The year is 2005. My hair is tied in a knot at the top of my head and covered by a hat. My parents won’t let me cut it off yet. Not until after my aunt’s wedding. I have to wear a pretty dress and tie pretty ribbons into my long hair for pretty photos of pretty girls. To keep their promise, they’ve set up a hair appointment for the week after the wedding. So for now, bun, hat, cargo shorts. At school, I’ve told the other kids to call me Aiden and to use ‘he’ when they refer to me. The girls are always mean to me, and the boys don’t want cooties, so I flipped sides. My best friend Gracie changed her name to Greg for a short while and gave me the courage to really try at this. I take the name Aiden from my favorite book series. Puberty isn’t hitting yet, which I’m thankful for. My body has no real signifiers of what I should or shouldn’t be aside from my hair. The boys instantly welcomed me into their group, they said they always saw me as one of theirs anyway. The girls continued to bully me but now I had the boys defending me, so it didn’t matter. I ask my father, “Are you sure I’m a girl? I don’t feel like a girl.”
“We had you checked, we’re sure.” He says.
Then, there were the teachers.
“A pretty young girl like you shouldn’t dress like that,” she says, legitimately concerned for my health and well being, “You can’t go changing your name, how would your parents feel after they slaved so hard picking yours?” She says, concerned for important family values. When this didn’t stop me, or the other boys from calling me by my new name and “him” I see the principal. When the boys defend me, they see the principal too. Towards the end of the year, I start giving up. The school I went to is closing, so the next year I’ll be going to a private Christian school. I tried to call myself something other than the name I was given there, but I’m foiled again when I’m recognized by a former classmate. I bury my pride. I grow my hair. I try to fit the girl box.
I am sick and tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am. I bury myself in pink plaid, ribbons, bows, and other forms of camouflage for a few more years.
The year is 2015. I’m fresh out of an abusive relationship with a man who convinced me to join a sorority. They call it the “Women’s Fraternity of Music” but they can fight me, it’s a damn sorority. When I was with him I wasn’t allowed to make friends. I’m bi so everyone is a target for cheating, clearly. He told me I should join this particular sorority because the girls there are nice and club activities don’t leave time for me to fuck them. Funnily enough, he got this idea from the girl who would end up being my ‘big sister’ when they slept together, while we were dating. Hah. But now, I have the freedom to make my own friends with people I actually like, and I’m trapped in this damn sorority surrounded by people who don’t like me. Which is fine, I don’t like most of them. There’s nothing wrong with them, I just don’t fit here. Maybe its because I wear a suit instead of a dress, which I’ve gotten in trouble for a few times. Maybe its because I show up late and sometimes high after hanging out with my new friends. Ones who like me. I don’t think I’ll ever know the real reason, but a year of silent brooding judgment placed upon my every word, step, move, and outfit led me to write a strongly worded resignation. It would also be the first time I would describe myself as something other than ‘woman’ since 5th grade.
Now, I don’t have a copy of the original letter I wrote anymore, it disappeared when my laptop crashed, but I do remember calling out the way people treated me when I wore a suit as my main reason for quitting. My main line was: “I don’t feel like I identify as a woman anymore, so I really shouldn’t be a part of a women’s fraternity.”
The room fills with silence. The circle we sit in, which moments before had been a shape with no beginning and no end, now comes down to a single point, me. Each stare, each “What the hell does that mean,” each whisper to a neighbor, each laugh, was for me. I make eye contact with my roommate, who is also in the sorority. She’s disappointed. I didn’t tell her I was doing this today, because I knew she’d talk me out of it. She’ll get her word in later. I need to be out of here. This place carries the weight of femininity that I simply cannot carry in this body. I remove the bow from my hair. I lay down my pearls. I walk out. As the door closes, I hear the room burst into laughter. I laugh too. Good riddance. I am sick and tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me.
That night I go to the Stage & Screen dept.’s prom as the only girl in a suit. One guy danced with me, to be nice. I still don’t tell anyone else about my identity brewing inside me, in part because I don’t have a word for it. I don’t feel like a man, but I certainly don’t feel like a woman either. Nothing makes sense, and there is no box for me. I move forward for several years as the woman I know I’m not.
The year is 2018. One of my friends nicknamed me “Andie” on accident a couple years ago and I tested it out as a stage name for a while. I feel warmer when people call me this. Its still short for Alexandria, my full name, after the library. I’ve considered having people call me this instead, but it sounds difficult to change. When people ask me for my pronouns, I say “no preference. They/them, she/her, he/him. Its all the same to me.” It’s not, but I don’t want to be any trouble. I have a word for myself now, ‘nonbinary.’ I know a few people who use this word, I look up to them, I wish I had their courage. At this point, I’m also coming to realize I’m undeniably polyamorous. I don’t want to cheat on my partner, but every inch of matter under my skin says this isn’t right for me, just like how every atom burns when I’m called ‘she’ these days. In October this burn builds into bravery. I start by telling close friends and family members “It’s Andie now, don’t call me the other one ever again. And please don’t use ‘she’.” Some people accept it immediately and work hard to show me this respect. Some of my friends haven’t slipped up once. My parents try their best but don’t get it. They aren’t surprised, mind you, after the notes home from teachers my whole life, but they don’t get it. Some people are frustrated that they can’t just call me what they’ve always called me. Some people are great with the name but haven’t used my pronouns once. Some people chastise me for it. One person threatened to kill me for it.
He was a stranger at a bar. He struck up a conversation. He worked at a recording studio that happened to have my deadname in its title, I decided not to comment on that. He kept saying he needed a female vocalist, and told me I’d be the right girl for the job, a pretty lady like me would look great on the cover, women just have better voices, you know? This was just a couple weeks after coming out, and my bravery was still powerful in my gut. I told him “Actually, I identify as nonbinary so I prefer non-gendered language to refer to me if that’s ok.” It wasn’t ok. His sister (who he was calling his brother) is trans, apparently, and she seems to think its ok to go in the women’s bathroom (it is). He thinks its unsafe for people like that to exist. Now, he says, there are some 30 fucking genders someone can call themselves. I’m sorry, but if you have a vagina you’re a girl. Tell me otherwise and I’ll fucking kill you, get what I’m saying?
I got his message and stormed outside. My phone was in my coat, which I had forgotten to grab on my way out the door. I huddled in a ball in the cold for the next half hour waiting on something to change. The band started. I went back inside. My coat was in a corner which he happened to be guarding. I don’t think he knew it was mine, but he was blocking my escape either way. Another guy I’d met that night asked me if I was ok. I explained the situation and asked him to get my coat for me. He did. The only person I knew in the building was in the band, so I was essentially alone, but I promised I’d be there for her show. Now at least I could run if I needed to. Later on, one of the security guys approached me and asked me to explain. The guy who’d brought me my coat had alerted them. The man was searched, and they found a gun on him. He was banned from the facility from there on out. After the threat was gone, he said to me “Don’t worry, we protect our women here.”
“Thanks, but I’m gonna go home now.” I sighed because he clearly hadn’t paid attention to the part where I explained why the guy wanted me dead. I was emotionally exhausted, tired of explaining and re-explaining myself only to be disrespected again, and again, and again. I am sick and fucking tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am.
The year is 2019, and this story might be about you. This story is about a lot of you. I’ve shown you my bravery by coming out of the closet for the 12th time this week, and you immediately slip up and call me ‘she.’ I do understand, yes, that accidents happen. Accidents are easy to fix. Say “Sorry, they” (or even just “they”) and finish your sentence. Simple. Clean. Easy. Respectful. Not what anyone ever does. No, instead the conversation is completely derailed into a cacophony rude apologies “Oh my god I am SO sorry. This is just so hard on me, you know. Its such a big, difficult change to make because your grammar is wrong and I just don’t call people ‘they’ its just so impersonal. This is just too hard to get used to, surely you understand.” And from there, we lose the focus of what we were talking about in the first place. You’re too busy explaining how difficult I am to respect. You’re too busy complaining about how hard it is to change a single word in your vocabulary. You’re too busy guilting me for my identity. I still love you, my friend, but please stop doing this. I probably walk away from you, to the bathroom, to someone else to talk to, I don’t want to hear it anymore. Now that we’re on the subject of my person, my body, my mind not fitting into the schema of what you find real and respectable you won’t change it. I make an excuse to leave. You are probably still thinking to yourself “I did so good, apologizing like that. I’m doing great at this respect thing.”
I don’t want my unrespectability to be the only topic of conversation I can have with anyone anymore. Do you understand why that pit lives in my stomach? Do you see now why that speech is exhausting for both of us? I am sick and fucking tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am. I’ll say it again and again until you can hear it.
I Am Sick
And Fucking Tired
Of Being Guilted
For Being Brave Enough
To Be Myself
In A World
That Hates Me
For What I Am
Can you hear me now?