Identify Yourself!: A little blog about my gender journey.
So a couple days ago I was talking to my lovely mum and we got on the subject of gender. She was telling me that her friend’s son (born female) is going through the process of taking hormones and getting his name changed from a traditionally female name, to a traditionally male name.
And then my mum casually said this:
‘I told her that when I go to see you, I never know if it’s going to be Helen, my daughter, or Helen, my son. All I know is that I love both.’
Well I totally nearly cried at that. My eyes definitely watered and I have usually the emotional capacity of a Vulcan. It made me so happy. Not that I ever thought for one moment that my parents were nothing but proud of me, nor have they ever even remotely hinted that it was ever a problem. They’ve always been accepting of me (even if I do have a slightly…er…unorthodox… career). But to hear those words made my day. It was like a verbal validation.
Growing Up Gender Fluid.
Gender Fluid is a word that’s pretty new to me. I often used to joke about my childhood ‘gender issues’ (I still do, actually) but I could never quite articulate it. I’ve known about the terms transexuals and transvestites for a long time but I knew I wasn’t either of those. I’m not transsexual as sometimes I’m very much a female and I definitely don’t want to permanently change my sex through surgery and/or on official documentation. I knew I wasn’t a transvestite as when I feel male… well that’s exactly it, I’m not simply dressing as a male, I FEEL it. I want to be male. Later, I learnt about being transgender, but I automatically presumed it meant a person exclusively identified with the opposite gender to what they were born with. Simultaneously, I also knew I wasn’t entirely cisgender (identifying as the same gender as your biological sex). I was one confused puppy.
There have been periods in my life where I will spend months, sometimes years, feeling very feminine and it’ll get to the point where I actually convince myself that I’m cisgendered and the thought of openly referring myself as gender fluid makes me feel, well, like a massive fraud. In my feminine stages, I now remind myself that there have been times in my life (particularly through childhood) when I have found it incredibly difficult coming to terms that I was not born a boy. I remember breaking down in tears to my parents, asking them ‘why am I not a boy?’ and telling them outright that I simply did not want to be a girl. As a child, I predominately dressed in boyish clothes, but on the rare occasions my mum wanted me to wear a dress… well, it was mortifying. I might as well have strutted down a busy high street, stark naked, wearing a traffic cone on my head whilst being followed by someone playing a trombone to the beat of my footsteps. I simply never understood at formal family functions why I couldn’t wear a suit, just like the other males in my family did.
Throughout my teenage years, it was pretty mixed. When I was at college I was finally able to ditch the restrictions of a school uniform and I started experimenting with clothes and make up. Everyday was a different look (upon reminiscing, it must have been pretty entertaining for my family to see what random couture concoction I was going to exhibit each day). Some days it was mega girly, sometimes to the dizzying heights of me actually looking like I was aspiring to become a Barbie Doll (no regrets by the way, sometimes I want nothing more than to writhe about in fake tan and wear ostentatiously padded, push-up bras). The next day, however, I could be rocking the ripped jeans and generally looking like something that has crawled out of an early 90’s grunge band. There were days I would wear a shirt, tie, smart trousers and brogues – and occasionally even don braces and a trilby hat if I was feeling particularly swish. I have even been known to draw on a little mustache with brown eyeliner! Oftentimes, I would loosely base my appearance on Bowie, he was an aesthetic inspiration for me. I adored the thought of being a man who wears make up – either in subtle or extravagant ways.
Modelling and Relationships as a Heterosexual Gender-Bender.
I’m straight (mostly), so I do worry about the thought ever finding a man (or a woman/trans person) who will love me regardless of the fact that on one day I could be male and on another day I could be female. During my twenties, I was in two serious heterosexual relationships. Firstly, I was married (now divorced) and then after only six months of being officially separated from my ex husband, I entered into another serious relationship. I never really knew how to explain to either of my partners how I really felt. To be fair, although we never talked about it, I believe my ex husband subconsciously understood to a certain level, since we were mates long before we became a couple, so I guess he was already lucid to my tomboyish ways! But I don’t know if he was aware of the true extent of masculinity I felt at times. And he, as do many of my friends, calls me by my nickname of ‘Slink’. Which I love, since is so darn wonderfully gender-neutral. As for my second serious relationship in my twenties, I never talked about it, ever. My ex boyfriend was like my ex-husband, very heterosexual. So I dressed and acted like a woman. Everyday. For two years. Fortunately, for the vast majority of that time, I actually did feel rather female. But there were days when the thought of acting/dressing typically female was, you guessed it – comparable to marching to the sound of a trombone player, down a busy high street, wearing nothing but a traffic cone on my head. Not my idea of fun. Sometimes I felt so trapped, I wanted to cry. I literally had no idea how to tell him. I didn’t fully understand my own gender issues, so how was I supposed to even begin to describe it to someone else? At the time, all I thought was that a person either solely identified with the gender they were born with, or they didn’t. I didn’t realise that other people bend and switch and queer-it-up to the massive too.
I totally love my job working as a self-employed model. But I have found it difficult at times. I sometimes find it hard turning up to shoots and putting on this girly act, or being a strong, sensual, sexy woman when actually, I feel like a man. It’s weird, I feel like a drag act.
Now that I’m being more open about my gender (and having that flexibility of short hair/wearing wigs), I’m finding work easier. I’m still doing very feminine shoots – which I love, especially when I am feeling womanly – but I’m also doing a lot of androgynous shoots. I’ve even been booked as a male model a couple times now too, which is bloody brilliant.
A little while ago, I did a stint of working as a stripper and I often did stage shows to Lou Reed’s ‘Walk On The Wild Side’, not only because it’s an awesome song, but the lyrics felt totally appropriate to me; ‘Plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she’. I didn’t dance to ‘Dude Looks Like A Lady’ by Aerosmith though, would’ve been a tad too much methinks. It would’ve been amusing though. Darn! Kinda wish I did now…
I haven’t spoken to many people who are gender-fluid, so I’m not sure about what the general pro-noun situation is. I hear ‘They’ is popular with some trans people – this article by Jeffrey Marsh is pretty neat. However, I personally am fine with ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘it’, ‘oi, you!’…whatever. People that know me well, tend to notice when I’m having a ‘Boy Day’ or a ‘Girl Day’ and there are some people call me Slink on a ‘boy day’ and Helen on a ‘girl day’. But in total earnest, I’m really not too fussed, so please don’t worry about calling me the wrong name or by the wrong pro-noun. The only thing that really upsets me is if I mention, for example, that I’m feeling male today – and I’m obviously trying to look like a man – only to be told something like, ‘well I think you look like a beautiful lady’. I know it’s meant in the nicest way. But it makes me feel pretty horrible. It trivialises my gender identity and it feels like a metaphorical punch in the face.
I don’t mind if a comment is made if, for example, I’ve had a shoot where I’ve had to perform as a female on a day when I’m simply just not identifying as one – but somehow, through acting/modelling skills or just sheer luck, I’ve managed to pull it off – and then I’m congratulated by someone for managing to act all female. That’s totally cool, as it shows that I’ve done my job as a model to the high standard I always strive for. But if I’ve taken a selfie, for example, or if it’s any other time when I’m showing my ‘real self’ – like, when I’m not actually modelling – I’m ‘Helen Stephens The Human’, not, ‘Helen Stephens The Model’ and if I’m going through a stage of identifying as male, especially if I tell you, then please accept that. Don’t remind me that I’m female, it hurts.
So now I know it has a name, finally! I’m not alone. I’m not weird (well, I am weird, but not in a gender-y way, just weird in other aspects). It’s called being Gender Fluid, Gender Queer or Transgender (I’ve since learnt that transgender also includes gender fluid people). Gender Bender gives me a chuckle too. Or ‘Gender Elastic’ as one wonderful photographer, Adam Rowney, put it when we were randomly discussing my ‘masculine ways’ during a shoot. I totally love the idea of being gender elastic!
But anyway, I know what to call it now. I’ve now written down my thoughts, feelings and experiences on it. I’m going to tell people I’m gender-fluid. Hurrah! It’s taken thirty years, but better late than never I suppose.
Tell you what though… Packing for a holiday or deciding on an outfit for a wedding is an absolute bastard. I have to plan/pack for two genders now. Bahaha!!!
Thank you for reading!