Who’s coming out?
I am – this is me. I’m coming out as genderqueer. I’ve spent most of my adult life suffering and wishing I was someone else because my biological sex and my gender identity do not line up. I do not identify with the male gender that I was assigned at birth. When I entered adolescence this manifested as depression, which I have battled (off and on) for the better part of the last 10 years.
What is genderqueer?
Genderqueer is an umbrella term that refers to individuals who: don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (based on their biogical sex), are Non-Binary, don’t identify with any gender, identify with multiple genders, or identify as gender fluid, etc. It is an extremely broad term, and I like that because it is inclusive to many members of the queer community. I also like genderqueer because my gender expression doesn’t “look” queer (i.e. I present as male and am married to a woman), and choosing a label that has “queer” right in the name puts it up front and centre.
However, genderqueer isn’t necessarily a useful term for specifically explaining how I identify because it is so broad.
Where do I fit under the Genderqueer umbrella?
To understand that, you have to understand the difference between biological sex and gender identity. Biological sex is physical (your DNA, the anatomy of your reproductive systems, and your secondary sex characteristics) while gender identity is psychological (it’s a part of your mind, your consciousness, or your psyche).
Gender identity should not be confused with gender roles, which are social constructs and/or stereotypes that describe how a person should/will act based upon their biological sex. Our society is full of gender roles, which are mostly negative and constructed by patriarchal views, but these are not based upon gender – they are based upon sex. For example, the stereotype that men should drive because “women are bad drivers” is a sexist idea that dictates who should or shouldn’t drive based on their biology.
With that said, gender expression does have something in common with the idea of gender roles because it is the external way that people “present” or “perform” gender in a social context. Gender expressions are a form of communication, so they rely upon stereotypes, symbols, scripts, and other types of social shorthand to be coherent. For example, the fact that I typically wear a beard is a form of masculine gender expression; if I was clean shaven, I could have a more androgynous gender expression; and if I wore eyeliner, lipstick, and a dress, I would have a more feminine gender expression.
Gender identity, on the other hand, is who you are – it is a feeling. People who’s gender identity and biological sex line up are called cisgender. If you want to know what it feels like to be cisgender, put your left shoe on your left foot and your right shoe on your right foot; everything is in its right place. People who identify as something other than cisgender (for example, someone who is transgender) find that their biological sex and their gender identity do not line up. If you want to know what it feels like not to be cisgender, put your left shoe on your right foot and you right shoe on your left foot; things are not in their right place. Fortunately, you can put your shoes back on their proper feet – aligning gender and sex is not so easy.
(Of course, this is an oversimplification – but metaphor is all we’ve got to work with in this context. If this metaphor isn’t landing for you in words, actually try putting the wrong shoes on the wrong feet and see if the feeling teaches you something that words cannot.)
My biological sex and gender identity do not line up. If I could wave a magic wand and chose my ideal body, it would be biologically female because that would feel right for my gender identity. Many people who realize this about themselves identify as transgender, but I don’t believe that transgender is quite the right term for me.
I am going to continue to maintain a male gender expression, even though I no longer identify as cisgender, or as having a male gender identity. I don’t plan on transitioning to be female in any way – no surgeries, no hormones, and I don’t even plan on strictly changing my pronouns (I am comfortable being identified with male, female, and neutral pronouns) – because, for me, I believe my happiness and contentment are only attainable through loving the whole person that I am. None of us get to choose our bodies or our minds; they are given to us by an inconceivable chain of events that we have no control over, and my body is my body. I have to be content with that if I want to transform my suffering.
While I feel a disconnect between my body and my mind, they are not separate entities, and they depend upon each other; if my mind or body were gone, neither part would survive on its own – and I as a whole would not survive. My male biology is just as much a part of me as my female gender identity, and I want to love the whole me, not just half of me. Wishing I could change either of them doesn’t change the fact that they are the only body and mind I have to work with.
To quote my favourite film, Cool Runnings, “A gold medal is a wonderful thing, but if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.” I think this perfectly sums up what it means to be content, and all of us must learn to be content in our own ways. If I cannot be enough with a male body, I would never be enough with a female body – I have to be enough, just as I am.
There are many ways of “doing” gender, just as there are many ways of doing being, and that is why I identify as genderqueer.
When did you realize you were Genderqueer?
The first time I said “I feel like a woman” out loud to myself (other than singing along to Shania Twain) was about a year and a half ago. I had to say it out loud to make sure I had actually thought it in my head, and when I said it out loud I had to repeat it again to make sure it wasn’t a coincidence that it felt so right. Before that, I had never acknowledged this feeling in my mind. I had never been able to explain it, but I’d always felt incomplete and inadequate, unfinished and unable to express why, as though right from the get go there was no chance for me to be the person I was meant to become in life – and honestly, I’ve always felt really guilty about that.
I come from a loving family that has always had enough; I’ve lived in safe neighbourhoods in a safe country and gone to adequately funded public schools; I’ve never faced any form of prejudice based on my social location (ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, education, physical ability, religion, age, etc.); I’ve always had a strong network of friends, and was raised in a deeply spiritual Christian community; I just graduated from the University of Waterloo, and was able to do so debt free thanks in part to money that my Grandfather left me when he passed away, along with being able to make work for myself as a private music instructor; and on top of it all, I’ve had the fortune to marry the woman of my dreams, who is one of the most vibrant, intelligent, attentive, patient, caring, passionate, bewitching, joyful, and funny people I know. And she loves me, just as I am.
It never made sense to me that I couldn’t be happy, that I couldn’t enjoy life, that I was always restless and exhausted at the same time. I had no language to describe how I felt or how I identified. I knew that the whole world had been given to me on a silver platter – that I did not know struggle or discrimination – yet I felt such dysphoria. As a child, I remember praying to God, asking him to change my body, to make me someone else – but it never happened.
Growing up as a Christian, the communities I spent time in always placed strict regulations around sex and gender roles. Despite their largely positive influence on my development, these environments created shame and guilt in me that I couldn’t deal with because I couldn’t explain what I was feeling. Anything that was “other” was labeled as “sinful” – it was something not to be talked about or affirmed, but shunned and abandoned – so I locked all of my feelings about sex and gender away deep inside myself. I couldn’t bear to be the “other,” so I just tried my best to be the person I thought everyone wanted me to be. I believed my own nature was “sinful,” but as long as I ignored it and followed Jesus I would be content in all situations (Philippians 4:11-13).
The story of Jesus’ selfless sacrifice and his redemption of our “sinful natures” can be beautiful and deeply moving, but it can also be extremely disempowering. I believed that there was nothing I could do to get rid of my “sin,” nothing I could do for myself to be at peace, that there was no way for me to love myself for who I was, and that only Jesus’ love for me could bring me contentment; even if I couldn’t love myself, Jesus’ love would overcome that, right? Well, it didn’t.
Anyone who has truly tasted depression can tell you that no amount of love from others can save you – you have to find a way to love yourself, and I believe Jesus’ own teachings affirm this. He taught his followers to have five kinds of love: love for God, love for outcasts (the poor, the sick, criminals, tax collectors, sex workers, addicts, widows and orphans, the elderly, racial minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, etc.), love for enemies, love for neighbours, and love for oneself. Everyone is better at some of these loves and worse at others, but the hardest one for me – and, I believe, in general – is to have love, patience, compassion, and grace for oneself.
When I got married a little over three years ago, I was able to begin the process of unpacking the “sin” that I had locked away inside me; or rather, I was unable to keep it locked up any longer. If you want to have a healthy relationship and a lasting marriage, you have to be truly naked (in mind, body, heart, and soul) with your partner – but to do that, you must be truly naked with yourself. I knew that if I was going to be the partner that my wife deserved, I needed to be able to love myself.
The path to loving myself has had many twists and turns over the last couple of years, but it wouldn’t have been successful without me becoming a Buddhist, nor without the love of my wife. When I became a Buddhist, I gained the tools necessary to identify, comprehend, comfort, release, and ultimately transform my suffering. Before this, I was trying to perform emotional surgery on myself while blindfolded; but once I was able to diagnose the cause of my suffering, the disconnect between my mind and body, I was able to precisely treat it and begin to find peace, love, and happiness. I also would not have been successful without my wife demonstrating how to love me so patiently, forgivingly, and unceasingly. I honestly have no idea why she took an interest in me, or what she saw in my mess, but for whatever reason, she decided to fill my life with joy. The love that she gave me began to heal my wounds, and I found purpose in giving my love to her when I was unable to give any to myself. She has helped me carry such a heavy load, and now that I love and accept myself just as I am, I am able to pull my weight and be the husband she deserves.
Why come out?
I am coming out because I don’t have to come out. Coming out doesn’t change who I am to me, and I could easily pass as cisgender with my masculine gender expression; if I wanted to hide, I could simply not say anything. But there are people out there in the LGBTQ+ community who have to come out to be themselves, and in the name of solidarity, love, support, and authenticity, I cannot stay silent. People who don’t have the option to “pass” as I do may face life or death situations for merely being themselves, and I want to stand up and be brave like them – I want to be a part of demonstrating humanity’s beauty and diversity. Now that I have love for myself, my love for other doing beings is only stronger; I once needed someone to strike a match and light my flame, but now my eternal spark has been awoken, and I want to help light the flames of love in others.
How does this affect my life (and specifically my marriage)?
In some ways, this has a huge impact on my life. I have been able to let go of my depression and suffering, and I truly love myself now. That is a massive change for me! It makes me a better person, husband, friend, son, brother, and man – my philosophy is to treat my biology like Beyonce would if she were a boy – and it makes all of life more wonderful. I’m not a hidden being anymore: I am a doing being.
In some ways, this doesn’t change my life at all. My body and mind will continue to play equal parts in composing my sensory experiences of the world. Senses are inherently physical and mental processes at the same time; you can’t experience anything without a body to sense things and a brain to make sense of them. The fact that I have a masculine gender expression influences the way that the world interacts with me, and that in turn influences the data that my mind receives.
For example, when I’m out walking, I notice that biological females (typically those who are smaller than me) may keep a distance, clutch their bag, make themselves “small,” or avoid meeting my glance as we pass each other on the sidewalk. Human social history has taught them that a biological male who is larger – perhaps who has a beard or broad shoulders – is a potential threat. In the same way, no one has ever questioned my intelligence, my physical capabilities, my artistic talents, or any of my skills based on my biological sex because I am perceived as a male, which is the kind of bullshit that most biological females have to put up with every day. So, even though my gender identity is female, the world has treated me as “male” based upon my male biology and masculine gender expression, and I have still had a “male” experience of the world. Because I am not going to transition, this experience will remain the same, even though I do not identify as male.
As a Buddhist, I observe that my body and mind are both temporary, transitory, and subject to change, so they are not truly “me” – they simply shape my interactions with the world that exists. As much as they equally contribute to my life experiences, they are both equally not who I am. As a Christian, I believe that all doing beings are created in the image of God, and that the eternal image of God within each of us is what makes us beautiful, valuable, and worthy of love. The image of God within myself is the same as it has ever been and ever will be.
With specific regards to my marriage, it’s also worth noting that gender identity has nothing to do with sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is generally based upon which biological sexes and/or gender expressions you find attractive rather than gender identities, but I’m also pansexual (which means I may find any sex/expression attractive, or find people attractive regardless of their sex/expression) so that wouldn’t matter even if it did.
My wife is still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, but I’ve never loved her just for her mind or her body. I love her spirit, soul, essence, higher self, Buddha nature, image of God, tat tvam asi, je ne sais quoi… or whatever you want to call it. I love her for the eternal, ineffable spark of existence that resides within her, and I’m so blessed that she’s chosen to intertwine her spark with mine! I enjoy so many things about her mind and body, but both of those things can change – and if my love for her was rooted in anything that could change, then it wouldn’t truly be love at all.
And yet, amidst all the positives, I suspect there will be negative outcomes as well. I am sure that some people who’ve called themselves my friends will no longer wish to have me in their lives; I am sure that some people will never look at me or trust me the same way ever again; and I’m sure that this will be confusing for people to hear. But if you love me for my true self, for the pieces of me that never change, have no worries: I am the same me that I have always been and will ever be. Even though it feels like everything has changed, nothing has changed at all.
© Rylan Skelly, September 2018
About the Author: I have a B.A. in Honours Religious Studies from the University of Waterloo; I have a love for all major world religions – Eastern, Western, or in between; I’m genderqueer, and I’m comfortable with male, neutral, and female pronouns; I’m married to my dear wife Lynn, who is the love of my life, my best friend, and my muse; I think far too much, and often have too many ideas to know what to do with; and I am a doing being, just like you!
I have a B.A. in Honours Religious Studies from the University of Waterloo; I have a love for all major world religions - Eastern, Western, or in between; I'm genderqueer, and I'm comfortable with male, neutral, and female pronouns; I'm married to my dear wife Lynn, who is the love of my life, my best friend, and my muse; and I am a doing being, just like you!