`Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’ `What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’ `I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’ `I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar. `I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, `for I can’t understand it myself to begin with . . . when you have to turn into a chrysalis–you will some day, you know–and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?’
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I suppose, in a way, I should have known I was queer as soon as I was able to ponder the nature of my own existence. By the age of five, I insisted on being called by a gender-neutral name, without having words to explain why it was so important that my name could be used for either a boy or a girl. Throughout my childhood, I identified as a boy and used he/him pronouns in my head.
In the early years, my closest friends were almost all boys. We played trucks and pirates and spacemen vs. aliens, and we made bows and arrows and tee-pees, pretending to be Native Americans. Girls were strange and incomprehensible, with their love for dolls and chapstick and stick-on earrings and their giggling about boys they liked. Especially their giggling about boys.
My siblings and I used to do skits, and I would play mostly male roles and not feel the least bit strange. I was Jesus when we did a skit of the Passion. I was Daniel in “Daniel and the Lion’s Den.” I was also Mary in “The Nativity,” and David in “David and Goliath.”
As I grew older, people would sometimes ask me, jokingly, if I was a tomboy. I would always tell them no, very strongly, and feel strange and hot around the ears. Being called a tomboy was like being called a fake boy. I wasn’t a fake boy. I was just…a boy.
The reason I didn’t think any of this was queer, or even unusual, was because I didn’t really have any peers with whom to compare myself. Like many students at Patrick Henry College, I was homeschooled from kindergarten through twelfth grade by Christian parents who were also very conservative: politically, socially, and spiritually. Sexual orientation was never discussed, and gender was assumed from one’s appearance and never questioned. If my parents had known that I identified as a boy, they would have been gravely concerned, but they never knew. I never told them because, to me, it wasn’t strange or even a big deal. It was just my identity, and I accepted it the way I accepted that I loved reading and hated taking naps.
Looking back, everything seems so clear now. It’s obvious to me that I was your typical queer kid, making sense of my reality the way kids do, accepting themselves for who they are without much difficulty.
Then puberty happened, and life kind of shifted sideways, leaving me between the particles.
I remember the moment I realized that puberty meant I was losing myself, losing the little boy I had been for so many years. I felt hollow, like I had been scooped out on the inside. My body was changing, and suddenly I was dealing with training bras and acne and bleeding, for Pete’s sake. I sunk into a deep depression that followed me into high school and then college and then marriage, a depression that didn’t start lifting until I started deconstructing reality as I knew it.
Puberty always brings confusion and chaos, but in my case, once I resigned myself to #neverhavingclearskinEVERagain and the bleeding that left me huddled in the fetal position in my bed every two weeks, I was more puzzled by what I didn’t experience than what I did. I had been told that I would experience crushes on boys (finally). I didn’t. Well…to be completely accurate, I guess I did have…maybe two or three crushes in the space of six years of junior high and high school.
Occasionally a girl I knew would tell me she had a crush on a boy. I never understood this experience. I remember the time a friend of mine was staying the night with me and confided that she very much wanted to kiss a certain famous male actor. I laughed in her face, uncontrollably, for several minutes.
I didn’t get it. I didn’t have those feelings.
As I grew older, I decided I wanted to dress a bit more like the girls I knew. When I was sixteen I approached my dad about getting my ears pierced. He very carefully explained to me that he didn’t think it was a good idea, because the only reason he could think of that I would want to do something like that was to “attract guys.”
I was dumbfounded. The thought of impressing guys with my new hardware hadn’t even occurred to me.
Remember that tiny handful of crushes? Well, at least one of those crushes was on a girl. Yep. My sexuality was as queer as my gender.
It’s been a long road, coming out to myself. Despite all the signage that’s as clear as day to me now, I was in the dark for most of my life about my queerness. It wasn’t until after college that I started admitting to myself that I experienced sexual attraction to people all over the gender spectrum–most frequently with women, and most rarely with men. By then I had come to identify pretty comfortably as a woman, although I’ll always remember and cherish little-boy me.
I empathize with Alice, who had difficulty explaining herself. Like her, I feel like I’ve gone through several metamorphoses, and like her, I feel a bit queer. I’m still figuring shit out, but I’m learning to embrace the experience I’ve been given…and I’m delighted to share that experience with you.
Here’s to Queer PHC!