Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I felt like a member of the club on one hand and on the other I felt very much on the outside. Identifying as a woman is almost out of respect to the way I was raised and the connection I have with women, in particular Black women. I do an extra finger snap when women are being acknowledged for being extraordinary; I feel as though I’m standing in their womanhood halo.
Over the years, I have had many conversation regarding how I identify and why. It started when it took me years to place the label ‘lesbian’ on my sleeve. A badge I acknowledge and use to describe my life and those in the lesbian community, with that being said, I never thought it fit properly. Partially due to the fact I felt lesbian only identifies cis women loving cis women, it also sounds very white.
The first time someone asked, “What are you?”, I was sixteen and straddling the fence on being out and being in the closet. “What are you?”, ended being a question I put in a box, in the back of the closet, because I was busy trying to understand my attraction to women. Basically, I wasn’t thinking about it for a while. At sixteen in a small city in Alabama, I didn’t think I could be anything other than what was assigned to me at birth. I was a woman.
It wasn't until I was nineteen, new to Chicago with plenty of time on my hand, when I began to truly question how I identified my gender. Even at the time, I didn’t think gender. I thought I was just trying to find a better word than “stud”, “stem”, or “fem” to describe my fashion sense and my behavior. I felt labels placed too many restriction on how I needed to act, but I wanted to date. In particular, I wanted to date Black women which meant evenmore that I had pick because Black queer women subscribe to heteronormative roles to the letter. I wanted to date more feminine women so I felt I had to dress more masculine more often. I couldn't quite shake my flamboyant and feminine manners, so the community labeled me a “stem”. I hated that word. It wore me like a child playing dress-up in their parent’s dirty laundry. It was ill-fitted and made my nose turn up as if it had a pungent odor. It was at nineteen I came across the words: androgynous, genderfluid, and genderqueer.
Androgynous described my style and how I presented myself, while genderfluid and genderqueer described how I felt inside. I had plenty of conversations with a hometown friend and I finally knew the answer to “What are you?” Mind you, I was nineteen and still didn’t know how to be genderqueer. Even though I was in a much bigger city with plenty of resources, I didn’t know how to access those resources. I acknowledged who I was on the inside and moved on.
Knowing who I was made me more confident. My authenticity informed people on how to treat me and for others who knew me longer, I taught them. Of course there are still a few who try to change me but overall the people who cared saw me for me and reacted as such. One of my best friends said it best when describing me to someone, “Erma is Erma.” There is no box for me. I created my own lane for me to flourish.
It never felt important for me to announce my gender nor change my pronouns. I allow people to label me. All most always, I am labeled as a woman and the pronouns they assign are she/her. I don’t mind because it doesn’t feel like misgendering. It feels more like they are only getting a piece of the puzzle instead of the whole image. Is this the best practice?
Recently I started to question, if by not saying anything, was I doing harm to the genderqueer community? I also thought to myself, if I was assigned woman at birth and now go by she/her pronouns am I truly genderqueer? Is it even worth explaining? Should my pronouns be them/they? Can I request people use all pronouns interchangeable, because that would be the most accurate? Well, I don’t know the correct answers. I just know what is working for me.
I am genderqueer and my pronouns are she/her and them/they. I identify with womanhood in the same way I identify with being from the South. I came from there, it’s still apart of me and it’s still something that gives me pride. Yesterday, I felt the love of women and I felt apart of being represented and celebrated. I did find it awkward when a church I was attending asked all the women to stand up, I so desperately wanted to stay seated. Now had he said “Will all the Black women stand up?” I would have hopped out my seat quicker than a missile. My identity as a woman is directly attached to being a Black woman. Like I’m Black Girl Magic. I am a Queen, more specifically, I’m a Black Queen. Most importantly, I’m a human being.
I still wonder...
How I identify and what I allow people to call me, is it problematic?