LGBT, Transgender — June 2, 2016 at 5:20 pm

Kel’s story: Exploring gender identity and expression


How one agender person is learning to present their personal truth.

This is part of a story series about the lives of transgender people. Read the introduction here.

Like most 20-year-olds, Kel is on a journey of self-exploration. But there is one thing Kel is certain of: They do not want to be defined by gender.

That’s why Kel uses they/them/their pronouns, for one thing. In fact, Kel would prefer xe/xem/xyr, but knows those pronouns are difficult for many people to understand. Still, they do reflect the way Kel identifies.

My gender and I are sort of two very different things. I view myself as agender or genderqueer. We all have gender assigned at birth — whether we reject our gender or not, we are all assigned something under the patriarchy. I was assigned female. So although I identify as a genderqueer person, I also identify as a woman. How I’m read in public and how I interact with other people means one thing, but internally, I don’t really view myself as having a gender.

I view pronouns sort of like a name. Everybody uses pronouns for you, but they might not necessarily know to use they/them. But it’s a tiny step closer to being able to communicate who you are fully, having people recognize you for who you are without having to go into a gender 101 theory class with them.

It’s not always easy for people to wrap their minds around what it means when someone doesn’t identify with society’s gender norms. Agender means not identifying with any gender. Genderqueer is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t fit within the constraints of the binary of female and male, which is why it’s sometimes also known as non-binary.

For Kel and many others, gender is something fluid. Kel doesn’t always feel the same about their gender expression from one day to the next. For example, Kel uses a chest binder to flatten their breasts, and thinks chest masculinization surgery or going on testosterone may be steps they’ll take in the future. But Kel also identifies as a femme person, which is someone who expresses or identifies with femininity.

“I do experience dysphoria,” Kel says, referring to the clinical term for feeling disconnected from the gender one is assigned at birth. “I have so many gender questions for myself. Who exactly am I? Am I going to feel the same way next year or tomorrow? Probably not.”

Although Kel also identifies as transgender, they feel that agender or genderqueer suits them best because they are non-binary — not limited to male and female.

There really is a fluidity I feel within my gender, how I express myself. When I get dressed, I have to go through the whole evaluation of ‘Do I want to wear a dress or wear a nice shirt and tie? Who am I going to be around and do I really care?’

I always identify as femme. That’s very consistent. I’ll always be wearing some kind of makeup and expressing myself effeminately.

To be clear, Kel isn’t confused. But their gender identity exploration is still in progress. Kel isn’t out as agender to their parents yet, although Kel is trying to gently educate them, to prepare them for that day.

Kel says their mother knows them as “her bisexual daughter who cuts her hair shorter than she would like.” Coming out as bisexual was a first step, and Kel’s parents accepted it. But Kel’s mother isn’t comfortable with Kel wearing a binder, even though she’s accepting of Kel’s transgender friends.

“I’m not the binary ideal of what you expect a trans person to look like,” Kel says. “That’s what upset her, I guess, so I stopped wearing my binder around her and trying to push this idea that I could be gender neutral. Maybe I’ll get there with her one day, but probably not any time soon.”

For Kel, maturing into adulthood presents some of the same dilemmas everyone faces, no matter how they feel about their gender identity.

It’s definitely been a journey, growing up and figuring out what you want your relationship to be like with your parents. I’m realizing I’m not always going to have my mom’s approval.

Kel’s exploration of gender began back in high school. Kel says they didn’t really feel a sense of community with women, or a “sense of sameness with other people, gender-wise.” College so far has been an eye-opening experience, especially since Kel is a Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies major at Wayne State University.

But Kel’s personal journey has been particularly challenging because they often find that how other people define them doesn’t quite fit.

I had a friend in high school and we were exploring gender. I said I thought maybe I was trans or non-binary, and her reply was ‘There’s no way you could be. You’re too femme for that.’ And that was the end of that. So for a while, I thought I couldn’t be trans or genderqueer because I was a girl and wear makeup.

Kel admits they feel more comfortable expressing who they really are around LGBT people, but there are still expectations around how an agender person or a femme person expresses themselves. Kel recognizes that their fluid gender expression is confusing to others, and hopes people will come to understand that like many people who identify as agender, genderqueer or non-binary, there is no black and white — only shades of gray.

It would be so much easier if I could just figure it out, and wake up one day to be like, ‘Yeah, this is who I’m going to be and how I’m going to feel.’ But I’d be suspicious of that, because it’s never been that way. It would be cool, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Kel is comfortable with their identity as agender. But what’s even more important to Kel is the fact that gender is only one aspect of who they are as a complete human being.

“I’m personally figuring myself out and how I want to express myself, and the ideal is just living within a community that’s a very loving place,” Kel says. “My gender is not who I am. It’s how I express myself. I’m me and I’m my own person.”

Read all the stories in this series HERE.

[Photos courtesy of Kel.]