by Lex Voytek
I was part of a socialist group—the kind where members called me comrade. We held talks on fascism, institutionalized racism, and sexism. Everything was intersectional, and I learned what that word meant with my radical political family.
But this isn’t about politics; this is about the day that I met Adrian. Adrian is a transgender man who gave talks and classes educating the public on the nuances of sex, gender, identity, sexuality, etc. He came to give a talk to our group.
At first I felt like I was simply an ally to Adrian—like I could support him. But gender and identity wasn’t something I understood. I always assumed I was a mostly straight, cis woman.
Adrian was about five feet six, with a bushy ginger beard. In fact, he mentioned that you know you’re in a room full of trans men when there are short-to-medium height, fully bearded men milling around.
What struck me about Adrian was that at the very beginning of his talk he mentioned that even though he had a full beard and looked like a lumberjack he had never opted for a penis.
In my small, ignorant world I thought that part—a penis—was required to be considered a man. He mentioned that most people assumed that, but he said he felt like enough of a man, even with a vagina.
Then Adrian explained the nuances of gender and identity: Things are not as black and white as they seem. First, he mentioned sex, and I remembered how I felt about my assigned sex all my life. I was a woman with a vagina.
However, something about my sex always felt wrong. It wasn’t that I wanted a penis; I just didn’t identify completely with my female sex either . . .
When I was 20, I was diagnosed with a complex ovarian tumor. It was never concluded if it was malignant or not. I was able to resolve it, but I was told I may never be able to have children. But the idea of my ability to birth children didn’t really scare me. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to have children anyway.
When I was a toddler, growing up in a Mormon family in a Mormon town, I played with baby dolls. Mormons liked to get girls started on the mom-identity early.
Luckily my mom was a black sheep of the family, and had long separated from the church before I was born. But my friends, and even my grandma, still encouraged the culture of the town.
When I was only enough years to count on a single hand, and I was playing in a little red sandbox in our backyard. I always had hand-me-down toys and clothes. In one particular bag, there was a handful of baby dolls.
My best friend played with me in the sandbox that day, telling me that she wanted to have at least eight children: four boys and four girls. I rifled through the bag and found a black baby doll. I told her I only wanted one or two children—boys or girls—and I would definitely adopt.
Later, my grandma laughed when she heard from my friend about how I would adopt. Grandma told me, “You’ll grow out of it someday. Childbirth isn’t that scary once you’re actually in it.”
For years I heard these kinds of sentiments: Your clock will tick eventually. You’ll want kids. The pain is only temporary. As if my only reservation was that I was a coward to pain. There was something more.
I didn’t identify with my childbearing capabilities. And there was no other way to explain it, other than that I would rather adopt, even if I could have kids. And it turns out that in spite of the tumor, I can have kids of my own. And nothing’s changed. I’ve always explained that my favorite people were adopted—and they were. But really I owe no one an explanation.
Then Adrian explained sexuality. I had always identified with being “mostly straight,” but… I had made out with a couple of girls when I was drunk. That seemed to fit the mythology I learned growing up: “Bisexual women don’t exist. They just get drunk and hook up with other girls for attention.” So, most of my life I thought when I had gotten drunk and kissed my best friend, it was for the attention.
I was seventeen and had just been dumped by my boyfriend. My best friend Kylie was sixteen. She invited me over to her house while her mom was having a party. We had been best friends for years, and I knew that if she was inviting me over while her mom was partying, it meant that she had found a way to smuggle booze into her room to console me after my breakup.
Sure enough, Kylie snuck me into her room through the garage down the hall and revealed a very large coconut-shaped vessel filled with enough rum to nearly kill both of us. We didn’t waste time, drinking like the rum was some thirst-quenching elixir we desperately needed after being stranded on a desert island. Not long after we started drinking Kylie informed me that some guys were going to sneak over after her mom was asleep.
However, before the boys arrived, we were alone in her room. Very drunk. And like many of my intimate encounters back then, one thing led to another, and we started kissing. Since we were alone, I’m not sure who we were trying to impress, if anyone at all. And then there was a knock on her door: her mom. So I hid under the covers, pretending I wasn’t in Kylie’s room drinking rum and making out with her.
I fell asleep, and the next thing I remember is a strange guy lifting me through the window of Kylie’s room. I didn’t scream, but I was still half asleep. I asked where Kylie was. The guy said she was outside already, so I let him continue to carry me.
We got outside, and it must have been late—all the windows of the houses on the block, including Kylie’s, were dark. There were two other guys in the driveway, but no Kylie. The guy holding me set me down, and I demanded to know where Kylie was.
That’s when I saw her running down the street back toward the house. She was topless, but she didn’t seem to be running in fear. As she came closer, it was clear she was laughing. The guys all cheered; she had taken off her clothes to streak down the street.
When she got back to the driveway, the guy who had carried me out through the window mentioned that Kylie had told them about our kiss earlier in the evening. All the guys chimed in and said that they wanted us to do it again. We had to show them, or they wouldn’t believe we’d actually done it.
In that moment, I kissed Kylie for the attention. But, Adrian reminded us of the dualistic nature of how sexuality was generally portrayed. I kissed Kylie because I cared about her and wanted to explore my sexuality, but in those days I felt I had to also be validated by men to make it more legitimate. I believed I was doing it for attention, when in reality I just wanted to experience a woman more intimately.
A decade later I still kiss Kylie nearly every New Year’s Eve and have been intimate with women since. Even though I thought I was “mostly straight.” Adrian’s world accounted for the spectrum and the nuance, but most of my world still didn’t.
As Adrian continued his talk, I became aware that I was more on the spectrum than I ever thought. I didn’t want a beard like he had, and I agreed that I didn’t want a penis either.
But I didn’t feel like I was a woman in the ways that society defined for me.
I like presenting in a feminine way and have always fought for my right to dress how I please. And I identify with being a woman spiritually.
But Adrian exposed all of my resentment for my nuances. I don’t feel as shy about the masculinity or even just the ambiguity or androgyny that existed in me too. I feel more at peace with my sexuality being fluid.
Maybe none of us are what society defines us as. Maybe the definitions are too limited and even wrong after all.
Lex Voytex is a restless wanderer, and writing—and sometimes a good whisky—can remedy the inner chaos. She teaches English to Chinese students and tutors in math to appear well rounded.