I was a weird kid. I wore a red beret every day until some mean boy asked if it was part of my religion, pairing it with layers of boho necklaces, velvet turtlenecks, shimmery leggings and dramatic, deep red lip gloss. My greatest ambition was to become a famous opera singer like Renee Fleming. I wandered the hallways of Deer Path Junior High humming oratorio to myself. Oh had I Jubal’s lyre, or Miriam’s tuneful voice! I’d sing under my breath, moseying around the edge of the soccer field instead of participating in gym class.
My best friend from that time tells me that she first met me sitting in lotus position by the bleachers, eyes closed, while the other children played dodgeball. She asked me what I was doing and I shushed her, telling her that my invisibility spell wouldn’t work if she kept talking to me. After school, on the back deck of my grandmother’s house, I’d sprinkle water and salt in a protective circle as Silver RavenWolf’s To Ride a Silver Broomstick: New Generation Witchcraft instructed me. In bed at night, I’d try to astral project, with limited success.
The more kids at school called me a snob because of my large vocabulary, the more of a little shit I became, a never-ending spite-cycle. Odious, I’d throw out. Affluent. Neanderthal. That last was my favorite for the boys at my predominantly white, suburban school with its culture of lacrosse and football. I carried stacks of books with me, everywhere, more than I could possibly read at one time, and eventually people noticed I was reading a lot about Wicca. “Phoebe, touch this cross!” kids would exclaim when they saw me, holding up intersecting index fingers.
In my sketchbook, I wrote angsty poetry and drew female nudes. I had begun to notice my female friends’ bodies and this noticing made my ears blush, caused me to forget how to arrange my face or where to position my eyes, because I was so afraid someone would notice my noticing. I felt sick and wrong and different from other girls, in ways I wouldn’t fully understand for more than a decade later, and somehow rationalized these feelings away while still filling page after page with charcoal areolas. Another kid found my sketchbook, forgotten in a classroom, and it became public knowledge from then on that I was a lesbian pervert. Boys prank called my house in panting, high-pitched voices, pretending to be a popular girl wanting to have sex with me. They followed me around calling me an ugly faggot, telling me I was disgusting and deserved to die.
To this day, I have a terror of stepping out to use the bathroom or prepare food when friends are over, a terror that they will discover something shameful about me in my absence, though I’ve revealed all my secrets. I can’t say I became a conformist after the sketchbook debacle, or at least not a successful one, but I became a self-loathing weirdo instead of an unabashed beret-wearing opera-singing Wiccan. My greatest wish was to be normal, less awkward, straight. I’d hear people say that it was good to be different and it made me angry, that normal people would want to be weird, having no idea how painful and lonely being truly, inescapably weird could be.
So I can understand, in a way, why some binary Trans people resent non-binary Trans identity, see it as something that can be taken off as easily as clothing. Many non-binary Trans people (those who identify as neither male nor female or as some combination of the two) do in fact seek surgery or hormones to feel more comfortable in their bodies, but some are content to express their gender identity through the way they dress. This has led to the misconception that non-binary identity is simply a fad, the invention of “special snowflake” millennials.
Most of my teenage sexual fantasies featured me as a man with a penis. Still, I enjoyed makeup and talking about feelings, found sports and video games profoundly boring. The social categories of male and female never fit, even before I had language to apply to my internal experience. And though I often feel more like a man than a woman and share a lot in common with FTMs, I actually like my breasts.
Growing up in the early 2000s, I felt freakish and alone. At twenty-eight, I am just coming to accept my queerness (both my bisexuality and my gender identity) and often envy the seeming ease with which younger millennials declare themselves to be queer or interested in magic with a k. Even if some young people are adopting identities for the wrong reasons — to be fashionable or for social cachet — this generation’s acceptance of fluidity, its willingness to accept people for who they say they are, is revolutionary, not silly or self-indulgent.
Whether I ultimately pursue Testosterone and top surgery isn’t determinant of who I am. My interior experience of myself can’t be taken on and off like a shirt, regardless of how the outside world perceives my gender. No matter how much millennials are dismissed, ridiculed and maligned, I am grateful for the permission to be however I am, permission I didn’t feel able to grant myself as recently as a few years ago. My hope is that, despite the reactionary and hateful government coming to power, queers, witches, artists and freaks of all kinds will remain defiantly, and proudly, weird.
Top photo via Flickr/miranda
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Jason Phoebe Rusch is a queer, non-binary trans writer from the Chicago suburbs. He has a BA in history from Princeton University and an MFA in fiction from University of Michigan, where he was a Zell Fellow and received several Hopwood awards. His poetry has appeared in Luna Luna, his essays in Bust magazine, World Policy Journal online, Entropy magazine and The Mighty and his screenplay Banana Rat was a finalist in the 2010 Zoetrope contest. His work is also forthcoming in Civil Coping Mechanism’s A Shadow Map anthology.