An author being visible because today seems like the day for it

It’s International Transgender Day of Visibility today, so here I am, being visible. Okay, I talk about gender/trans stuff on social media a lot, but today I want to be more visible. Visibility matters.

It’s a couple of weeks since the brilliantly wonderful Michael Waters‘ first piece highlighting LGBTQIA authors went up on B&N. (Check out the series of interviews here and here. You should probably seek out everyone else’s work too, they’re amazing.) Michael asked some brilliant, thoughtful questions. Obviously. It got more personal than I expected, and covered ground I haven’t consciously (or publicly) trodden before. Since space and common decency couldn’t possibly allow him to share it all, and maybe something in there will help somebody feel less alone or weird or scared, I’m sharing the full text today.

This is me. Um. Hi.

Pronouns you’d like me to use in the feature?

He or they pronouns, please. ☺

Details about your family? Your life growing up?

I was a hard-to-get-to-know kid, quiet until I was comfortable. Often found hiding in books, but equally happy up trees, building dens, and tromping through the countryside. Either way, I had my head in stories and adventures. (And I can still build a watertight shelter and find you a decent meal in a forest today.)

When did you first have an inkling that something was different about your gender, and how did you initially react?

Retrospectively, probably when I was three or four. A close family friend always merged my first and middle names. I hated it, and one day I had a total meltdown over the fact that it didn’t fit, it was super girly and it wasn’t my name. I screamed and shouted, and then when I realized how much rejecting my names upset people I shoved it aside.

I’ve always felt weird and uncomfortable, but I didn’t ever know what to do with that. I didn’t have the language or experience to explore why. So for years (decades) I just sort of lived with the discomfort, avoided situations where I could, withdrew and ignored it and pretended nothing was happening where I couldn’t. And I’d make up stories full of endless confident, adventurous and brave people, who were exactly who I wanted to be, in one way or another.

When did you first decide the label genderfluid fit you best? / What does being genderfluid mean to you?

I discovered the label maybe 2 years ago, and I danced around it for a while before I was comfortable using it. Which seems to be a pattern for me, actually: see label/ part of transition/ expression; squint at it, declare ‘that can’t be me’; keep drifting back to it; realize I was in some kind of denial. **jazz hands**

I’m still not actually sure it genderfluid fits ‘best’. Not on its own. Genderfluid is such a varied, shifting identity, and it’s radically different from person to person. And when people find out that that’s how I identify I end up clarifying, ‘For me, it’s this, and I identify in these various ways: genderfluid, usually transmasculine, very occasionally I swing right back to cis woman or right into man’. I use trans and transmasculine as often as I do genderfluid. But it’s definitely me, and it’s really, really comforting to know that I’m not the only one experiencing changes in my gender identity, because wow, it can be disconcerting.

What to you is the difference between identifying as genderfluid masculine vs identifying as a boy?

For me, the fluidity is a big part of not identifying as boy; I can’t identify as a boy on the days when I’m not even close, when I swing way back into girl territory. There are days when I am a girl, when all of my past experiences and social upbringing feel as right as they possibly could, when my body fits, when I feel part of the sisterhood.
Even on the days when I’m right up close to boy, though, actually identifying fully as male is rare. I’m not. I’m a lot more comfortable at that end of the spectrum, but there are parts of the male experience I don’t usually identify with.

How far along are you in the coming out process?

That’s a tricky one, and I’m going to have to break it down a bit:

Firstly, I’m still…somewhere on this journey of figuring out exactly who I am. There’s no particular/ expected thing to transition ‘to’ as a nonbinary individual, but I know I want to transition in some ways, to find a way to exist that is much more comfortable than I am right now. I feel like I’m still in the process of exploration and coming out to myself, let alone anyone else.

Secondly, we live in a very cisnormative, binary-led society. And in that environment, coming out isn’t something you just do once. It’s not a big, singular event where you can dance through the internet and share yourself and it’s done and everybody knows. In the real world, people you interact with every day will make snap judgments about your gender, and refer to you or treat you in certain ways because of that judgment. Whether you live with it or come out is a judgment call Every. Single. Time: is it safe? How much does their perception affect me? Do I have the energy? Will it make any difference?

And finally, in the traditional sense, I’m… pretty much out. My friends all know; I’m open about where I’m at across social media; I often talk about being queer, trans and disabled as part of school (etc) talks and workshops. It’s important to me to try to be the kind of visible role model I wish that I’d always had – to do what I can to make things better for the next generation.

The exception is a few family members. Sometimes, voicing things is hard. Sometimes the right moment just doesn’t come along. And sometimes people aren’t in a place where they could hear it. As much as I wish that I could share it with them, right now it wouldn’t be good for anyone.

What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about being genderfluid?

Of all the comments I’ve encountered, the idea that genderfluid people are ‘confused’ or ‘attention seeking’ is the worst. Yes, it can be a confusing, terrifying thing to navigate, but we’re very, very aware of our bodies and minds and the way we feel, and we’re sure of ourselves as anyone else.

‘Not being trans enough’ is a close runner up. This is never, ever an okay thing to perpetuate. A lot of identities come under that umbrella term, and no single identity or way of expression is the ‘right’ one. If you identify as trans, you are trans. You have nothing to prove. You’re okay.

Why did you decide against using the name Sarah? Does the name Fox have any particular significance to you?

I love my birth name. Part of me is very, very attached to it. But society genders names like they gender people, and with that perception comes a bundle of expectations. A lot of the time, those expectations simply do not fit me, and I grew tired of the mismatch. Of having to explain. Of having people double take when I matched he pronouns with a ‘female’ name. Of people assuming I’m someone I’m not.

So I went looking for a more neutral name that would always fit. I ended up with a really long list of names I loved, and I intended to give them all a try but Fox kind of stuck. It’s mine, and I adore it. There’re a lot of reasons it resonates, and I’ll share them if you ask me in person, but I love the way it makes me feel – strong, and lithe and a little wild, with stories at my back and the wind in my tail.

What is your sexuality? Have you changed how you define it since identifying as genderfluid?

I identify most readily as queer. It’s complicated. It was always complicated, but it’s moreso when you take away stationary gender markers for yourself. I’m pansexual, and mostly attracted to a bunch of things not directly related to a person’s sex or gender. But it’s hard to want to engage at all when you don’t feel true or valid or good about yourseld, and I feel like I’m rediscovering and redefining my sexuality as I grow more comfortable with myself.

I know you have a disability, but I’m not remembering exactly the details. Could you talk a bit about it here, and also talk about any thoughts you have on the intersection of being queer and being disabled.

I have what’s probably CFS/ fibromyalgia, although there’s still some debate. Essentially, it means I’m pretty much sore and tired at all times, although the intensity of it varies; some days it’s hardly noticeable, and others I can barely move. I tire faster than I used to. My joints hurt. I get weird sensations running along nerve pathways. Sometimes my limbs don’t work quite the way they should and I’m super clumsy, unsteady, or my fingers won’t type. And sometimes I get brain fog, so tired that I just can’t think.

There is huge cishet privilege in our society, and huge ableist privilege too. We are often not catered for, in terms of language or physical space or expectations. I feel like I spend a lot of my life trying to navigate places not quite meant for me, having to educate people, to assert my needs or my right to exist. To ask for accommodations – use these pronouns, please, this name; I’m going to need a chair, a break, extra time…

And you’d think that one marginalized group would understand what it’s like and make an effort to accommodate others, but it’s often not the case. Finding somewhere that all parts of you can comfortably get along is hard: queer spaces may not be accessible, disabled spaces may not be queer friendly. And it sucks.

We need more awareness, I think, across the board. Normalization. Representation. Discussions. I’m not weird or gross because I’m trans, because I’m queer, or because I’m disabled. I’m not making unreasonable demands. I’m just asking to exist, and to be valued.

Has the way you view writing changed since identifying as genderfluid?

I don’t think the way I view writing has changed since identifying as genderfluid, but I think finally having that language to describe myself, having to assert myself and finding myself standing up for transgender kids in various settings have all made me much more aware of representation (which I did not have, which a lot of us still don’t have) and much more intent on putting that right where I can.

Talk a bit about your upcoming releases.

My second book, KALEIDOSCOPE SONG, is a South African LGBTQ (yes, all of these) music narrative, set in a township, all rhythm and first loves and finding your voice; it’s discovery and heartbreak and joy. There’s attraction which looks a little like mine, and actual queer culture. There’s a non-binary character and a bi character and gay characters, and one who really doesn’t know how she identifies yet, except in love with the girl.

I’m immensely proud of this book. Writing it taught me a lot about who I am, what I stand for, and the stories that I need to tell.

Right now, I’m working on a middle grade novel, with a genderfluid main character, their disabled best friend, 17 motorbiking dads, a crow, and all things pirate. It’s a lot of fun, and I adore my characters. Indie is the kid I wish I was – the good parts, but with much, much more self awareness, confidence, and the language to tell the world their story.

Queer book recs:

Everyone should have Alex Gino’s GEORGE in their life. Middle grade trans representation, written by a trans author? Where the character is not misgendered through the narration, and it feels entirely real? Yesssss.

Right now, I’m pushing Pat Schmatz’s LIZARD RADIO into everybody’s hands. It’s brilliant and weird, and the closest I’ve ever come to seeing myself on the page. It’s not me, but no book can ever represent everyone, and the sense of queerness and otherness and rejection of the binary even while you’re stuck existing within it is spot on.

And everyone everyone everyone should read Marieke Nijkamp’s gut-wrenching THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS and Dahlia Adler’s swoonworthy UNDER THE LIGHTS. Possibly together, in a sort of Totoro/ Grave of the Fireflies combo (but the order you read them in is entirely up to you).