Writing My Way to My Own Identity

So it’s Pride month, and only for the second year in a row do I feel “queer enough” to opening participate. Which is sad considering I’m 33. That means a whopping 31 years of wondering in silence about my identity and sexuality. 31 years of hovering at the edges of the queer community, but worrying about telling anyone in the “real” world aside from a few close friends and my husband.

31 years.

Sometimes I wonder how much sooner I would have felt comfortable in my own skin if there had been on-the-page explicitly described characters like me out there in YA and MG books. I don’t know, but I won’t lie – that’s a hell of a motivation for the books I’m writing now. It will be extremely rare from here on out for me to write the “default” of a main character being cishet. Maybe there will be a baby bi out there who needs the book I write the way that I really needed one back in middle school and high school. Who knows?

And yet, even now at 33, I realize sometimes that my identity still isn’t set in stone. The more I learn about the community at large, the more I learn about myself. For instance, I currently call myself “bisexual,” but I don’t know that it’s completely accurate anymore. It definitely was one of the first words that felt like “me” like something I could embrace and accept for myself. However, the more I think about it, the more that a word that can be used to exclude trans folk or nonbinary darlings doesn’t work for me. Lord knows, I’ve been utterly attracted to people under both groups, so “bi” might not fit as accurately as say “pansexual” might. Will I ever claim pan? I don’t know yet. Bi still is precious to me, and it’s hard to let go of that first identity, even if it no longer fits quite right. It’s like that awesome pair of jeans that is not quite a full size away from the right one – you still want to keep it “just in case.” Or maybe that’s just me? In any case, I’m still calling myself bisexual for now, but it’s nice to know that I have the option of the term “queer” as well for those days when one identity isn’t quite perfect for me.

Other epiphanies are hitting as I write, too. Like most writers, almost all of my characters have a little bit of me in them as a starting point. A current character of mine led the way to a realization about who I was years ago: this main character isn’t genderqueer, not yet, but she still has moments questioning who she is, or if “she” fits enough. She has moments of wanting to hide her femininity under baggie clothes or more androgynous outfits. Rereading some of those scenes in her perspective struck a chord for me as I remembered days, weeks, months of feeling that way myself. There were more than just a few occasions where I found myself almost proud that I’d been mistaken for a guy back in high school and college; I felt safer looking that way than I did in skirts or dresses. Even my main nickname of “Cat” felt more me back then, because it didn’t have a gender connotation for me. Hell, the longer version of “Cheshire Cat” was based off a character originally depicted as a dude. Yet it felt perfect for me, man or woman.

So… was I gender questioning back then? I’m beginning to think I probably was. Granted, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve settled more into my femme self and looking back, a lot of my experimentation was probably due to some heavy internalized misogyny, but that doesn’t negate the way that I felt back then. And really, even now, I’m realizing that while I think my long hair is definitely lovely, I feel more “me” with short hair. And lord knows, I feel completely uncomfortable in makeup, one of the items we’re taught is the most femme (seriously my husband has seen me in makeup probably ten times if that in our nearly five year relationship). So there are times where I still lean more toward androgyny than true femininity, but only some times, not all of them.

I guess in some ways my femininity is on the quiet side; it’s there, but not overt. I absolutely embrace some traditional “female” roles – I was thrilled, for instance, to take my husband’s name. Though, oddly enough, the writing world is the one place I don’t use it publically. I sort of “saved” his name for just me, the same way I write under “C.L.” instead of my first name. That traditional feminine action was private for me, was cherished.

So I don’t know sometimes whether I feel as much a woman as I “should.” And definitely after all’s said and done, I’m not ready yet to claim the term “genderqueer” even though I now can see just how gender questioning I once was.

My identity is shifting, little by little, the more that I look into myself in order to find truths that I can pass on through the characters that I put on the page. Without stories, both writing and reading, I’m not sure I’d ever have been able to see the words “bisexual” or “pansexual” or “genderqueer” or “gender questioning” as words I had any right to claim. They were for other people – people who were queer “enough” to “really” belong to the community.

Realizing that was bullshit was one of the most freeing, and simultaneously terrifying, moments of my life. Here’s to more of those moments and more of the tiny shifts and eureka blinks as I continue to write my way to figuring my own self out.

All content © 2015 by C.L. McCollum unless otherwise noted.

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