by: Nico Lang
I technically came out as genderqueer three years ago. Even if I didn’t call it that.
I was in a hotel room with a friend of mine. We were at a Midwest LGBT conference with a horrifyingly cumbersome name, and he and I were settling in on our first night there. My roommate was trans, and as I’m sure he hears all the time, he was the first trans person I had ever known well. While we were rooming together, I was interested to find out about his life and his story, or as much of that as he was comfortable with sharing.
And then he asked me about my history with gender.
I had never been asked that question before and never considered it something personally worth thinking about. I was in the International Studies bubble at my university, and most of my “analyzing constructs” thoughts were being spent on Noam Chomsky. I hadn’t taken any of the Women and Gender Studies classes at my school and didn’t know a Judith Butler from a Gerard Butler. And the very idea of the question shocked me.
I didn’t say anything for a long time, letting the idea sink in. I repeated the word in my brain so many times that it started to lose all meaning. It was just letters.
At that moment, I just opened my mouth and started talking, which I do a lot more than I should. And after I started, I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe the things that were coming out.
That night, I told him that I’ve never really felt gendered. When I was little, I identified female, but at some point, I stopped identifying as anything. I just felt like me. I recently told a very close relative that when God was giving out genders, he forgot to give me one. It’s an imperfect metaphor, but at the time, it was helpful.
The first time I ever came out to someone, it was on the Internet. If any of you folks out there remember AIM, I was talking with a girl I had recently met in a chatroom. All I remember that she was my age, and she identified as bisexual, which is the same realization that I had been having about myself. I watched a lot of Top Gun during that time, and after rewinding the volleyball scene about twenty times, I began to re-think some things.
I remember how nervous I was, how I asked her not to freak out before I told her. I knew that it would be okay – because I could tell her I’m the Queen of England on AIM and she would have no way of disproving it – but I was scared of her judgment. More than that, I was scared that saying it would make it true.
And once again, I was terrified what my friend would say. I half expected him to yell at me, to start crying, to rip all his hair out, to scream, to jump out the window, to throw tomatoes, to laugh at me.
But none of those things happened.
He was calm. He listened. He smiled. He told me how normal that is, how a lot of people feel the exact same way I do. I imagine he hears these sorts of things from people a lot.
In that moment, I felt more affirmed and content about my gender that I had in years, a rub for the secret self-loathing I harbored, the feelings of difference that I wasn’t able to name. But after that, I put all those feelings and revelations in a box and didn’t look at them. I didn’t forget about that night or how much it meant to be to have my secret kept safe, but I almost never thought about it. It was there, but for some reason, I didn’t think it mattered that much. I would say that myself that it was just “my little thing” and not that big of a deal, whatever.
But recently, a friend of mine, a friend that I’m hoping soon to call a good friend, came out as both queer and genderqueer, which was a lot of coming out all at once. I wasn’t surprised because she mostly hung out with queerios before then, anyway, and it was only a matter of time before we turned her. We’re like vampires that way.
But what sat with me about this coming out was that term. Genderqueer. I understood what she was talking about – because, hey, I’ve been to Wicker Park – but something about the term made me sick to my stomach, made me angry. I didn’t say anything to her because I wasn’t angry with her; I was angry with myself. I was angry that I hadn’t had the same courage to be open with others or even open with myself. I hadn’t even considered it an option.
What’s strange is that I wrote a piece about my history with gender a couple months ago. But I refused to discuss the subtext with people. Whenever they would bring it up, I would thank them for reading my work and quickly move on.
I just couldn’t put that label on it. I was scared of what it might mean.
But I knew somewhere it was time. I finally needed to be even a tiny bit as brave as my friend was. I needed to speak up for the kid who so badly wanted to wear dresses, for the teenager who didn’t fit in and didn’t know why, the adult who is still finding his place in the world, the one who still feels lost.
I think that being open and honest, standing up and being counted and letting people know that they know someone like you is important. Sure, it helps us to educate others, but even more than that, coming out helps us empower ourselves to be the person we were born to be. And we can only do that when we stop being silent, when we let ourselves be visible. Sometimes, that takes as little as simply saying, “Yes, I am.”
So, in the last month or so, I’ve come out to close friends about my gender identification.
I started with another trans guy – because that seems to be how I do these things – and the first thing he did was ask what pronouns I preferred. He joked that I should start using “The Royal We.” If I remember correctly, I responded that my gender is “Liz Lemon.”
However, as I told him that night, on another night when I couldn’t stop talking, I don’t know what I prefer. I’m not there yet. I’m still on a journey with this whole gender thing, and I don’t know where it goes or where I end up. I’m still scared, and it still makes me feel lonely all the time. But I’m ready to stop feeling alone in this — because no matter what you’re going through, you’re never alone. I’m ready to struggle amongst friends rather than by myself.
And I’m finally ready to start talking about it.
Nico Lang is the Co-Creator and Co-Editor of In Our Words and a graduate student in DePaul University’s Media & Cinema Studies program. Lang is a Change Coordinator for LGBT Change, the Co-Founder of Chicago’s Queer Intercollegiate Alliance and a critic for HEAVEMedia. His work has been featured in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the New Gay and on his mother’s refrigerator. Nico is poly, pansexual and genderqueer but really just identifies as whatever David Bowie is. Follow Nico on Twitter @GidgetLang or on the Facebook.