CW: gender questioning, bullying
I’m super insecure, about most things. Don’t be fooled by this faux-extroverted shell – I’m a bottler, a repressor, a true charlatan. This weekend I found myself in a particularly fragile state – somewhat mentally, mostly physically – and, after mistakenly assuming someone had questioned my sexuality/identity, I was asked what being queer was to me.
I was stumped, it’s not like I hadn’t thought about it. It’s not like I hadn’t thought about it all day every day for the last few months. Yet, I couldn’t muster the mental power to put into words what it was to be queer for me.
Now, I put this down to a few things:
- I find it hard to express myself around men
- I find gay men intimidating
- I have imposter syndrome in queer spaces
Those don’t add up to the totality of my issues with this question but are the most imposing pieces. I went into an internal melt down shortly after, which would last until Sunday evening. What did it mean to be queer for me? Why am I struggling with that question? Am I valid? What was I missing?
Little did I know, Netflix would point me in the right direction. My pride evening was spent with a dear friend, junk food and the movie ‘Alex Strangelove’ – a movie, by the way, that is a million times better than ‘Love, Simon’.
I actually recommend it, it’s really quite funny.
Anyway, there’s two scenes which stuck with me. The first being the titular character’s inability to feel comfortable being sexual with his girlfriend. The second being a flashback to a traumatic childhood memory of him being aroused in a communal shower room and subsequently being beaten up for it.
The former struck a chord with me due to my own general uncomfortableness with my body and being touched; the latter with how suffocating I found masculinity and gender whilst growing up and still to this day. The chokehold of “being a man” is stifling, to say the least.
And that was it, my eureka moment. The reason I couldn’t answer what queer meant to me wasn’t because I had no idea, I had just been trying to define it within the wrong context. Sexuality to me is pretty simple. I fuck who I fuck, I am attracted to whomever and that’s ok. There are intersections between, say, my mental health and how I sexually interact with people – but ultimately, I’m happy with the fluidity of my sexuality and where it is, where it’s going and that it’s a journey, albeit a fucking rollercoaster sometimes.
So here it was, right in front of me – all shiny eyes, panting eagerly, with its tail wagging – my queerness lies in gender, not sexuality. Those two scenes were particularly poignant to me in such a painfully obvious way – never underestimate your ability to be untruthful with yourself, it’s an incredible feat we all possess – like secretly favouring smooth peanut butter but advocating crunchy.
It was, and has been, obvious to me that my issue with my body – or at least how others interact with it – has an internal and external factor. I have found myself questioning whether my body dysmorphia is actually gender dysphoria for around a year now. I first uttered the words “I am unsure about my gender” to my then partner and remember being asked whether I thought I was trans. Feeling completely alienated, I swiftly retreated back in my shell, burying whatever vestige of curiosity that had been aroused.
But I kept asking myself that very same question. It loomed over me and constricted my every thought and interaction on the daily. Am I? What did that mean and how does that fit into who I currently was? Ultimately, I like my body, my physique, I don’t dislike the changes that I went through in puberty – my voice, my height, my bone structure and broadness. Although I have always been relieved to not be particularly hairy (I’d most certainly be a waxxer).
What has been glaringly oppressive to me since childhood, and continues so to this day, are the restrictions put on my body and gender externally. The double dogma.
I’ve always found boys repulsive. Their violence, aggression and demeanour. I didn’t slot into that. I was the kid that wanted to sit around and draw or sew. My favourite Nintendo character was Kirby, owing to their ability to be a pink ball of squidge that absorbed enemies and took on their traits. You’d often find me playing vet with my toys and treating their pretend ails.
I hate(d) sports. Football especially. There wasn’t much of a presence of it in my life or my family, but I steered clear of it for all intents and purposes. There was nothing scarier to me than masses of men in one place, the hysteria of winning or losing. It’s violent, I don’t care what people say – and a centrepiece of toxic masculinity and misogyny. Yet, I was pushed into trying to like it. You weren’t a real boy if you didn’t like it; you were a gay, a pussy, a fag. When I did convince myself I liked it? I couldn’t choose my own position. I was told I’d be a goalkeeper and I was kept out in the rain and cold for several hours having balls kicked at me to ‘toughen’ me up. I gleefully broke the straps on my goalie gloves that evening and declared to never play football again, and I haven’t. That was 20 years ago.
Years later, whilst in Argentina, I felt the oppressive football obsession wash over me in Buenos Aires. I was cornered by a pair of young argentines. Upon discovering I was English they wanted to know what team I supported and whether I’d be going to watch the Bocas (one of their most popular, most successful school teams in the city – I guess it equivalates to college football in the US?) match the following day. I let them down with precision – not liking football was a badge of pride for me. Subsequently they looked at me in disgust and in full, complete seriousness spat at me “are you gay or something?” and proceeded to ignore me or give me filthy looks for the remainder of my stay at the hostel.
I was most comfortable in all womxn spaces growing up. I sought solace around those that I most likely aligned myself with. Although not every womxn in my life exhibited the traits I desired, as I quite often say that my mother is the most masculine person I know (aggressively and painfully so for me in my early years) I was still happier there than uncomfortable with men.
Men have always presented themselves as a threat to me. They are either trying to engage with you to lift themselves up the masculine ladder or are trying to make you more masculine to ensure they aren’t perceived as lesser than. It’s a trap and it’s forced, it holds no prisoners and you will find yourself shunned, looked down on or pushed aside as soon as you don’t subscribe to the heteronormative ideals of cishet men.
Unfortunately, in my late teens and early 20s I had partaken in the culture and decidedly aimed to push aside all of my doubt and questioning of belonging and forced myself to be. To be one of them and be the best at it.
I guess you could say I was moderately successful. I was the straightest non-straight person you’d have met. It was obnoxious and like all masculinity, it was forced and devoid of emotion. I sucked my partners dry of emotional labour, I gave nothing back. I was a blackhole of nothing in terms of how I engaged with the world, my head was a vacuous space – if you had put your ear to mine you’d hear the swish-swashing of whisky and unsuccessful one-night stands (not sure what that’d sound like? I’d imagine it would be like a private conversation among the love island men).
I was nasty and offensive, to myself and everyone I came in contact with.
Ironically, I found the majority of the relationships I had in that time oppressive. Being someone who, to themselves, quite clearly didn’t fit into the confines of the gender binary – and who also was not on either end of the monosexual binary either – having to be a “good” boyfriend, being the protector or provider in any capacity, having to be strong and masculine, it hurt. It went against everything I felt but thought I had to adhere to.
I remember distinctly being asked if I was gay by an ex due to objecting to something, it was all a bit too much. I had gone three-sixty in life; little cishet boys, or those supporting them, can sniff you out if you don’t fit into their world and you get bullied for it – and I was bullied continuously through school starting at age 5. I was now, ultimately, being gaslighted by my partners. Having my gender and sexuality questioned for not fitting into ‘conventional’, heteronormative gender roles.
All of these anecdotes, and they are a pin head in relation to everything else that has accumulated in my experience of gender, have pointed me towards where I am right now.
Not fitting into the boy’s club used to be scary. Where else would I go? Who would have me? The more I learn, the more I understand about myself (but also other’s experiences), the more I realise I am not alone. I can clearly see by the choice of who I spend time with, the people I choose to leave behind, the people I don’t feel comfortable around. There’s common denominators. Small reflections of myself in others that I relate to and cling to.
I think a lot of people who’d speak to me on the daily would say I hate men. I can’t deny that, I do hate men. I have yet to be presented with a man that doesn’t in some way provide me with anxiety or hasn’t contributed in someway to my gender trauma. I also can’t remain ignorant to the history of men, the history or violence and oppression, to the subjugation of womxn and the unbearable heaviness of ‘being a man’.
But, this stems from the fact that I am not a man.
Yes, I have male sex traits and no I wouldn’t change that. I have been socialised as a man, but don’t associate myself with it. You’d see me in the streets and not think twice, I fit into a stereotypically look of what a cishet man would look like and I am not what some would deem ‘outwardly’ queer. I am slowly finding ways to subvert my own notion of my gender, or lack thereof and I understand the concept of gender – being separate from biological sex traits, that gender is a social construct; a mask, a charade, a way in which we present ourselves and are presented in the world – can be a scary thought.
It undermines everything we are taught, it goes against the heteronormativity we are prescribed at birth. Men are men and women are women. There are only two genders. We are naturally inclined towards heterosexuality, anything else is a choice, a deviation of desire. Taboo.
So, I’m genderqueer. I don’t subscribe to either, I feel a neutrality in the space I take up and my inability to align with either makes that crystal clear to me. I can’t say out loud that I am a man, just like I could never bring myself to say I was straight way back when.
Tell you about my queerness? Sure, there you go.