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Coming Out as Genderqueer

Hi. I’m coming out as genderqueer.

For people who know me, and people who know what genderqueer means, this probably isn’t some big surprise. I told a couple of my friends that I was going to come out — like this, in writing — and they just assumed I was already out.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (yes, that one that comes with Mac), genderqueer as an adjective is: “denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.”

I’m guessing most people who read my blog are familiar with some basic contemporary gender theory, but in short: gender is socially constructed. What it means to be a “man” or a “woman” is determined by our culture. Other people have gone over this shit better than me, so I’m going to drop the theory part now, point you to some additional reading, and get on with what I’m talking about.

I can’t speak in some universal way about the genderqueer experience, but I can try to speak about mine.

The first time I tried to change my name to a girl’s name was in 4th grade. This makes it one of my earliest memories. I wanted to change my name to Kelly, which references my Irish familial name. I told myself this was an acceptable thing to do, because, after all, Kelly is a boy’s name too. I didn’t do it, because I was already getting the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis. I couldn’t really figure out a way in which changing my name to what is basically a girl’s name wasn’t going to make my life worse.

I’ve had some good conversations recently with friends who are smarter than me about the ways in which we go back and retroactively defend our decisions to transition our gender presentation and identity. Why do I feel the need to tell you that I’ve always been fucking confused as to whether or not I was a boy or girl?

Before I had even a basic framework with which to understand gender, I’ve been terrified and entranced by my femininity. I wanted to take ballet, but justified it as something that football players do. In high school, I skipped gym to paint my nails. I wore lipstick, grew my hair long, and justified these things to myself as something that got me closer to the girls I hung out with. In private, I taught myself to walk in heels. I got my left ear pierced. This was the 90s, piercing your right ear was gay. God forbid anyone think that. I got my bellybutton pierced when I was 15, justified it because there was this older white trash guy I knew who had done it too. “See,” I said to myself or maybe to everyone around me, “boys can do it too.”

I was so afraid of my femininity that I instinctively hated drag queen movies. The Birdcage, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, movies like that made me cry and I’d try to leave the room or the theatre. I don’t know if I hated them because they made light of drag queens or if I hated them because I was terrified of drag queens. I expect that I was afraid because the drag queens were presented as monstrous. I was afraid because maybe I was monstrous.

By high school, I wished I’d been “born a girl.”

The first time I wore a skirt in public was 11th grade. It was an improvised, wrap-around thing. I wore it to school on “dress for success day.” A girl about two years younger than me ran by and pulled it off.

I graduated with the longest hair of anyone in my school, and I was proud of that, but I’d spent a year fighting against a clique of “popular” girls who’d taken it upon themselves to convince me to cut my hair. At one point, over the summer at yearbook camp (I’ve never claimed to be cool) they got probably fifty, sixty girls to chant “cut your hair” and to try to convince me just how hot I’d be with short hair.

Throughout the whole of my teenage years, I didn’t understand these things from a gender theory lens. I didn’t realize the great extent to which my life was impacted by my failure to perform masculinity.

In college, I had a frank conversation with two other men in which we all agreed we’d like to wear skirts on a regular basis if skirts “meant something different, socially.” Unspoken, we meant if they didn’t threaten our heterosexual masculinity.

I’m not proud of any of this.

A few years later, I learned to stop giving fucks and start wearing dresses. I took the name Margaret (as long for Magpie) probably twelve years ago, well before I’d heard the term genderqueer.

The anarchist traveler scene—hell, even the apolitical squatter scene—was pretty good to me about all these things. I used to wear this long black skirt made of such light material that I could wear it over pants and, as necessary, ball it up and stuff it into my pockets while I was still wearing it if I didn’t want to deal with harassment for wearing a skirt. One day, I was sleeping in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan and I woke up to run off to the bathroom and my skirt fell down from my pocket.

“Hey,” a tough-as-nails, super-masculine drunk-punk squatter said, “are you wearing a skirt?”

“Yup,” I said.

“Alright,” he said. End of conversation. Failure to perform masculinity has, in my experience, been punished a hell of a lot less in street kid culture than most other environments I’ve been in. (Which is not to say this experience is universal, nor that it carries over into any appreciable feminism.)

When I did begin to hear the term genderqueer, I didn’t think it applied to me. By that point, in my mid-twenties, I’d done an awful lot of work around male feminism. Proving that men don’t have to act like dudes was damn important to me. I was a man, I just wanted to not be such a shitty one. Unlearning the toxicity of male socialization isn’t something I’ll ever stop doing.

But I was terrified that if I identified as anything other than a cisgendered man, I would be colonizing identities of resistance. Because that’s real, too. When my first book came out, in 2009, I met a fair number of women who were pretty bummed to realize I was a man. I understand that. There aren’t enough anarchist books written by women, and here’s this interesting book by Margaret Killjoy. Oh, they’re a man.

So I tried to just be the best man I could be. A man with a woman’s name who wore women’s clothes. For awhile, I called myself a transvestite. I think usually it’s a slur. I didn’t mind.

It was branching out from anarchist culture that brought my gender back into question for me. I started going to geek conventions, and I sat on panels with these cis guys, and realized… oh, shit, I’m not actually one of them. No offense to geek cis-men (any more than to any other social grouping of cis-men). Some of my smart friends tell me that gender is relative and constantly shaped and re-shaped by the people around us. Gender is sometimes more about how you stand in relation to the people who are nearby than society more broadly.

The first time I called myself genderqueer was two years back, writing an application to the writing workshop Clarion West (I was rejected, that year. I’m glad, because going this year is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me). I was trying to put into words how Margaret Killjoy was neither my legal name nor my pen name. That it was just my name.

I wrote, in the end, “Hi, my name is Margaret Killjoy, and I’m a genderqueer author.”

Proverbial angels came out from behind the proverbial clouds (the clouds were proverbial too, since I was inside) and blew their proverbial horns and I understood myself better. I didn’t really tell anyone. I didn’t tell anyone because I was convinced no one would believe me.

Hell, I have a beard most of the time.

But a few years have gone by, and I’ve told a few people, and fuck it, why am I willing to be out as an anarchist set on the destruction of all domination but I’m too scared to tell my parents that I’m not a man.

I’m not a man. I bear the toxicity of male socialization and a great deal of male privilege and the scars of failing to perform masculinity, but I’m not a man. I’m not a woman. I don’t have a gender pronoun preference. I like when people refer to me as she and they and I don’t feel misgendered when people use he.

All this shit might change.

So it goes.

12 thoughts on “Coming Out as Genderqueer”

  1. I don’t know you, but I stumbled across a link to this post on facebook, where we have friends in common. I really appreciated your discussion of your experience of gender. Thank you for sharing it–I wish you all good things.

  2. Thank you for writing this and sharing your personal story. It has helped me to better understand the term “genderqueer” . I am an old, (mostly) heterosexual cis woman and I wish I knew you in real life. You sound like an excellent person to hang out with. :)

  3. “Why do I feel the need to tell you that I’ve always been fucking confused as to whether or not I was a boy or girl?”

    Whatever the reason, thank you for doing so. Speaking as a male who’s assumed many of the traditional roles that my society associates with being male, but who also sees gender as a social construct (by lazy default and/or by legitimate preference), it is immensely valuable to me to read about your experiences and your examinations of yourself. It helps me not only to refine my (horribly limited) understanding of the multitude of human spectra of identity, but also to frame my own examinations of myself.
    So… selfish being that I am, thank you for sharing.

  4. This means so much to me. Thank you for sharing it. I like the idea that gender is ‘relative and constantly shaped and reshaped by people around us and how we stand in relation to them and the world’. We all need to examine our inner selves more than we do. So much of living seems to be just getting by as painlessly as possible. But this is not living.

  5. Isn’t eyeliner the greatest shit in the world. It looks great on everyone. I stopped wearing it because I felt I had to many wrinkles to really pull it off. Like most people who know you there are no surprises here but its an awesome post to that will help a lot of people. Its also one that I can personally relate to. I had issues negotiating masculinity most of my life. I never liked sports, loved clothes and was called a “gay boy” long before I knew what that was. I and when I did know I was terribly confused because frequently related to girls better but I also was interested in them sexually much more than guys. Fortunately I came of age in the early eighties which was the golden age of subculture. I was a flower wearing hippie for a couple years then became a super foppish mod. Basically I decided that my “masculinity” was whatever I wanted it to be and fuck everyone else.

  6. Thank you for sharing, I like to think I have a well informed understanding of what it means to identify as queergender; as someone who lives in London and mixes with people who stray away from the ‘norm’, broadly speaking, I have been lucky to have met many people who embrace who they feel they truly are, not allowing their assigned gender to influence this in whichever way they see fit and/or makes them happy. However it is always enlightening and beneficial to read about an individuals’ experiences with matters of identity etc and I’m hoping that, by sharing your blog on Facebook, it will catch the attentions of those who aren’t so well informed for whatever reason, which may hopefully result in at least a little more understanding and respect amongst us all.

  7. I found your website from a link on Earth First! I read a bunch of your posts on here and really enjoyed everything that I’ve read. I am a straight dude, but I love almost everyone and congratulate you on coming out as genderqueer. I don’t know if it feels great to get it off of your chest or not, but there definitely should be no fucks given for who you are. Peace.

  8. Thank you, Magpie, for this lovely, honest essay. As you suggested, there are no surprises here for me, except for the news that you have not already been out for years. You seem so comfortable in your skin — but perhaps that’s because you wear a chain-mail shirt.

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