Discovering Gender Fluidity: A Late Bloomer’s Journey to Self-Acceptance

How old do you have to be before you live for yourself,” I asked myself, peering past the tweezers. “How many years of your life will you put the comfort of others first?

I shave my face now. I’m fascinated by the stubble growing along the bottom ridges of my jaw. I rub it back and forth, feeling the bristles’ refusal to give way, and delight in the sandpaper tongue licking my fingertips.

I’m what they call a late-bloomer. I came out at age 45. I’m queer, genderfluid, and nonbinary trans. I’m a mix of the characteristics and presentations people think of as traditionally male and female and I’ve slowly been learning to love that about myself after a lifetime of feeling wrong. I’m a writer, artist, mom, grandparent, mentor, Pro Dom, and a big believer in singing loudly in the car and hugging all the trees you can find. I like puzzles with 500 clearly-punched pieces. I cry a few times every single day and carry a knife in my front right pocket. I like to crochet, watch clouds and hummingbirds, make things out of leather and paper, cook delicious food, go for walks, read, take naps, and engage in BDSM power dynamics on a daily basis. I love flowers and usually have them around me in vases dotting our apartment because my partner loves to see my face light up and she brings home proteas, tulips, ranunculus, sunflowers, and especially peonies whenever she can find them. 

My daughter asked me last year if I’d like her to call me something different than “mom,” as the facial hair I’d been tweezing for three decades was finally allowed to grow in.

I love that she asked! But, never, I replied. I am her mom and I’ll always be her mom. My oldest grandson sometimes asks me if I’m a girl or a boy as he rubs my chin hairs.”What do you think?” I ask him back. “Hmmmm, both?” We high-five. “Sounds right,” I reply. 

I’m not sure what people mean when they say woman or man. I get that it’s a cluster of characteristics and feelings and presentations that create the picture we want to hold on to. I understand that some people mean only genitals and it’s meant as an insult or a reverent prayer. But assigning terms like intuitive, gentle, compassionate, nurturing, and beautiful to someone wearing a dress then becomes more about the dress than who is in it. If all it takes to be “feminine” is to wear a dress, makeup, and jewelry, everyone who wears dresses would be considered feminine. And I would have always felt comfortable in a dress, but I haven’t and I don’t.

I’ve helped many clients on their gender journeys and every time they get ready to ask folks to use their correct name and pronouns, I wonder if that’s a thing I will ever want to do. I’ve kept my pronouns fluid, accepting all forms of he, they, and she, to make it easier on people who love me. I don’t want them to feel embarrassed or get flustered if they get it wrong. But, maybe even more than that, I don’t want to find out who wouldn’t be willing to do it. I feel too old to make those kinds of changes, like my ship has sailed. Should have done it already, if I was gonna do it. Would it be worth it this late in the game, at 52? But, maybe that’s the question every queer and nonbinary person eventually comes to, at any age — am I worth it? 

I love people watching on Capitol Hill in Seattle because it’s filled with all kinds of queer folk, walking around with their queerness proudly showing; owning the streets, being themselves. You see make-up with a handlebar mustache, high heels with hairy legs, tight clothes stretched across plump bellies that poke out of midriff sweaters and high-water jeans. No bras, or bras on the outside, crocheted shorts over rainbow tights. And smiles. The biggest smiles and lots of hand-holding. Couples with their arms around each other’s backs, doing a little jump-hop from the street corner into the crosswalk. Groups of friends hugging goodbye and see-you-next-Thursday-ing outside the restaurant, all chewing gum after the garlic fries. Bright faces of every color in the gay rainbow. 

Outside of a queer neighborhood, trans folks can be confusing for some people. The term trans simply means being on “a journey across,” from one place to another.

A trans man or woman has a clear destination in mind and the support they need is to reach that place, which is a journey across a spectrum of gender. A nonbinary trans person, such as myself, seeks not to reach a destination demarcated as Man or Woman, but simply just to be themselves, wherever that falls in the gender palette, and outside of binary thinking, or This or That, A or B. 

My nonbinary trans journey is across from where I was, to where I feel the most like myself. My fluidity means that spot can change from day to day. I try to embrace the ways I fall in many categories, even when it confuses others. 

I look in the mirror after putting on a little mascara, adjust the straps of the bra that’s doing an excellent job of bolstering my breasts and creating some dynamite cleavage, and then pat my beard stubble. I look myself in the eyes and say the same words I suggest to my clients: I’m not too old, it’s not too late, and I’m worth it.

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