Coming Out as Genderqueer at the Age of 50

If terms like “genderqueer” and “pansexual” had been a part of the cultural dialogue years ago, Lyla Cicero wonders if more people today would be living more authentically.

Originally appeared at Role/Reboot

I frequently find myself thinking ‘If only you were born now,’ while working with middle-aged people. The few times I actually say it out loud, it’s painfully clear how unhelpful it is. A few days ago I found myself trying to explain the concept “genderqueer” to a married, middle-aged natal male who identifies as transgender. He was saying he feels part male and part female, not female enough to have re-assignment surgery and transition, but not male enough to continue to pass as male. He continues to identify as male for lack of a better option. I recall saying something along the lines of “all the college kids are doing it.”

To at least a certain subset of 20-year-olds, this man’s problem wouldn’t be perceived as a problem at all. Identities including “both male and female,” “neither male nor female,” “third gender,” “non-gendered,” and “androgynous” have become increasingly easy for young people to conceptualize. “Oh, you’re just genderqueer,” I can imagine them saying. But how does one come out as genderqueer at 50? How does one explain to spouses, colleagues, children, and other relatives who have never considered identities outside the gender binary? There would be very real and potentially serious cultural consequences to coming out for this person.

Even if I could bring him on a field trip down to a local gender studies department or campus LGBT alliance to see firsthand what a genderqueer identity might look like, his peers would still lack any exposure to this concept. Many adults are still struggling with the idea of homosexuality, and most would have a difficult time really understanding transgender identity. But at least the “one-gender-trapped-in-the-body-of-the-other” idea fits into the gender binary most people are used do, as does attraction to the opposite gender. Genderqueer is an identity that demands thinking way outside the box, calling into question the very concept of gender as we know it.

Even for those transgender folks who have transitioned, there is a level of generational envy. I have often heard transgender individuals fantasizing about how things might have been different if they were born now, with the availability of hormones, surgical advancements, and the increased awareness of transgender children and teens. Kids now have the option of intervening early enough that puberty never steals their chances of passing as their identified gender.

College is, after all, the perfect time to formulate one’s identity. Had this middle-aged man experimented with transgender and genderqueer identities in college and chosen/begun his career and long-term partnership already identifying as such, his life would be very different. College is a safe place and time in which one’s peers are also, in their own ways, testing out different identities. But, as a wise supervisor of mine frequently says, one can only choose from among the culturally available identities. For most of the middle-aged people I work with, transgender and genderqueer were not a part of the cultural landscape yet when they were adolescents.

A few months ago I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City. A beautiful, confidant young woman took her place at the “human microphone” in order to speak. She began by saying, “I am a black, pansexual woman.” I remember distinctly the pang of envy I felt. Fifteen years ago I was a gender studies major (back when it was still called women’s studies). I lived in the gay dorm and hung out with the least gender conforming kids on campus. But I had never heard of “pansexual” until a few years ago. It might not have taken me until my 30s to solidify my queer identity if I had.

For me, the labels that existed when I was in college didn’t quite fit. In retrospect, this was because they all fit into that traditional gender binary. Lucky for me, dating men and passing as straight fit my identity well enough. I had the privilege of putting the knowledge I was queer on the back burner until an identity that fit me better was imagined by our culture.

For others, the feelings of not being gender variant are so profound and all-encompassing that life simply cannot go on. I believe this is why so many parents are working to open up space for their children to explore minority sexual and gender identities. Once that stage in life when our identities are naturally in flux has passed, there is no way to get that time back.

I often wonder what my life would look like right now if I had had pansexual identity on my radar in college. It might look exactly the same, but simply feel more authentic. Despite my envy, I am deeply encouraged by and utterly respectful of the kids who are coming up now. They are fundamentally re-thinking gender and opening up space for fuller and richer lives for those who don’t fit easily within the gender binary (and really, for everyone).

That said, we always need to be looking forward, making more space, thinking further outside the box. There are children growing up right now who will live their whole lives in silent desperation because they fit identity categories the culture has yet to offer.

Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger at UnderCoverintheSuburbs.com, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality. Follow her on Twitter @UndrCvrNSuburbs.

Image of Mars and Venus Seamless courtesy of Shutterstock

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Comments

  1. misty christy says:

    you can blame society, your parents, your church, etc., but at some point you have to put on your big boy pants and own your own shit. i got to find out on my own, that my husband was a bisexual transvestite. when i did, in that moment, he became the enemy. he had lied to me for 5 years about who he was, what his values were and where he had been. he was a liar. the moment is burned into my brain and that is who he is to me FOREVER. we do not speak, and in fact i have a restraining order against him, even though we have 3 children together. he will never be welcome in my home and i will not attend events that he attends; forever. this is because is cannot be trusted. if you can lie about who you are like this, to your wife & mother of your children, there is nothing of honor in you.

    had he come to me and said, “i’ve been fighting this for years, but i have to be who i am now.” i would have been angry and i would have hated him; for a time. but i would have gotten over it and we could have become friends. even his attacking me in front of the kids; i eventually chalked up to emotion from losing the custody fight. a lie is a 1,000 times worse than the truth; no matter how bad the truth is.

    • I’m sorry but what? You have a restraining order against him because he hid his gender identity and sexual orientation from you?

    • Saying you treated someone poorly for reveling their truth “too late” seems too me like an excuse for just hating that he could hide his identity from you for 5 years. Perhaps a little introspection is in order? Not just for you but your kids, no mater how atypical my father was I would hate my mother if she took him away from me just because she claimed she was “angry” and “hated” him.

    • Are you SURE this is simply about you being mad about him “hiding” it from you, or are there deeper transphobic issues coming into play?? I mean, come on… The guy ‘hid’ it from you… BECAUSE HE WAS PROBABLY AFRAID OF HOW YOU’D REACT IF YOU FOUND OUT! Lots of people crossdress but don’t tell EVERYONE they know about it, esp. if they KNOW some people look down upon it. It’s not like he was saying, “You don’t deserve to know this side of me. I’m gonna deliberately hide it from you.” You even said in the latter portion of this message that, although you’d “get over” your initial anger in time, you’d ONLY BE FRIENDS thereafter! So you wouldn’t accept his lifestyle either way! What point would he have telling you if it’d ruin the marriage either way?

      And who says EVERYONE has to tell EVERYONE ELSE THEY KNOW their deepest, ‘darkest’ desires? Aren’t we allowed, as humans, to have SOME SECRETS? Who does it hurt for him to be a bisexual transvestite? Are you implying that he CHEATED ON YOU AND DID THINGS WITH GUYS, or are you more angry about the fact that he crossdressed? If it’s the former, I suppose I can forgive you for being angry, but if it’s the latter, you don’t have much sympathy from me.

  2. also, not cool that you would even consider giving him grief about his truth

  3. misty christy says:

    the restraining order is from when he tried to kill me, in front of the kids. he lost the custody fight because he was abusive (threw the kids across the room, hit, punched & kicked them). i did not take them away; i rescued all of us. he stole 15 years of my life (not 5, that was a typo). when i discovered who he really was he showed me more; in the form of abuse toward me and our children. our children hate and fear him. one has an anxiety disorder from the abuse she has suffered at his hands (court ordered visitation). he is a horrible person.

    i’m not at all concerned with being seen as “cool” by anyone on a blog. my interest is my children and their well being, and my own safety. no surprise that men would circle the wagons to protect one of their own; sickening, but expected.

  4. Abuse is a different from being transgender. Male, female, neither or both I DO NOT condone abuse against any innocent person. In your original post you neglected to tell of the details of the degree of abuse, from your original post it seemed like maybe shouting or maybe him hitting you (not at all appropriate or acceptable in any way.) But forgivable, you seem to imply that being transgender is the reason for his actions and transgender people are all like that so you didn’t need to explain his awful unforgivable abuse. (I’m not saying you meant that but that was what mine and presume heather’s opinion was based on)

    Also please don’t cast me as the evil man in your story, because I am not a man and I did not have all the facts.

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