Last week I wrote about how exhausting it is to be a trans person right now. I wrote about fear and anger and sadness and burn out and feeling numb. I’m really glad I wrote that post, but writing it – and some of the conversations that writing it sparked – reminded me that I can’t explain my gender in one word, or even in a simple sentence. My gender identity is changing all the time as I explore it, and I love that.
Content note for brief mention of sexual assault. This post is not a 101 level post – it assumes a basic understanding of the terminology trans and non-binary folx use to talk about gender. For more starter resources, check out benicetotrans.com.
Ever since I realised I was queer, I described myself as a cis woman with the caveat that I knew I would have to explore my gender identity more thoroughly one day. I would poke at my gender every couple of months, to see if I was still satisfied with the way I was describing it. And I was, and I was, and I was… until I last summer when ‘one day’ became ‘now’. I realised that the “gender feels” list in the note on my phone was steadily growing, but even though I no longer felt comfortable as a cis woman I didn’t know how to explain those gender feels with a simple, easy-to-understand gender-identity label.
Which, of course, I don’t have to.
In the same way that I described myself as “not straight” before I settled on the label ‘lesbian’ to describe my sexual orientation (which, admittedly, became ‘queer’ pretty quickly), I’ve felt “not cis” for about eleven months now, but had far too much imposter syndrome to describe myself that way until my enboifriend gently poked me in the direction of ‘you might be trans?’ when our spanking scene turned into a discussion about gender feels. For a while I was actually wondering whether I could identify as non-binary while still using she/her pronouns. Which I could have, but figuring out how to describe my gender became much easier when I realised that I don’t identify with the label non-binary.
Now, technically non-binary is the generally used umbrella term to describe my gender identity. Right now I describe myself as trans, adding “specifically genderqueer trans masc” after it when I’m talking to someone who I think will understand those words. But while ‘genderqueer’ falls under the non-binary umbrella, it’s not a label or an identity that has ever felt right to me. By the start of this year, I realised it was keeping me from identifying as “not cis” in any way, because I felt that if I wasn’t a binary trans guy then I had to be non-binary.
Which, again, obviously I don’t have to.
I feel like non-binary limits me to this liminal space between ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and that isn’t how I see my gender at all. It’s part of the reason that ‘they/them’ pronouns don’t work for me, because (to me) there’s a gender neutrality about them. I use ze/hir pronouns because they imply – to me at least – a very specific gender identity. A gender identity that is very queer and a little more masculine than feminine, which feels very right to me right now. I’m genderqueer, which is a distinctive gender that feels like a fuck you to the cisheteropatriarchal society that I live in. Non-binary doesn’t fit right, but genderqueer is my own.
I need to be clear here that that is how the label non-binary feels when I try to apply it to my own gender – I don’t believe that other folx who use it feel that way, or that it is inherently a limiting term that implies that someone’s gender falls between ‘man’ and ‘woman’. I recognise that the non-binary space is my space, and I will probably will feel more seen in a support group for non-binary folks than one for trans men. But for me it doesn’t quite work as a label – in fact, I told NBae a few days ago that I think agender is a more accurate term to describe how I feel than non-binary.
Once I realised that I didn’t have to describe myself non-binary by default if I wasn’t a cis woman or a trans guy, finding the words to talk my gender exploration became easier. The umbrella term of non-binary might not fit me, but the umbrella term of trans does, and feels so right to me that it’s almost scary. Of course, even ‘trans, gender queer and trans masculine’ all together don’t precisely describe my gender identity – that would imply that my gender is a static thing.
Which, I’ve discovered, it’s really, really not.
There are days when I feel more like a butch he/him lesbian than a trans guy. There are days when I feel far more aligned with womanhood, and on those days I realise ‘genderfluid’ might be a better label, because those days don’t take away from the days when I feel like the word ‘twink’ best describes my identity. The other day I messaged my enboifriend, saying that when I tried to picture my genitals all I could imagine is something ambiguous and blurry, and I was imagining jerking off a question mark. Obviously what’s between my legs doesn’t determine my identity, but I have found gender euphoria in not only describing but seeing my junk as my dick. And fuck, I had no idea how brilliant and queer and powerful it would feel to wear a skirt while seeing myself with a dick.
Describing myself as trans makes me feel powerful and it gives me that flexibility – which I have always acknowledged that I need – to continue to explore my gender. For now I might use queergender or trans masculine or genderfluid or agender and none of those are wrong because my gender is messy and queer and pretty fucking incredible. But even when I just say that I’m trans that doesn’t mean that my gender identity can be described in one word – in fact it means that it’s constantly changing as I explore it.
And, as I said, I love that.
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Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a queer, trans, disabled sex writer with vaginismus. He’s a slut and a sex nerd who writes about his adventures in trying to fuck without fucking up. Quinn can usually be found wearing stomp-on-the-patriarchy boots while falling in love every time he fucks.