Gender in Romance is a series of posts focusing on the various experiences and perspectives of some of the top voices in queer fiction. Read more from this series here.
I’ve always known I wasn’t Cis. It’s a feeling I’ve had since as early as I could remember. I was different, and different growing up in a fundamentalist Christian environment isn’t tolerated. Decades before I even had words for what I am, I realized I was at risk if I opened my mouth. If I spoke, or asked too many questions I would be found out. My ears were open, and because as children we were told to keep our heads down and shut up, I listen and learned.
One of my earliest memories of this example was watching a friend of mine slowly getting tortured for being gay. Gay was a word I knew. It was something I knew even with the limited access I had to pop culture. This was the early 2000’s. Gay was becoming more and more acceptable outside of my religious bubble. Ellen was gay. It was still frowned upon, and whispered about by the adults in the community I grew up in, but it wasn’t so far outside the normal. My friend‘s parents started to blame music for his decent into ‘Sin.’ Word spread and mine and many other kids’ Third Eye Blind CD’s were snapped. I remember holding the pieces of the CD wondering how these adults had connected anything in the lyrics to being gay. Sure, the album was highly sexual, which of course would have been a problem in itself if my parents had listened to it, but gay?
I thought more and more about being gay as this transpired. I’d always been attracted to both genders, but because of the way I saw my gender, the correct gender for me to be ‘attracted to’ in their eyes made me feel gay. Yet another thing I was going to keep to myself. The rumors about my friend moved to ‘he was molested which made him gay’ which of course all the adults believed and none of the kids did.
While all this was going on, I had no idea rumors about me were swirling. I wouldn’t know until much later in my teens that most of my extended family had bets going I was gay, or butch. Little did they know I’m quite queer, just not in any way they could even still fathom.
My overtly religious mother kept trying to push me towards the gender she thought I should be. The more she pushed, the more I wished to be the opposite, but I wasn’t. I was stuck in this space I couldn’t express. I didn’t find a word for what this space between was. It wasn’t until my mid twenties I even realized there was anything like me in the world. I’d thought of myself as an island, some genetic error off the coast of trans. Trans was a bad word where I grew up. It was something dirty you’d call someone you didn’t know anything about. Always behind closed door whispering. It made me feel sick when I heard people using it in such a derogatory manner. And it terrified me. I had dreams in my early teens of getting as far away from those people as I could as soon as I was able.
I wish I could say it all got better as soon as I went to college. It got better, I went to a liberal university, and flight programs are filled with queer people. I felt more at home, but after being conditioned so long against what I was, I kept quiet. I dated men and women, but I didn’t express to anyone how I felt inside. I’ve often found being genderqueer in the LGBT world puts me between straight and trans. Not quite either one. More trans than anything else, but not quite. The more I realized how different I was, the more I buried the secrets deep in my soul, never uttering them to anyone.
Trans still wasn’t accepted. Still isn’t accepted like it should be. I still find myself in a space even among queer people sometimes where my reality isn’t understood.
A few weeks ago, and I wish I could remember where I saw it, someone posted a picture of a sign from a book store. It read something like “Don’t assume staff’s gender,” and below it there was a basket of buttons with every pronoun imaginable printed on individual buttons inside. It gave me a tiny ray of hope. I wished I could go live there. After this quite long winded piece my perspective in gender would be, that’s the world I hope to get to.
When not staying up all night writing, J.R. Gray can be found at the gym where it’s half assumed he is a permanent resident to fulfill his self-inflicted masochism. A dominant and a pilot, Gray finds it hard to be in the passenger seat of any car. He frequently interrupts real life, including normal sleep patterns and conversations, to jot down notes or plot bunnies. Commas are the bane of his existence even though it’s been fully acknowledged they are necessary, they continue to baffle and bewilder. If Gray wasn’t writing…well, that’s not possible. The buildup of untold stories would haunt Gray into an early grave, insanity or both. The idea of haunting has always appealed to him. J.R. Gray is genderqueer and prefers he/him pronouns.
Gray’s newest release is Say Yes, a contemporary bdsm romance out on 7/24.