LOOK LIKE YOURSELF

THEIR STORIES: Emersyn Io

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

I do relate to the gender I was assigned at birth in the sense that I identify as a woman. But what it means to be a woman, and what that means to me specifically, has changed a great deal over time. I think in most contexts, the world tries to hand us prepackaged roles for two genders: a man and a woman. And that is not the way that we as people work at all; every single individual is different, and what their gender is (and isn't) to them is completely unique. Though I identify as a woman, I do so in a way where I try to detach my expectations of myself, and my definition of myself, from what society has prescribed. I have come to realize that I can make my own rules, and that is the only way I can be fulfilled. 

Give me glimpse of the inside you verse your outward appearance. 

When I think about who I am as a person, at my core, I am a collection of thoughts and feelings and experiences. In my mind, those are not gendered. I am comfortable identifying as a woman in this realm, in other words, this reality that we live in. I am a person who believes there are other dimensions to reality, for example, I believe that we all have energies that come in both masculine and feminine forms. I enjoy tapping into those different energies and allowing myself the freedom to do so. For example, I don't have to be graceful or gentle because I am a woman--but sometimes I am. I can be outspoken and aggressive. I can be independent. Some days I look in the mirror and feel disconnected from the person I see there, because I am tapping into my inner self and that doesn't take a physical form. I do that through meditation and various forms of creating, which help me to know myself better. In those moments I feel that I still want to experiment more with the way I present. Ultimately I am at peace with the physical body that takes me about my day and allows me to engage in life in so many ways. 

I think that people generally see me as a typical feminine woman, and make assumptions about me because of that. The first wave of surprise is usually when they find out my partner is a woman, and another wave when they see that she is a masculine presenting woman. I enjoy keeping people on their toes in this way, while also having an opportunity to educate them about all the different forms of gender and sexuality and presentation.

How would you prefer people to address you? pronouns, preferred name etc

I go by Emersyn, and I use she/her/hers as my pronouns.

What does gender identity mean to you?

To me, gender identity means who you are internally. For many people, I think that crosses into how they choose to manifest their identity externally, but that's not true for everyone. Whoever a person is internally is their identity, regardless of how they choose to present. For me personally, I believe that I present more feminine than I "feel." But I am happy with identifying as a woman because as I said before, a woman is whoever I am as a woman, and I'm just myself. That takes a good deal of time to be able to trust, because it's not what most of us are taught. We have to unlearn what gender is, and then relearn it, and then create it for ourselves.

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

Yes. There are a lot of people who have been a part of my process and helped me discover my authentic self, as well as be able to live in that truth. One of them was a college friend who was involved in the meditation course I took, who was so incredibly genuine and vibrant and inspiring. Unfortunately he is no longer with us. I owe him so much gratitude. Another is a friend I had in my early 20's who I met through social media. She was going through huge changes in her life at the time and inspired me to shed my pretenses and comfort zones. The conversations we had over the course of a year or so were invaluable, and she helped cultivate a lot of courage in me. 

Last but certainly not least, my partner Linh has taught me so much about what it means to be part of the queer community. She has shown me what it means to be in an absolutely wonderful loving relationship with respect for the fluidity of who we each are. We are constantly learning and questioning together.

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

The aspect of my journey that has taken the most work is my sexual orientation, but that has informed my gender identity, and vice versa. It has definitely been a process to come to terms with who I am in a holistic sense, and so much of that process has been a matter of questioning and undoing. 

I grew up in a household where I felt it was just not an option to be gay. Although I questioned my sexual orientation at about 15 years old, I just couldn't cope with delving into those feelings at that time. I didn't know enough, and I didn't see representation, and I certainly didn't feel supported by any sense of openness in my family. I was also in a house that was all women most of the time, and looking back I see how difficult that was for me. I felt very out of place because what it meant to be a woman in that context was very prescriptive; it meant dressing a certain way, wearing makeup, and getting attention from the opposite sex. My mom and sister would tease me about not wanting to show my body and not knowing how to interact with boys. So even though I didn't have the language to express it at the time, I was realizing that gender was a performative act, and I wasn't really doing it "right."

Like I mentioned, I did not fully delve into those feelings I had as a teenager. I suppressed them in order to cope and get through all the other things that were going on in my life for the next 7 years. And in my own time, I came back around to exploring them. The catalyst was a meditation course I took in college where I really was able to connect with myself on a deeper level, and I realized that the questions I had about my own identity were eating up a huge space inside of me and not allowing me to live authentically. There was a constant sense of fear that surrounded that space, and I knew I had to face it. What enabled me to do that was gaining the language to explain my thoughts and feelings to myself, as well as having friends around me who were on their own journeys and I could speak completely openly with. I had been away from home for some time, so I no longer felt the pressure of my family's expectations and I had the freedom to get to know myself. When I had finally equipped myself with the knowledge and relationships that helped me to explore, and ultimately realize that I identify as queer, everything kind of came gushing out. It was this really exciting time that I would definitely say was a rebellion against all the things I thought I had to be--or couldn't be.

When I started thinking of myself as a queer woman, I automatically began questioning what it means to be a woman as well. This process led to even more freedom as I realized that in queer spaces gender is very much "up for grabs," meaning I can be who I am while happening to be whatever gender I am. Whoever I am is who a woman is in that specific instance, because I'm a woman. Our culture (and many others) generally see it the other way around and this stifles so much of our individuality. So I really feel that I have come into my own through this process, and the process is still ongoing. As a person, I keep changing and evolving and I have to incorporate those changes into my identity.

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