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My Genderqueer Story

Last updated December 17, 2013.

Short version:

  • Bio: My name is Marilyn Roxie. I write about genderqueer and non-binary identities here on GQID and post about music at A Future in Noise. I founded the netlabel Vulpiano Records. I’ve interned with the Center for Sex and Culture and [SSEX BBOX]. In spring 2013, I graduated City College of San Francisco with an Associate of Arts in LGBT Studies and Library Technology. I recently completed San Francisco Sex Information’s sex educator training program and am currently pursuing a Sexual Health Educator Certificate at CCSF to continue my education in the meantime before transferring to a university. I would love to eventually work in a scholarly capacity involved with topics that I am passionate about.
  • Gendergenderqueer (who will always be questioning what “gender” and “queer” mean). My gender is fixed (has been consistent over time) rather than fluid.
  • Sexuality and sex: gay male (FAAB)
  • Status: no hormones / pre-operative (seeking top surgery)
  • Pronouns: they/them/their
  • Presentation: androgynous with a strong tendency towards pretty-boy

Longer version: The following is an account on how I came to identify as genderqueer. I am still discovering new things about my identity and orientation. The conclusions I may have drawn about myself from my life and experiences may not be the same at a later date, not necessarily due to intrinsic changes in identity, but to shape a more accurate self-description. Your own personal stories are most welcome! If you would like to submit one to GQID, please visit the submissions page.

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A few years back, I had heard of the word “queer” (both used to insult and reclaimed in empowerment) and was well-acquainted with LGBT identities and culture, or so I thought…I hadn’t ever seen the term “genderqueer” until around 2009/2010! Perhaps I just wasn’t looking in the right places, frustratingly enough. When I finally did dig deeper, I was overcome by how strongly certain related concepts and identities resonated with me.

I’ve come to realize that understanding oneself is a life-long process (for example: certain aspects of your identity may be fluid or fixed, provoked by nature or by choice, influenced by loved ones), though of course the going can be a little less rough if you can uncover not only concepts but people and even whole communities that share the sensibilities of your quest for self-discovery. Maybe you’ll even find like-minded threads of thought and experience “Aha!” moments along the way.

I had been terribly unsure about how to define my gender and orientation and experienced varying degrees of dysphoria over my physical sex since I was a teenager. When I was a child, questioning “gender roles” wasn’t a thought in my mind. I did note that most of my friends tended to be boys, but this could’ve been chance. Besides, I liked both typically “masculine” and “feminine” activities fairly equally: I played video games, and I played with Barbies; I played dress-up, and I played with toy cars and trains. I saw no conflict of interest in these pursuits, and I did not feel like either a girly-girl or a tomboy. Orientation-wise, I have had crushes on only males from the earliest age I can remember back to, age 4, on both celebrities and boys I was friends with. As far as the orientation of others, I don’t remember anything revelatory about finding out of the difference between heterosexual and homosexual, particularly as my parents had friends of both orientations, I just knew, though I think it is safe to say I have long felt a sort of connectivity to gay males.

In my later childhood years and early pre-teen years, I conceived of myself in a non-gendered or gender-blended (identifying with both boys and girls) way, in terms behaviors and appearance, when I would ponder the appearance and expression of others around me, without having the vocabulary to describe what I felt in gendered terms and without thinking about it too hard. These are two quite different identities - one being the identity of non-gender and the other being the identity of both man and woman simultaneously - and, not knowing any special words or identity possibilities at that time, it did not accord as much importance as such feelings have held for me later in my life. I felt that I was somehow “different” from my peers, girls as well as boys. Was I experiencing a non-gendered identity, or a blending of gender identities? At that time I wasn’t sure and my musings were fragmented then, not knowing any reference points for my thoughts or how to possibly bring it up and search for information, I put the notions aside and, again, they were ponderings and nothing crisis-worthy. I remember having begun dreaming of myself as a boy from around this time period as well. Although I am describing what I was going through, in retrospect, words like “gender” weren’t even in my head with any frequency to speak of. Notions like “I’m not really like girls are ‘supposed’ to be, or much like boys are ‘supposed’ to be either,” however? Yes.

And then…12. I was born female-assigned (FAAB), and this is the age I started experiencing some bodily changes which really screwed with my mental conception of myself and of my physical form. Not knowing to use words like androgynous or neutral or having even anything crucial understood yet about my identification with gay males, it was just a feeling of not being able to blend in, or be set apart, anymore. Even though I was aware these changes are supposed to happen to someone who has a female physical sex, there was something shocking about it, like it wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Of course, there are many who experience the physical transition from childhood to adulthood wishing the changes would stop, that they could be in another body or their “former self” again, and so on but…for me, I never stopped being uncomfortable about what happened to my body, years into it. I would later recognize this as what is often called dysphoria. I think it’s no coincidence that I began self-harming around the same time, although I am still not entirely sure why I started. I didn’t realize that what I was doing wasn’t as simple as getting out boredom or frustration until someone asked me “what was the matter” with my arms.

While I was grappling with becoming a “woman”  - it still sounds wrong! - I discovered slash fanfiction (somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13). I found this through looking for general stories based on my favorite anime, manga, and video games, quickly coming to understand the term "yaoi" and enjoying what I read and saw! I knew that I liked the idea of male/male romances, and though it was difficult to find well-written stories amongst the largely amateur writing I was exploring, and most importantly, there was something in the relationships that reminded me of the way that I was attracted to boys. I found myself thinking of myself as a boy with the guys I had crushes on, getting far more enthused by that sort of fantasizing over thinking of being my girl-self with them. But I wasn’t sure why it appealed to me, at this time. I tried my hand at writing my own stories, mostly in private as I didn’t publish them on-line and when I showed them to friends they were either confused or amused by my m/m fiction pursuits. I ended up putting this sort of writing - and reading - largely aside for awhile. I remember saying things to my parents like “I think I would make a better-looking boy than a girl” but I don’t think they read much into it and frankly, neither did I, at the time.

I ended up becoming a fan of The Killers from watching a performance on a performance on Hard Rock Live - namely it was “Andy, You’re a Star” that got me interested. As you can see from the lyrics and hear if you have a listen, the song involves Brandon Flowers singing about a crush on a boy. The content of the song seemed…familiar to me. But I was just a girl who had crushes on boys, and boys who liked boys…right? I was endlessly fascinated in listening, also because Hot Fuss is simply a great album. I had joined The Killers Network message board and discovered loads of fantastic bands, so this interest had a profound effect on the direction my musical interests would take.

I found myself having thoughts like “as much as I might find a really cute guy attractive, there’s nothing better than two really cute guys together...”. I would wonder if I “ought to have been”, or merely wished that I was born a boy, but then I’d go back to how much I was attracted by males - I was genuinely unsure if I desired to be male because of my psychology or because of the aesthetic appeal and frequent companionship I found in boys. Looking back, I think both were important in shaping my identity.

As a high school freshman, I read Venus in Furs thanks to the free availability of it on Project Gutenberg. Initially I wanted to read it because of loving the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” and was curious if the work it was named after was as brilliant. I was also intrigued by the notion of an ‘erotic novel’, and hearkened back to my previous thoughts about slash fiction. I was pleasantly surprised about how much I liked the book, and my interest was piqued in the notion of dominance and submission.

Around this same time, I read Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, due to the name-checking of Dorian Grey in rhe Libertines’ “Narcissist”, which remains my favorite book of all-time. The subtext of homo-eroticism is evident throughout, it was the first of such a full-length book I had read containing those themes, and as with slash before, it appealed to me greatly, and magnified more so as the writing was beautiful.

British rock musicians were my aesthetic role models at the time. Throughout high school, I became progressively more ‘boyish’ in my fashion; skinny ties, jackets, denim everywhere! The suggestive dynamic of Carl Barat and Pete Doherty in the Libertines was quit the inspiration. Again, I tried out slash and my terrible stories are still hidden away in a notebook somewhere.

Around 15 and 16, as I had increasing difficulty with netting crushes and getting anywhere relationship-wise, I finally attempted to confront the long-standing gender and orientation issues I had kept in the background. When I was attempting to get entangled with people I liked, I felt like I was being somehow dishonest because I would think of myself as being a guy with them, but they would see me as female and, unless I told them, which I didn’t dare do, they would never know how I thought of myself. I still didn’t even fully understand what my mind, and my lusty drive, meant when I figured myself as male within romantic attraction - it just seemed right to me. So, I began to investigate.

Somehow through poking around, I had come across the term transgender. The Wikipedia definition, which is probably where I came across the term, includes the following:

  • "Of, relating to, or designating a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these."

  • "People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves."

I kept coming across accounts of FAAB, but male-identified people who had felt like they had been “born in the wrong body”, which matched how I felt about myself at times. At that point, I had trouble finding, however, stories of people who didn’t have much experience of dysphoria in childhood, or who enjoyed both “masculine” and “feminine” activities when they were children, although I was somewhat reassured to see that the height of gender dysphoria tended to occur around the time of puberty. This is when it became physically and mentally difficult for me to leave the issue of my body and my self-conception aside. As I got older, I felt as though my soul was being squashed by some unseen force. Something was not right.

That feeling is what had led me to the research, but as I went on the similarities to my case and the transgender experiences I was reading about started to fade. I had trouble finding information on trans men who were homosexual (that is, attracted to males; the term in trans communities for male attraction, as I now know, can also be androphilic so as to not reflect back on sex or gender of the person experiencing the attraction), if at all. Looking back, I only seem to remember finding information on trans men who were attracted to women. Then, as I read further on, I came to read about the difference and relationship to transgenderism with transsexualism, and information about diagnosis of  ”gender identity disorder” and sex reassignment surgery.

The more I read, the more I became apprehensive and confused about how I felt. Why was it not enough to just be okay with being female and a “girl” and attracted to males (hetrosexual)? I had experienced significant discomfort about my physical form, but thinking about taking hormones or surgery seemed scary to me. Would I be somehow “less trans” if I didn’t want to take these steps? And, as much as I enjoyed boyish styles, I had begun to wear make-up in my later teenage years - which was actually largely due to observing how pretty male musicians looked in eyeliner! - would allowing myself to be “feminine” contradict my male identity somehow? At this time, I could not find information on trans men who expressed femininity in their appearance aesthetics. I understood that one may have a desire to pass as a man, to be recognized for what one feels on the inside (male), but…what if I felt like I was somehow part boy and girl, or neither, was that possible? I didn’t revisit these questions until much later because trying to think too much about the meaning of all of that made me deeply upset.

What I wanted was to have been born in a male body from the start, an impossibility. It was a private struggle. I never felt like I had been purely “socialized” as a girl particularly, and luckily my parents had always been encouraging in my pursuits of talents and hobbies as well as whatever style of dress I had taken to, but…on the inside, something else was going on. I felt a maleness in there somewhere, I just couldn’t figure out what it really meant or what to do. I wondered whether I could be “really male” if I was okay with doing or wearing “girly stuff” too. I did contemplate surgeries for awhile, but I got terrified about it whenever I would look up information, thinking “Do I have to do that, to be finally okay in my body?” And SRS in particular seemed to be unsatisfactory for me, personally, from the information that I gathered. Knowing that my notion of being born as a male in physical form from the get-go instead was an impossibility, I had vague notions of suicide. Never any particular plan, but I would sleep excessively during the day and keep myself awake at night with these ponderings about my gender and sexuality, not knowing how to even express what I truly felt in these areas to the outside world. I often would wish as hard as I could that I would go to sleep and wake up in the male body I had envisioned myself in, that I had dreamt about for years, despite being a teenager at this point and knowing such a wish would be fruitless, and cry when I woke up and it still wasn’t real. Sometimes I would keep my eyes closed upon waking up, feeling like there was almost an aura of maleness around me, this right “body” somehow invisibly overlapping my physical form.

After high school and failed relationship-seeking, I thoroughly absorbed myself in making electronic music and writing about music. I distracted myself from my gender and orientation-related struggles through pursuing these endeavors that I really enjoyed. I ended up teaching a piano workshop and making a variety of contacts in the music industry. I felt relatively happy, although unsatisfied in the way of romance. I went a few years without reading anything at all about transgender issues, I read no male/male relationship stories either - I thought I was better off just leaving it out of my mind, as I didn’t know how to solve the dilemma I perceived.

In 2009, I became quite enthused about a band called the Manic Street Preachers. I had heard a couple albums of theirs some years prior, but the release of Journal For Plague Lovers got me interested again, as well as finally watching their music videos and live performances, a few of which feature a heavy dose of ho yay (see also: "Love’s Sweet Exile" and “You Love Us”). I found myself attracted to the idea of two men being flirty and suggestive, yet again letting myself explore these thoughts, and after a long period of not thinking about it at all, again remembered that I thought of myself as a male when being attracted to a guy. I realized this more acutely as I got into reading m/m romance stories again and finally finishing my own stories of this nature that I was satisfied with. I felt like reading and writing this kind of literature helped me to express this otherwise repressed, hidden area of myself. Back to the Manics, it was Nicky Wire’s tendency to dress in skirts, dresses, thigh-highs, wear make-up, and indulge in other “girly” fashion elements that made me more profoundly aware that hey, one’s essential maleness is not negated from incorporating “feminine” aesthetics at all! I had already increasingly been wearing glittery make-up and skirts, again, as in my post-high school era I had ceased to for awhile, because I wasn’t sure whether feminine appearance aesthetics were compatible with my inner maleness. Now I know that what one wears doesn’t always have to do with gender and sex identities: presentation is what one makes it.

In 2010, a friend recommended that I read Poppy Z. Brite’s works. I ended up reading at that time on Poppy’s Wikipedia bio: “She self-identifies with gay males but makes no attempt to dress or appear male and does not expect to be referred to as “he”. Brite has written that, while gender theorists like Kate Bornstein would call her a “nonoperative transsexual”, Brite herself would not insist on a pedantic label, writing “I’m just me.” (beginning in 2011, Brite now goes by the name Billy Martin and has begun transition, preferring he/his/him pronouns). There is more on this in Enough Rope which is a short piece about Brite’s own gender-identification issues/experiences, including much which made immediate sense to me when I read it. I was astounded and related so closely with Brite’s identification with gay males and expression via literary work! I was determined to get to the bottom of what this all meant.

I typed in “a gay man trapped in a woman’s body” on Google one night and ended up at the Wiki article on girlfags and guydykes. The meaning of “girlfag is “a biologically female individual who feels a strong romantic or erotic attraction towards gay or bisexual men, or their social environment. A girlfag might partly or wholly feel “like a gay man trapped in a woman’s body”. As girlfags feel a strong attraction to gay men/msm and to male-GBQ culture for its own sake, they have no interest in “turning gay men straight.” That certainly sounded like me. Then, I came to this bit: “most girlfags – by definition – neither feel completely male nor have a desire for sex reassignment therapy”. Hmm…how did I feel about that? I began to ponder. Reading through the girlfags Livejournal community, I found countless stories which were similar to my own, in terms of self-identification and attraction. What I was now questioning was - did I feel part male and part female? Am I so uncomfortable with my body that I still desire to change it, as I did when I was a teenager?

I think that the passage of time and the discovery of identities similar to my own, as well as finally discovering the term genderqueer around this time, allowed me to reevaluate how I felt about my gender, orientation, and physical form. Reading the stories of others too I realized that there is not necessarily going to be single, clear-cut identification in any of those areas; it’s a highly individualized process. I started searching for my definition of myself, while seeking common threads in the stories of others and in the information on known identities.

For a time, I had taken to describing myself as 80% male-identified and 20% female-identified - what did this even mean?!, I thought to myself, Is it psychologically possible to identify with two genders? I found some common ground in the definition of androgyne: “Many androgynes identify as being mentally “between” woman and man, or as entirely genderless.” This certainly seems to match up with how I felt about myself as a child. And what about bigender?: “a tendency to move between feminine and masculine gender-typed behaviour depending on context, expressing a distinctly “en femme” persona and a distinctly “en homme” persona, feminine and masculine respectively…While an androgynous person retains the same gender-typed behaviour across situations, the bigendered person consciously or unconsciously changes their gender-role behaviour from primarily masculine to primarily feminine, or vice versa.” I definitely didn’t feel as though I was shifting my gender depending on the situation I found myself in, or if a different mood struck me, so bigender was out of the question, but androgyny seemed to hold some validity to me - “an androgyne in terms of gender identity, is a person who does not fit cleanly into the typical masculine and feminine gender roles of their society”.

Despite not feeling exceptionally masculine or feminine behaviorally, I gravitated towards a male identification for myself particularly in terms of being attracted to males and in feeling as though I would somehow be more “at home” in a male body. It seems as though my male identity would not usurp a sort of androgynous identity until orientation came into question and/or I expressed discomfort over my physical form and felt like a female body was somehow “wrong” for me. The “girlfag” identity expressed my attraction the closest, as I was a FAAB person relating to gay males and attracted to male homosexuality…but just how okay was I with having a female body? I also found that when thinking of myself in gay male terms, I also tended to feminize my appearance, or feel more feminine overall, while at the same time feel male - what did this mean? I wasn’t sure. I went back to research on transgender identity.

Now that I was more determined and less distraught - even excited! - over figuring out my identity, I found more helpful resources in my quest. I found out that there is such an identity as being a feminine FTM (while “femme” can also have different connotations, see also femme_ftm). Although I felt androgynous in regards to my general mental state, habits, relation to others and so on, in terms of sexuality or increasingly as I expressed myself fashion-wise, I felt feminine while male-identified. I also found myself attracted to feminine men as well as of thinking of men in submissive roles, while at the same time seeing myself as dominant. I was increasingly finding terms and communities that gelled with what I had already speculated about myself - I wasn’t alone! Around this time, the self-harm that I had begun in my early teen years had lessened dramatically. I can’t help but make a link between harming and identity frustration, and then the slowing down of harm working in tangent with identity comprehension.

My gender dysphoria has fluctuated so much since my teen years. Part of the help in the drop of these feelings has been in realizing that looking or feeling feminine aesthetically does not have to contradict having a male identity. As right as it seems to feel, think, and sometimes look androgynously, my core identity is male in terms of sex and it is always what I come back to, after all of this searching. Is it contradictory to think of myself as an androgynous-leaning-towards-feminine male who is attracted to men androphilic, and frequently attracted to them in a gay male homosexual frame, while acknowledging and even accepting somewhat that I am in a female body?

Identifying as male while being FAAB would seemingly technically define me as transgender, and at this time I choose to be non-operative. When I had researched earlier on, I wasn’t sure my level of dysphoria over my body would lend itself at all to the notion of not having surgery, but as I understood myself better, I became more comfortable with myself too. I don’t want my name to be anything other than Marilyn. I had joked before I understood these concepts better that, if I had been born male, I would’ve probably been a drag queen with that name (then gaining a sort of kinship with faux queens).

I understand why many male-identified people do, but I personally don’t mind what pronouns people use in reference to me and I don’t have a desire to pass in social settings as male. Although my anatomy frustrates me sometimes, I have found fewer contradictions with my body and my mind over time. Someday, I may indeed be compelled to have surgery because of the occasional high physical discomfort that has gone along with being female, but not right now, and I now understand that I don’t have to. If I was assigned male from the get-go from the get-go, assuming my essential persona would be the same, which I daresay it would, I would be feminine-appearing, maybe even have felt female or woman-identified! I would be more at ease with my body, but I am confident that I would probably act, dress, socialize, and er, sexualize, the same way as I do in this physical form. I describe myself to others I feel would be understanding and/or benefit from some way in knowing as “an androgynous/feminine-presenting gay male, genderqueer FAAB,” which is really a much more simplified set of descriptors than I could’ve ever envisioned with all the struggling I went through in my own identity crisis and eventual transformation.

Genderqueer-associated identities are part of my individual blend. I finally didn’t feel boxed in when I uncovered more information about androgyny, transgender identities (and that being non-op was a possibility), "pomosexual" identities (see also PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality, which is an incredible book that made me feel less alone in the way in which I identify), and genderqueer identities and stories from other people of all varieties. I am not merely one identity, in any area of my life: there are a combination factors of what feels right to me.

Understanding oneself isn’t a process that really ‘ends’ and requires searching within oneself and making links with similarities in the stories of others and in other ideas. I had long gravitated towards male/male relationships in literature, music, and in thinking of myself in that dynamic. No medium ‘turned’ me to thinking that way - it just made it easier for me to reach in and grab, so to speak, a possibility that, for whatever, reason, felt right to me. I surely still have further discoveries yet to make. My personal work in trying to figure out how to describe myself has lead me to pursue queer studies academically and build this site, Genderqueer Identities.

You have your own unique combination of factors shaping your own unique identity: you may feel that you’re all sorted out, or you may still have some exploring to do, both are okay. I hope that the resources here at Genderqueer and Non-Binary Identities will be of help to you.

Marilyn