when i knew #18.
by Michael King
“Gender is weird. Growing up, I never heard of variant gender identities. Granted, I never heard of gender as an identity. It wasn’t something that you claimed, it was just something that you were. Immutable and absolute. I rejected norms as much as I could, but it didn’t matter. I was still called a girl because of the parts I had. When I fidgeted with my dresses or insisted on putting my hair into a ponytail or sat with my legs wide like my dad’s, grown-ups would tell me (or my mom) that I would ‘grow into being a lady.’ I kept waiting for that to happen. I assumed that at some monumental stage in my life, I would start feeling like I belonged in my body, and like I belonged in the same group as all of the other folks who were called women.
“That never happened. ‘Girl’ always felt just a bit too tight and suffocating, like a turtleneck. ‘Woman’ felt even tighter.
“What made it all the more confusing, frustrating, and painful was that I didn’t ever feel like I belonged in the ‘man’ group either.
“I just never felt like I belonged.
“Fast-forward to my sophomore year of college, when I’m reading Divergent for the first time. It was when Tobias was explaining why he has all five faction symbols tattooed on his back, ‘I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest’ that a light bulb started flickering in my head. My literal, actual, legit thought process went like this:
“He is all of those things!”
“Any one of the factions would be too confining for him.”
“He’s choosing not to choose!”
“AND THAT’S OKAY!”
“And that truth said in the context of a safe, completely fictional, and unrelated story, resonated very deep inside. That was when I first knew that I didn’t fit into a single gender. That was when all of those pieces came together and I began to understand why I never felt like I belonged as either a man or a woman. It’s because I don’t. And that’s okay. (and yes, this is a story of how Divergent all but completely shattered my sense of reality and led me to a near-existential crisis.)
“This new-fangled sense of ‘knowing’ started me on a journey that I am still on three years later. It has led to some pretty interesting research on other gender identities, other pronouns, and other peoples’ experiences. It has led to new experiences for me, including finding a partner who affirms my gender identity (or lack thereof) and asking a few very close friends to call me a different name. Above all, it has led to a sense of validation and a place of peace.”