When I came out on my blog over four years ago, I didn’t think I’d need to do it again. It was an all-encompassing, non-label-specific post about my queerness that, barring a few details, has remained true even as my understanding of my identity has changed and deepened. Mostly.
But in June 2014, in the midst of my A-Levels, I started questioning my gender identity. It wasn’t really the best timing to have a major crisis about fundamental building blocks of my identity, since I had exams to be worrying about, but these things never happen on a schedule. It took me a long time to untangle what I was feeling and to settle on terms that felt like they fit — it’s been nearly three years and I haven’t said anything about it, after all.
Currently, I identify as non-binary, specifically as agender.
Many of my friends at uni are aware of this, and I’m sure others have guessed from the way all my social media profiles are set to neutral so that they use “they/them” pronouns for me. I’ve alluded to it in posts here, particularly in my one about Everyday Sexism, and I’ve been confessing it to the world in my poetry since 2014. Funny thing about poetry: you can tell people your darkest secrets and they won’t even realise you did it.
Those who haven’t guessed… well, surprise! Though I’m not sure how you missed it. I guess I’ve been fairly butch for enough of my life that this realisation didn’t change my sense of style drastically, but it’s certainly influenced how I dress and behave. For a start, I stopped shaving my legs. It’s been two and a half years and no one ever notices, funnily enough.
Some of my friends even call me Finn, a name I chose during that early period of confusion when I felt I had two distinct personalities: a feminine writer called Miriam and a masculine musician called Finn. (Don’t ask why I attributed those talents to different aspects of myself. I still don’t really understand it myself.) These sides of me merged, after a while, but I still have days where I feel significantly more like one than the other. It was weird one day last year when I was having a particularly Finn day and someone I was with started calling me that for the first time, with no prompting — like they’d subconsciously picked up on some kind of gender vibes I was giving out.
When I referenced this name in my blog posts about changing my professional name, I explained it as a short form of Delorfinde, my old username. This is true, but not the whole truth. Actually, I chose the name Finn (because I liked it and its literary/mythological connotations) before realising it could work as a nickname for Delorfinde, which people mostly used to shorten to Del. It didn’t click for me or start feeling like something that belonged to me until I made that connection, though, and realised that this was a name I’d been using since I was maybe ten years old.
I’ve spent a lot of time questioning my gender identity because no matter how hard I try, I can’t separate it from my sexuality, nor from societal expectations and ideas about femininity. As an asexual person, I don’t perceive myself in a sexual way, especially not in relation to anybody else around me. Society, however, associates the female body with sex — that’s unavoidable. Since I’m cursed with what many people consider a “womanly figure” (F-cup boobs), I’m constantly aware that anyone looking at me is doing so through a filter of expectations about sexuality. And so I retreat entirely from that and attempt to become sexless, because being perceived as sexual makes me deeply uncomfortable and is at odds with my understanding of myself.
That said, I don’t know whether my asexuality is the only factor at play here. While it is part of the reason I wear baggy clothing and have short hair and try to look as androgynous as possible, it doesn’t explain why hearing people call me as a girl or using ‘she’ to refer to me makes my skin crawl. It doesn’t explain why I spent most of the second half of 2014 staring into the mirror and trying to figure out why I didn’t recognise the person I saw there.
(If you’ve read Broken Body Fragile Heart, you might have guessed this post was coming eventually. There are a handful of poems that deal with those feelings: Skinned, Dark-Eyed Boy, Eye Contact, Unname Me, and then from June onwards in Two Pages Before Midnight. These poems were how I talked about my gender crisis before I felt able to actually, you know, talk about it. You can watch me perform three of the poems in late 2014 here: I wouldn’t say it’s the best performance ever, but I was totally doped up on anxiety meds, so I think I did okay considering.)
As a feminist, I don’t want to distance myself from womanhood because I don’t fit a particular image of it, because that seems to reinforce ideas I disagree with. And I spent a long time second-guessing my identity because of that. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reconcile my understanding of myself with gendered words: girl and woman and she and sister and her and daughter and everything I heard, day in, day out.
Moreover, I sought out narratives about butch women, wondering if that’s what I was, but the more I read about cis women who cut their hair and wore men’s clothes but didn’t constantly feel the urge to peel off their skin — characters who were hurt instead of pleased when someone mistook them for a boy — I knew I wasn’t one of them.
I wondered for a while if I might be trans and actually a guy, but that didn’t feel right either. Being mistaken for a boy was a victory because it meant people had seen me as something other than female, that they noticed something else more than my boobs, that they were momentarily confused when trying to fit me into boxes. If I could, I would demand that confusion at all times. I liked the double-take, the uncertainty — even if it can be really freaking lonely at times too. I wasn’t, however, looking to actually BE a boy, and I didn’t feel any more like one of them than like a girl.
Truth be told, I didn’t feel like anything. The innate sense of gender that people described (both trans people, discussing how they ‘knew they were a guy’ or whatever, and cis people, baffled by the whole concept of not identifying with your assigned gender) is absent. All I have is a sense of what I’m not, and it makes my skin feel a few sizes too small whenever I’m confronted with it.
That’s why I settled on the term agender. (Initially, when I still felt there was a distinct line between Finn and Miriam, I considered identifying as bigender or possibly genderfluid, but that faded as the two merged and became something that was neither one nor the other.) It makes me a triple A: Asexual, Aromantic, Agender.
I think also the ace/aro aspects of my identity are at play here, too, because our societal understanding of gender is so tied up in relationships and sexuality, and once you take that away, certain parts of it stop making sense. I know a disproportionate number of non-binary asexual people and I’m sure there’s a connection somewhere. But it might go the other way: I know my dysphoria plays into my sex-repulsion, and while that isn’t the reason I’m not attracted to people, it definitely affects my behaviour with regard to sex and relationships.
(Some day I’ll talk about how language relating to attraction falls apart once you remove the binary: what counts as the ‘same’ or ‘opposite’ gender when you’re nb? But that’s way too big to discuss in this already massively long post.)
I could write ten thousand words about the process of this identity crisis and how it went from a handful of 2am breakdowns to a gradual process of self-discovery to casually making jokes with uni friends about not confirming to the binary, and I would still never be able to fully articulate it. I could talk about how “Finn” was born of a period in my life when I felt weak and out of control of my own body and how he allowed me to be somebody else (and then the subsequent crisis I had about the internalised misogyny of my “strong” self being masculine). I could tell you about all the times I’ve tried to pluck up the courage to pursue top surgery so that my body feels a little bit more like my own. But none of that is really necessary, at least not right now. Those things can be left for another day.
So why am I writing this post now, instead of months ago or not at all?
Well, for the past three years I’ve often thought that coming out is more trouble than it’s worth. I don’t have the energy to insist on pronouns and I’m not decisive enough to settle on a name that’s less obviously feminine. (‘Miriam Joy’ means that no matter what people I know do, strangers will always default to ‘she’.) All I’m doing is opening myself up to family arguments and abuse from trolls, and as someone with anxiety, I could do without the extra stress.
However, the thought of writing this used to scare the life out of me, and now it’s merely a bit anxiety-inducing, which makes me think I might be ready.
Mainly, though, I’m writing it for the same reason I originally came out as queer: because I want to talk about non-binary and trans things on a personal level, but instead I have to do it from the point of view of an ‘ally’, which feels neither truthful nor helpful. I want to be able to say, “As a non-binary person…” and instead end up saying, “My non-binary friends…” which de-centres the conversation and makes it sound like I’m pushing in somewhere I don’t belong.
I want to be able to talk about my frustrations with gendered language and my desire for top surgery and I want to be able to stand up and say that my non-binary characters are #OwnVoices, instead of having to swallow that down. I want to talk about my relationship with femininity and the various contradictions I feel inherently within my own identity. I want to be able to join in conversations on these issues without worrying that I’m perceived as an outsider. I want to be free of the anxiety that someone will find out I’m non-binary, because secrets are only dangerous when they’re actually secret, and I want to be able to write a bio in 3rd person without agonising over pronouns for ages first.
I’ve reached the point where that seems worth it, so screw the rest.