So, I’m coming out as genderqueer and asking that you use ‘they/them’ pronouns for me. Here’s a little snippet of how I got here …
One day when I was helping at our church’s after school club, this confused little girl looked up at me and asked ‘are you a boy or girl, because sometimes you look like a boy and sometimes you look like a girl?’. In that moment, I knew this 5-year-old had no idea about the nuances of gender identity and would be introduced to an idea that would rock her world. Yet, I couldn’t physically bring myself to answer within the limits of her knowledge of gender.
So I said something that ripped the blanket out from underneath her:
‘Can’t I be both? Or maybe I’m neither? Some people aren’t JUST boys OR girls…’
Her face twisted into a surprised Sherlock Holmes character. She was inquisitive and taken aback. I can only describe it as the face someone pulls when their mind is exploding. Neurons firing, trying to figure out how this new information integrates into what’s already stored in the brain so it has meaning.
That moment was significant because I realised – even in conversation with a 5-year-old girl who has no understanding about gender identity and no significant position in my life, I couldn’t give her a simple answer. In searching for my response, I realised I would have been lying if I answered any other way. But more than that, I would have been reducing myself to something I’m not – simply a boy or simply a girl. Because, the fact is, something inside me tells me I’m not one or the other, I’m both and I’m neither. I’m genderqueer.
Let me walk you through some of the journey to get here. I don’t expect everyone in my life to get it. It was a foreign concept to me when I first started. And maybe you will be the surprised Sherlock Holmes who doesn’t have enough understanding of a foreign concept and your neurons are in overdrive trying to make sense of all of this.
If that’s you, come with me on this, open your heart and you might find something beautiful at the end.
One of the first memories I’ve talked about on this blog is when I was in early primary school, and one evening I asked my dad ‘can I be a boy when I go to heaven?’
A few years ago I cut my hair from a long ponytail into a really short style, and it was like no one blinked an eye because it looked and felt so right. For me and for everyone around me, it was like I had come into myself. I thought ‘yes this is me, this is Steff’.
After that, I started to dress more masculine and prefer less feminine hairstyles. Gender-expansive people will often talk about formal settings being the most difficult and poignant to navigate. If you reflect on it for a moment it makes total sense. These occasions have the most prescriptively binary dress codes – suits for men, dresses for women.
So, while I had successfully come to find casual clothes that felt right, the day I got a suit was a really special one for me. And the day I got to wear that suit in public felt symbolically freeing and affirming. Being in a very gendered space, blurring lines, I breathed out, ‘finally, this feels right, this feels like me’.
During those couple of years, my social presentation of gender started to confuse people.
‘this way sir’, ‘g’day fellas’, ‘hey man’, followed by awkward moments of backpedalling as people recognised I was more feminine on second glance. A few times I made women jump in the female bathrooms.
I learned a lot about gender through these experiences. I saw other people get so awkward during these interactions, yet I would stand back and absolutely love them. I would thrive in these situations, I would relish them and come to hope for them to happen.
When I told friends about these experiences, they reassured me of how feminine my face was and how I was clearly female. However, this felt off, too. Later I made sense of why. I wasn’t seeking affirmation that I was clearly in the female category, I wanted affirmation for my masculinity and existing in the space beyond female. A recognition that I existed beyond the binary and that I blurred the lines. For people to say ‘yeah you look like a boy in the female bathroom, and that’s ok’!
We as a society, and even more so as a church, put so much emphasis on male or female and being one or the other. Because of that, we conclude that being ‘mistaken’ for the opposite gender is a negative thing. I soon recognised these moments not of being ‘misgendered’ but of being ‘correctly gendered’. Of being seen for who I am. Not just female, but male as well. Both and neither. Something more, somewhere awkwardly in the middle. I can’t explain why it happened,l or where it came from but I thrived in this space. I felt free and alive.
It’s been a long journey of stripping back external expectations. Since high school, I’ve wanted to dress like the boys and found cross-dressing for parties so freaking enjoyable. I used to feel waves of shame about these desires and these recurring thoughts were never allowed to see daylight. There was a social narrative I learned to fulfil. That in order to find belonging and affirmation, you wore dresses and makeup. You became pretty to fit in, and you got worth from being adored by men.
Yet, deep inside, I wanted to look more like the boys, dress more like the boys and be loved by the girls… 🤷🏻♂️
Just in the last couple of years, a dear friend of mine (rest in power, Pao) gave me permission to start using different pronouns, and I began publicly using ‘she/they’. In communities where people were used to people like me, I simply requested ‘they/them’ pronouns.
I’ve very recently realised I experience gender dysphoria and feeling like this is not universal. My experiences are because I’m trans (my gender does not align with the gender I was assigned at birth). More specifically, it causes me a lot of distress to see the little bumps on my chest (aka breasts). I don’t like the curves of my body and try to look as straight up-and-down as I can. In conversations about experiences associated with women, such as menstruation, reproductive health, sexual harassment, I can feel like an insider-outsider. For me, I feel like I wade in and out of binary gendered spaces. In college, people would say ‘you’re one of the girls and one of the boys’. Somehow, I could inhabit both spaces and feel right at home.
I also desire physical changes to my body and I don’t really know how far I want these changes to go. I don’t know if they/them will someday become he/they or he/him … I’ll find out soon…
But right now, here I am. Steff. Not a girl, not a boy. Somewhere in between, sometimes both, sometimes none. Just Steff.
And what about my faith? Well, when I started reading the Bible through the lens of my own life and experiences (something only white men with status were historically told they could do… and sadly incorrectly labelled these readings as ‘objective’), I started to see teachings that talk about gender not being the focal point of how to love God. Rather, there were more teachings about using your skills and gifts for God, no matter what gender you are.
As someone who is genderqueer, I have my own unique personhood. Reflecting God’s masculine and feminine life and love in ways cis-gendered people won’t ever be able to do. I can’t wait for the church to see what a gift me and people like me are. Blurring the lines, flipping things on their heads, defying social expectations… Sounds a lot like Jesus, hey? Gender-expansive people have a bunch of things to teach us about God and God’s character than we currently know. Can you tell this gets me excited?! I hope to publish my thesis on gender-expansiveness in Matthew 19:12 later this year as well.
I have so much more to say about this. But, for now, I hope you have learnt something new, been affirmed of your own personhood or come to know me a little bit better. Please try to get my pronouns right, it means the world when you do.
For example, you could say ‘Steff is such a wonderful human, I really like their blog’ or ‘Did you see Steff the other day? They were smiling big because I think they’re feeling really comfortable in their skin these days’.
In the meantime, I pray that the blurry-boundaried kingdom of Jesus will be powerfully present with us ❤️