gender questioning

The date loomed nearer and nearer and I’d almost forgotten.

National Coming Out Day.

Right in the thick of National LGBTQ History Month (we do have a month, people; look it up!).

Nothing new really. In fact, it was a date I didn’t really have to worry about much seeing as I’ve spent most of my life out of the glass closet I was born into.

It wasn’t until recently when someone asked me:

‘What are your preferred pronouns?’

The question had always hung in perpetual balance and has become omnipresent as today’s generation has begun to dissect the binary our predecessors so painstakingly have tried to keep in place. But when some of us dared to speak up and not quiet down, the masses were forced to listen.

I’ve always been a very proud member of the LGBT community. I’ve known I was very obviously “different” from a young age, and the alternative to being so “different” (hating myself) — though often reinforced in school, media and even my own home — was to choose a path that may one day liberate me and others like me.

Flash forward to now. Though I maintain my pride for who I am, I’ve begun to wonder if maybe what I’d labeled myself before was even the right word. Given the current conversation around pronouns and broadening the social lexicon to include identities related to who people feel they are, I was at an impasse.

I have never felt comfortable with boys.

I never felt like I should be grouped with the boys, be it in school, church or in any other sense. I learned to find colors within the “boy side” of the spectrum that were closest to the “girl side” — orange, for example.

Related: Was I Born In the Wrong Body? Musings From the Land of Confusion

As I got older, I started to realize I was even more uncomfortable around boys as I started to navigate my attraction to them. Once I physically started coming into my own, it was almost necessary to fit into the category I’d chosen: I was a gay man. That was it. I even fit the stereotype. I was effeminate, only hung out with girls, I excelled in creative endeavors. It wasn’t until after high school that I’d learn how extremely problematic those stereotypes can be for other gay men.

So now I was just confused. I wanted to be a good member of my community, and I knew of the shaming that came along within the gay community, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t by any means doing that much to cave to societal pressure. OK, so maybe I’d started working out more. And making my voice go down a few octaves by force. So what? I’d been doing that subtly for a few years at that point anyway. Femmephobia and internalized homophobia are REAL. #tooreal

I often think back to some of my earliest musings surrounding gender. I questioned my gender as early as age 4. I can specifically remember asking why I couldn’t be a girl. I would get angry that I was stuck being a boy. I very obviously liked girl things, I was told the things that made me happy were girly and therefore not for me.

Looking back now, I always have this lurking question that I think every gay person has to ask themselves at least once (or in my case, a few times):

Am I transgender???

I never really had a solid answer for myself. I’ve often thought about how much simpler my requests to play with certain things, groom myself in certain ways, or like the people I liked would’ve been received.

I also conversely think of the fact that I actually happen to hate my “man boobs” (*shiver*). Even the term itself makes me feel self conscious. Though then I wonder if that’s just lingering from the childhood obesity and body shaming I’ve experienced across the span of my life. I’m finally in a decent place with my body. Not good, by any means, but I’m finally beginning to understand it and give it what it needs and cherish it as I should. Which is even more confusing the more I think about how much the idea of women having sex still makes me uncomfortable and am still baffled by the thought of vaginas and all they entail — but that may just be the madonna/whore complex run amok in my subconscious (i.e., zero sexual attraction to women meant they were to remain pure, righteous and the better of the sexes, naturally).

So in a world where I was meant to only tick so many boxes, what was I supposed to do?

One such person who has seemingly managed to understand herself fully and come to terms with who she was is one of my potentially #problematicfaves, YouTube beauty guru and trans advocate Gigi Gorgeous. Gigi recently made the decision to come out yet again as a lesbian woman of trans experience. She expressed her disdain for men due to her negative experiences in past relationships with them.

Related: Loving Myself as Genderqueer in a Binary World

Some may question her reasoning for transitioning only to find out she was attracted to women? The answer to that is simple: because sexuality and gender are separate things. My question, however, is: how could she be so sure? It’s the very question I’m currently struggling with, only in reverse. I know I’m attracted to men and those considered more masculine of center, but what am I at my core? (No pressure.)

Transitioning fully has never been an idea I was fully on board with (though that may very well be an argument for nurture over nature), I would also feel bad for not representing a gender that seems so often forgotten in this conversation of being open and expressive and vulnerable. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of shirking my title of “man,” really, as I feel men have a lot farther to go in understanding emotions and how those emotions can have a huge impact on society as a whole. I feel that part of me must also be honored, somehow.

So maybe, in the grand scheme of things, I was meant to bridge this gap in understanding. Growing up with a multiracial background has reinforced that sentiment a hundred times over; in times where I’ve had to see the other side or play devil’s advocate, I’ve learned humility. Perhaps this is just another lesson in the constant school of life.

Whatever that may mean, I’d like to take this opportunity to make this proclamation and come out.

I, Mikell Petty, am gender queer — or genderfluid (or maybe gender-flexible?)

I’d like to maintain my male pronouns, but please feel free to use she, her, they or them.

There are those who prefer to use non-gendered pronouns, and I am not here to discredit or invalidate them whatsoever. If someone is more resolute about their gender nonconformity, I nor anyone else really has reason to dispute that. I’m simply here to state that I’m currently learning about myself. Which, as most of you who have grown up in modern society may have noticed, is a simple statement that seems almost impossible in actuality; but this is something I’ve learned to be true of who I am.

I’ve learned more about myself in the past few years — through unlearning the persistent capitalistic, patriarchal white supremacist nature of society — than some will ever dream of. And I still have a long way to go. This may be a step to claiming a stake in my femininity and giving it the same chance to grow and be validated that it needed when I was growing up. What that means for my future is unclear, but for now it means that I don’t want to keep that part of myself hidden.

The fact that we even have a Coming Out Day seemed almost pointless and just reinforces this idea of choosing, making bold statements and proclamations so matter-of-factly in order for everyone else to fit us into neatly ticked boxes in some kind of societal census.

I’m honestly not here for someone else to better understand me, though — not until I better understand myself. But in the spirit of pride, the history of my community, and what this day stands for, I understand that both visibility and agency are what truly separates us from the status quo.

So I’ll say it again, loud and proud, like our forbearers before us:

I’m (gender)queer, I’m here — but you should be used to that by now.

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