There’s this thing that’s inside of me that I really need to get out into the open. It may not make sense to everyone but, to the people who know me best, I have a feeling that it will make so much fucking sense.
For years now, I’ve been really struggling to find my place in womanhood. I’ve often said to myself “I’m not a lady, I’m a dyke!” or “I may be a woman but, I’m not a girl.” – whatever that means. When I was drinking, I didn’t have to deal with it, I could just have another beer or tequila or gin or whatever it was I was drinking that day and any feelings I had would just melt away with the numbing warmth that alcohol brings. Now though, I actually feel things. When someone calls me ma’am or lady or miss or any of the words people call women, I get a feeling of discomfort. Not just a feeling, a jolt. It’s the same jolt I get (or maybe even more intense) when someone calls me sir.
The jolt feels like a shock wave going through my body that screams “THAT’S NOT ME!”
When I was a kid, I would have been classified as a tomboy. Though, I didn’t necessarily have an aversion to traditionally girly things, I just liked what I liked from both the boy side of the store and the girl side of the store. It was never a problem in my house because my parents really strongly let me express my gender in the way that was most natural for me. I am so grateful for that.
As I got older, my attempts to fit into traditional femininity just became more and more awkward. From my late teens all the way up to my early 30’s I was constantly cycling through styles, trying to figure out who I was. I went through phases where I would wear mostly women’s clothes and cycle into wearing mostly men’s clothes, trying to figure out if I was a butch woman or a femme or a soft butch or a tomboy femme or any number of labels that lesbians and queer women use to categorize themselves.
At some point around my 30th birthday, I realized that I don’t have to pick a sub-identity. I can buy my clothes from the whole store, not just the men’s or women’s section. I can wear what I want and I don’t have to identify as butch or femme or anywhere in between. I could just be a woman and a lesbian in the way I wanted to be.
And, for years, that was enough.
After I moved to Portland, I felt a freedom to express myself in a way I had never felt in New Hampshire. I often say that living out here has given me the opportunity to open up and become my true self, instead of being restrained by other people’s ideas of who I am. I grew my leg hair and under arm hair out, I’ve become more confident in my style and, I’ve been able to explore different ideas and ways of doing things.
When I stopped drinking and was introduced to the recovery/sobriety community, that’s when I really started noticing that I didn’t fit in. Things are very binary in the recovery world. There are many very strong opinions about what the “right” way is, a lot of communities separate by binary gender identities and, there is often an insistence that you must have a higher power to be successful in recovery. None of these things work for me. Absolutes make me uncomfortable, especially when dealing with humans who are so varied and can very rarely be held to absolute categories.
When I started Hip Sobriety School, I was happy to find that there were other queer people and all genders were welcome, though it was still heavy on the straight women, I never questioned whether or not I belonged in the community and I’m thankful for that every day. I eventually started finding more communities to join online and events to attend in person, all with a lot of overlap from my original Hip Sobriety community. Pretty much all of the events and new groups that spoke to me and my values were for women only and, the more I involved I got, the more I uneasy I felt. Like I didn’t belong. I was an outsider. Well beyond the assumed heterosexuality of the groups, I started to become uncomfortable with the assumed womanhood of the groups. Except, they are all women’s groups. They are serving the community they set out to serve. It was ME who was different.
When I realized that the spaces I was finding didn’t serve me or really include me, I knew I had to do the work needed to create that space for the LGBTQ+ community. As I’ve been searching out queer and trans stories, I’ve been consciously using more gender neutral language because it’s more welcoming, universal and, a really small action that has a huge impact on so many people. Something else fantastic has happened as I’ve made the shift to gender neutral language: I’ve been feeling better about myself. And, the more people I see using gender neutral language, the more accepted and heard I feel. I’ve been trying to carve out a little corner of the internet for all of us queers, to make space for us and to let queer and trans people who are thinking about sobriety or who are sober feel welcome. I didn’t realize the impact it would have on me. I didn’t realize the freedom this work would bring for me.
I recently got home from an extended trip to New England and New York. While I was there, I had the best time. I was able to see all sorts of friends and family and meet new people, too. I felt loved and home and social and present in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. It wasn’t until I got back to Portland that I realized I had also been weighed down while I was there. The weight of imposed womanhood got to me. It seems I had been living a mostly gender neutral existence out here without even realizing it, because it’s what comes naturally to me.
Then, one night a few weeks ago, I was reading something by someone who was non binary and I thought “why can’t I just be me? Why do I have to have a gender at all?” Turns out, I can just be me.
All that means is that I don’t have any gender. I am just me.
The effect of naming what I am was immediate. I texted one of my closest friends to tell her and, when I saw her a few days later, she marveled at how much more confident I seemed than the last time she saw me a mere few weeks prior. It’s true. I AM more confident. I know who I am, I know where I fit in and, most importantly, I know that I am loved exactly as I am.
As for changes, I’m okay with either she/her/hers pronouns or they/them/theirs pronouns. Just don’t call me a lady. Or a woman. Or a gal, girl, ma’am, etc.
Don’t expect that things won’t change from here, because I’m at the beginning of this and if there’s one thing I know it’s that nothing ever stays the same.
Everything is fucking fluid, folks.