I haven’t written lately about my young person, whom I refer to as Link. I have written a few posts about Link’s evolution as a genderqueer and transgender person, and have noted that Link is struggling. Since Link left home over 4 years ago, I have both worried incessantly, and held deep hope. My wish is to see Link utterly transform –not into a different person, but into their truest self. It has been hard to hear about what’s going on from afar – but even harder not to hear about it. Whenever there are many weeks without contact, I know Link is trying to spare my feelings when things are not going well. As a parent, my goals are to keep the lines of communication open, be supportive and non-judgmental. And not to forget that we have fun together, too!
Link is visiting home now, and I thought I would initiate this interview/conversation so we could tell you more about what being genderqueer is, and about the process of transition, the experience of dysphoria, and living with mental health struggles. In particular, I want to say that if someone has mental health challenges, they do not cause a person to become confused and believe they are meant to be another gender! But someone who is transgender is much more likely to experience depression, anxiety, dysphoria, and other manifestations of being out of sync with society.
Link is currently not able to work, and needs to devote the majority of their time to staying healthy. Their week is taken up with doctor and counselling appointments (each a half day excursion on public transport from the suburbs), follow-ups and phone calls, grocery shopping and cooking, daily Skype and Facebook chats with far-flung friends, visits from a boyfriend on the weekends, planning trips to anime events, making cosplay costumes for them, sharing photos of them, and doing the occasional commission (custom sewing job for a client).
Hi Link, can you start off by telling my blog readers a little bit about yourself? (Link knows I have posted a series about being the parent of a transgender child)
I’m 22; I do cosplay sewing, and I identify as genderqueer.
How did you first realize you were genderqueer? Had you even heard of it?
It was in the second half of Grade 11. I was reading a lot of queer theory and it really resonated with me. I read in My Gender Workbook about becoming what you want out of other people. [“Become that which you desire the most”– 1st edition, page 104]. I had always been drawn to androgynous people and I wanted that for myself.
What is the difference between androgynous and genderqueer?
Androgyny is a style of presentation that is intentionally neither male nor female, or intentionally both male and female. Genderqueer is both a personal identity and a political stance. Using the word queer means you reject heteronormative or cisnormative standards. You are choosing not to assimilate. You question and take apart the boundaries that separate genders. Being open about it is a political and a radical act when others think that “genderqueer” doesn’t exist.
Did you have any role models?
What supports did you have?
Before Tumblr (a main support now), there was Genderfork. There was the Youth Project – a support system for queer youth in Halifax that has support groups, counselling, drop-in nights, movie nights etc. – and the GSA (the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club).
How did you get through high school?
I was closeted in junior high. When I was in Grade 7 and I was asked if I was gay, I would say no. In Grade 8, I was out to my friends only. High school wasn’t as bad as junior high. I focused on the idea that things would get better later.
What else would have helped?
A GSA at junior high.
Dar’s note: GSA clubs were approved by the school board at the senior high school level only, approx. ages 15-18.
After high school you moved to Toronto to go to university, and left school after the first semester. What led to that decision?
I was having mental health struggles that I wasn’t able to resolve while I was still attending school.
What would have had to happen for you to continue with school?
Maybe if I had started on antidepressants when I was in high school. I had very low energy, I found it hard to start tasks and hard to finish them.
How did you cope when you left university?
Badly, especially for the first 6 months. I realized things weren’t going to get better on their own – I would have to make them better. I got set up with therapy and income support. About a year later I started on an antidepressant.
Dar’s note: There was a long wait to get a referral to a psychiatrist who was able to diagnose and prescribe.
You identify as a person living with mental illness. What course did it take? How did you start to self-identify?
I had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It took me a long time to realize not everyone feels this way. I had some mental health assessments – my transition wasn’t dependent on them; they were voluntary. I eventually got a diagnosis of OCD as well. There is a lot of discourse about mental health on Tumblr: as well as activism about everything! I like the theme of treating yourself well. Accepting that you can’t always do what everyone else can do. I have a support system of friends with mental health struggles. When I talk about my experiences, they understand, and they don’t act confused or patronizing. Sometimes people who haven’t been through it can’t offer an appropriate response.
Tell us about your medical path right now.
Medication and therapy.
How about your transition?
First of all, I know I’m not a boy. I always thought, “If I’m not a boy, then I must be a girl.” But I knew that wasn’t true.
Dar says: I thought you would say “I’m not a girl.”
I’m not a girl, but I’m even less of a boy.
Dar says: So masculinity is not something you aspire to?
No, it can be fun and empowering but it’s dangerous to play with…
Dar says: So what is your path?
Similar to a transman path. I’m doing HRT (hormone replacement therapy/testosterone). The biggest difference is that my voice changed. I had dysphoria about it – I didn’t want to listen to myself and I would disassociate. I would be misgendered. In other changes, I have more facial and body hair – more acne – my body fat is redistributed and I look leaner. And I will be getting top surgery!
Dar says: It may seem unsettling that someone who doesn’t identify as a man would choose to become more male. As I see it, you can’t be seen as androgynous when others look at you and they see or hear only “feminine” attributes.
What is working in your life now?
Medication, doctor and therapist, the cosplay community, relationships with family, friends and lovers
What is not working?
Living in a basement! The rest are works in progress: developing good habits like eating and sleeping right, working on my skills (mainly sewing), gaining more confidence in taking commissions – especially being able to promote myself and my work.
What’s next for you?
Top surgery! Getting commissions. A better apartment.
What do you see for yourself in the next year or so?
Doing commissions on a regular basis. Live above ground! With my 3 room mates in an apartment building. In an apartment with a living room, and windows. And maybe a cat.
In 10 or 15 years I’d like to move to Montreal – it has what I need – a cosplay community, a fabric district, it’s on the salt water, it’s easy to get to Toronto, Halifax, Boston, Washington DC
Is there anything you’d like to say to my readers; any advice?
Decouple ideas of gender identity and appearance. Unlearn the association between gender and body parts, or gender and clothing. Accept people for who they are. If I were meeting someone for the first time, I would not assume their gender. If there was any question about a person’s gender presentation, I wouldn’t use pronouns until they referred to self in a gendered way.
Oh, and people are always asking me whether I’m in school or working. When I say neither, it is really awkward for both of us.
Dar says: I hope you have liked this peek into Link’s life, and maybe learned a bit about gender theory 🙂
The previous installments of this series are here:
For more, you can select the category Gender from the drop-down list “Topics You’ll Find Here” on my home page.