Naked in public

The Sidebar


I procrastinated a lot on my application to be a columnist for The Daily Californian. Four hours before the deadline, I was just about to quit when I saw that one question staring back at me on the screen.

“What pronouns do you use?”

Stressed out, sleep deprived and a little wired, I saw an opportunity here. I didn’t know anyone at the Daily Cal, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get the position. I’d never have to face anyone who was going to be reading my application. I had no accountability.

So for the first time ever, I put down “they/them” and “nonbinary.” I used the application like a confessional — I could tell someone that thing I hadn’t told anyone else without being afraid of their response because no one would respond.

Except someone actually did.

Writing this column has not only forced me to confront one of the most private things in my life but also to do it in view of the whole fucking school. It’s like getting naked in public every week — everybody can see everything.

Even now, as I’m writing this, I have to force myself to type “nonbinary.” I definitely can’t say it out loud. I don’t know why I’m so uncomfortable using that term in reference to myself. It’s not a fear of rejection — I know that my friends, who are all very gay, would be more than supportive.

In retrospect, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve been uncomfortable with my own gender since I was little. I was a loud, awkward tomboy who had a hard time making friends with “normal” girls at school.

I always resented being forced to do “girl stuff” such as playing dress-up inside, instead of being able to roll around in the mud or whatever other gross stuff 8-year-old me thought was fun. I thought “girl stuff” was bad, and everyone else was just too stupid to realize it. This led to a pretty hardcore “I’m not like other girls” phase in middle school (holy misogyny Batman!).

In high school I used my first girlfriend as a chance to jump into the butch lesbian role and the subsequent breakup to try to embrace my femininity. I found out what feminism was and just told myself that I hated wearing makeup because misogyny and I just had to try harder because girl power or something.

I didn’t feel comfortable doing any of these things or taking on any of these roles but wasn’t able to articulate why. I didn’t have any language beyond “dyke” or “tomboy” to explain why I felt such a rush when I got called “sir” instead of “miss” at a restaurant.

A few years ago, I was at work when a little boy came in and asked me if I was a boy or a girl. His mom whisked him away before I was able to respond, but it made me feel weirdly happy, and I thought about that for the rest of the day. Seriously, how did I not realize this sooner?

The problem is that when people think of gender nonconformity, they often picture someone who always knew they were the “opposite gender” and then has a big coming out accompanied by one big transition. But that doesn’t really encapsulate the full spectrum of trans and nonbinary folks who don’t always have a dramatic reveal or one linear transition.

Maybe that’s why it’s still so hard for me to talk about this. My identity is defined by not being something — by not fitting into one of the two boxes available. If the whole world is built for male and female, how am I supposed to feel comfortable in the in between?

I don’t know if I ever will, but I guess this is a first step. Beginning of the semester me would’ve never written anything like this, but a semester of public nudity will do that to you.

So, maybe I’ll start asking people to use they/them pronouns. Or maybe I won’t, and I’ll just keep awkwardly avoiding gender questions until I die (and those will probably only increase now that I wrote about it in a newspaper).

Either way, I’m glad that I ended up sending that application. Looking back, the person who hit the submit button feels a lot different than the person writing this now. I think I’ve gotten a little closer to figuring it out — whatever that means.

KD Mireles writes the Friday column on the ambiguity of categories. Contact them at [email protected] and follow them on Twitter at @kdillonm.