I'm Tired Of Being Asked, “Are You A Boy Or A Girl?"
Five genderqueer individuals, who are fed up with defending their identity, set the record straight.
When Sam Gee was a sophomore in high school, their English teacher had a simple request at the beginning of the school year. "If you have a nickname, write it down," he said.
Gee, who had answered to "Samantha" their entire life, describes their childhood as “pink, pink, pink, and full of princesses.” But by high school, that had started to shift, and they wanted to distance themselves from "Samantha." So, in that moment, they wrote down "Sam,” and their journey to understanding their own gender began.
Now a 20-year-old college student at Fairleigh Dickinson University in northern New Jersey, Gee identifies as non-binary, meaning they don't identify as male or female and don't subscribe to either of those genders' norms, either. It's an identity that often draws a lot of scrutiny and questions, including, "Are you or a boy or a girl?" and "Aren't you just confused?" It's also an identity that's become highly politicized as the Trump administration attempts to strictly define gender as either male or female.
Amidst those questions, Gee and four other genderqueer individuals share what their identity means to them, how beauty helps them present their true selves to the world, and the questions they really wish people would stop asking. Read their own words, ahead.
Jostyn Ferreira, 19, artist
I’m from the hood in the Bronx and I was constantly worried about my safety because of what I looked like. When I was 16, I transferred from a school where I was bullied every day to Harvey Milk High School. There, I had this amazing counselor who told me, "It’s OK for you to be different. It’s OK for you to not identify with anything." That was really the breaking point and that’s when I started expressing myself with my clothes. I went to that school in September wearing white Ts and Jordans, and by November I was already wearing crop tops and platform shoes. It felt like breathing for the first time.
People constantly ask me, "Are you just confused?" or "So, what are you? Are you a boy or a girl?" I'm tired of it. It's like, Who are you to tell me what manly is? Is there a book that tells you what being feminine or masculine is? Is there an email I didn’t get?
There was no one [like me] walking through the projects in skirts and dresses. I want to be that inspiration for somebody. I want to one day be a role model for another queer person of color; all you need is one person. To all the kids who are scared to be themselves, always remember that everything needs a little spice.
Who I Am: I’m a human-sized Bratz doll. I'm a baddie. I’m a book that never ends. I’m always excited to see what the next chapter is for me.
Sam Gee, 20, student
I didn’t really know why I had a detachment from my name until last year. My girlfriend said, "I noticed that sometimes masculine things make you more comfortable and that sometimes you don’t feel as feminine." And then she asked me, "Do you prefer they/them pronouns?" That was my first time talking about it.
Knowing that I identify as non-binary and understanding that I can look however I want and still identify that way makes me more comfortable experimenting with my look. I don't need to feel afraid of looking a certain way. If people say, "That’s a girl" because I’m wearing makeup and a dress, I don’t care, because that’s not who I am. Finding that comfort for myself has helped me a lot, because I can go out with a full face of makeup and my pink shaved head and a dress and heels and know I’m still non-binary.
I'm not something people think of and see as beautiful, but that’s not what I have to be. I’m my own version of it.
Who I Am: I am compassionate and passionate. I am creative. I am different. I am whatever people think that I am not.
Yên Nguyen, 27, freelance fashion editor and stylist
A lot of my gender revelations didn’t happen until after college. I started to be more experimental with my clothes and fashion and a little more androgynous. As I slowly started to break those walls down, people like Hari Nef and Laverne Cox were coming out, and there was this huge trans revolution in the media. It was really educational and inspiring, and that helped me explore my gender identity more.
Whenever I imagined myself mentally, even growing up, I could never really pinpoint myself to a binary; I always saw myself as someone outside of it. And so when [I learned about] terms like gender-fluid and non-binary, it was like, "Oh my god."
I still get a lot of questions. People say things like, “Well, are you a boy or a woman?” And it was really hard to be in these situations because I never really knew what to say, like, "Oh well, I'm a human being." So to finally hear words like non-binary and trans, and [to be able to] explain myself as one word, was so relieving. It’s an amazing feeling to finally be in touch with who you are and know your truth.
Who I am: I am this slaysian femme queen goddess. I am this beautiful, strong person who is fearless and owning who they are, and hopefully inspiring others to live their best and truest life.
Maya Kotomori, 19, student/model
I’ve always been questioning my gender. After a really good friend of mine at New York University introduced me to the idea of being non-binary, I thought, Well, I like ‘girl things’ and I look like a girl, and that means that I can never identify that way because my appearance is so feminine. But the more time I started hanging out in New York, I realized that being non-binary doesn’t have a specific look.
I’m not even 100% comfortable saying that I am a non-binary woman yet. I’m still a person that’s being made, but I’ve definitely had moments where I realize that I feel uncomfortable identifying as a cis women. That’s part of why I had a breast reduction; I used to be a G cup and I had back pain and gender dysphoria. That reduction was definitely part of my gender journey, as was experimenting with my beauty.
I started bleaching my eyebrows in January this year. I was always "Maya with eyebrows." So I started thinking, "What if I was Maya with no eyebrows?” I’m not gonna shave them, so I bleached them and now they’re here. It kind of defeated the purpose of not wanting my eyebrows to define me, but now they define me in a way that’s actually me.
If you don't look like a human question mark of gender, then people assume you’re cis. But in reality, all non-binary people can and do look like whatever they want to look like.
Who I Am: I’m officially on my bullshit and I’m coming correct this year. It’s 100% fuck you, pay me.
Tristan Fox, 22, model
I was 19 when I went to this LGBT club on campus [at State University of New York at Purchase]. I had never heard of someone being non-binary before, but once I learned about it, I was very interested. It didn’t immediately click that I was what they were describing. After I started to think of myself that way, it started to make a lot of sense to me. Like, Yeah, I’m definitely not comfortable with people thinking I’m male.
My family’s old fashioned. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, but I’ve lived in Rockaway since I was nine. Where I live with them now is very conservative, and so this has been a long process of unlearning all the things I’ve been taught — including behaviors like immediately helping women in a way that assumes they’re weak. Really, as soon as I realized I didn’t have to be male, it was like, Well, fuck that.
Now I feel like I've found my place more as a person. I did start experimenting with makeup a year ago, even if I do have complicated feelings about it. Just looking in the mirror right now, I’ll think, I love this makeup, but I have to take it off before I get on the train because then I’ll feel super uncomfortable because people will stare.
I don't want to stand in front of a mirror for half an hour so someone can see me as I see myself. I just want to be seen without having to do that. There’s moments like that when it’s frustrating and this gender feels like a prison, and then there are other times when it’s fun and I want to draw hearts and stars on my face. I'm still trying to figure everything out, but right now I feel free.
Who I Am: I am a work in progress. I am trying to run before I can walk.
This story was originally published December 5, 2018.