Roadtripping My Way to Embracing My Queerness
Driving across the most remote reaches of British Columbia and the Yukon territory, I could just BE ME, alone in my car, enjoying my own company. Several thousands of miles of endless pine forests, towering snow banks, and imposing mountains also kept me company with a constant reminder of the world’s magnitude. The long stretches of salty roads helped melt away human, societal expectations that were normally a constant, annoying buzz in every day life.
I had been on solo road trips before and each one gave me time to get in touch with what I wanted out of life and sort out goals for my upcoming life’s journeys. But the remoteness of this trip felt different. For each day alone, disconnected from WiFi and other people, I became further removed from the continual influence of others.
When I was 22, I married a cisgendered, heterosexual man who saw himself as socially progressive, and he was, particularly compared to me and the Catholic household that had instilled rigid gender roles in me growing up. However, he still had certain unexamined and unspoken expectations for how a female-bodied person should appear, act, and the subordinate roles a female partner should fall into while simultaneously pursuing a fast-paced career herself. He is still my life partner 15+ years later, and I see him as an incredibly open minded person who has put so much effort into examining his own gender related assumptions and learning who I am. Since we had been together for a long time though, those past expectations still carried some unnecessary weight for me. It took a solo road trip to North America’s most remote regions to detach myself from society’s expectations and the expectations that my closest and most supportive person had once held for my presumed cisgender female identity.
When I finally reached an area with WiFi in southeast Alaska, I told my partner how liberating it was to just BE ME, and that I was ready to shed the pronouns “she/her/hers.” This met no resistance and generated more healthy conversations on the topic of gender identity over coming months. We already had discussions in the past over my sense that I just didn’t feel like a woman all the time … or most of the time. Over the years, frequent signs of my less feminine outward gender expression were occasionally met with some resistance from my partner, but quickly dissolved into reactions of bemusement, then wholehearted acceptance.
5-6 years earlier I had happily uncloseted my sexuality (pansexual) within my closest circles, which resulted in letting go of some relationships, strengthening others, and creating new relationships (many within the LGBTQIA+ communities). After spending years quietly and subtly working through my gender on my own and with my closest person, LGBTQIA+ communities gave me the power of language to start sorting out my nearly lifelong state of muddled gender identity.
I had toyed with the term non-binary for a few years, and just didn’t like the idea of labeling myself as a “non” something. It didn’t reflect how I felt. I did still have headspaces where I distinctly felt like I was a man, OR felt like I was a woman, and more often something else entirely. By my early 30’s, I had started embracing the term gender queer which seemed to fully encompass my gender identity and its fluid nature.
When I reached my final destination in Alaska, I started a temporary job in a new place where no one knew me. I tentatively introduced my “new” pronouns to new friends and co-workers with some fear of judgment; it was a natural fit though, so it didn’t take long to introduce the neutral pronouns more confidently.
I also found some external validation through this process. Gender is an internal sense of who you are and has nothing to do with other people and societal expectations. However, I found that the neutral pronouns also seemed to be a strange relief to some people around me who had been jumping through some mental hoops for how to label and stereotype my mixed outward gender expression using a binary system. A few memorable conversations with new co-workers and friends on the topic of being gender-queer were met with commentary such as “you, as a person, make more sense to me now!” I don’t think we all need to be sorted into a labelled box, but it’s just human nature to judge, label and sort. When mainstream society only presents two acceptable and labeled genders, sometimes it’s just a relief to know that it is an option to “un-label” your semi-androgynous friend/acquaintance with something that’s more fitting, and not be mentally obligated to sort them into one of two boxes.
Not all my connections have been this positive, as many people place much more weight on labelling gender, but only use two boxes to label it. It mostly stresses them out when they find that many people in society don’t fit into a binary, leads to volatile politicization of gender, and occasionally stresses me out if I have a day where I’m feeling less resilient and there’s more explicit frustration directed at me for not following all the “rules” prescribed for a female box.
So, if you’re read this far, and are still with me, I just want to say that it’s okay to take several years (or decades) to find a label that optimally reflects your gender identity. It’s okay to embrace a label right away, and then change it later if your mind and body change over time. It’s okay to wholeheartedly embrace labelling yourself as a cisgendered woman or man. It’s okay to not want a label at all. It’s not okay to pass laws that make every effort to erase all but two of these labels and identities.
Gender is only one part of our dynamic identities, and it’s an important piece that every human should be allowed to express. I personally ended up driving 5,000 miles to the most remote reaches of North America to fully embrace that part of myself and pronouns that are more reflective of me. Then I reconnected with the human world again, and not surprisingly, found that my chosen label and pronouns still fit me. Does everyone need to go to this extreme? Geez, I hope not. But I’m imploring you to find your own way to disconnect with expectations tied into your presumed gender (cisgendered people too!), reconnect with who you are separate from those expectations, then show you to the world.
All The Genders Blog
Thanks for stopping by and reading!
In upcoming months my goal is to share blogs/essays that focus on different topics related to gender identity, and pieces of my own journey to add to other’s understanding of just one experience that could be different (or similar!) to their own. I want to do this in a thoughtful way that stimulates some healthy discussion and understanding of gender diversity, so the frequency of my posts could be slower than a typical blog, particularly during time periods where I’m photographing, traveling and on the road. Stop back again soon, and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re interested in having some portraits done!