I wrote this essay on December 28, 2021. I have not touched it sense.
Content warning: gender dysphoria
Oh the flying from the notebook. It's with me tonight, as it has been for weeks.
It is not hard to work, but it is so hard to work.
I have kept my voice hidden for fear of discouragement, and for the fear I've often written about: inadequacy. But I've also kept my voice hidden because I so often disagree. I am so often against, and that is frightening. And it makes me easily misunderstood.
I grew up in a family with next to no boundary between a working life and a personal one. I grew up in a household where the private was insanely, acutely private because the public was so constant -- a fixture. And the private was even more acute because of what I could not show outside myself because it would make me vulnerable.
The journey of the past year and a half for me has been of recognizing that I grew to love what I love at the same time I grew to know those loves made me vulnerable. I loved to dance. I loved to sing. I loved to dress up. I loved to hang out with old ladies at church. I loved to act like old ladies at church.
I liked to show off. I loved the way I moved my body. I loved the way I made up songs and sang loudly and the more I came to know these things within myself, to deepen the yearning to engage them, the more I felt afraid of what people would think if they saw me.
And this fear made me stand different. It made my fluid movement boxish. It pulled my voice low and graveled it. It tousled my hair each morning to mess it up after I had combed it -- showing mother my neatness, but showing boys at school I could not care less.
I wanted a buzz cut once, before a week in second grade. I was afraid as soon as I got it because in the focus on what I had wanted I forgot that wanting something gets you noticed, and that was the last thing I wanted to be in school because to notice me would mean to notice my profound discomfort, to notice the fringe of my efforts to conceal, the seams torn.
I made my father walk me to class with his hand on my head, to delay the noticing. To cover up my mistake.
I always felt that the discomfort came from liking boys when I wasn't supposed to, and measures of it did. And I did like boys. I liked them a lot and I knew it.
But that was both it, and not it. That was everything and not at all anything.
The issue was not liking boys. The issue was not doing what boys were supposed to do.
Once in college I took a class with my friend. I was out of my element, and I felt unintelligent in the class and uncomfortable despite knowing much of the content. The class was full of boys and taught by a boy and the boys wanted to be lawyers and senators or maybe sportscasters with ideas about laws and politics, and I wanted to be a singer but I also wanted to be smart. In class, I never spoke despite often having the answers. My friend encouraged me once.
That's right, he said hearing me whisper something under my breath, Say that.
No, I told him.
I wish I had known to tell him the reason I would not speak up was because I did not feel safe receiving the attention of those men in that room at that time.
In elementary school, a gym teacher laughed one day reading my name from the roll.
In middle school, another openly joked about the amount of laps I had been able to run compared to the boys in my class.
That was eighth grade. Prior to that I had taken dance instead of gym because I had been told boys took dance, when what was meant was boys could -- what was meant was boys have the option but never take it. What was meant was boys will have to change in the locker room next to the gymnasium before dance class alongside the boys dressing for dodgeball or sprints or rope climbing because there is no space in the dance studio for boys to change because while boys can take dance, boys don't.
There is an enormous gap between what is an option, and what is safe -- what can be a secure reality.
And then being gay became the way to make some sense. Being gay became a way to articulate myself that people could see and even though it imperiled me in some contexts (I was lucky) it kept me safe, too. It held me more in the direction of who I was.
But it was never quite there, either.
There is being gay and then there is being queer. Squares and rectangles.
I waited so long to come out as non-binary because I couldn't believe it. I needed a sign. Some spark through me, some rustling, some profound new desire (or fear) to consume me such that I couldn't not. And without that descent into stress, without decay and suffering, I couldn't buy myself. I didn't think I deserved it.
But it is my birthright..
I have never wanted to be a man. In my entire life I have never wanted the things men are coached, literally coached, to want. I have never taken my space for granted in the way men are allowed. I have never wanted the goals of men, nor had attention for the things men are meant to have attention for.
And I resented boys who were femme. They drove me mad. Made me jealous. Made me cruel. Made me project, insisting they didn't know who they were because of how profoundly afraid I was that if I let them have what I so wanted without taking pains to invalidate them -- without undercutting their choices like I knew better -- I would be all alone in the dust. And so I needed the world to wait for me.
I needed to hold it back, to press pause.
Wait. I'm not ready yet. I can't yet. Hang on. Don't go there until I can go with you.
And while I waited, I still endured trauma.
Waiting never protected me, at least not in any meaningful way.
I am not a boy or a girl. I am non-binary. I am not waiting anymore to claim what is mine, and I am not waiting anymore to tell people to make space for me.
This, at least, is my pledge to myself. Because I know there are ways I still wait. I still have things paused. I still hold myself at arm's length.
But I pray I have the grace to move recklessly. I pray I have the grace to be impatient for what counts. To butt in and disagree. To talk out of turn and be noticed. I pay to learn to relish being noticed.
Bryce McClendon, they/them