the positive responses.
Lunchtime logic: "I publicly came out today, I deserve a cookie"— Sam Escobar (@myhairisblue) December 4, 2015
Jk I always deserve cookies pic.twitter.com/sBDxdWmwkc
I didn't post the article to my personal Facebook page—I wasn't ready to declare my identity to family or friends outside of New York. All I could imagine was a group of old friends from college, most of whom I've lost touch with, some of whom I dated at one point or another, mocking me. So I did what I often do when I get anxious: I planned.
I decided to write a long post on Facebook with a link to the article, rounded out with counterpoints to every critique I imagined someone could posit. I would call my parents beforehand and explain it to them—again, with answers to any hypothetical question. My instinct has always been to become defensive even prior to being criticised—a trait honed by years of anxiety and insecurities.
At the same time, I've also historically abandoned all those instincts and trusted my impulses when the mood is right and the wine glass is full. So it's no surprise that, on Christmas Eve, as I sat in my friend's apartment with her and, oddly enough, our mutual ex-boyfriend—a strange story for another day—I typed out the following: "I identify as queer and non-binary. I prefer they and them pronouns. This is me coming out." And then I pressed enter.
Almost immediately, friends from high school and college flooded my phone with kind words. My high-school ex called first, telling me how proud she was. My best friend since the eighth grade sent me dozens of heart emojis and supportive texts. Sure, I received a few sarcastic, even negative comments from people I went to college with—primarily male friends of an ex I no longer communicate with. But I knew that this was the best possible route I could've taken to be fully open. Like diving into a pool rather than toe-testing the waters, I felt relieved and refreshed all at once.
It wasn't without its pitfalls. The following day, I had a long talk with my mother, one of the most important people in my life. I'd always been nervous discussing my queerness with her for fear it would make her uncomfortable. She's not homophobic, but she worries that I'll be discriminated against by people who are, which translates to discomfort. Who knows how she'd take my non-binary identity?
Sure enough, while the Facebook status was the right route for me, it was overwhelming for her—a consequence I felt selfish for not having thought of. So I screenshot all of the wonderful comments I received on Twitter and Facebook and removed my original post. I initially felt defeated, but the positive feelings from the post and its responses were just as present post-deletion as prior-.
I'm still working on being upfront with people who don't know my gender identity—a tricky thing that comes with its own set of pros and cons. They may question why I don't shave my legs or ask for a deeper explanation when I tell them my preferred pronouns, occasionally with a hint of rudeness. "Are you planning on transitioning?" is one of my least favourite yet most frequently asked questions. And they may feel confused that I don't, say, look like Ruby Rose or another androgynous celebrity.
But rude strangers don't stare or take photos of me the way they sometimes shamelessly do to non-binary and trans people—in fact, most people would never realise I don't identify as female unless I explicitly explain it or if they follow me on social media. I am fortunate that, for the most part, I get to establish my identity on my own terms.
I do have plans to eventually look quite different than I currently do, but those are steps I'm going to take as steps, not gigantic leaps. Those closest to me are aware of these goals, but as much as diving headfirst worked for coming out, my gender expression is an entirely different ballgame.
Still, as corny and cliché as it sounds, I know that if and when I do, I'll be able to count on the support system I've built around me to accept me as I am.
From: Esquire US.