Some of you probably know already that I’m genderfluid. Many of you do not. If you’re family, there is a strong possibility that you are not aware of this. I apologize in advance that I didn’t tell you directly, but really, it’s better this way. Here I can explain it more eloquently and concisely than I ever could in person. Maybe this is kind of risky, with the possibility of very conservative family members and friends finding out about this, but I am just so tired of keeping secrets to the point that it’s dragging down my mental health. So, if you’re a conservative family member or friend, I hope this won’t change anything between us. And if you feel like this is something that changes things significantly, please keep in mind that I haven’t changed at all. I’ve always been like this, it’s just that I didn’t know until recently.
Genderfluid is a gender identity that exists under the transgender umbrella and is defined by the gender wiki as “a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.” For me, this means I am male most of the time. Sometimes I identify as neither genders (in which instances I identify as gender-neutral or neutrois), or as both male and female at the same time, which is about as complicated and difficult to explain as it sounds. Very rarely do I identify as female, and when I do, it’s usually obvious.
Let me explain to you the story behind all of this.
When I first came to the realization that I was genderfluid, I didn’t really question it while I was processing things. But after a while, a question arose in my mind. Where was this gender my whole life? This led to an internal struggle because, while I knew that what I was feeling now was real, I was also afraid to come out to anyone if it was temporary. After a while of this, I began to remember things that before hadn’t really seemed important at the time and so I hadn’t hung on to them.
I can now recall that I had no real concept of gender or gender roles as a child. Between the ages of three and four, I wore mostly dresses. My mother could barely get me out of them. But I was also pretty tomboyish. Over the course of my childhood, I would frequently run around the house shirtless, and I wrestled around with my brother and father. I would play with both traditionally boy and girl toys. I enjoyed playing football with my brother, but I also liked playing with dolls.
It wasn’t until I was about seven or eight years old that the line between femininity and masculinity became less blurred for me. It was about this time that I stopped wearing dresses all the time and began to prefer jeans and t-shirts. I was introduced to nail-painting, and while I didn’t really enjoy it, I loved spending time with my cousin, so she often painted my nails for me. And it was fun at the time. Nail polish began to feel uncomfortable to wear, though, and so did most cosmetics, but it was expected of girls to engage in such activities, so I went along with it. I eventually dropped off from this institutionalized manner of behavior, but it took a while before I stopped painting my nails when I was bored.
I remember one time when I was about seven or eight when I was talking to my mother and I said “I’m feeling more boyish today.” This is perhaps one of the strongest pieces of evidence, and one that I clung to the most when I was facing this dilemma.
I also remember dealing with gender dysphoria pretty early on. Gender dysphoria is discomfort or distress over one’s body not matching with one’s gender identity. For example, a male to female transgender person could feel dysphoria over their breasts and genitals. Genderfluid people can also experience dysphoria.
Before I continue, I want to explain that I’m really not hung up on gender roles. I believe it’s perfectly fine if a boy wants to wear a dress or paint his nails. I’m alright with girls wanting to do traditionally male things. But although I’m not a traditional person, I trend to experience gender in a rather traditional way, at least as a boy. As a girl, I’m actually still pretty tomboyish.
I don’t remember when I first began experiencing dysphoria, but at some point in my childhood, I started to hate having to wear dresses. I would rather wear slacks and a dress shirt, but I was stuck with dresses. Some days I would be in the mood to wear a dress, but that was rarely on church days or special occasions. They made me feel so uncomfortable, but I couldn’t have told you why. I didn’t figure out until years later.
As I grew older, it became even worse. Puberty struck and began a distressing period of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dwell on it, and I have good memories from being a teenager, but physically and mentally I struggled. While most girls were either excited about having breasts, or were only mildly annoyed at the inconvenience of having to put on an extra article of clothing in the morning, I dreaded them as soon as they began showing signs of appearing. I thought it was just because I couldn’t go shirtless anymore. The reality, though, was that I looked at my brother and saw everything I could never have. I felt like I was being left behind, losing something important to me that was irreversible, and it made me miserable.
When I was around twelve, my mother began talking to me about shaving my legs. I had been bullied before for not shaving, and while that nudged me in that direction, I really did not want to do it. I was fine with my legs, but it got to the point where I felt like I would be made to shave if I didn’t take matters into my own hands. So, I did it first. And I didn’t think it would be that bad, but I had greatly underestimated myself. Not having hair on my legs was extremely uncomfortable, and I practically cringed every time my hairless legs brushed each other. But after the first time I did it, I was told that it was pertinent that I continued. I couldn’t just let my leg hair grow back and mark it off as a life experience that I had tried once, disliked, and continued on with my life. I was stuck with this for life, and it probably caused some of my most extreme dysphoria. Again, I passed off this misery as being a tomboy, being raised in a family dominated by men, everything but what it really was, because I didn’t have any other explanation.
When I was about fourteen, I started feeling dysphoria regarding my long hair. I liked how it looked, in a detached sort of way, but I also just felt like it just wasn’t me anymore. I felt a need to make myself look on the outside how I felt on the inside. I just hadn’t realized what that meant at the time. So I started cutting my hair. It was kind of a shock, because it had been just past the middle of my back, and I cut it up to my shoulders, but I still liked it. But it eventually got to the point where it just wasn’t short enough for me, so I got it cut shorter. And then shorter. And then shorter. The most recent haircut I got was about a week ago, and it’s the shortest I’ve had it since I was nine. I don’t know how I feel about it yet, though.
By the time I was fourteen or fifteen, I definitely knew about transgender people, but I also knew I didn’t fit this category, because I didn’t always feel like a boy. I did know about genderfluidity at this time, but I really wasn’t educated about gender. This was all a passing thought, however; gender wasn’t something I was thinking about at this time.
By age seventeen, however, it became unavoidable. I was talking to one of my best friends, Raven, who identified at the time as female-to-male transgender. He was educated about gender, and the genderfluid identity had come up more than once. I spent more time on tumblr, and I followed several LGBT+ blogs. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I began to realize that I hated having breasts because I wanted to have a flat chest. Not only was having shaved legs uncomfortable, but I also hated how they looked because it made me look too feminine. The things I did like about my body were things that were traditionally masculine. My faint mustache. My eyebrows. My arm hair. I slowly realized that the things I hated wearing or doing were traditionally feminine. It was practically staring me in the face.
After I realized I was genderfluid, things just went downhill from there. I told most of my friends almost immediately and didn’t care at all that I was usually a guy. Raven actually told me he felt weird using female pronouns (she, her) to begin with, because a lot of how I moved and acted was typically male. Not very many of my friends were overly surprised, and they all let me know that it didn’t change how they felt about me. But other than that, I was afraid to come out to anyone else. My family is very conservative, except for the younger generations, and while I knew that the Episcopal church, the denomination in which I grew up and currently belong to, was accepting of LGBT folks, I didn’t know how accepting. I felt isolated. So, I kept up a very thin masquerade of femininity, while also fighting my mother on shaving my legs. It doesn’t sound convincing, but somehow, no one was suspicious. My depression worsened and my anxiety spiked from the combined stress of dysphoria and keeping secrets, as well as just general stress over school. I was constantly afraid my mother would find out before I was ready to tell her, which at the time was never. My junior and senior years of high school were already far from a walk in the park, and I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown before graduation.
Throughout all this, I was still struggling to accept myself. Then, during my junior year of high school, I was invited to go to a large-scale church event at an Episcopal-owned conference center in North Carolina called Kanuga. The event was called Winterlight and took place during the last week in December. Staff members are allowed to invite one participant free of charge, and one of them invited me. During this event, someone named Weston came out as trans to everyone there. I can’t remember the details, but I do remember that it helped me a lot just to know that my church family was extremely accepting and loving, and though I still haven’t come out to them, it still made me feel accepted. If I hadn’t been there, I don’t know how long it might have taken me to reach the point of self-acceptance I am now. I think about it often, and it gives me courage when I do.
I’m now out to my mom and brother, Lawrence. While Lawrence accepted it without a hitch, though confused about it, my mother still struggles. A very few people refer to me with male pronouns (he, him) and by the name Mara, which I prefer because it sounds more neutral that Margaret. It also holds value to me, as it was a nickname Lauren picked out for me when we were kids. My life has improved in some ways. I don’t have to shave my legs anymore. I’m going to a counselor, which helps some. I’m applying for jobs, and I’m going to college in the fall, both of which I’m sure will present further acceptance issues, but I’m not going to worry about that until it arises. I was out to a very small group of people. Now that I’m posting this, that group is expanding, and while I know I’m almost guaranteed to meet some resistance, I know that the majority won’t have a problem with it.
So. My name is Mara Canfield, and I prefer male pronouns. Thank you to everyone who has shown me and will show me support. I love you all dearly.