I remember the first time I experienced a glimmer of understanding about my gender. I was about 10 and ran through a puddle of mud, deliberately covering myself all over and getting my shoes soaked, and my cousin said to me: â€œGirls donâ€™t do that â€“ boys donâ€™t even do that.â€ My thoughts were, â€œYes, thatâ€™s meâ€. But I had no words to properly understand what that meant.
Iâ€™ve had a lot of ambiguous feelings about my gender since I was young. I know now that Iâ€™m genderqueer, which for me means I donâ€™t identify as a man or a woman.
When I grew up, bisexuality was represented in small ways in the world around me, so I was able to understand my sexuality sooner than my gender identity. But I never came across anyone who talked about these gender feelings I was having and I didnâ€™t know if they were legitimate. Was I real?
I remember reading The Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce when I was 15; in it, one of the characters, Daja, begins to realise that she is not straight. She starts to notice little things about a woman she meets, like the way the light is hitting her collarbone and the way Daja wants to be around her all the time. This was the first book where I had read a queer main character and I can still remember the sense of relief. Someone else was like me and they were OK and that meant that I could be OK.
I didnâ€™t find my gender first in fiction. When I was browsing a blog I came across the word â€œgenderqueerâ€ without much context. But, even without definition, I knew what it meant and I knew that this was me. There were other people like me, real people. They had felt the same things, been through some of the same experiences.
And because there were other people like me, there would be characters like us too. The first characters I found who were genderqueer were in The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a comic by Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance. These two, Vaya and Vamos, are never gendered in the narrative and pronouns are never used for them. While it was not necessarily explicit representation, seeing them in this comic was like breathing properly for the first time.
The first explicit representation I found â€“ where the author actually used the word â€œgenderqueerâ€ â€“ was in Defying Convention by Cecil Wilde. One of the protagonists, AJ, is a femme genderqueer person who uses singular â€œtheyâ€ pronouns. Seeing them being confident in their gender, with their body, and being loved, was so reassuring to me. What I learnt: there are people like me and theyâ€™re OK and that meant that I could be OK.
In my recent book, Ida, the main characterâ€™s partner, Daisy, is genderqueer. Theyâ€™re not the first genderqueer character I have written before but theyâ€™re the one that will get the largest audience. I was nervous about including them: there are people who are going to be angry, who will say we donâ€™t exist. But I knew there are people, like me, who need Daisy. I wanted to write this for them.
Writing genderqueer characters helps me understand myself, in the same way reading them did. It is hard to, sometimes, because the English language is set up to only include the two binary genders of woman and man. I often have times where I literally cannot explain how Iâ€™m feeling, because I just donâ€™t have the words.
Language is constantly evolving â€“ weâ€™re making new words all the time, we broaden our understanding, meanings shift and blur. By writing about my experiences I can make these new words and meanings, and when other people write their experiences I can learn theirs. Together we can make a new way of talking about ourselves, one that includes and expresses our genders the way we want to.
We are writing ourselves into existence with our words, lives and stories. And if I can help someone else do that too â€“ and let them know theyâ€™ll be OK â€“ then thatâ€™s more than I have ever hoped for.
â€¢ Ida by Alison Evans is out now through Bonnier Publishing