LOOK LIKE YOURSELF

THEIR STORIES: Elise

When did you realize you don’t relate to your birth gender?

When I was about 14, I was in my 2nd queer relationship, and I realized I was never going to feel comfortable identifying as a lesbian. Coming out was such a weird experience for me, because at that point in my life, I had not found a box that I could use, yet I wanted to share my relationship with my friends and (some of) my family. I began to explore why that particular label never fit quite right and realized it was in relation to my own gender identity. I began to consider myself bisexual (for lack of better options), but the binary contained within that term also felt wrong in context with how I viewed the world, and myself. I was privileged to grow up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I found and infiltrated this queer circle of youth, who eventually became more like family than friends. I was able to finally learn more about genders other than male or female, and around 15 or 16, I assumed the terms genderqueer (or genderqueen, depending on my mood) and queer. I know some older folx in the LGBT+ community take offense to the term queer and that’s cool. I’ve come to a place in life where I finally don’t feel like I have to justify my own identities to others, and still, I hold space for their feelings of discomfort with that term. However, for me, it feels like a bit of a rebellion to use this label that once used to be solely a derogatory term. I like the idea of reclaiming it, and I like that it pushes against the notion that everyone has to fit into any box, in relation to gender or sexual identity. I find both to be constantly fluctuating for me, and this label almost always feels good. It’s definitely the best nook I’ve found, and I feel lucky to have found it at such a young age. It could evolve for me at some point, but I’m good with it for now.

How do you deal with that mentally and physically?

This is a bit trickier to answer! It really varies from day to day. Sometimes I embrace more masculine traits of myself, sometimes more feminine, and sometimes I just say “fuck it” and embrace my androgyny. I’ve found for myself that the more I feel like I do not have to fit into any gender category, I often come across more as a hard femme. I try and be gentle with myself and simultaneously, resist the idea that I have to look or feel any particular way due to societal prescriptions, and instead, I just let myself gravitate to what feels right that day.

Give me a glimpse of the inside versus your outward appearance.

Inwardly, I don’t feel like any kind of gendered appearance, however outwardly, it would probably be reasonable to assume most people see me as a cis female. There is some privilege in this, and while I acknowledge that, it is also something I wish I could shut off because it doesn’t feel good. I don’t want people to see me like that, but without having the “Gender 101 and My Coming Out” class to everyone I come across, there is no way to change that, really. In the ways that women can also be oppressed, I guess this also plays a role. I try not to really think about that too much, if I’m being honest, because it is depressing as hell how women are treated, and because I have little control over how strangers perceive my gender. I’d like to think that my friends see my authentic self, which transcends those basic-ass gender labels or stereotypes.

How would you prefer people address you? (pronouns, name, etc.)

Depending on our relationship, Elise, they/them/theirs, and sometimes other ways. My partner fluctuates between calling me “baby,” “wife” or “Sir.”   ;)    I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that, but it’s part of my identity! 

What does gender identity mean to you?

Gender identity is the way one views themselves on the spectrum of male to female, or anywhere between or outside of those categories. There are other relational aspects such as how others view you, but identity at its core is so personal. I see it as how you feel within yourself.

Was there someone in your life that helped you start to see your authentic/true self? Tell me about how they helped you/where that are.

Wow, yes! So many people actually helped provide me the knowledge, community, safety, and strength to really find and evolve into my authentic self. Some of those queer “family” members I mentioned earlier, a teacher who was a mentor of mine, and even my partner now, who consistently allows and encourages me to be myself (in all its forms and glories). Haha!

Talk to me about your struggles with identity and how you’ve grown to overcome them.

Because of the privilege of coming across as a cis female, I think I’ve been lucky to not really have to deal with society being so transphobic as some of my friends and members of my community have. I wish I could shield them and keep them safer, and that people could just let people live their lives and find their own happiness.

That being said, the biggest struggles that I’ve had are with resisting the feeling of being stifled or categorized incorrectly, and how that impacts my view of myself. That, and one side of my family is very conservative and bigoted, and I’ve had to cut people completely out. I’m not sorry – they are missing out. I’m a good person, a riot, and they don’t bring any positivity to my life. Instead, and bringing me a constant stream of strength and joy are those people I’ve developed these really amazing friendships with, who see me for who I am and love me not in spite of it, but *because of* it.

Also, anything else you want to include in your story?

I guess I just want to say that this project is so cool, and right now (especially with this newly-elected government and the devastating effects they will cause on our country), it is more critical than ever. Let’s find a way to build community, to love each other, to honor our differences, and to keep each other safe. We need us, and we are all worth it.

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