This week, I went to my first GenderQueer Chicago meeting. While no group, or meeting, is perfect, it was . . . exactly what I needed. And even more, it was something I hadn’t quite been conscious of needing.
Since coming out as trans, I’ve never been in a room with so many trans/genderqueer/otherwise gender-nonconforming people in my life (I feel fairly safe in saying this, despite the general confidentiality of the meeting, given that it’s stated plainly on their blog that they have meetings). Before I really came out, I attended the annual Trans Health and Wellness Conference in my home state, and that was also a really amazing experience. The conference was really the first time I’d met an adult–someone who wasn’t a current student at an uber-liberal, elite liberal arts college–who identified as genderqueer, and it really brought it home to me that a gendered existence beyond the binary is possible, even after leaving the comforting bubble provided by my college.
The GenderQueer Chicago meeting was a first for me in a different way, in that I’ve now had some time to grapple with my own trans identity. The conference had been maybe a month after I’d first questioned my gender, and everything was so completely new, and I’d barely had time to think about anything. Now, though, I have a better grasp on who I am and who I want to be, and that very definitely includes my sense of self as a trans individual.
Spending the summer with my family, and the first few weeks of first-apartment-living with my two really great roommates who know virtually nothing about non-binary gender and view me as a woman, I’ve been incredibly isolated from any sense of trans, genderqueer, or even queer community. Books, a few semi-relevant blogs, and occasional emails to a friend who spent nearly the entire summer away from the internet were what I had. Don’t get me wrong–I don’t mean to sound ungrateful: the written word has been a refuge for me for nearly my entire life, and I owe that friend more than I could ever say, let alone repay. But it’s still not the same as actual face-to-face interaction.
I hadn’t realized how good it would feel to introduce myself, for the first time, using the name I’ve chosen for myself. I now know what it feels like to hear that name being used to refer to me or to get my attention. Before that meeting, that had never happened. Even being asked my preferred pronouns was something special. Occasionally, at college–at the Gen/Sex tea (meeting for current and potential Gender and Sexuality minors and concentrations), for example–we’d say our preferred pronouns along with our names. There is a huge difference, however, between asking about preferred pronouns because it’s the P.C. thing to do, and asking out of a genuine desire to respect people’s gendered (or non-gendered) identities (and an understanding that many of the people may not prefer the pronouns society would assume). It was terrific. It still causes me a little rush of anxiety because such occasions are currently so infrequent, but it felt so good to have a chance to be recognized as how I want to be seen and to determine how I want people to refer to me. I think self-determination, instead of just having some pronoun or name or identity being imposed, is a hugely important component of respecting people as individuals and not just paying lip service to some ideal of diversity or political correctness.
Part of what it comes down to, I think, is that it was a chance to feel visible. It was a chance to be seen as other than just some girl, to not just be dismissed as some dyke. Even my best friend sees me as a girl. She “doesn’t get” my sense of style; she doesn’t understand why I bind; she encourages me to dress in a more feminine manner. It gets to be exhausting, trying to be true to my sense of self and gender when no one seems to notice.
GenderQueer Chicago offered me a chance to get away from that–a chance to escape, to be seen as who I am and who I want to be, not who I was or who others want me to be. No meeting is perfect, nor are any groups of people, but as far as I’m concerned, it was close enough. Chicago was the right choice for me.