Make Your Voice Heard
My So-Called They/Them Life
I always knew I was different. I didn't know a pronoun could fix it at midlife
When I was in elementary school in the seventies, I wished I was a boy while still very much enjoying being a girl. I played and watched sports, flipped baseball cards, dressed like a boy, and had mostly male friends. A favorite 5th-grade memory was playing ‘cream the carrier,’ a raw form of rugby, as the sole objective was to tackle the person with the ball who tried to evade their fate for as long as possible. I was the shortest, smallest, scrawniest 5th grader and the only girl who played. I became schoolyard legendary when I tackled the biggest boy — a memorable moment of pure glory for me.
“I’m One of They/Them!” in Grade School
One afternoon the principal called “all the boys” to her office to discuss the dangers of our sport and to reprimand us. She looked down at me curiously and said, “Why are you here? This meeting is only for the boys” to which I responded defensively, “I’m one of them.”
In middle school, during February break, my family took a Vermont ski vacation. One night after a snowstorm, an epic snowball fight broke out between the hotel we were staying at and the one across the street. I was the only girl participating. I wore a snow suit that made my gender indiscernible to the others. I remember how consciously free I felt during this nonbinary moment as I pelted and got pelted by snowballs — “nobody knows I’m a girl!”
While my gender identity may have been unclear, there was never sexual confusion as I have always been attracted to boys — even in elementary school. As I aged, I morphed into a more feminine version of myself to be desirable to the male gaze.
For the first 14 years of my life, I lived androgynously as I happily didn’t menstruate until high school nor developed more than the smallest of breasts — that, ashamed, I might have bound if they were bigger. I never could relate to the girls who pined for those feminine milestone moments.
Being flat-chested I still feel androgynous —
“Oh Caytha, you’re just a tomboy.”
You and my inner voice dismissively interrupt. Perhaps. I do proudly identify as a tomboy as that was our limited language — just an ordinary cis female who prefers typical male gender norms. Girl gender norms never came naturally to me.
That said, if gender pronoun sensitivity was a thing in my youth, I’m quite sure I would’ve identified as they/them or one of the other terms now on the spectrum. I was raised in a progressive liberal town, so I suspect the less binary pronouns would’ve suited me better, at least through high school.
An “A-ha!” Moment: When LinkedIn Asked For My Pronouns They/Them
The reason why I’m pondering my gender identity is because LinkedIn, Zoom, and Instagram started asking me to (optionally) share my pronouns. While I’d defer to she/her, after researching the new gender lexicon, it feels limiting to me.
I maintained my cis female fluid tomboy existence — sometimes more female, sometimes more male — until motherhood.
Then as a suburban stay-at-home mother, my world became heavily cis female binary. The suburban mom norm in my community was that of a desexualized conformist “Stepford Wife” — if you don’t want to be one, then we will make you one. Perhaps Suburban Mom should be a gender identity on the spectrum under the fluid umbrella, just saying…
I uncomfortably tried to fit into that persona. Persona is the Jungian term to describe the social face we present that might be described as “passing” — not who I am, but who I will pretend to be. I eventually volunteered on several sports boards as a way to be around the cis male masculine energy I craved.
Shedding the Binary Mask at Midlife
Now that my kids are grown and I’m middle-aged, I’ve further evolved my identity. I’ve shed the mask and am living the most authentic fluid version of me. What Jung calls the Self – our unified unconscious and conscious version of ourselves. What my self-defined “white, Upper East Side gay male” friend playfully joked as his pronoun “me/mine.” In my ‘normal’ life, I will dress up and wear cis male appealing short tight skirts, heels, and makeup. In my alter ego life, I will wear wigs and dress up as men, nonbinary men, and/or transgender women — I joke “I’m a woman trying to be a man trying to be a woman!”
To conclude, in honor of Pride Month, I am grateful that we have the language and the ability to honestly (attempt) to express who we are; the freedom to experiment through trial and error with how that looks, feels, and sounds; and most importantly, a safe space to love ourselves (they/them) and be loved for whoever we are in any given moment.
This is a great piece, Caytha. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so grateful that we are changing the narrative on gender. My wish is for everyone who doesn’t like being put in a box to read your story.
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