“Those reactions silenced my truth, leaving me with shame and a sense there was something dreadfully wrong with me”
BY FAY BARRETT, IMAGE BY ALEXANDER GREY VIA UNSPLASH
“What are your pronouns?”
A beautiful, inclusive question I am often asked. Hardly surprising given I work within queer journalism. I’m surrounded by gorgeous, empathetic people who understand we don’t all fit the binary.
Why then do I answer, “They/them… but I don’t mind if you call me something else”? I should mind. I have every right to mind and not be misgendered.
I’ve been misgendered my whole life. I’m apathetic to it. I grew up under Section 28 and I’m still clawing my way out of the damage that’s done. I’ve written before about not knowing I was gay because I didn’t know I could be gay. Well, now I’m writing about not knowing I was gender diverse because I didn’t know I could be gender diverse.
Both of those statements aren’t entirely true. I knew I was queer when I was four. Only I didn’t have the cognition or language to explain it. Neither did I have gender queer role models to point to and say, “That’s me”. But the deepest part of me knew exactly who I was. I just didn’t feel allowed to fully express it.
Often, when my true identity bubbled up innocently and naturally through childhood games where I’d role play the dad, the policeman or the boyfriend, adults’ shaming reactions shut me down.
They reacted out of fear and a sense of queerness being wrong they’d carried from their own upbringings. It wasn’t their fault. They were a product of the times they grew up in just like I was. But those reactions silenced my truth, leaving me with shame and a sense there was something dreadfully wrong with me.
I pushed down the most beautiful part of me. The gender queerness that made me uniquely myself. I tried to be femme and straight. I tried to fit in.
“Do you think you might be non-binary?” my first girlfriend asked. I was struggling to work myself out. I didn’t know. I’d never heard the term. Those words weren’t used when I was growing up. The ensuing Google deep dive, “What does non-binary mean?” blew my world open. Finally, here was something I could relate to. The realisation I wasn’t alone, wasn’t an anomaly, that gender wasn’t binary helped me make sense of myself in a way I’d never imagined.
So, why can’t I say it to the people closest to me?
I’m scared, DIVAs. Really scared. Of being denied, of conflict, of hurting people I love. I put other people’s comfort before my own. “Are you a ‘they’?” my Auntie asked recently. She was being supportive. I felt seen. Until she followed it with, “But I can call you ‘she’ can’t I?”
“Yes,” I said, erasing myself once more.
The problem lies with me. I don’t feel worthy of the term, “gender diverse”. It’s like I’m not queer or non-binary enough. Like there are so many people with more valid lived experiences. So, I don’t claim my identity. I don’t validate myself.
The other day I spoke on a panel about coming out. I introduced myself to a room of strangers as a non-binary, masc. lesbian. It felt so damn good. It felt powerful and important. I have a platform where I can help others understand and open conversations.
I can’t do that if I people please my pronouns. By caging myself I cage the conversation. I need to step up to the plate for my community. I need to come out again to my family.
That’s the only way to own myself, the only way to make a difference. The only way to be the role model little Fay needed. Maybe then I can give other “little Fays” someone to look to?
That’s my vow going forwards.
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