But no matter how hard I tried, something was always off. I never felt like I was measuring up to be the woman that everyone seemed to think I was. When girls were buying push-up bras from Victoria’s Secret, I avoided low necklines like the plague, always thinking my chest was “too big.” “Guys love that!” my friends would say in reassurance, and I’d think to myself, That’s good, right? On the inside, I was wondering what it would be like to run my hand down a smooth, flat chest.
The repression of my gender identity and expression was something that thrived in secret, and started young. I was always great at hiding my desires—masking in a sense. I joined the fifth grade choir at my Florida middle school, not because I could hit all the notes, but because the performance uniform was a crisp white button-down, slacks, cummerbund and bow tie—regardless of gender. It was an outfit that I knew I would never get away with wearing as a girl. At the time I was embarrassed, like my peers, but not for the same reason: I was embarrassed because I wanted to wear it, not because, like the rest, I didn’t. Around the same time, I asked for a British-inspired, spunky outfit from Limited Too for my birthday. It came with a red plaid skirt and tie, a navy bejeweled tank top and a fiddler hat. To my surprise and disappointment, I received everything but the tie—the only thing that I was really after. In high school, I would sit in my father’s closet when no one was home and try on his clothes: too big blazers, dress shirts in a variety of colors and a whole hanger full of ties. Jackpot. But this only happened when I was alone, the volume on my laptop turned as low as possible as I watched YouTube videos learning how to tie a tie. No one was going to teach me, I was a ‘girl.’ Why did I need to know that?
With masculinity out of reach, I would ponder what it meant to be a woman. Was it girl power? Was it body acceptance? Was it freeing the nipple? Was it fighting for equal pay? And while I’m absolutely in support of all of these things, they felt like foreign concepts to me, at least in relation to myself as a ‘woman.’ The older I grew, the less they felt like things that applied to me. Womanhood felt like a goal that was never achievable. Perhaps that was because I’m not a woman—but I didn’t know that yet. So I threw myself into ‘womanhood’ full-force and quickly adopted a hyper-feminine persona while still presenting myself as a queer and trans ally, not knowing that in a couple years’ time, I myself would be out as a nonbinary lesbian. (I know it sounds contradictory, but keep reading.)
In 2015, I went to Emerson College, widely considered one of the queerest schools in the nation, where I was introduced to all manner of sexualities and gender identities—including they/them pronouns. Despite being surrounded by queerness, it wasn’t until late in my sophomore year of college that I realized that my desire for masculinity could also take the form of a woman; that lesbianism was in store for me. Accepting my sexuality was the first hurdle—a second puberty if you will. I had to figure out how to woo women, compliment them, understand them and date them. And in this discovery of my sexuality I was introduced to the concept of a butch/femme dynamic—a historically complex understanding of the subversion of gender roles that manifest in two sapphic women or people, one more masculine or butch and the other more feminine or femme. Femme was a role I could play, but as much as I liked the butch/femme dynamic—even felt comfortable in it—it was limiting. It would take coming out, a three-and-a-half-year romantic relationship, moving to Brooklyn and forming friendships with nonbinary and trans people for me to figure that out for myself.