I came out with a falafel in my hand.
I was at Meredith Music Festival and, as crumbs of dry falafel fell onto my pink tutu, I asked my friend to play a game we’d just invented.
The game was called ‘Which Pronoun Fits?’, and with the dull thump of repetitive house music as background music, she told me a story where I was the main character; continually switching the pronouns she used to refer to me. With the enthusiasm of a daytime game show, I would shout out “STOP!” when I heard the pronoun that fit me best.
“So Frankie and I were heading up to Meredith,” she started. “She pulled over because she wanted to get a Maxibon. And as he did, he proceeded to describe that Maxibons should be eaten crunchy chocolatey-bit first, sandwich last; he said that the reverse was pure anarchy. They started the car up again, and they ate their ice cream and they sung along to Frank –“
“STOP!” I yelled, a husky cough following. “’They’ – that’s the one.”
Gender – or more accurately, a lack of gender – had been confusingly clogging up my thoughts for over a year. Curiosity had seen me take Bonds jocks from Kmart and fill them with socks, assertively colour my eyebrows, bind my chest and cover up with baggy T-shirts, all from under the safety of a Denver Nuggets baseball cap.
I felt sexiest in button-up shirts and skinny jeans; the nerdy muso boy aesthetic I masturbated over during my teen years. I had not only wanted to fuck this style of boy now, I wanted to be this style of boy.
Still, some days I was confused by my pervasive desire to dress like an overtly femme Harajuku girl, so I kept my gender confusion hidden in cryptic Facebook posts or between words at gay clubs.
But sitting at this festival with an overpriced midnight snack in one hand and a cigarette in the other, I had finally said it out loud. I’m genderqueer. I am they.
Back in Melbourne, I felt relieved and anxious. I’ve never been able to keep a secret, especially about myself. My family is relatively relaxed and do attempt to be open-minded, but their lines of questioning can easily fall into queerphobic territory.
“Are you a lesbian or a straight today?” My dad would ask.
“You’ll marry a boy though, right?” from my mum.
“Don’t you reckon that show’s a bit gay?” my sister will say, despite countless reminders to not use that word as a slur.
I prolonged the inevitable for as long as possible, before blurting it out to my mum and sister over Thai food and wine one night.
“I don’t think I’m a girl,” I said. “I don’t really think I’m a boy though, I think I’m kind of both. And neither?”
My sister laughed. My mum gave me a confused and dismissive “kids these days” look. We spoke about it awkwardly for fifteen minutes before they both assured me that they accepted and supported me, no matter what.
To contradict that in one swift swoop, my mum told me that I am still, and will always be her daughter. And still a sister to Jenny.
I attempted to bring up pronouns, but was quickly dismissed with ‘too hard, not interested’ hand gestures and facial expressions. Then that was it.
I wanted to scream that I wasn’t her daughter. I wasn’t her sister. I wasn’t any of the mundane gendered words society had stapled onto me because of my genitals – I was me and I definitely wasn’t she.
A phone call from my dad came a week later. He asked me, “what’s this that Jenny says now – you’re a boy or something?” He said with a flippant chuckle.
“I don’t like gender labels – not girl, boy, daughter, sister, girlfriend, anything,” I explained, trying to get him to understand more than Jenny and my mum had.
“Ah! I get that,” Dad responded. “At a barbecue recently I was asked if Anne is my girlfriend, but I didn’t know what to say! We haven’t discussed whether we’re boyfriend and girlfriend.” This was my dad ‘relating.’ His relationship status was, in his head, the same as my intense discomfort and dysphoria about my body and my gender.
He interrupted my attempt to explain further by conflating my gender and my sexuality, then dismissing my autonomy. “You just need to date someone who’ll understand how complicated you are. Whatever ‘thing’ you are, you just need a supportive boyfriend.”
I wanted to scream that my gender is my business. My relationship status is irrelevant to the fact that I’m not your daughter, and I’m not your son.
Over time, perhaps they’ll understand. Perhaps they never will. While I wait to see which it is, I anxiously perform the daughter they know and want to keep at family gatherings. I bite my tongue when ‘she’ is used. I smile uncomfortably at gendered terms and cisnormative questions directed at me to avoid further emotional exhaustion.
But under the costume that I briefly wear in their presence will always be a binder, Kmart jocks stuffed with socks and a resilient person. And even though the odds are stacked against that person, they’re not going anywhere.