Throughout high school, I was adamant about my rejection of femininity. I wore baggy T-shirts and skinny jeans, dressing, for all intents and purposes, like an emo boy. I cut my hair as short as possible, though not so short as to raise suspicions of my gender defiance to my mother. Gender was something I felt truly confined by. I associated femininity with being a woman, and from the age of 14, “woman” felt like a label misinforming others of the true contents of my identity.
I never told anyone about my gender identity. The most I did was post about it on my secret Instagram account. Yes, I did have an account that I used as a diary. Embarrassing, maybe, but in that space, I felt like I could talk about anything because no one I knew in real life followed me. There, I proudly proclaimed I was nonbinary, and my Instagram bio indicated my pronouns as they/them.
I remember vividly on Christmas Eve 2015 I made a post detailing my devastation that particular night. My mother had bought me an eye shadow palette. I thanked her, trying my best to mask my disappointment with a smile. I then claimed to be too tired to stay up any longer and went to my room, where I cried and cried because I hated the gift. I wondered: What the heck was she thinking? Buying me a gift like that felt like a spit in my face.
Despite my seemingly dramatic hatred of femininity, toward the end of high school, I felt drawn toward expressing it. I wanted to wear skirts and dresses. I wanted to feel pretty sometimes. I wanted to embrace the body I was born with.
But embracing these aspects of myself, loving myself, made me feel like I was admitting to myself I was a woman. My body is perceived as a woman’s body, and my face is perceived as a woman’s face. These are things society has constructed as inherently feminine. Dressing feminine would mean I’d have to pretend the nonbinary “phase” of my life never happened. Even in my private “diary” space, I deeply feared my identity would be scrutinized as I continued to explore my femininity.
Coming to Berkeley played a vital role in shaping my perception of gender, helping disconnect identity from expression. I was introduced to people who present as masculine but are women. I met people who present as feminine but are nonbinary. I erased the preconceived notion that nonbinary was a third, strictly androgynous gender, and realized it is, instead, a rejection of any sort of binary or trinary. It is a much broader term that encapsulates a variety of people with a variety of gender expressions. It is revolutionary in that it does not follow a strict set of roles.
At Berkeley, surrounded by an array of gender-nonconforming folk, I realized that being nonbinary could mean what I want it to mean. I no longer felt obligated to reconcile my disconnect from womanhood. Still, this realization did not bring a sudden urge to come out. I continued to feel stuck in limbo, constantly battling myself. Do I want to come out? Should I come out? What if people ask me why it took so long? What if they question my hair or my clothes? These thoughts clouded my brain, and I hoped and prayed they would go away.
It wasn’t until one particularly reckless evening that I came out to my girlfriend. I told her I had something very important to tell her. I wasn’t in the best state of mind, but l found the courage to trust her with my internal struggle. I came out to her as nonbinary. She immediately made me feel loved and cared for. She thanked me for telling her and asked me what I prefer to be called and referred to as. She didn’t question my identity or ask me if I was sure. Not that I believed she would do that, but there was that fear lingering in my mind — a fear so pervasive it kept me from telling one of the most important people in my life a very important part of my identity. Instead of being mad that I kept it from her, though, she accepted it, and to be accepted is all I have ever wanted.
Looking back, I may have overreacted a tad bit that Christmas Eve. My mom meant no harm, and she probably couldn’t afford any other gift. Back then, my feelings stemmed from the fear that I would always be seen as a woman and would never be accepted as anything other than such. But now I am comfortable with my love for the color pink, dresses, skirts, baggy shirts and big pants. I know now that physical attributes do not determine my gender. To love myself is to accept that I am a femme-aligned nonbinary person and owe no one an explanation.
Elaina Guerrero writes the Wednesday column on the confines of the gender binary. Contact them at [email protected]