I remember being five or six years old and sitting on my bed in my underpants with my arms crossed over my chest, refusing point blank to wear the frilly pretty dress my dad wanted me to wear. The refusal wasn’t because it was a girl’s dress, it was purely pragmatic. I knew if I wore that damn dress and went outside to play in the mud as I had intended, I’d get in trouble for making that white dress dirty.
I didn’t really have a strong sense that I was a boy in a girl’s body, just that whatever I was it certainly wasn’t the kind of girl the family wanted me to be. Mum was a loud feminist, so I could be myself with her and not get into trouble, but when I stayed with my dad or his family, they constantly tried to shove me into a box that was too small for me. It seemed to me at the time as if they wanted everything that was really me to disappear.
And because of other issues that were going on in the background, I didn’t feel safe enough to really stick up for myself. So I learned how to play the game and be the girl they wanted but on my own terms, and learned how to only be myself in my alone time, where I’d read books about kids who saved the world or went on glorious adventures, or told myself stories about such kids… this of course led into my becoming a writer over the years, and because I could be myself completely while writing, it then became my bliss and joy.
Throughout my school years I was bullied from all angles, as well as being bullied by my dad’s family and their terrible fear of anything different to the 1950s “norm” of humanity. One year they were so destraught that I liked too many boys things, that they came to the conclusion they had to stop me from turning into a lesbian (as if that was a bad thing, or even linked to gender expression), and I got five barbie dolls in one Christmas.
It all became very blurry after that. I tried to be the kid everyone wanted me to be, but constantly failed at that. The struggle blurred all the lines and I didn’t really have a good sense of identity inside all of that confusion and fear and never being good enough for them. As I grew I tried to find compromises between what society wanted of me, and what I wanted. At times, I cut myself short and learned what they wanted and gave it to them, and at other times I cut them short and embraced my pain and frustration, taking it out on others, particularly in my teenage years.
There were other very loud things going on in my life, like developing complex PTSD, and then the horror of my teen years, so some of the time the other bad stuff overshadowed the gender issues. But slowly as I got older and the other stuff lessened (particularly after I finally finished high school), I was left to explore my own identity.
I knew I wasn’t who they thought I was. I knew I didn’t like my birth name and I knew that in order to have a chance at my own life, defined only by me, I would have to do something drastic to assert control over my own life. And age 21, with the help of my awesome mother, I changed my legal name and tried to reinvent myself. And while life was better because more of it was on my terms, I was still compromising for other people. I knew I wanted the name David, but because girls aren’t allowed boys names, I had to choose another. And because I didn’t know that gender and sex were different things, or that there were other people out there who felt similarly, I figured I’d best just do what I can with what I have and get on with life. So I did. I got a degree in philosophy and the study of religions, I trained to become a qualified ESL teacher, I wrote a couple of books, became an Indie Author, and still something wasn’t quite right, but I soldiered on.
At the beginning of my 35th year, I had a breakdown. It wasn’t due to gender issues, though that certainly didn’t help. what went wrong is that an event triggered a sequence of repressed memories to surface of the abuse I suffered as a small person, and was essentially retraumatised. By my 36th birthday I was suicidal and very close to passing on, but slowly, over the next year or so I got trauma counselling and a lot of support, and eventually started to heal.
And an amazing thing happened… as all that pain started healing and brushing away, my mind finally started to clear enough to get a better sense of my own identity. At the same time as this healing was the resurgence of information about the transgender identity online, and one day I read an article about being non-binary… and the penny dropped.
Up until that article, I knew about transgender people but I didn’t know you could be anything other than extremely male or extremely female, so I had nothing to describe because I’m neither. After the article I went searching online for more information and terms and ideas and a community to which I could connect. There are a lot of words out there in the world to describe gender, but I believe I’m technically a “non-binary gender fluid Demi-boy”, which means a person who is gender neutral but with male leanings. At the time I didn’t know what I needed or could do about this realisation, so I sat on it for a while to figure things out. And november last year 2016 (age 37), I decided to publicly come out as non-binary, requesting they refer to me using they/them pronouns and changing my legal name of Ke-Yana to just K. I thought it would be easier for my friends to use “they/them” and use a variation of the legal name, I thought it would be less confrontational for them than having to try and observe where I’m sitting on the gender scale on any given day and give me the correct pronouns for that day.
As it turned out, things didn’t really go how I wanted them to. I’d made another compromise for the comfort of others, and most people couldn’t be bothered to apply it, to even meet me half way. It’s almost a year since I came out and people still call me “she” and still call me by the legal name. All I’ve ever wanted is to be seen. For someone to see who I am underneath this ridiculous body, talk to me, not to the me they want me to be.
I’ve come back to me and what I want because I’m sick and tired of making compromises with my own public identity, and showing respect to others, when they are too lazy and selfish to bother meeting me half way. So I’m using that anger to build a new me, a new public face. And if the rest of the world doesn’t like it, they can jump. I’m sick of compromising who and what I am, and forcing myself smaller so as to give space to people who won’t even give me similar respect, or even basic respect in return.
I’m not sure entirely what this future me will look like, but I invite you to journey with me on this transition to an identity that’s solely mine.