My father loved my masculinity and showed me things my brothers weren’t interested in. Because of this, he taught me to tie ties, shave my face (although I never really needed it; he would just put soap on my face and give me a plastic razor), how to scout good players in sports, some football, even how to read stats. As the last of his children to play basketball, I excelled at the sport. I’m sure I was as much as a son as his actual sons. I loved it all and he loved the fact he had someone to do it with, and I secretly thought he always knew I was queer, even if not in the sexuality sense, but I believe he wanted his first born daughter to be exactly like he imagined before both my brothers were born.
Despite that, I would wear his hoodies and steal my brothers’ clothes to cover up the female parts. Since they were both older than me, it was a lot harder to find the ones that fit. D’Andre was tall and wide back then. I was coming into middle school short and with lots of baby fat, even after burning most of it off through years years of basketball. The second oldest son, Justin, wore the same size shirts and pants, however he was tall, rightfully so for being five years older than me, so I could fit his t-shirts and wear his neckties and shorts, but not his pants. (I would wear whatever I could fit and whatever I couldn’t, much to my mother’s disapproval, to cover up the effects of puberty. I started growing breasts in the second grade so when I was in sixth, I had already been wearing a C cup and menstruating.)
There were plenty of fights.
Every year since kindergarten, even after my parents divorced, we went on father-daughter dates. In elementary school, they’d host a father-daughter dance in the cafeteria and every year and I go with him in an uncomfortable, but pretty, dress my mother picked out, and we’d go out to dinner and dance and he would buy me a corsage. When I got out of elementary, my sister was still there finishing out the fourth and fifth grade so she got to attend two years without me.
My father still took me on dates, though. We had a shared love of movies so we’d go to Chili’s and get a two for twenty, or, our personal favorite, IHOP, right after the $5 bargain movie deal at Carmike and talk about it for a good two hours. Date nights were important to both of us, and I’m sure he loved doing them, but they also served as a good reminder that, no matter what, I still was his daughter. Not his son. Not kid. But daughter.
That wasn’t really a problem for me, it was just a problem for all the adults around me, including my father, who thought my interest in the opposite sex was an indicator for my sexuality, not that it could have possibly been I want to be them. I looked male, presented as such, even occasionally when they’d call for their sons, I’d show up with them, even on the days they’d make me wear a dress. I was just as much their daughter as I was their son.
I think my first run in with the idea of gender was after I came out as lesbian. My mother, who was just starting to come around with me liking women, prayed for me to not be “one of those boy lesbians”. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that, rather it’d be “butch” or “stud” or the newer aged term for lesbians who weren’t on the extreme left of the gender expression spectrum (feminine) nor the extreme right (masculine,stud, butch): Stem. She never mentioned an androgynous way of dressing, just the two extremes. Even beyond the dichotomy, it bothered me more she was afraid I’d be a “boyish lesbian” because that would mean, by her definition, I would present manly, almost like pre-testosterone transgender men. But, if I dressed feminine, I was still “more female” and therefore considered more attractive somehow.
The fact that the way I dressed and presented myself would make me more or less of a woman troubled me to no end. I started to see the black or white in everything. Male things were considered black, not pure and rotten; hell even unknown. White is female, what my mother knew best, clean and innocent. Perfect.
There were either male clothes or female clothes, with no explanation on why they were put on either side except a tag. There was no such thing as unisex except in shoes. Everything was either black or white, a small, two-sided binary with no “stem.”
When I found out about the gender spectrum, and that there was a spectrum outside the spectrum, I was petrified. I loved all the options but it made me worry. How were there so many genders? How did I know what I was? Questions like those heightened my anxieties. If I was ignoring all gender roles, ignoring my female sex, disregarding it and putting on a male appearance without taking off my female parts, would I be a part of the transgender community?
What made someone transgender?
denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.
That didn’t really help. How do you know?
I didn’t know the answer to that. I still don’t. I do know, that if I had the choice, I would have come out of my mother’s womb as male. However, I didn’t. I also knew, that I was going to be—regardless of any adjustments— female. It has always been my personal belief that I’d always be somewhere in the middle of things. If I never got a penis, or went on testosterone, but I cut off one of my own secondary sex characteristics, would I still be a woman?
The answer is still up for debate. I have labeled myself as a queer person for now. I cannot bring myself to sit down and decide on what to call myself beyond the name Elliott. I have never felt like a woman, but neither have a lot of masculine women who love women. I’ve felt the joy of being called a man, but so have a lot of queer women as well. I have felt the pain of burning up in the Georgian sun because I didn’t want my family to see my breasts and tell me I was becoming a young lady. The twist of a face when I spoke and they heard the woman in me. Writing “female” on pieces of notebook paper in school, circling crossing out the things I wasn’t—the F, the male; only keeping the e, the e that stood for everything I have yet to figure out.
For now, I suppose I transcend the knowledge of my own being.