I can’t seem to escape this restaurant.
It’s everywhere; even when eating at home, its menu items haunt me.
Trepidatiously tugging the heavy doors open, I seat myself. I’ve been here before.
I open the aged menu as if I don’t have it memorized. Hoping for a miraculous new item to appear in the time it takes to read cover-to-cover.
There are none. A heavy sigh and guttural punch accompany this revelation.
“I’ll have the woman, tomboy.”
A familiar clickety clack clanking precedes the waiter. I hear it coming, know what to expect long before they ceremoniously serve it on a matte platter. From the first bite, per usual, it’s not-quite-right, but I keep on chewing before eventually sending it back.
“Let’s try the gender nonconforming, medium rare.”
“I’ll have the nonbinary femme, well-done.”
Served again on a platter, there’s some hope with the first bite. This really, realllyyy might be the one.
“Excuse me… This still isn’t right. Is there another menu I can look at perhaps?”
I’ve spent most of my life being confused by my brain, and repulsed that I didn’t understand myself. Of course, since birth, I had been bombarded with girlgirlgirl, running its natural binary course to womanwomanwoman. It never felt quite right. I didn’t immediately know it was wrong per se, but that there was something slightly askew. Like an ill-fitting shirt collar slowly creeping towards my shoulder while in the middle of a different activity, I wanted to quickly adjust it but was unable to, having to stay uncomfortable and very well aware of my discomfort. Instead of focusing that desire to change on the outside world, preteen me turned inwards and blamed myself. Everyone else knows how to act like a girl, how to be girly or tomboyish and make it work. My brain is confused by all this because I’m stupid. It’s my fault- I’m too stupid.
And for decades, that framing stuck with me. Every time classmates would jeer and laugh, taunting that I looked like a boy with my thick hairy sideburns and lumberjack walk, I shoved it down. When I was complimented on makeup, when my struggles with eyeshadow were deemed a success, it was a confirmation that I needed to figure out womanhood. To stop exploring other identities and expressions. To be smart enough to memorize and perfectly execute the recipe for An Acceptable Woman.
I had already separated myself from the world of expansive gender identities, from including gender on the Journey of Self.
And then something clicked. About a year ago, I realized I was agender. That gender itself was my cage, and I could no longer shrink myself to fit inside what was barring me from freedom. Coming to this realization while also knowing I continue to be perceived as a woman has been, at times, a complete mindfuck. Most people aren’t going to understand my refusal to eat. Should I try another option, one of the secret menu items that at least a select few have heard of?
Something clicked even more when I watched Shan Boody’s YouTube video “Don’t Call Me A Woman Featuring Ev’yan Whitney (Non-Binary).” During one part of the conversation, being a gender anarchist is equated to being agender, or at least a cousin of. In that I don’t identify with any gender, but there is also a breaking down of the societal construct as we currently know it.
I know there’s an unspoken social contract with definitions, expectations, norms. But I’m choosing to not sign this contract.
I chose to not only stop forcing myself to order of this menu, but to cease going to the restaurant.
It’s liberating to realize and put into the universe, that my autonomy and self-determination has allowed me to define and articulate my innermost sense of self. That moment also allowed me to look beyond me and more deeply believe that we can not only imagine, but create, a new society away from the gender binary. That maybe, just maybe, my dream of living a life free of cages is not so much science fiction as attainable reality.
And for the first time in 31 years, I felt a twinge of (non)gender euphoria.
Euphoria for actively choosing to not eat at this restaurant.
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