Content warning: The following stories contains references to a person experiencing gender dysphoria, which may be triggering to some readers.
"Question Everything," Shay
About a year ago now, I started questioning my gender. Around the same time, I cut off all my hair. I’m not sure which came first-- for me the two things kind of went together. Like many women, I worried about the extreme change to my hair because what if I regretted it? It would take so long to grow back. But I never have. If anything, I wish I’d done it much sooner. Getting rid of my hair was like shedding the part of my identity that didn’t belong to me.
I started identifying as demigirl, but now my gender is just queer. I don’t like the term “nonbinary” to describe myself (although I will use it in certain contexts) because I feel that the term itself reinforces the idea that there IS a binary. Although I’m not a woman, my gender is strongly tied to my feminism. I can relate to the experiences of oppression that women have, but I can’t identify with femininity as a positive feeling.
Looking back, I have always experienced gender dysphoria, but never recognized it for what it was. As a teenager, I would overcompensate (unconsciously) with very feminine gender expression, which included hypersexual behavior. This is because of the ways women are sexualized in our society, in media and advertising. When I started identifying as trans/gender non conforming, I no longer felt comfortable in women’s-only spaces. However, I have embraced my connection with the queer community, and I wouldn’t have gotten through the last year without it.
It’s hard to be like this. Some days I wish I was cis, or at least binary trans. How do you explain nonbinary to people who insist there are only two genders, or they/them pronouns to people who insist they’re grammatically incorrect? Which bathroom do you use? What do you wear? No matter what I wear, people won’t see me for who I am—even though when I look in the mirror, I don’t see someone who looks at all feminine.
I’m not publicly out at school yet, and as a consequence I’m unintentionally misgendered all day, every day with the wrong pronouns, the wrong name. I’m scared to come out because after that, it won’t be unintentional anymore. Then I’ll know how few people are really on my side.
I also wouldn’t have gotten through the last year without my partner, a cis man who is supportive and affirming. He uses my real name and pronouns. A few of my friends do too. Hearing someone use my pronouns, it feels like I’m taking a deep breath for the first time in forever. I filed my name change paperwork a few weeks ago.
My chosen name is a nickname I’ve had since high school, a shortened version of my birth name, so a lot of people call me that already, but not everyone. Hearing my birth name or she/her pronouns to address me is like getting punched in the gut. How many times can you get punched in the stomach and survive?
About the art:
In recent months, Shay has become one of my favorite people. They are brilliant, stoic, and incredibly thoughtful with regard to how they navigate spaces and the world.
In knowing Shay, I know that one of my most favorite aspects of them is their bright and colorful tattoos. As well as their colorful hair. So I wanted to create a piece that was bright and colorful to match these traits.
I didn't want to fill up the background of this piece with too much color. Normally I gloss the entire canvas over with a layer of color, but I wanted these three colors to POP, so to speak. And I think I achieved that pretty. It stands out pretty vibrantly on a wall and/or in a room.
The quote is pretty dynamic and comes from the penultimate paragraph of Shay's story. Right when they're talking about the importance of when someone gets their pronouns and/or name correct. That relief is something that comes through so much in this piece and I just wanted to echo that emotion in this painting.
I'm thankful that Shay had the courage to put words to their experience and I hope it inspires more people to do the same.