When I was sixteen or seventeen I remember watching Virginia Woolf’s Orlando on television and being in awe. Seeing Tilda Swinton’s role change from male to female and thinking wow wow wow, I wish that was me. There was something about being able to switch genders that matched how I felt.
How I still feel.
At the time, I had no idea what that meant, only that I suspected it wasn’t how anyone else I knew felt. Maybe if I’d talked about it then I wouldn’t have felt so odd and alone, but I didn’t know how to explain.
And that wasn’t the only way I felt different–no one else I knew seemed to regard gender as secondary when it came to being attracted to someone, and I had no words for that either.
But this was in the 90’s, before the internet, and I moved around a lot as a kid, so I grew up without labels, and without words that might help describe how I felt. And I never really talked to anyone about how I identified. Until I started to write seriously.
I guess it’s telling that in the first story I ever wrote (that I never finished) I never identified my protagonist as male or female. In my head they were both and they were neither. I thought it was too weird for anyone to want to read and at the same time I loved it.
Then I read Written On the Body by Jeanette Winterson and thought it was beautiful—never once is the protagonist identified as male or female. They just are what they are.
There is a quiet freedom that comes from removing all labels, and I do that in my own writing sometimes. I love characters just being what they are, label less.
But there is also great freedom and power that comes from having the words to describe how you feel, from choosing a label for yourself. So that’s what I’m doing.
It feels weird to me to be referred to as female and as a female author, and I’ve become less and less comfortable with it. I’m genderfluid. I’m a genderfluid (or non-binary) author. I don’t mind she/they, it’s just female that feels all wrong. I know it’s not something I’ve ever spoken about before, so I don’t expect people to know—I’ve begun to quietly stick labels on myself on social media, but I’m not waving my arms and yelling about it.
But now I have the words, I’m going to try to use them^^
I’ll write a blog post about Shelter Me soon, as it’s kind of relevant.