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Upcoming Short Story Anthology

It’s official. Just signed the contract for another erotica anthology. My story contribution is titled, “The Pink Lady Bar and Social Club.” If you’re interested in ordering it to read this and other heckin lewd own voices trans erotica, it’s up for preorder (ebook and paperback) on the Bold Strokes website, as well as other places. Available from Bold Strokes on June 1st. You can also get it from Amazon but the release date through them is June 14th.

From the Bold Strokes Books website:

If you’ve been searching for smutty, fearless, gender diverse erotica written by affirming own-voices folks who get it, then this is the book you’ve been looking for! Packed with explicit erotic stories from trans and nonbinary gender diverse writers, Heckin’ Lewd celebrates sexual nonconformity, queerness, nontraditional relationship structures, and unrestrained lust, pleasure, and kink.

Heckin' Lewd: Trans and Nonbinary Erotica

In a Relationship with: Chicago. Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

On Monday I came into the city (Chicago) to meet up with an old friend, someone I haven’t seen since she jumped the pond in the late 90s. The few times she’s been back I wasn’t able to come up and see her so I make sure to set the time aside this time. Our personal history is an interesting one, at least to me. Without delving too much into it, I will say that she and I used to date the same woman—but not at the same time! Though that woman is no longer with us, she and I have been able to form a friendship. Come to find out we have other shared interests than just our taste in romantic partners. Though, as to that, she also knows that I have a platonic/intellectual crush on her husband, a man I’ve never met, as he’s still on the other side of the pond, not being able to accompany her for this trip. I was glad we were able to spend time together without the intervention of a screen. Though, it should be noted, we are both vaxxed, boosted, and took in person precautions, so it was a safe meeting.

As I said, this meeting took place in downtown Chicago. She is in town this week visiting family and I came up from downstate. It was no bother for me, as I love coming into the city and do so every chance I get. But, if I’m being honest, over the past few months something has changed for me. It doesn’t give me the same excitement as it once did to come up here and explore. Now, I’m just left with the prevailing sense of how expensive the city is and how much my feet and hip hurt after walking all day. And I’m not even walking as much as I used to, so I have no reason to complain. But, complain I do, albeit silently. Maybe I’m just getting older and would rather be comfortable. This city is not comfortable. You are hard pressed to find a cushioned chair anywhere if you want to rest your weary feet. Instead, you are offered hard wood or plastic chairs wherever you go. I’m sure it’s to discourage “campers”, which is, admittedly, what I was hoping to do somewhere so I could rest and not have to spend money. I am taking Amtrak home tonight, where I will have a cushion, finally.

Other than my lack of a cushion, let me give you some highlights from my trip this week that are quintessentially Chicago:

  • After my friend and I parted ways I hailed a cab to go to my hotel. While on Wacker, coming up on Michigan, there was a homeless woman standing in the middle of the street, yelling at the passing cars. I don’t know what she was saying, as the windows were up in the cab. She looked angry.
  • I stayed at a hotel I’ve never stayed at before, as I always try to stay somewhere new. The hotel has a long history, and a beautiful ballroom. I’m a sucker for period architecture. But I didn’t see any of that. I just saw the small, nondescript room I was shown to. The bedside lamp didn’t work, the carpet was filthy, and once I adjusted the heater to a cooler temp, it no longer came on, making the room dead silent and hard for me to sleep. Bonus feature, I suppose, is the half side of the John Hancock, as well as the fire escape, which was next to my window. The last few times I’ve been into the city I’ve paid for rooms that were advertised to be in beautiful old hotels (the price reflected this) only for them to be unkempt and me to be stashed in the worst room possible.
  • After a day of some light shopping and sight seeing of places I haven’t been before, I am now ensconced in Union Station. As I walked through the food court I passed a table with a woman of indeterminate age (30-40s I would guess) who was sitting at a table randomly singing. She wasn’t very good, just how you would sing along to music on your headphones. She wasn’t wearing headphones, the music was within her. I kept walking and found a table to myself. After sitting here for about ten minutes four police officers came into the food court to escort a woman out of the building. She was refusing to go. I don’t know what she did, if anything. She may simply have been homeless, but I really don’t know. As that was getting cleared up, the singer from further down in the food court left her table and took one next to me. I don’t know why. She was singing when she sat down. The singing has mostly subsided but she has randomly burst into song a few times since she sat down.

I know I just sound whiney, and I guess I am. Please understand, I’m tired. My feet hurt. And I want to go home. I was wondering earlier today if my weariness with Chicago might be because I’ve fallen in love with the idea of a city (and my old memories of it) but I’m not completely prepared for the city that it is. Maybe it was a surface love this whole time. Maybe I’m just getting older and less tolerant of being slightly inconvenienced. Whatever the reason, I’m not quite ready to call this affair over, but maybe it needs reevaluated. But, I really do want a comfortable place to sit.

I’ve Got a Ticket to Ride

This past Monday I received approval from a psychiatrist (in training) to get top surgery. It was the last hurdle. Now, I have to wait for that approval to work its way through the hospital’s computer system to reach my plastic surgeon (that could take two weeks, maybe four), then for her to call me to get on her calendar (that could be up to three months out last I heard). The young woman sitting across from me replied, “I don’t see why you shouldn’t get the surgery you want.” My thoughts exactly. I could fill volumes about what I think of the medical system in the US, especially concerning the process of approval for transgender surgeries. But it would get preachy and tend to run on a bit and no one needs that. Instead, I want to talk about my relationship with my chest over the years and why I’m suddenly feeling nostalgic for something I never wanted in the first place and was resentful of when I received it, sort of like the obligatory gift from a distant relative at Christmas who doesn’t really know you but felt like they had to get you something anyway, then you’re stuck thanking them for an ugly sweater or a toy you grew out of three years ago. I never wanted them, never asked for them, yet here they are.

To clarify, when I say nostalgic, I don’t mean in the sense that I will miss them or that I’m having regrets. I only mean that I’m remembering different things, some of which I’ll talk about here, but I’ve forgotten one of the very basic things that people who develop breasts usually remember, when I first got them and going for the first bra shopping. I think my brain has decided that that’s just something I really don’t want to remember anyway, so it’s obliged me by forgetting it. I believe, however, that I first began to develop them around the age of ten. I was a chubby kid, so they came in earlier for me than they would have non chubby kids. I don’t remember the shopping at all, but I do remember the bra had a little blue ribbon bottom center and that adjustable bra straps and hooks in the back were the worse thing ever. My main problem was that I don’t really have shoulders. I just have arms attached to my body with no room left over to hold straps of any kind. Even carrying a backpack on one shoulder was always a challenge. Bra straps were always prone to loosening the longer you wore them and would creep down my poor excuse for a shoulder and hang there, sort of a precursor to what the breast themselves would eventually do in front.

As I got older I was constantly told by female relatives, “You were blessed.” They would say this with a knowing, humorous smile. This expression always confused me. As if bigger breasts were a gift from God. When I was a teenager I understood them to be saying, though they never said it outright, that I would not be wanting for male attention because of my big breasts. I never wanted that either, though I couldn’t tell them that. Thankfully they were wrong about that, mostly. The chubbiness I had as a kid followed me into adulthood, so the amount of men looking at me wasn’t that many. Though, there were a few, and they were always older, creepy men who should have known better. There were several of those incidents, but those are stories for another day.

I suffered with those horrible adjustable strap bras until I was twenty-nine. The person I was dating at the time finally got tired of me complaining about them (and the female underwear, which I also hated) that he (not his pronoun at the time) said the most simplest thing: “Why don’t you change out the underwear for boxers and wear sports bras?” The boxers were a revelation in and of itself, but the sports bra thing was another matter. I honestly didn’t think I could find one in my size, but Wal-Mart to the rescue. It may not have been the best choice for them, but it was the right choice for me. Now no more wrestling with straps and hooks. Easier to get on and off, especially when getting naked quickly is important.

There is one funny story I can tell about them. I’ll try to be brief. My ex-husband (who was identified female at birth and should have known better) had a peculiar fascination with them. I used to tease him about being a boob man, which was true, if you look at his exes. That was fine and good, but there was one thing he would do that hurt like hell and it took a while for me to break him of the habit. He would lift one up, look at it fascinated, like a scientist, then abruptly drop it and it would fall like a dead weight. I should mention that I wear a size 44D. They are quite substantial. Dropping them like that caused me pain, and I told him so, yet he wouldn’t stop. One day he was watching me towel off after a shower and he had that look in his eye. I knew what he wanted to do. So, I tugged the towel around my waist, slowly walked over to the edge of the bed where he was sitting and coaxed him to come closer. Once he was closer to me I had him lean his face towards me and close his eyes. He did so. Then, I leaned in, put my hand under my left breast, lifted it a little, and then swung it like a bat and smacked him in the face with the full force my 44D. He reeled back, nearly doing a full head over heals tumble on the bed, holding his face and crying in pain. Then I said, “That hurt, didn’t it?” He whimpered “yes” after he sat back up. “I told you they were heavy. Now you’re not going to do that to me again, are you?” He said no. And he kept his word. Disclaimer: no boob fetishist ex husbands were hurt in this incident.

One of the things that have been on my mind lately is the bathroom thing. Because of my masculine presentation I sometimes get the second looks and occasional “helpful” tips about being in the wrong bathroom and where the correct one is, when I go into public bathrooms. Because of this, if I am wearing a coat or jacket I make sure to unzip it before I go in to make sure they can see that I have a female chest. This doesn’t always work but it usually does. Now, with a flat chest, I’m going to have a problem, I know this. In my every day I don’t go to a lot of places with gendered bathrooms. The coffee shops I go to are unisex and I often get my food to go at restaurants now because of covid. But I do like to travel and when traveling bathroom options are varied and often lack a family option. That’s something I know I’m going to have to figure out. To be clear, I don’t have a problem using the men’s bathroom if it comes to that, but how everyone else will feel about my bathroom choice, that’ll be the problem. A bridge I’ll have to cross at some point, but a bridge I definitely know is there.

One of the things that gave me pause for the longest time about getting this surgery was the consequence of losing nipple sensation. This was important to me. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why. If you’ve never looked into the surgery, whether for your own needs or because someone you know was having the surgery, here’s an insight: the nipple is briefly removed while they take off the excess tissue and reattached to a different location to give a more masculine appearance. This means the nerve endings are severed. Which means there goes sensation. It’s a tough one to give up for me but the thing that finally pushed me over the edge to accept this outcome was the fact that I can get turned on just as much from my partner’s reaction as I can anything being done to me. So, I reasoned, I think I can muddle through.

Since I’ve been given the green light for surgery I’ve been thinking of my chest like old friends. After all, they’ve been with me longer than anyone else. They are large, heavy, prone to getting heat rashes underneath them in the summer, make button up shirts fit weird, and were never wanted, but they’re mine, like it or not, and though I’ve never learned to love them and won’t miss them, I’m somewhat attached to them.

I’ll keep you all abreast of the situation as it develops.

The Name My Brother Calls Me

I just finished reading Ivan Coyote’s, In Care Of, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I have been a fan of Ivan’s for many years now. I honestly can’t remember where I first encountered their work, but I have felt a connection to the words from the very beginning. While Ivan and I don’t have much in common as to where we grew up geographically, I also grew up in a small town. Our family histories are different in many ways, but family dysfunction lives everywhere. And while there are other differences I’m sure I could name if I only sat and thought about it long enough, what we share is the fact that we both grew up trying to fit our bodies and minds into molds that were not made with our true selves in mind. We were labeled tomboys for a while because that was still something that it was ok to be. But we never grew out of it and suddenly people didn’t know what words to call us or what box to put us in. We didn’t fit. We both learned early on that we had to make our own places, our own slots, but never a box, because boxes are limiting and will close in on you.

I came out, first to my friends, as gay in 1997. I didn’t tell my family until the spring of 1999. I’m told my father cried, but not in my presence. After years of soul searching and self-discovery, I finally came out to myself as trans in 2019. It took me several months to tell my friends that I had changed my pronouns to they/them and that I wanted to be called Samuel. Or Sam. My two nieces, both adults (at the time 31 and 29) asked if they could still call me their aunt, as they’ve always done. I said yes, or, if that was too weird, just Sam would do. They now call me Sam, and while I was sad to lose the title I’ve held so lovingly and proudly all these years, I understand. I told my brother that he could still use the moniker he sometimes called me growing up, even though I hated it and even though (or especially because) it’s incredibly gendering. I reserved the right to still use the same childish name I had for him, as well as the name my parents and I called him growing up because I was the only one left to do so. Our parents passed in 2013 and 2014, which is a derivative of his middle name, even though all his friends now call him by his first name. I claimed this right as his only sibling, and maybe he felt the same privilege by calling me what he does. Even though I hate it.

This morning, with the tender words of Ivan still ringing in my head, I realized something else about the name my brother calls me. And more to the point, the one he doesn’t. Since I’ve changed my name he hasn’t once used it, not in any form, only calling me by that childish, gendered nickname I so despise. It made me wonder at his motives. Is he just being an annoying older brother, doing things he knows will annoy me for the sheer joy that brings him, or is it because the name Samuel won’t fit in his mouth in regards to me? I have never once asked him to call me brother because I don’t identify as male. And the name I have chosen is not that far removed from the name our parents gave me.

I have not told him how much his continued use of the nickname in place of my name bothers me. In part because I know it amuses him when I get riled up about something that I take very seriously. And this got me to thinking about all the times I let it go when I am misgendered or don’t bother to correct someone’s assumptions. I know I do this partly because I feel it is pointless and annoying and too soul revealing and tiring to tell the pharmacy tech or the Lyft driver or the person behind the counter or the wait staff to not call me ma’am or lady. That my pronoun and my gender are not needed in the short exchange we are going to have. And while I know I won’t suddenly change and do things differently any time soon, I am also aware that every time I do this I am also saying that who I am as a person, at my core, doesn’t really matter and isn’t worth mentioning. Even though that’s not how I think of myself and will staunchly defend my right to exist in other, larger, bolder places. But the thing is, I am still my nonbinary self when I am at the drug store, when I am sitting down for a meal out, when I am dealing with customer service, when I am sitting in the backseat of a ride share, and when I am at the doctor’s office. I am also still nonbinary me at the family Christmas party and at my mother’s funeral, or sitting across from my niece at a McDonald’s, or waiting on messages from my brother about family business we both need to take care of after our parent’s deaths. Just because my gender marker and my name have changed, I am still here and I still matter. And I am not going to allow myself to be nicknamed out of existence.

I’ll say it one more time, because apparently, I wasn’t heard the first time. My name is Sam. I am your sibling, your friend, your colleague. I am not your brother, your uncle, or that guy you used to sit next to at work or school. I’m also not a ma’am or a lady or your sister. I’m also not your teachable moment or source of information.

I am Sam. And you need to start calling me by my true name.

Reset Reading

Facebook Live Book Reading Event

Come listen/watch me read from my latest novel, Reset, on Facebook Live this Thursday, Oct. 21st at 7pm CST. Free event. If it goes well there will be more in the future. Just follow the link below. Come join me.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2944150312511911/

New book up for Preorder!

I’ve just been informed that my latest novel, Reset, is up for preorder on Amazon. Order now and it’ll be available on Oct. 15th. Ebook only this time. Follow the link below to get your copy.

Have you ever made a choice you later regret? Or witnessed a tragedy you wish you had the power to change? What if there was a company that promised you could go back and revise things? Such a company does exist; however, there’s a catch: Once you go back, you have to stay there and live your life from that point forward, regardless of the outcome. And you can only do it once.

Three individuals make this journey back in time, two by choice, one sentenced by the court.

Each one has his or her reasons for taking this journey, unique to themselves and all varying in virtue. They are guided and worried over by a dutiful man who works for the company that holds the technology to make it all possible. Our three narrators, Roxy, Yuri, and Kam, each continue on their own separate journeys, all hoping for a positive outcome. The question is: Will they all succeed?

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GRK2STQ

Scaring Children and Discovering Witches: Excerpts from a recent journey

Travelogue: Galesburg, IL

I never have a book to leave on the “Leave One – Take One” shelf at the train station. If I did, I wouldn’t be perusing the shelf in the first place. I don’t know why I bother. Though the books are different every time, the themes are not. I scan the shelves thoroughly, however, knowing that hidden amongst the thin paperback romances, the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, and books about the Christian God, there will be a hidden gem somewhere. Last time I was here that gem took the guise of a large print novel about a modern retelling of the Arabian Nights. I don’t read large print normally, but my no line bifocals are proof that I should probably start. This time, the book I take off the shelf is a memoir written by a local man I’ve never heard of who uses words to paint a sepia photograph of Illinois in the 1950s. I wasn’t born yet, so I have no choice but to believe him. I still have another two hours to wait until the Southwest Chief comes in from Chicago.

Travelogue: Amtrak train, somewhere in the middle of Northern Missouri

Across from me in my lower-level seat sits a man about my age and an older woman. I take them for a couple, though an odd one. I learn they are snowbirds and that he has a bad back and that he used to work for BNSF and has a radio in his bag that lets him know everything that’s going on with the trains. He knows everything about the trains, just listen to him, he’ll tell you. She uses a lot of “we” statements, solidifying my assumption they are a couple. Later, just before he falls into a medicated, blissful sleep on the outskirts of Kansas City, I learn she’s his mother.

Travelogue: Oklahoma City

The last part of my trip is on an Amtrak charter bus, with seats smaller than a child’s booster seat. I say the f word in front of three young children and their parents as I’m trying to put my backpack on in the narrow aisle. I feel guilty for a second before I realize they’re in public and bound to hear things. Besides, I haven’t pissed since Newton KS, which was 3 ½ hours ago, because the driver didn’t see fit to tell us there wasn’t a bathroom on board. So, I’m in a hurry. I head into the station, forgetting where the bathrooms are, finally finding them down a rabbit hole. When I’m finished, I stand in the middle of the room dripping and annoyed. That is, until a frightened child, a different one, silently points to the dryer on the wall before she leaves the room.

I walk to my hotel, which is just around the corner from the station, tired, bedraggled, annoyed, hungry, and not feeling so fresh. The man behind the counter says he’s not sure if he can get me into my room before 3pm. It’s eight in the morning. I say to him, “Sir, I have been traveling over twenty hours, I’m tired, hungry, and I need a shower. What can you do for me?” Turns out he can get me into a different room, this one with two queens instead of one king for the same price. I say, “Book it,” and hand him my credit card. He hands it back a moment later with my room keys and three cards for free breakfast in their dining room.

Travelogue: Galesburg, IL

My layover at the Galesburg train station is much shorter this time, only an hour. Out of boredom I peruse the bookshelf again. Some new ones have been added. Among them, three Time Life picture books about magical beasts and legends, as well as two books on witchcraft. Quite different than what is normally there. I retrieve the memoir from my bag that I never got around to reading while in Oklahoma City, finding Golden Girls reruns and a Pawn Stars marathon more enticing. I put back the book I had taken before and pick up the Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. It looks interesting. Something might come from it.

The Taming of the Bostonian

            So, I just finished reading Henry James’ The Bostonians. I know, I know, I’m a little late to the party, considering it was published in 1886. But even through all my years of college as an English major I had never heard of this novel. That’s not so surprising but given my queerness and want of uncovering queerness in literature, you would have thought I would have stumbled across it much sooner, but I digress. I have stumbled across it now and yeah, I’ve got some thoughts.

            First, I want to say, it took me several pages (or chapters, but who’s counting) to realize the connection between the title and the term ‘Boston marriage.’ If you are unacquainted with the term, a Boston marriage is a Victorian term used to describe two women living together, supporting themselves, without the presence of a man. They may or may not have been lovers. Given Victorian quaintness, it would have been improper and impolite in the extreme to mention it if they were. Given the conventions of his time, James is never explicit about the relationship between the two female protagonists, Olive Chancellor and Verena Tarrant, but there is compelling evidence, when one reads with a queer sensibility (queer in the current use of the word queer) in mind.

            With a queer sensibility in mind, common tropes of lesbian relationships presented from a cis male gaze are definitely present but they are presented in such a way as to invoke ridicule and pity on the ‘poor spinsters.’ However, it may surprise the reader that I don’t want to be too harsh with James and I think that over the years his novel about politics and relationships may have been not only harshly judged, but wrongly judged. Hear me out.

            First, the comparison of this story and that of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew should come easily to mind to anyone who has read both. Both deal, in part, with controlling women who dare to speak their own mind. However, at the end of the Shrew Katherina is clearly the victim of Stockholm Syndrome, seemingly living happily ever after. While at the end of The Bostonians, James leads the reader to the conclusion that Verena, over the years, is not so happy, but she accepts her fate regardless. An obvious comparison can be made between Shakespeare’s Petruchio and Basil Ransom, both of whom want to have calm, obedient wives. Their methods may be different (Petruchio uses torture, such as withholding food and sleep; while Ransom uses romance) but their goal is the same.

            This is also a novel about opposing political views. Ransom’s family in Mississippi lost their fortune after the Civil War and he has gone to New York to seek his fortune as a lawyer. He travels to Boston to meet his distant cousin, Olive Chancellor. It is Olive who takes him to hear Verena speak about feminism. Both cousins are instantly enchanted with the young girl, and each want to win her affections; Olive with the intention of winning her for the cause of feminism, which would also mean that young Verena would not marry…because feminism. The rest of the story is about the competition between Olive and Basil to win her to their side. Basil is a staunch southern conservative, who belittles the women’s movement and is against everything Olive and Verena stand for. At first, the thought that Verena would throw Olive over for him, when she is so committed to the cause, and to Olive, might strike some readers as ridiculous. Unless the reader has ever read a novel or seen a movie about lesbians that didn’t come out in the last fifteen years or so. Those of us all too common with this eventuality know how this is going to end, though you spend the whole novel hoping Verena decides to renounce both of her main pursuers and go off on her own. But striking a win for feminism (and closeted lesbians) was not James’ intention.

            In my humble opinion, I think James was satirizing all sides. I’m just not sure that he had a dog in that fight. Neither side comes out as seeming righteous. It could definitely be argued that they are mere caricatures, drawn for the sole purpose of James to make fun of two groups whom he found completely ridiculous (I haven’t read up on his thoughts on the matter, I wanted to come at this untainted, only put out my thoughts without being unduly influenced). And that would be a fair assessment. The characters are not drawn very deeply, though James does spend a lot of time with each character in introspection. As my mother would have said rather placatingly, “He tries.”

            I honestly thought that as a queer person I would have a stronger reaction to how the alleged lesbian that is Olive Chancellor is drawn, but that was not to be. While I felt for her plight, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have been no better of a choice for Verena than Basil was. She, also, wanted Verena to be the person she, Olive, wanted her to be, just as Verena’s parents and later Basil wanted to control her. And Verena herself was no angel. She is drawn as fickle and naïve (I really think bisexual women have a bone to pick with James about the current mistrust some still have of them that a bisexual woman is likely to leave a woman for a man—I think this all started with James) and something of a liar. She strings both Olive and Basil along, promising her loyalty to each in turn, then having a change of heart later when she feels guilty. But this doesn’t make me hate her, or James. Obviously, his knowledge of lesbians, alleged or otherwise, was scant, as was everyone who wasn’t one, so we can’t fault him there.

            So what was James trying to say with this novel? What was his overall point? I tend to think he was saying that no matter which side you were on, the more fervent you were, you were just ridiculous and bound to lose whatever it is that you were fighting for. I think James used the character of Dr. Prance (someone else I think was an alleged lesbian) to voice his own beliefs. Dr. Prance was more in sympathy with Basil Ransom than with the feminist movement, but she was not against the advancement of women. She was more of the belief that women were doing alright for themselves, putting more stock in actions and less in words. In other words, all the speeches weren’t really doing much good, to her way of thinking, that women should spend more time doing and less time talking about what they want to do. Granted, still a misguided view that doesn’t take into account restrictions placed on women because of poverty or race, but it may very well have been in keeping with a number of people at that time.

            At the end of the day, I think this was a novel about class war (the rich Bostonians against the newly poor Mississippian) as well as an older way of thinking (slavery and the subjugation of women) versus the new (abolition and feminism). The novel was written at a turning point in our country when views were starting to lean more liberal, and the southern man needed to either change and adapt or just keep his views to himself. I think James was trying to capture that time in our history without picking a side per se, but still giving the most expected ending. So, I can look upon James and his Bostonians with empathy and accept the story he has presented for what it is: political satire; and forgive his over-simplified characterizations of a great many people he possibly disagreed with. I like to think, however, that eventually Olive found someone who was actually on her side, believed in the cause wholeheartedly, and stuck by her. She deserves a happy ending.

This is Partly a Story About a Dress

            This is partly the story about a dress. The dress was a color reminiscent of orange sherbet, with little flowers, the color of which I don’t remember. It was made of a heavy, coarse material. It was itchy and hot and the skirt kept getting wrapped around my waist, making sitting uncomfortable and fidgeting inevitable. This annoyed my parents, who were trying to watch my brother’s eighth grade graduation in peace and didn’t need my fidgeting beside them. I didn’t mean to steal their focus, but it was partially their fault for making me wear the damn thing in the first place. At least, for once, my mother had not tried to curl my long, thin hair, which had never once held a curl for longer than a half hour, despite her best efforts. She simply held it back from my face with a barrette. Those little plastic teeth couldn’t hold on for long, however, and would eventually start to slide down my hair and be of no use whatsoever.

I remember when my brother’s name was called I clapped loudly and longer than anyone, not just because I was proud of him, but because I knew that meant that my torture was soon coming to an end. However, being that our last name is in the middle of the alphabet, we couldn’t leave just yet. Learning that was annoying. Afterwards, my mother admonished me again for fidgeting so much. I answered her by declaring, “I will never wear a dress again for as long as I live.” My mother, a consummate slacks wearer from way back, replied, “Okay.” It was 1981, I was eight years old, and I have kept that promise for the last forty years.

Last Friday, I set in the office of an endocrinologist to ask questions about whether or not, given my current medical situation, I would be able to take testosterone, should I decide that was something I wanted to do. I was there for medical reasons. Instead of just answering my questions and telling me the medical risks, she informed me that I would need to undergo psychiatric counseling so that I could be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This is not actually the law in Illinois. She also proceeded to ask me stupid, insulting questions. When she asked, “So, how long have you been dressing like a man?” I wasn’t sure if I should be more insulted or be concerned about her state of intelligence, to say nothing about her compassion. My answer to her question was, “I haven’t been dressing like a man, but I have been dressing like me for over twenty years.”

I mean, honestly, when does she want me to start counting from? From the time I was eight and stood up for my right not to have to wear a dress? My clothing after that was pretty neutral, from then until high school graduation. Jeans, tee-shirts, Polo shirts. Did those clothes have a gender? What about the cutesy pullovers my mother would buy me that would match hers because she said, “If I like it, I know she will?” What was their gender? Or mine, for that matter, considering I would sometimes wear them? What about later, in college, after I starting dating a woman and my wardrobe slowly but surely started to mimic that of my butch girlfriend? Was I dressing like a man or like the butch I was trying so hard to be?

Also, the idea of having to go to a doctor and have them give me a diagnosis like being nonbinary or trans or anything different from the norm is a disease. Just one more thing the normies are trying to cure. Like someone took that Sesame Street song too seriously. You know what? One of these things may not be like the other, but it still fucking belongs.

This is also the story about gender. This is the story of not trying to fit in. This is the story of being normal. Because, despite antiquated gender norms, or other people’s expectations, I’m still me. I still belong, wherever I want to be and whatever I want to wear. Ask me again and I’ll tell you the same. What’s my gender? Irrelevant. I’d rather you ask me my name.

Happy Nonbinary Awareness Week everyone!